The first settlers of northern McLennan County arrived in the 1840s. They were farm and ranch families drawn from the east by the rich lands made available by the government sale of land to build schools in Texas. The area farmers cultivated the land and grew cotton, wheat, and grain sorghum, and raised cattle. The farming community centered around a freshwater spring that became known as Bold Springs. In 1860, Bold Springs had a population of about 300 and provided services such as a blacksmith, churches, and a post office.
The Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad was laid between Hillsboro and Waco in the fall of 1881. The path of the railroad passed through land owned by Thomas West, who had moved to the area in 1859. He farmed land that he had purchased and served as postmaster of Bold Springs. A train depot was built on the land he sold to the railroad company and the land running beside the tracks was divided into small sections and sold to people wanting to start businesses. The new depot included a post office, and from that time forward it was known as the West Post Office. Mr. West served as postmaster and opened the first general store. He became a successful businessman and later owned a hotel, a furniture store, and a bank.
The railroad brought prosperity to the area during the 1880s. More businesses were opened and more surrounding land was purchased. Czech immigrants came to the area, purchasing the rich lands to farm and start a fresh life in the new world. They also opened businesses, sharing their European culture. By the 1890s, the Czech businesses flourished in West. On June 11, 1892, West was officially organized into a town. It had become the center of commerce for the area. There were cotton gins, grocery stores, churches, schools, and doctors' offices.
The temporary city Crush, Texas, located just three miles (5 km) south of West, was the location of The Crash at Crush, a head-on collision between two locomotives that was staged on September 15, 1896, as a publicity stunt for the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad. Over 30,000 spectators gathered at the crash site, named "crush" for MKT passenger agent William Crush, who conceived the idea. About 4 p.m. the trains were sent speeding toward each other. Contrary to mechanics' predictions, the steam boilers exploded on impact, propelling pieces of metal into the crowd. Two people were killed and many others injured, including Jarvis Deane of Waco, who was photographing the event and lost an eye. Texas Historical Marker 5315, located on Interstate 35 northbound frontage road, between Mangrum and Wiggins Road, commemorates the event.
The turn of the century brought electricity, running water, and natural gas. The population of West and surrounding area grew. Many of the descendants of the original settlers continue to farm the lands and run the businesses today. Czech is still spoken by some of the older residents.
On April 17, 2013, a fire broke out at West Fertilizer Co., a fertilizer plant on the north side of town that stored ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be used as an explosive. The fire triggered two explosions milliseconds apart from one another. The massive blast killed 15 people, including 12 first responders, and injured at least 200. It destroyed nearby schools, an apartment complex, and a nursing home and damaged hundreds of homes in the surrounding area.
The explosion, which measured as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake, launched the small Texas town onto the national radar, drawing media and volunteer from across the nation. President Barack Obama and Texas Gov. Rick Perry attended the memorial for first responders.
A month-long investigation ruled the cause of the explosion undetermined because multiple possible causes could not be ruled out. The lingering possibilities include arson, an electrical glitch or a golf cart that overheated.
On May 11, 2016, authorities announced that the explosion was the result of arson. No persons have yet been arrested for this crime.
West is located at 31°48′12″N 97°5′35″W (31.803369, -97.093106). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.0 sq mi (10 km2), all land. Most of the city is located on the east side of Interstate 35.
The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, West has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps.
As of the census of 2010, 2,807 people, 1,045 households, and 698 families resided in the city. The population density was 1,754.3 people per square mile (701.7/km). There were 1,219 housing units at an average density of 761.8 per square mile (304.7/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 89.0% White, 3.9% African American, 0.9% Native American, 0.2% Asian, 6.9% from other and two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 13.8% of the population. The majority of the White population is of Czech descent (and West was officially designated "Home of the Official Kolache of the Texas Legislature" in 1997).
Of the 1,045 households, 35.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.6% were married couples living together, 15.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.9% were non family households. About 31.7% of all households were made up of individuals living alone, and 33.0% were households with an individual who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.45 and the average family size was 3.1.
In the city, the population was distributed as 28.3% of those who are 19 years and younger, 10.8% from 20 to 29, 25.0% from 30 to 49, 14.8% from 50 to 64, and 21.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38.9 years. West has a 53% female and 47% male population.
The median income for a household in the city was $35,929, and for a family was $44,485. Males had a median income of $31,055 versus $27,917 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,850. About 13.8% of families and 18.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 28.0% of those under age 18 and 13.9% of those age 65 or over.
It is part of the Waco Metropolitan Statistical Area.
Westfest is a festival celebrating the city's large Czech population and their heritage. There are several bakeries (such as the Czech Stop and Little Czech Bakery) and a nearby hotel named The Czech Inn.
The city of West is served by the West Independent School District, and is home to the West High School Trojans.
Interstate 35 and Union Pacific Railroad pass through the city.Cliff Bartosh, former left-handed relief pitcher in Major League Baseball who played for the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs.
Buster Chatham, baseball player
Ray Kubala, American football player
Scott Podsednik, Major League Baseball outfielder who played in the 2005 World Series championship Chicago White Sox team.