Harris County Towns and Cities
Huffman Heritage Oak-November, 2011
Petals Grant applied for in 1989
by Susan Armstrong
The Huffman Heritage Live Oak reached 75 feet tall with a crown spread of 135 feet in 1989, surpassing the Texas State Forestry Champion Live Oak at Goose Island State Park at Rockport in two of the three criteria. (Goose Island Oak is larger in girth of trunk). The Texas Forestry Service determined the Huffman Heritage Live Oak to be 314 years in 1989, verifying its witness to hundreds of years of Texas history.
When LaSalle landed in Texas in 1685, the Huffman Oak had germinated. It knew the Atakapa (called also Arkokisa, Orcoquisac, etc., perhaps signifying "river people), Patris,
Bidais, and Caddo native Americans and it was five years old in 1690 when Alanzo De Leon crossed the Trinity River near Liberty, Texas. The Oak would have witnessed the establishment of the Atascocito Road by the Spanish just South of where it flourished, circa 1756, and the subsequent cattle drives from New Spain in support of Bernardo Glavez’s efforts in support of the American Revolutionary Patriots circa 1779.
The Oak could have stood silent sentinel to the panic of the 1836 Runaway Scrape as Colonists struggled to reach temporary safety east of the Trinity River and eventual refuge in the United States from Santa Anna’s advancing army. Since the Atascosito Road was the main trail through Austin’s Colony to the Sabine, there was a great concentration of the fugitives on it.
Local legends regarding the Huffman Heritage Oak center around (1) the pirate/patriot, Jean Laffite, and his "legacy to the Atascosito District: assistance rendered to its earliest settlers and legends of buried treasure along practically every stream which flows into Galveston Bay". Many theorize that the giant Oak in Huffman would have
been a prime place for treasure because of its location and easy recognition. (2) the use of the tree as a gathering place especially for those who were ill or injured on
designated days to meet the Doctor who rode out from Liberty. Probably Dr. James P. Cooke circa 1860 riding his horse, or traveling by horse and buggy all over the county
And surrounding communities.
Orginial Photo given to me of what some believe to be Clyde barrow visiting friends
And relatives In Highlands before the national guard break In In Beaumont to steal
Guns. It was found with a newspaper telling of there death which had pictures of
Photo provided by Gary Wiggins of Highlands
Bonnie and Clyde
In the year 1933 or 34, Albey and Loretta Hilton were setting on the large front porch of their home at Cherry Hill while the two children played in the yard. It was just an ordinary day. An automobile with a man and woman suddenly drove up. The man who was driving yelled something from his car. Albey or “Jack” as he was called, stood up and began to walk toward the car. As Jack approached the car, the man stuck his head out the window. The man asked sternly “Where is the ferry? We need to get to the other side of the river.” (Jack immediately knew that the couple was the notorious outlaws known as Bonnie and Clyde.) Jack replied, “the hand-pulled ferry that was located at this spot (DeZavala), is now closed but you can use the one located at Lynchburg.” Jack pointed to the Lynchburg Ferry in a distance as it was crossing the San Jacinto River at that very moment and continued to give Bonnie and Clyde the directions to the North Lynchburg Ferry Crossing. After the car sped away, the family allowed their thoughts and emotions the time and freedom to catch up with the realization of the magnitude of their encounter with the famous Bonnie and Clyde who, by no means was just an ordinary couple.
If Bonnie and Clyde actually did cross over on the Lynchburg Ferry that day the pilot and deckhand were not aware that it was the notorious couple. Bonnie and Clyde were just another nice couple wanting a free ride on the Lynchburg Ferry to get to the other side of the San Jacinto River.
Also sometime in that same time frame, Clyde Barrow was in the Channelview area, which is located very close to the Cherry Hill-DeZavalla Area. He ran into a very attractive young girl by the name of Edna Smith who he was very interested in spending more time with. In fact, so interested, he ask her if she would go on a date with him. She declined by responding, “no, I am going steady with a guy”. That guy was Bill Hilton, the youngest of the Hilton brothers, and eventually became the husband of Edna Smith.
The Hilton Family’s encounters with the famous Bonnie and Clyde are true stories that have continued to be told by the family. It is a great example of how a family’s everyday life with an unusual encounter becomes a lasting memory for generations.
BONNIE AND CLYDE HIDEAWAY AT HIGHLANDS
The years of the “Great Depression” brought about many changes in the lives of the American public. One of these was how the masses viewed banking, government, and big business. A great number of Americans were broke, discouraged, and angry at what had happened to them; and they blamed the aforementioned “Big Three” for their troubles. The depression started about 1929 and lasted until the start of World War II, 1941, spawning a good number of diversified entrepreneurs, one of which was the common criminal, also known as thugs, gangsters, bootleggers, hi-jackers, bank robbers, thieves, kidnappers, and public enemies. The latter name wasn’t used until the mid 1930’s when the U. S. Government began publishing a list of public enemies. 1934 appears to have been a very bad year for Public Enemies.
Public Enemies and G-Men
George Kelly Barnes, a small time crook, was born in Memphis, Tennessee July 18, 1895, He specialized in bootlegging and smuggling until he met and married Kathryn Thorne. Aside from being a seasoned criminal herself, she was his greatest fan and quite a publicity agent. She is said to have given him his first machine gun, and tagged him with the alias “Machine Gun Kelly.” She was instrumental in planning more daring and attention getting capers. In 1933 they kidnapped a wealthy gentleman named Charles F. Urschal, (Bryan Burrough, “Public Enemies”) hiding him out in a small north Texas town. Unknown to Kelly and Kathryn, Mr. Urschal was very astute. Even though he was blind folded, he memorized the route the car took him to and from the hiding place, noting various sounds he heard, and the interior appearance of the building in which he was kept. Upon being released, in exchange for a large ransom, Mr. Urschal recited all his knowledge on the kidnapping to the FBI. On September 26, 1933, the FBI arrested Machine Gun Kelly and wife Kathryn. Both are credited with coining the phrase “G-Man” at that time. Kelly was sentenced to life. He was sent to Leavenworth prison, transferred to Alcatraz, becoming one of their charter inmates, then back to Leavenworth in 1951. He died there on his birthday, in 1954.
One of the more famous criminals to hold the title of Public Enemy #1, was John Herbert Dillinger 1/22/1903, who died on 7/22/1934 (John Toland, “The Dillinger Days,” DeCapo Press, 1995). Like some of the others of the time, he had no nick name. His final epithet was carried in the national newspapers, “Dillinger Slain in Chicago, Shot Dead in Front of a Movie Theatre. (New York Times, July 22, 1934) It is reported that they still celebrate John Dillinger Day at the site he was gunned down at the Biograph Theater, in Chicago, every July 22.
One member of Dillinger’s gang was Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd, born in Georgia in 1901. Floyd despised his nickname. Best known for robberies and murder, he was revered as a hero in Oklahoma, where his family moved during 1911. Master minding numerous bank robberies Floyd would destroy mortgages of local people to help them out of financial problems. He was killed by the same FBI agent, Melvin Purvis, who caught up with John Dillinger, a few months before. Floyd was gunned down in a hail of bullets in a cornfield near East Liverpool, Ohio on October 22, 1934. When Dillinger and Floyd departed the scene, one Lester Joseph Gillis, took their place as Public Enemy #1 (New York Times, October 23, 1934). Lester was born in Chicago, December 6, 1908, and because of his child like features, became known as “Baby Face Nelson.” It was said, that he kept a list of law officers license plates and would track them down and “rub them out.” While traveling with one of his gang and his girl friend, near Barrington, Illinois, they passed a car going in the opposite direction. Nelson recognized the auto, had his driver turn around to pursue it. The car was occupied by two FBI agents. After running the agents off the road, Baby Face jumped out of his car, started walking toward the agents, firing as fast as he could. Ultimately he killed both of the agents, but suffered 17 gun shot wounds in the melee. He died a short time later, on November 27, 1934. His girl friend wrapped him in a blanket, then dumped him into a roadside ditch.
Clyde Chestnut Barrow and Bonnie Elizabeth Parker
It is interesting to note that these criminals were viewed by the general public as heroes, saints, and defenders of the people. This was a time when the common man had little or nothing to show for his toils. The American public was thrilled by their exploits, which reminded them of the Adventures of Robin Hood. Most likely Bonnie and Clyde sparked the imagination of the downtrodden in a way that no others did. Clyde Chestnut Barrow, was born in Ellis County, Texas March 24, 1909. Ellis County is south of the City of Dallas, adjacent to Dallas County; its county seat is Waxahachie with Ennis the next largest town in the county. Clyde’s cohort in crime was Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, born in Rowena, Runnels County, Texas October 1, 1910. Rowena is about 30 miles northeast of San Angelo. The largest town and the county seat of Runnels County is Ballinger, which at present has a population of about 5000 people (Texas Official Travel Map, Texas Department of Transportation, 2007).
Bonnie and Clyde met at a mutual friends house, located in west Dallas in January 1930. Bonnie was unemployed at the time. It was, as they say, “Love at first sight”, and it never ceased. They became inseparatable, except for the time they spent in jail. Clyde had already been introduced to various jails, having been arrested the first time in 1926. He seemed to enjoy robbing grocery stores, haberdashers, and filling stations, rather than banks. But once he hooked up with Bonnie, all that seemed to change. Clyde also had a passion to break in the Eastham Farm Prison, where he had been ill-treated on his stay there.
Clyde’s family ties appear to be all over the south, especially in Louisiana and Texas. While the Barrow gang operated in these two states, they also had activities in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Bonnie’s family appeared to be centered mostly in and around the Dallas area. This was the part of the state that Bonnie and Clyde would always return to, when on the run, to stay with relatives. During the public enemy era, Barrow and his comrades would criss-cross state lines to escape the police. Law enforcement officers, either city, county or state were barred from pursuing them across state lines. There was no hot pursuit law, as there is today, allowing lawmen to cross state lines. The gang also carried a multitude of weapons, such as Browning Automatic Rifles, shot guns, automatic pistols, and machine guns, all with cases of ammunition. Their armament was far superior to the law enforcement people who were trying to catch them. Couple this with a half a dozen stolen license plates from various states, and it made it difficult for law enforcement agencies, even the FBI to keep up with them, much less apprehend them. At this time there were very few, of what we know now as motels. There were “Tourist Camps” and/or “Tourist Courts”, the best of which, were not all that nice. Usually these were on the outskirts of town and were few and far between. There were no interstate highways, and few major highways, so the criminals traveled the back roads, many of which were graveled or dirt. Clyde preferred the Ford V-8 because of its power and speed. He wrote Henry Ford a letter praising the V-8. Ford in turn, used the endorsement in his advertisements for the car.
While Clyde and Bonnie’s main place of business was in north Texas. They also seemed to favor Missouri. They can be placed in and around Houston in about 1933. On August 20, 1933 W. D. Jones and Clyde robbed an Armory in Plattsville, Illinois (Blanche Caldwell Barrow, “My Life with Bonnie and Clyde”), apparently to load up on more armament. A short time later, Jones left the gang and was captured by police outside of Houston. On another occasion, before he met Bonnie, Clyde was placed in Houston. In July 1929, Buster Gauge was shot and killed, and Miss Lillian Bissitt was seriously wounded, while sitting in a car at Morgan’s Point, a few miles south of Houston. (Houston Post Dispatch, Secondary Headline, July 3, 1929) Nearly a year later, when Clyde was captured after escaping from the Waco jail, he was accused of the murder of Gauge. While being questioned by the Harris County Sheriffs Department, Clyde made the remark that he had only been in Houston two times in his life and left before dark both times. Clyde charged that the Harris County officials were looking for someone to blame for the murder (E. R. Milner, “The Lives and Times of Bonnie and Clyde,” p 27, Southern Illinois Press, 1996). These charges were soon dropped when the claims proved worthless. The perpetrators in the case of Gauge and Bissitt were never discovered.
Highlands and Banana Bend Sanctuary
When they stopped for the night, it was usually at some kinfolks or friends house. Often they would rent an apartment, in a central location, to hide when the police got too near. Clyde had planned ahead as to where the gang members would meet in case they were separated, or needed to lay low for a while. And the kinfolk somehow got wind of their arrival. More often than not, Clyde’s or Bonnie’s kin would get in touch with the local constabulary, notifying them of impending visitors, not naming any names but making sure the local officers understood not to drop in unexpectedly, or it might be bad for their health. Usually the local law officials heeded the advice and gave them a wide berth. Stories abound in the Highlands of many long visits of the couple at Highlands as well as the beach at Banana Bend. Local legend has the Barrow visitors arriving from the east, always stopping at the same café for a late breakfast and visit with the owners.
Relatives of the couple would alert the local law enforcement members to stay away from the farms along the east side of the San Jacinto River. During one long visit, some FBI agents were reportedly searching the San Jacinto River for the reported couple and their associates when they spotted a large tugboat up river near the Bend. Asking the Captain to board, the agents were refused and urged to depart. Finally giving up, the agents left the Captain at his word that entering his boat would be disastrous.
It was in route to one of these rendezvous, in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, that Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed and shot dead, the bushwhackers firing approximately 130 rounds of ammunition at their car. Clyde never got off a shot, and it was well known that Bonnie didn’t fire a shot the entire time she accompanied Clyde on their crime spree (Blanche Caldwell Barrow, “My Life with Bonnie and Clyde”). They still hold the Bonnie and Clyde Festival in Gibsland, Louisiana every year, and there is a memorial at the ambush site, outside of town. Gibsland is about 60 miles east of Shreveport.
A number of questions arose about the procedure used to kill Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie was not wanted on a capital offense, yet she was killed as if she was Public Enemy #1. By direct order from leader of the posse, Frank Hamer, no warning was given the couple (Geringer, Joseph, “Bonnie and Clyde: Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car”). Many people asked what four Texas law officers were doing in Louisiana, outside of their jurisdiction. Years later, one of Louisiana officers present at the event, said his actions had troubled him over the years (Treherne, John, “The Strange History of Bonnie and Clyde”).
When we speak of famous or infamous persons, sightings come in from as far north as the pole and far south as the Cape of Good Hope. It was reported that Clyde had been seen several times around the vicinity of Banana Bend. Banana Bend is part of the San Jacinto River a few miles east of Houston, near Highlands. The Wallisville Road runs near the bend. About seven miles further east, Chambers County begins, which was carved out of Liberty County in 1858. U.S. Census taken in the 1850’s through 1900, indicates numerous Barrow names in Liberty and Chambers Counties, just east of Banana Bend. A Texas state historical marker, dedicated to Solomon Barrow stands at Mont Belvieu, not far from Banana Bend. Solomon was one of the pioneers of Mexico’s Texas. Sightings of Clyde and Bonnie were also reported at Root Square Park, across from the present day Toyota Center, in downtown Houston. A house was torn down in Highlands near the entrance to Banana Bend a few years ago. In the attic were two old loaded guns, stacks of newspapers about Bonnie and Clyde episodes across the United States, and some pictures of the couple. A mystery as to how such items were left there.
Janet K. Wagner
THE WASHBURN TUNNEL CONNECTING CLINTON AND PASDENA
“a city without old building is like a man without a memory.” --- Konrad Smigielaki
J. C. Clopper, during his 1828 visit to Texas, considered Buffalo Bayou“the most remarkable stream he had ever seen and though it had theappearance of an artificial canal.”
In 1835, Buffalo Bayou travelers described great forests of oak, cedar,ash and pine met on the banks of the bayou, and cypress and magnoliatrees, as many as 700 large trees per mile, protected the waterfront. Thescent of magnolia and wild cherry blossoms drifted on the spring air.
Theodore-Frederic Gaillardet, a noted professional writer of his time,having received a law degree in Paris and involved support of the Frenchrecognition of Texas. Gaillardet was one of the most respected of Frenchvisitors to Texas in 1839. He described Buffalo Bayou as a “narrowstream, its course meanders, but it is deep and penetrates into the heartof a vast, important regions, for which it provides a valuable outlet.Buffalo Bayou is so narrow and the steamboats, which ply its waters, areso hemmed in between its two banks that the trees growing close to thewater tear into the hulls of the plucky crafts (Gaillardet: 1966, 53).
Frederich Schlect of Germany described in detail his 1848 journey upBuffalo Bayou on the steamboat Judge MacLean, noting that the “bayou waslined with sandbanks where a remarkable variety of swamp and waterfowlwere positioned on tree stumps protruding from the water.” He continued,“A number of turtles and alligators would submerge themselves as the boatcame close.” Schlect mentioned that, at first, the bayou’s shorelinelooked flat with reeds and grass, yet further along, the shoreline becameincreasingly steeper and was draped with an impressive array of bushes.
Prior to there being tunnels, or for that matter ferries, across theHouston Ship Channel, travelers would float the waters in skiffs, canoes,rafts, or whatever means they had. The practice continued even afterthere was regular ferry service offered by the Pasadena Ferry, whichstarted operations on December 20, 1921 (Houston Post, May 28, 1950). Forone thing it was less expensive to row yourself, than to pay the ferrytoll, because money was scarce. The Pasadena Ferry was set apart fromearlier ones since it was motorized and could carry automobiles. In 1918there were ferries at Lynchburg, Penn City, Cedar Bayou, Greens Bayou,Zavala, Market Street, and Goose Creek (Harris County Commissioners CourtMinutes 1837-1930). The Pasadena Ferry plowed the waters of the shipchannel carrying passengers and autos until it was replaced by theWashburn Tunnel in 1950. The last pilot for the Pasadena Ferry, whichcarried only pedestrians, was Elmer Clayton. The Pasadena Ferry, whichcould carry 36 automobiles, had been retired two years earlier (HoustonPress, February 16, 1950).
The Washburn tunnel, located beneath the Houston Ship Channel, was thefirst dry land vehicular link across the ship channel between the 69thStreet Bridge and the Gulf of Mexico. The Washburn Tunnel is locatedbetween the cities of Pasadena on the south with Galena Park on the north. As Shaver Street exits Pasadena, there is a traffic circle where it isjoined by Red Bluff Road on the east and West Richey Street entering fromthe southwest. Just after the circle, lies the south entrance to thetunnel. Upon leaving the tunnel at the north side of the ship channel,there is a Roundabout, with Clinton Drive joining from the west. Past theRoundabout the street is named Federal Road. The Washburn Tunnelheadquarters and maintenance slips are located just south of the trafficRoundabout on the north side of the Houston Ship Channel on Federal Road.
Prior to the completion of the tunnel in 1950, the only passage acrossthis sixty mile stretch of the ship channel was by ferry and the ferriesseemed to be far and few between, if not somewhat unreliable (HoustonPress, March 30, 1945). Trench type tunnels began to develop about 1840and continued to grow in popularity until the 1980’s. Talk of placing atunnel under the Houston Ship Channel began as early as 1940, but by 1945there were nine sites being discussed for two tunnels (Houston Chronicle,March 29, 1945). It appears that the locations favored by the populationand the politicians were the Spellman’s Island site, near Morgan’s Point,and the Pasadena-Galena Park site. Both won out in the long run. ThePasadena-Galena Park site would eventually become the Washburn Tunnel andbe the first built under the Houston Ship Channel. Built about the sametime, the Baytown Tunnel carried auto passengers from north of Morgan’sPoint to Baytown until the Hartman Bridge replaced the need for a tunnelin that area. The Baytown Tunnel was removed and sunk in the Gulf ofMexico for a fish reef.
The Washburn Tunnel followed approximately the same route set forth by thePasadena Ferry. Harry L. Washburn had served as County Auditor forforty-one years was honored in the Tunnel naming by the Harris CountyCommissioners Court to the chagrin of many Pasadena and Galena Parkresidents, who wanted the tunnel named for their respective cities(Houston Chronicle, July 26, 1955; Harris County Commissioners CourtMinutes, April 4, 1949).
The years between 1945 and 1948, when the tunnel studies and constructioncommenced, saw bond elections, speeches, name suggestions, name calling,protests and various political maneuvers during the process. The WashburnTunnel was touted as being the first tunnel to have automatic ventilationcontrol and a brilliantly illuminated interior. Additionally, the 3009foot interior would be lined with glazed tile while the roadway would bepaved with paving bricks (Harris County Office of Human Resources & RiskManagement Publication, No Date). Bricks were chosen over paving for theease of repair. Control stations, were to be located at variousintervals, and were to house policemen, for the full control of anysituation that may arise (Houston Chamber of Commerce, Houston Magazine,November 1947). Although, the police manned control stations have yet tobe documented, it was reported that three patrolmen would be on duty, atall times in the tunnel in addition to a wrecker, which would be used toremove disabled vehicles (Houston Press, February 16, 1950; PasadenaCitizen, May 25, 1950).
Upon its completion during May 1950, the Washburn tunnel became thenation’s only toll free tunnel, and utilized the highest technology intunnel engineering, ventilating, and lighting available at the time(Houston Press, February 16, 1950; Houston Post, May 27, 1950). It wasestimated that 10,000 automobiles would use the tunnel daily to transportworkers, delivery drivers, salesmen, visitors, and sightseers from oneside of the channel to the other (Houston Post, May 27, 1950). Thisnumber was expected to increase during the weekends. Although theLynchburg Ferry survived the opening and later use of the tunnel, otherferries along the ship channel, such as the Pasadena-Galena Park and theMorgan’s Point ferries were made extinct. The tunnel opened the window ofopportunity for the 100 plus industries along the channel in 1950, byoffering access to a multitude of potential employees and resources onboth sides of the channel (Houston Post, May 27, 1950). The Houston ShipChannel has grown since 1950 to be lined with enormous oil refineries,chemical plants, factories, storage facilities, shipping terminals,manufacturing locations, importers, exporters, and related businesses bythe end of the twentieth century.
Renovations to the entrance, interior and roadway over the past twentyyears have not significantly altered the design or aesthetics of theoriginal tunnel. Interior tiles were cleaned, re-grouted and polished; anew concrete roadbed was laid to replace the crumbling bricks. New andmore modern electronics, mechanical systems, and surveillance cameras wereinstalled in addition to the ventilating system being renovated as well.During 1987, the tunnel was closed to traffic for four and one-half monthsfor major repairs, the longest closure in its fifty-seven year history(Houston Post, April 11, 1987). The County also offered two gallons ofgas for stranded motorists in the tunnel until 2006, when the offerdropped to one gallon of gas.
Today, the Washburn Tunnel is open for business 24/7 except from Midnightto 4:00 p.m. on Thursdays (Harris County Precinct 2 Publication, No Date). This time is reserved for routine inspection, cleaning, and maintenance.Otherwise, the tunnel handles over 30,000 motor vehicles per day and hasoutlived it’s sister tunnel connecting to Baytown near Morgan’s Point,which was opened in 1953 and removed in 1995 to facilitate the deepeningof the Houston Ship Channel. The Washburn Tunnel is on the NationalRegister of Historic Places.
Janet K. Wagner
PASADENA, AN INDUSTRIAL GIANT
Clopper noted in his 1828 journal that “overhanging the grassy banks alongthe course of the bayou was timber and flowering shrubs where, in someplaces were overtopped by the evergreen Magnolia rising in the grandeur ofits excellence to the reach of deserved pre-eminence where it unfolds itsfar-scented magnificence.” Clopper continued to describe the Magnolia,“the dazzling luster of its expansive bloom, the deep sea-green of itsumbrageous foliage (Clopper: 52).
Traveling up Buffalo Bayou in 1846, Dr. Ferdinand Roemer spotted a largequantity of cattle grazing the tall grass and noted “countless flocks ofwater birds, with trees of a variety of oaks, walnut, elm hackberry and athick understory of evergreen shrubs (Roemer: 1935, 55-56).
In 1848, Friedrich Schlect of Germany described the land around BuffaloBayou partway to Harrisburg as the woods “consisted of various types oftimber and oaks, sycamores, cypress, cedars, laurels, cottonwoods,acacias, catalpas, persimmons, magnificent magnolias and many others thatwere new to me.” Schlect remarked further, “the crowning glory was themarvelous magnolia, a tree that was covered to its very tip withmagnificent white flowers that were the size of a man’s hand.” Schlectobserved thick vines and tendrils draping the trees to the tops andoutermost limbs as “some of these vines had pretty red flowers (Bignoniaradicans?) and lovely wax leaves.” Schlect noted the bayou channelcontinued to narrow and curved more, causing the boat to hit the sides ofthe banks (Roemer: 1935, 55-56)
Early land travel was by foot, horse or locally constructed oxcarts. Thewheels were made of slices cut from cottonwood trees. Spoked wheelseasily sunk into mud along the prairie trails, certainly after heavyrains. Travel on land in general, was cumbersome. Before bridges couldbe established over streams, dangerous quicksand abounded along the banksand thick groves of trees would hinder travelers. The establishment ofstage lines enabled settlers to travels up to eight miles per hour, asfour to six horses pulled the coaches along.
Pasadena, Texas’ nearest border to the City of Houston lies roughly tenmiles east southeast of downtown Houston, between Interstate 45, East SamHouston Toll way and the Houston Ship Channel. The Pasadena Court Housesite is located in the far northeast quarter of the original plat ofPasadena in Outlot 29. Outlot 29 is generally bounded by Shaw Street onthe north, South Richey on the west, and Texas State Highway 225, knownalso as the La Porte Highway, to the south.The first inhabitants in and around the modern day city of Pasadena, Texaswere American Indians, from the tribe called the Karankawa, and sometimesspelled with a C. These people were fond of fish and shellfish, but alsoprone to cannibalism that made them somewhat less than friendly. Frenchand Spanish explorers, including Cabasa de Vaca passed here and tradedwith these local aborigines. Pasadena is situated where Vince’s Bayouempties into Buffalo Bayou, but at this point, Buffalo Bayou is now calledthe Houston Ship Channel. Bayous are usually deep, narrow rivers ofstagnant water that seem to be unique to Texas (Schlecht, Friedrich, On toTexas, A Journey to Texas in 1848). Field notes, authored by some of theearly surveyors of Harris County, often gave a lesson on how to pronouncethe word bayou, “buy-O” (George Bringhurst, Harris County Surveyor FieldNotes 1848).
In 1836, before the Battle of San Jacinto, Vince Bayou had a cedar woodenbridge spanning it (The Texas Almanac, 1857). This was the bridge thatDeaf Smith and his men burned on the orders of General Sam Houston to keepthe Mexican army from using the bridge. A new bridge is noted by theCounty road overseer, as being completed over Vince’s bayou on July 31,1872 (Harris County Commissioners Court Minutes, July 31, 1872). HarrisCounty paid John Curry $ 450.00 for the construction of this bridge thatyear. It was near the junction of Vince’s and Buffalo Bayous, which isnow Pasadena, that Mexico’s General Santa Anna was captured, whilemasquerading as a peasant.
The founding of the City of Pasadena was still far in the distant future.Even though settlers began to emerge as early as the 1820’s, the area wasslow to develop. It remained an open prairie, with scattered use bycattlemen, until the railroad came to La Porte, a few miles down the road,in 1892.
The prairies between Buffalo Bayou, Galveston Bay, Clear Lake and theBrazos River afforded natural water fences for the free-range cattle andranchers. In C. F. Duer’s diary, he wrote about Allen Vince’s August 1844denial of having given authorization to H. Price to “gather up unmarkedcattle in the cove, but says that he will gather up his scattering cattleout of the cove and let me have them (Pomeroy, Jr., C. David, Pasadena,The Early Years). Cattle ran free until the Fence Stock Law came about in1930. When Frederick Law Olmsted came to Texas in 1852 - 1853 with hisbrother, they noted a “fenced pasture, almost the only one we saw inTexas.” (Duer, 126, 127.). The fenced pasture Olmsted observed was on thenorth side of Buffalo Bayou, south of Carpenter’s Bayou, where thefifty-acre fenced market garden of Colonel John Haywood Manly was growingvegetables for the Galveston and Harris County market houses. Olmstedalso observed cattle branding. There was a “season for the annualgathering and branding of the calves with a cattle drive which usuallyincluded several neighbors coming together at an agreed place. The herdedcattle, “all cattle having their marks and all calves following theircows,” and driven into prepared pens. The cattle were divided, “eachman’s driven into a separate pen, calves branded and all turned looseagain.” Olmsted noted that brands of the new owner were placed above theold one, “and such double-brand is prima-facie evidence of a transfer”(Olmsted: 1978, 369, 370).
It was not until 1893 that John H. Burnett founded the town of Pasadenathat was named in honor of Pasadena, California, because of its abundantvegetation. The railroad was built through the town site in 1894(Pomeroy, Jr., C. David, Pasadena, The Early Years ). Farmers tookadvantage of the railroads arrival by settling the area, raising produce,and shipping their goods by train. Burnett platted the town in 1895. Thefirst independent school district in Harris County was founded in 1899 bythe residents of Pasadena.
There is also a historic cemetery, Crown Hill Cemetery, approximately onekilometer to the north of the Court House site. This cemetery wasoriginally known as the Pasadena Cemetery and was established officiallyin 1906; however, it is likely that it had been in use since the 1890’s.Many Mexican-American’s are buried in the cemetery as well as veterans ofthe Civil War, the Spanish American War, WWI, and WWII.
The twentieth century saw Pasadena begin to really emerge as industrialgiant. Nevertheless, first it had to go through the 1900 hurricane thatdestroyed Galveston and many other cities and towns along the Texas coast. In a way it somewhat helped and pointed to the path the town should takein the future. The director of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton,shipped one and one half million strawberry plants to the farmers of thePasadena area. Strawberry farming soon became a way of life, and Pasadena,the Strawberry capital of the United States, if not the world. By the1920’s all of southeast Harris County had come to be known as “PasadenaAcres”.
The farmers not only grew strawberries, but cantaloupes, and cucumbers,along with other produce. When President Woodrow Wilson opened the Portof Houston with its deep ship channel to the world, it gave Pasadenaanother shot in the arm. New industries began to move onto the landadjacent to the ship channel. J. S. Cullinan, founder and President ofthe Texas Company, which had its beginning digging earth storage tanks,moved his company headquarters to Houston signaling the beginning of theoil boom and tagging the area as the Energy Capital of the World. Otheroil and chemical companies soon followed suit with refineries,manufacturing, generating, and an array of plants producing scientificproducts the likes of that world has never seen. Buffalo Bayou or theship channel offers water, which can be used to move the vast cargos byhuge freighters from one nation to another, in addition to satisfying thethirsty industrial plants who require the liquid to cool their boilers,engines, and other machinery. The shoreline became a maze of theseindustrial giants.
Besides J. S. Cullinan and his Texas Company, some of the earliercompanies to establish themselves along the ship channel were the HumbleOil and Refining Company, who struck oil at Goose Creek, now known asBaytown. After a half dozen name changes, Humble is now known asExxon/Mobil. Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company began exploration in Texasduring the early 1920’s. Shell purchased the old Roxana Oil Company andDixie Oil Company, and soon constructed their refinery at Deer Park.Shell also constructed a chemical plant near the refinery. Between ShellOil Company’s Deer Park plant, and Pasadena, the Beck Land and CattleCompany, otherwise known as the Jones Ranch owned a great deal of the land, which was used for farming and pastureland. Eventually, the oil andchemical companies purchased the Jones Ranch to erect manufacturingfacilities.
Another ranch in the Pasadena area, the Allen Ranch founded by SamuelAllen, was sold in 1917 to Sinclair Oil Company to build their newrefinery (Pomeroy, Jr., C. David, Pasadena, The Early Years). It is nowknow as Lyondell-Citgo. Crown Central Petroleum began their refineryabout one year later, adjacent to the east side of Shaver Street, acrosswhich Champion Paper and Fibre mill was opened in 1937. 1924 saw HoustonLighting and Power Company erecting its Deepwater Power Plant along theHouston Ship Channel. The town of Deepwater is now a part of Pasadena.Phillips Petroleum began their refinery in 1929. Across the channel,Warren Petroleum, American Petroleum, and Sheffield Steel later claimed ashare of the north side of the Houston Ship Channel.
The war years and immediately thereafter saw tremendous growth in thearea. Industry kept pouring in. 1942 saw shipbuilding companies such asHouston Shipbuilding, Brown Shipbuilding and San Jacinto Shipbuilding setemployment records. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company opened for businessin 1943. Petro Tex and Tenneco soon followed. 1950 witnessed the longawaited opening of the Washburn Tunnel linking Pasadena with Galena Park,thus making the Pasadena Ferry obsolete. The 1960’s and 70’s were filledwith more new industries moving to new locations on both sides of theHouston Ship Channel. Stauffer Chemical Company, Signal Oil and Gas,United States Steel, Continental Oil Company, Proler Steel, Platzer BoatWorks, Lone Star Cement were a few of the new industries along the bayounear Pasadena. John Travolta came to town in 1980, for the filming of themovie “Urban Cowboy” at Mickey Gilley’s country and western nightclub.Janet K. Wagner
HARRISBURG AND JOHN RICHARDSON HARRIS
“the way to preserve old customs is to enjoy old customs.” --- Walter Bagehot
J. C. Clopper, passing through Harrisburg in 1828, described in hisjournal the area with “timber consisting principally of tall pine andoaks.” An 1831 anonymous traveler described Harrisburg near the mouth ofBrays Bayou full of deep mud. The traveler described the forests atHarrisburg as comparable with those of northern states for quality, butthat “the pine is inferior. At this place was the only steam sawmill atthat time in the county” (Wagner, J.K.: Buffalo Bayou HistoricalVignettes, 1825-1928).
Dr. Pleasant W. Rose described Harrisburg in April 1833 with two dry goodsstores, a steam sawmill and twenty homes, but no church, preacher, schoolor courthouse to be found. Founded as a sawmill town, Mrs. Maggie G.Milby spoke of the “primeval pine forest along the bayous and streamsemptying into Buffalo Bayou made rafting the logs an easy method ofgetting them to the mills” (Smith: 1934, 50).At one time, there was a bakery near the intersection of Broadway andWalnut Streets operated by a German immigrant named Schilling. Adescendant recalled that the bakery was “framed with hand-hewn cedarbeams, many of the beams being ten to twelve inches thick; and securedwith wooden pegs”(Smith: 1934, 49).
Harrisburg, where John R. Harris lived, is still a landmark to many wholive in and around the area. Harrisburg lies east southeast of Houstonalong the continuation of Prairie Avenue on a street named Harrisburg thatterminates at Navigation Boulevard, just before reaching the Houston ShipChannel, a short distance above Brays Bayou. Lawndale Avenue is more orless its southern boundary. Brays Bayou forms the north boundary ofpresent Harrisburg and Broadway runs through the center of the once livelycommunity.
John Richardson Harris immigrated to Texas with other Anglo-Americans inthe early 1820s. Harris, leaving his wife and four children in New York,arrived in Texas in 1823 in his own boat, The Rights of Man, from NewOrleans, Louisiana (Looscan, Adele, B., Southwestern Historical Quarterly,April, 1928). Harris visited several places before deciding to settle onBuffalo Bayou. He chose a spot near the junction of Buffalo and BraysBayous, on the crown of a sloping bank on Buffalo Bayou and about one halfmile from the confluence of the two waters. He chose this site to buildhis home and erect a sawmill. John Harris had secured a contract withthe Mexican Government to supply lumber from Buffalo Bayou forests to thecity of Tampico on the eastern Mexican coast.
Before dredging, Buffalo Bayou historically provided access to vesselsdrawing five to six feet of water that could transport logs. Thesesawmills on the bayou were known at one time to have furnished more lumberthan any other in Texas. Tie production for railroads continued into thelate twentieth century. Early grist and sawmills on were set in thestreambed in order to create waterpower using waterfalls. Some createdwater sluices to fill lakes for waterpower. As soon as steam wasavailable, the mills converted their operations to the higher powermachinery.
At this particular time, the place Harris had selected was the “practicalhead of tide” and navigation on Buffalo Bayou (Looscan, Adele, B.,Southwestern Historical Quarterly, April, 1928). When he received titleto his league of land, 4428 acres, he built a house, a store, and starteda shipping business, with schooners sailing between there, Mexico, and NewOrleans. In 1826, Harris hired a surveyor by the name of Francis W.Johnson, to lay out a town site. He named the town Harrisburg, in his ownhonor and after the city by the same name in Pennsylvania, named for hisgrandfather.
The mercantile business owned by Harris flourished and he soon opened asecond store at Bell’s Landing in Brazoria County. In 1827, David, hisbrother, an able ships captain joined him at Harrisburg to help handle hisfleet of ships. Later two of his other brothers, William and Samuel joinedhim in his business ventures (Smith, Daisy L., History of Harrisburg,Texas 1822-1927, Masters Thesis, August 1934). In 1828, J. C. Clopper,along with his father and two brothers formed a trading company,constructing their warehouse in Harrisburg.
In 1829, John R. Harris ordered and was busy constructing a steam-drivensawmills and gristmill on the south bank of Brays Bayou near its junctionwith Buffalo Bayou. For the effort of adding these necessities for thebenefit of the community, the Mexican government subsidized Harris bygranting him another two leagues of land (Jones, C. Anson, “Early Historyof Harris County, Texas,” Burke’s Texas Almanac for 1879). The sawmillwould be the first in Texas. During that same year, J. R. Harris signedwhat is believed to be the first filed contract for cotton in Texas, withJared Groce, owner of the Groce Plantation on the Brazos River (Jones,Julia, Harris County Early Settlements, December 28, 1936). The contractcalled for Groce to deliver, all of the cotton Groce owned, ninety to onehundred bales annually, to Harris for export from Harrisburg.
During the summer of 1829, John R. Harris found himself in need of someparts for his still uncompleted sawmill. He boarded his Schooner, TheRights of Man, and set sail for New Orleans, the center of business atthat time on the northern coast of the Mexican Gulf. He would neverreturn. New Orleans at that time was in the grips of an epidemic ofyellow fever. John R. Harris contacted the disease and within five days,on August 21, 1829, died from its effects (Texas Gazette, October 3,1829). His widow, Jane Birdsall Harris, did not come to Texas until1833, at which time her eldest son, DeWitt Clinton Harris, reached anacceptable age to accompany her and the remainder of the family. Jane andDeWitt traveled by stagecoach, canal boat, steamboat, then sailing ship toreach Harrisburg. David Harris had set up residence in his brother’shouse then on the north side of Brays Bayou in Harrisburg.
Upon her arrival, Mrs. Harris began to construct a home for herself andher family. Although John Harris had died four years prior to herarrival, his estate would not be settled for another five years, owing tothe ineptness of the Mexican courts and family disagreements. On 21 March1836, the home of Jane Birdsall Harris, located in Harrisburg became theCapitol of the Republic of Texas, when the President David G. Burnet withVice President Lorenzo de Zavala and members of the presidential cabinetmet there. The house was not quite suited for this many guests, so thePresident and Vice President were the only ones afforded beds, while themembers of the cabinet had to sleep on the floor. Plentiful Spanish mosswas common for mattress stuffing at this time. The settlers gathered themoss and buried it in the earth until partially rotted, dug it up,thoroughly cleaned the moss, dried and picked over the rest. The balancewas shaped into a suitable size mattress and encased in ticking. New woolwas layered on top of the moss before the ticking was sewn around themattress. Other convenient materials utilized included hay, straw orcotton ( Colquhoun: 1976, 10.).
Early Inns and Hotels along Eastern Buffalo Bayou were generallyconstructed as two square log buildings about twenty feet square in spaceand set about fifteen feet apart to be joined by a covered and flooredopening known as a “dog run.” One of the square rooms would have a mudand brick (if available) fireplace, the other square housing guests.Meals were served in the covered breezeway. The table would offer, at thebest Inns, cornbread, milk, eggs, and wild game. Coffee was served whenavailable. Sometimes, when out of coffee beans, the Inns would offerAcorn coffee. The receipt was simple: “Take the husks off, roast nutuntil brown adding a bit of butter while hot to supply the place ofempryreumatic oil that is generated during the roasting of real coffee.Shake well and grind (Telegraph & Texas Register: March 14, 1851).”Charges for the meals and lodging ranged from one dollar to adollar-fifty. As flour was not often available, ground Indian corn wasthe staple for cooking and baking. If the community were moreestablished, as in the case of Harrisburg, there would be abundant butterand cheese and local fruit.
During April 1836, the elected officials of the state, along withthousands of other Texans were trying to avoid being captured by theadvancing Mexican army under the command of Generalissimo Santa Anna.Shortly thereafter, the Mexican army paid a visit to Harrisburg in pursuitof the renegade officials. The leaders of the state, and the Harrisfamily, along with many others had fortunately retired to Galveston. TheMexican Army torched Harrisburg, threw the local printing press intoBuffalo Bayou, and marched east to burn the warehouses of James Morgan athis town of New Washington near the mouth of the San Jacinto River, as itwas known at that time. Morgan remarked years later that Santa Anna hadburned his town due to Morgan snubbing the Mexican leader at an 1832dinner party in New York.
After the Mexicans were defeated by the Texas Army near San Jacinto onApril 21st, the Harris’ returned to Harrisburg, and began to rebuild theirhome. There was a house left standing, outside the limits of Harrisburg,known as the Farmer House. It was here that Mrs. Harris lived while herresidence was rebuilt. The new house, could not be compared to her formerresidence, but was built on the same lot. It was built from logs, hewn byMexican prisoners, since the Harris sawmill had also been destroyed by theMexicans Army.
On 28 August 1839, an advertisement appears in the local papers for aresidence:
“Grove Cottage for sale, beautiful residence on Buffalo Bayou, two milesbelow Harrisburg. Dwelling house 20 ft x 24 feet, ten-foot gallery infront, two gallery rooms in rear of 10 ft x 10 ft, upper room. Fourrooms in front dwelling. Sealed and painted. Dining room 8 ft x 24 ft,sealed and painted. Neat kitchens with brick chimneys, stable, oven.Good wharf in front of house. Steamboats land at all times. Handsomegarden with fruit trees and summerhouse. Six-acre field that hasproduced two good crops of corn and melons, plenty of wood. Whole undergood palings and fences. Inquire of Andrew Briscoe, Harrisburg(Colquhoun: 1976, 10-11).”
Since the estate of John R. Harris was not settled and still in thecourts, Harrisburg was bypassed by development for the new city of Houstonseveral miles upstream on Buffalo Bayou, five miles by land. Thedelegates to the Capitol of the new Republic of Texas moved to Houston inMay 1837 and Houston became the new Capitol as well as the seat ofgovernment for Harrisburg County.
Harrisburg grew little during the next few years. One visitor remarked,“It is a pleasant place containing about twelve or fourteen houses. Itwas a place of some importance previous to the revolution, but was burntdown by the Mexicans, a few days preceding the battle of San Jacinto andhas never been rebuilt (Bonnell, George W. Topographical Description ofTexas. 1840 ).}
By 1840, the Harris family had regained enough business to remodel theirhome. Dewitt Clinton Harris was in New York on business when he purchasedthe doors and windows from the former governors’ home, which was beingdemolished. These he shipped to his mother in Harrisburg, for use in theenlargement of the family home. This was a time when all fine carpentrycame from New York, Boston, or Bangor (Maine). Also in 1840, AndrewBriscoe, a relative of the Harris family dreamed of bringing new life toHarrisburg with the introduction of a railroad. Unfortunately, Mr.Briscoe was somewhat before his time.
Mrs. Harris was a stockholder of the Harrisburg Town Company, whichpromoted Harrisburg business, and contracted to bring a French Colony tothe town in 1843. Several brick buildings were constructed and a numberof French immigrants made their way to the town (Muir, Andrew Forest,Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 1943). Parties serving French winesabounded in the community with talk of vineyards surrounding Harrisburg.Most of the French immigrants were disappointed, staying but for a shorttime, then returned to their homeland. The harsh pioneer life andmalaria fever proved too much for the French and the plan failed (Smith,Daisy L., History of Harrisburg, Texas 1822-1927, Masters Thesis, August1934).
Jane Birdsall Harris then turned to operating an Inn at her home and waswell patronized. By 1851, Andrew Briscoe’s dream had been fulfilled, asthe first railroad in Texas, the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and ColoradoRailroad (BBB&C) was being constructed linking Harrisburg with Alleyton onthe Colorado River, giving another boom time to Harrisburg. BuffaloBayou, Brazos & Colorado Railroad Company was headed by Sidney Sherman, aTexas General at the Battle of San Jacinto. The earliest portions of therailroad were in operation by 1853 and after many years became a part ofthe Southern Pacific Railroad System.
The railroad began in Harrisburg, very near the Harris House, as the Innwas known, and adjacent to the wharves owned by the Harris shipping firm.Travelers changed modes of transportation from steamships to railcars andhorse drawn vehicles almost at the door of the Harris Inn. (Muir, AndrewForest, “Railroad Enterprise in Texas,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly,April 1944). Business was brisk and for a time, new life was breathedinto Harrisburg. Many prominent personages gathered there, not tomention, the railroad officials on their yearly inspection tours. Justsouth of Brays Bayou, along the east side of Broadway Boulevard is thesite of the mill and store that was the terminal and depot of the BBB&Crailroad. The J. R. Harris 15 horse-powered steam sawmill had an investedcapital of $13,000 by 1860 and processed thirty Pine, Oak, or Cypress logsa day. The sawmill employed fourteen men who produced 1,408,500 boardfeet of rough-cut lumber a year. The gross value of the mill productionannually was estimated at $24,000.
When the War Between the States broke out, having a seaport connected tothe railroad,played an important role to the Confederacy. Arms and munitions wereshipped from Houston, with the ships stopping at Harrisburg to take onadditional cargo. There were several confederate army camps, one of whichnamed Camp Van Dorn, established in the immediate area of the town (.Muir,Andrew Forest, “The Destiny of Buffalo Bayou,” Southwestern HistoricalQuarterly 1943). The bayou at Harrisburg lent easy access for troopmovements to the Gulf of Mexico, and eventually to other destinationswhere they were needed. While the war raged in other parts of the UnitedStates, Harrisburg continued to be a quiet, small seaport town. Mrs.Harris opened her home to sick confederate soldiers, who her sister nursedback to health. After the war, the railroad expanded and changed its nameto the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railroad (GH&SA).Harrisburg remained an important railroad town and port during the CivilWar period. Mrs. Jane Birdsall Harris died at her home in Harrisburgduring August 1869. The next year a fire destroyed the railway yards andwarehouse, bring the era of the railroad to an end in Harrisburg. The newrail yards and terminals were built in Houston.
The years immediately following the war saw brick manufacturers come toHarrisburg. In 1867, Van Liew and Hennessey opened a brickyard on thenorth bank of Brays Bayou. Bricks from this yard were the first used topave some of the Harrisburg streets (Smith, Daisy L., History ofHarrisburg, Texas, 1822-1927, Masters Thesis, August 1934). John Van Liewemigrated from Louisiana to begin work as an engineer for the BBB&Crailroad in Harrisburg. In 1870, W. C. and Monroe Cogland, located abrickyard near a sawmill close to the original railroad. By 1884, Milby,Dow, and Shoemaker were in the brick making business at Harrisburg.Henry L. Dow left the shipyards of Maine in 1853 to immigrate to Texas.Dow was working at the San Jacinto docks as a ship carpenter in Oct 1870before moving to Harrisburg. The C. H. Milby family figured greatly intothe business dealings of Harrisburg until well into the early part of thetwentieth century and operated in 1900 as a coal dealer.
Harrisburg had a handle factory on Myrtle Street, about 1889. The factoryproduced handles for garden instruments such as hoes and axes, as well asother tools; the factory seems to have stopped production just before theturn of the century (Smith, Daisy L., 49)
Another driving force involved in private business of Harrisburg was theJames S. Deady family. Accompanied by his father, he arrived on August1, 1889. They set up a pottery shop in the old roundhouse vacated by therailroad. The business was a success, even after the older Deady died in1898. Deady moved the business next door to the Milby brickyard in 1900.
Milby and Deady had talked of plans to enlarge the Deady pottery businessand a possible incorporation with the Milby interests. Sarah A. Deady,born in Kentucky, ran an Inn that boarded a railroad section foreman, arailroad engineer, tile worker, and gardener in 1900. The Deady Potteryand Tile business continued until World War I (Smith, Daisy L., 49).
The Texas Gulf Coast weather turned deadly in the late summer of 1900.Harrisburg suffered the same fate as Lynchburg during the 1900 storm. TheDeady pottery factory and the Milby brickyard were no exceptions. Thestorm surge flooded the town while the gales raked havoc with thestructures. Unable to rebuild, Deady collaborated with a hardware firm fora short time, manufacturing charcoal fired furnaces; but was forced tomove to Arizona for his wife’s health. Upon his return in 1910, Deady andMilby’s son again engaged in the pottery business. Business was good andboth men profited. Then in 1916, the advent of the electric kiln, more orless ended the pottery business for Deady and Harrisburg.
About 1910, the City of Houston quietly annexed the waterfront of thesmall community of Harrisburg, including a 2500-foot wide path downBuffalo Bayou, along the shipping lanes in Galveston Bay to the bar pastGalveston Island, extending the City of Houston limits to the Gulf ofMexico. The act effectively destroyed the Harrisburg wharves andshipping, coincided with the opening of the new Houston Ship Channel as adeep-water port, and the moving of the Turning Basin to Constitution Bend,just upstream from the town of Harrisburg. Then some years thereafter, in1926, the entire City of Harrisburg became part of the City of Houston.
The new Turning Basin location had been recommended and approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1905, as well as the channel cut atHarrisburg to straighten Buffalo Bayou, leaving the town of Harrisburg inthe oxbow of the stream. Harris County residents approved the plan tosplit the cost of dredging Buffalo Bayou to a depth of twenty-five feet in1909. The next year, the project became known as the Houston Ship Channelwith dredging commencing at Harrisburg.
No improvements in the shipping channel had been made below Harrisburgbetween 1836 and 1845. In 1850, a small amount of improvements wereundertaken and by 1872, $10,000 in Federal money had been allocated to thechannel. Deep water efforts began in 1897 promoted by Congressman ThomasH. Ball and received one million dollars in 1902 funded from the UnitedStates Congress. By 1904, the funds ran out and the channel depth wasonly 18.5 feet. The 1910 citizen participation in the project secured thefuture of Houston as a deep-water port, beginning at the point originallychosen by John R. Harris.
By 1925, the Houston Ship Channel deepened to thirty feet with selectedwidening and dredging to thirty-two feet completed by 1932. The width atHarrisburg and downstream of the channel was increased in 1945 to 400 feetand continued through Galveston Bay. In 1966, the channel at Harrisburgand below was dredged to forty feet. The latest efforts to deepen thechannel at Harrisburg to fifty-two feet came about at the turn of thetwenty-first century and is the present depth.
Nearby historical markers, include Harrisburg itself, the Holy CrossMission, Buffalo Bayou, Brazos & Colorado Railroads, and the Tod-MilbyHome site. Glendale Cemetery, the burial place of John R. Harris, isimmediately south of Buffalo Bayou. There are several shipwrecks in theBayou as well, dating from the Revolution period through the Civil War tomore modern periods, unfortunately those wrecks nearest to Harrisburg areof unknown vessels. The shipwrecks located in the Houston Ship Channelwere destroyed during various dredge operations before 1966.
The historical marker commemorating the Holy Cross Mission cites theMission as being founded under the name Nativity in 1865 and completed, asthe Holy Cross Mission, in 1895. Heavily damaged in the 1900 Hurricane itwas repaired but eventually fell into ruin. The current Holy CrossMission was dedicated in 1920.
The John Grant Tod historical marker notes that Tod moved to Texas fromKentucky in 1837 and served the Republic Navy as a naval agent andcommodore. He then served as an agent of the United States NavyQuartermaster’s Department during the Mexican-American War. He was one ofthe organizers of the earliest Texas Railroad (Buffalo Bayou, Brazos &Colorado) and is buried in Glendale Cemetery. The original house,modified by Tod’s son-in-law C.H. Milby, was demolished in 1959.
Janet K. Wagner
OAK GROVE - THE DAVID G. BURNET FARMSTEAD
When early Europeans arrived along Buffalo Bayou, the stream renowned with great quantities of wild game, buffalos found in considerable abundance with deer in flocks of 25 to 50. The David G. Burnet Farmstead was located east of Houston off Interstate 10. The exit is the same used to get to Four Corners and Lynchburg. The Crosby-Lynchburg Road formed thewestern boundary of the Burnet farm and Spring Bayou bordered the eastside of the acreage.
David Gouverneur Burnet pronounced “burn-it”, according to Texashistorian, Dr. Margaret Swett Henson, was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1788. Gouverneur was his mother’s middle name. He studied law under his brother Jacob in Cincinnati, Ohio and received a classical education in Newark, then spent some time in New York. He joined Xavier Miranda on his unsuccessful expedition to Venezuela, returning to New York at the end of1806. About here, history seems to lose track of Burnet for about eleven years. In 1817, he moved to Natchitoches, Louisiana to trade with the Comanche Indians for the next two years. Returning to Ohio he studied law again.
May 1826 found Burnet in Saltillo, Mexico petitioning the Mexican government for an empresario grant, in Texas (Henderson, Mary V. Minor Empresario Contracts for the Colonization of Texas, 1825-1834). He received the grant that authorized him to settle 300 families in northeastTexas south of the town of Nacogdoches. Burnet was to receive 69,000 acres of land from the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas for these colonists. He spent the next couple of years in Texas trying to developand refine his grants and in Ohio, in an effort to raise money and enlistcolonists (Henson, Margaret Swett, Handbook of Texas). Neither venture worked out very well. In April 1830, the Mexican government passed a law prohibiting further immigration from the United States. Burnet could see no other way out, than to sell his colonization rights to a group of northeastern investors. Both he and partner Lorenzo de Zavala made this move in October of that year.
The northeast investors had formed a new firm known as the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company, which paid Burnet an undisclosed amount of money plus certificates for four leagues of land or 17,713.6 acres, in exchange for his colonization contracts (Texas Land Measure, Archives and RecordsDivision, Texas General Land Office). However, the Mexican immigration lawof April 1830 prevented him from locating and surveying the land, making the certificates worthless. Before the year ended, December 8, Burnet married Hannah Este in Morristown, New Jersey (Henson, Margaret Swett,Handbook of Texas). Burnet ordered a steam-driven sawmill, packed his belongings, and moved his new wife to Texas. Upon his arrival at Galveston, early in 1831, he purchased seventeen acres from Nathaniel Lynch at the site of Lynchburg, to erect his sawmill (Jones, C. Anson, “Early History of Harris County,“Burke’s Texas Almanac for 1879). The mill was about 500 feet north of the original Lynchburg town site, on the eastern edge of the San Jacinto River, at a natural eddy, where the water was calm and free of strongcurrents (Anonymous, A Visit to Texas 1831). He also purchased 279 additional acres on St Mary’s Bay (now Burnet Bay), about two and one half miles east of Lynchburg, where he erected his home named “Oakland,” made of logs. He soon replaced the log structure with a neat little cottage of dressed lumber (Jones, C. Anson, “Early History of Harris County,” Burke’s Texas Almanac for 1879) Later, he petitioned the Mexican government for eleven leagues of land, because he had purchased and ran his sawmill for the benefit of the surrounding citizens. Like so many other times in his life his petition was unsuccessful. Shortly thereafter, in June 1835, he put the sawmill up for sale, because it was not producing a profit.
Although Burnet was a capable man in law and politics, his policies tended to anger people. He was not elected a delegate to the Texas Convention of 1836 because of his radical thoughts. Over the years, David Burnet had applied for many different important positions without success, and would continue to apply for them in the future years, with similar results.There was one exception however. He attended the Convention to pleadbefore the Consultation of March 1836 for a client, who had been sentenced to be hung. Burnet was very articulate and won clemency for the client, thereby impressing a number of the delegates. When time came to elect an interim president for the new Republic, the delegates declined to name one of their own, and elected Burnet by a seven-vote majority.
His tenure as President was from March 1836 until October 22, 1836. During this time he angered General Sam Houston, the soldiers, his cabinet, and the local citizens with his actions. He left the office very embittered. In June 1838 and January 1839, the Burnet’s acquired a house in Houston on Travis Street and lots in the towns of Harrisburg and Hamilton. In 1838 he was elected Vice President to Mirabeau B. Lamar, but when he ran for President in 1841, against his old adversary Sam Houston,he was thoroughly beaten.
The Baptist Conference appointed Burnet as Trustee in October 1856 and Burnet continued to hold various minor government positions for the nextfew years, but was appointed a United States Senator in 1866, along with Oran G. Roberts. Texas had not yet met the conditions to be re-admitted to the Union; consequently the two were refused seats in the Senate of the United States. David and Hannah Burnet, with their only surviving son,William, moved to Galveston, renting his farm and hiring out the slaves.
David G. Burnet died in December 1870 and is buried in Galveston’s Lakeview Cemetery, where a monument was erected to him and his old friend Sidney Sherman in 1894 (Henson, Margaret Swett, Handbook of Texas). The David Burnet homestead location is a registered archeological site.