A short history of Buffalo Bayou and the Houston ship channel
Weatherall, John M.
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Purpose: The purpose of this study has been to trace the origin and development of the idea of a deep water channel from the City of Houston to the Gulf of Mexico. There was no record of such a study or research in either the Houston Public Library or the Harris County Houston Ship Channel Commission Library. This is the story of the origin of the commercial development of Buffalo Bayou, Houston, Texas, from about 1820, the earliest mention of the stream in history, to the present day gigantic inland port of Houston. It has been written in the hope that a history of the efforts of one community will throw some light on the history of the country as a whole. The evidence seems to indicate that the history of the Houston Ship Channel is peculiarly the history of all Texas on a small scale, in that all of its major problems had a parallel in the in the major problems in the young nation. In the way the town of Houston and its citizenry solved these problems may be found illustrations of the efforts of the nation to solve these problems which it faced. Tho practical, businesslike beginning of the ship channel, the individual and the collective enterprise, the foresight and energetic use of the means at hand, are significant as an indication of the beginning of the factors which have enabled Houston to take first place among the cities of the state in size and in commercial importance. Methods: The only method whereby the history of the commercial development of Buffalo Bayou to the present Houston Ship Channel could be traced was through reference to the first newspapers published in Columbia, Texas, and later in Houston, beginning in 1836. There were many available booklets, pamphlets, and circulars on the subject, but the validity of these media were questionable. Reference material in the first stage of the study covering the years 1820-1850 was found in the early Spanish Deed Records of Harris County, in the Deed Records of Harris County, and the authentic early maps in possession of the Houston Public Library. The account books of several of the early travelers and merchants of the city proved to be valid and were therefore valuable to the study. In the middle period of the research covering the years 1850-1900 valuable source material was available in the form of account books of the time and in histories of eye-witness nature. In the last phase of the study covering the years 1900-1925 material was available in the form of newspaper stories and accounts of events. In none of the periods is there a complete study from origin to completion of the project. Several of the participants have written stories of their particular connection to the channel, and these studies have been published in the daily Houston papers as source material. Findings: It is apparent from this short history that the one hundred years have been a period of hope this community held for the constant improvement of its waterways. That the community has worked incessantly towards that end, none doubts. It has neither faltered nor wavered at any time or place on that journey. The origin and development of the Houston Ship Channel in words and figures must hold a surpassing interest to those who are interested in industrial development and growth. What has already been achieved is largely due to the assistance of the United States Government, coupled with the courage, the confidence, and cooperation of the community. The waterway and the publicly owned rail and water terminal facilities are dedicated to the service of commerce. Transportation and Commerce authorities agree that no man can foretell the future industrial development along this land locked and safe and secure waterway and that the industrial growth will be limited only by the growth of Texas as a whole. Since there was no organized data concerning the Houston Ship Channel, it is to be hoped that this thesis will be of some interest and benefit to the students of history and economic progress. The writer will be content if the material here presented preserves the magnificent spirit and enterprise which has created from a muddy, slithering bayou, one of the most important channel waterways and ports in the world.