The year 1840 was a turning point for Magnolia, after the southern boundary of Montgomery County was extended to Spring Creek and people started to settle into the prairies west of the San Jacinto River. The town was named Mink's Prairie for one of the early settlers; its name had been shortened to Mink by 1850.
On September 3, 1885, a post office was established at Mink with John F. Dobbs as postmaster. The community's population was 25 by 1900. In 1902, when the International-Great Northern Railroad built a line through the area, the town moved to its present location. The railroad named it Melton, in honor of Jim Melton, a large landowner in the county, but the United States Post Office confused it with Milton. Consequently it was renamed Magnolia for the magnolia trees in the bottoms of adjacent Mill Creek and granted a post office in 1903.
By 1915 Magnolia had a population of 150 and telephone service, a sawmill, two general stores, a physician, a railroad and express agent, a hotel, a livery and real estate office, a cattle dealer, a druggist, a confectionery, a cotton gin, and a blacksmith. By the 1940s the Magnolia oilfield had been established a mile east of town, and the community's population had increased to 400. At this time Magnolia had a station on the International-Great Northern Railroad, a post office, a cemetery, two churches, two schools, 10 businesses, and 45 dwellings. The Grogan-Cochran lumber camp was located two miles southeast of town.
By 1962 the Missouri Pacific had taken over the railroad line, and Magnolia had two high schools, a church, a landing field, and a small collection of dwellings within several miles of the town center. Magnolia ISD now serves 12,000 students on 15 campuses. The City of Magnolia was incorporated on September 28, 1968. Its population grew in the 1960s and early 1970s, reaching 1,150 by 1971. Today there are 138,000 living in and around Magnolia, which continues to grow at the crossroads of FM 1488 and FM 1774. In February 2013 Magnolia was designated as an official Union Pacific Train Town USA.
Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. W. N. Martin, A History of Montgomery, Texas (M.A. thesis, Sam Houston State Teachers College, 1950). Montgomery County Genealogical Society, Montgomery County History (Winston-Salem, North Carolina: Hunter, 1981). Magnolia Memories (Author House, Bloomington, Indiana, 2004).