Texas Railroad History - Tower 12 - Houston (Blodgett)

A crossing of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway and the San Antonio and Aransas Pass (SA&AP) Railway

According to Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) records, Tower 12 was established in 1903 at "Blodgett". The origin of the name "Blodgett" is in question; it was used in the context of a town or community, but the Handbook of Texas has no geographic reference by this name. It is possible that RCT simply listed the tower at "Blodgett" because it was located near the intersection of South Main and Blodgett Street south of downtown Houston.

The first north/south line through this vicinity was built by the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway in 1880 to provide a connection between Stella (near Pierce Junction on the GH&SA main line south of Houston) and the Texas & New Orleans Railroad yards northeast of downtown Houston. This line crossed the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railway at Chaney Junction (Tower 14) and at this time, the GH&SA began using the H&TC passenger terminal in Houston. Eight years later, the San Antonio & Aransas Pass (SA&AP) Railway built a line into Houston from the town of Kenedy, southeast of San Antonio. The SA&AP crossed the GH&SA southwest of downtown. Many years later, Tower 12 opened on July 6, 1903 with a 12-function mechanical interlocker to serve this junction. In 1914, the H&TC constructed a line from Tower 13 (Eureka Junction) to the newly established West Junction on the GH&SA main line to San Antonio. This connection allowed transcontinental Southern Pacific (SP) traffic between El Paso and Texarkana to bypass the main yards in Houston. [A faster connection, the Dalsa Cutoff between Giddings and Flatonia, was built by the T&NO at the same time and became SP's primary bypass.]

Rice Institute opened near Tower 12 in 1912. This served to stimulate population growth southwest of downtown Houston and shortly thereafter, civic leaders were encouraging the GH&SA to abandon their rail line through Montrose so the neighborhood could expand. The GH&SA obliged and began using the H&TC's line between West Junction and Tower 13 instead of the line through Montrose. This alternate route into Houston was faster and allowed Tower 12 to be closed in 1915. The rail segment through Montrose was abandoned except for a spur running south from Chaney Junction. On Christmas Eve, 1917, the GH&SA opened their own line parallel to the H&TC tracks between West Junction and Chaney Junction (Tower 14) via Eureka Junction (Tower 13). Why build a parallel line of some distance when both railroads (the GH&SA and the H&TC) were already affiliated with Southern Pacific? Texas rail historian S. G. Reed explains that since the abandoned route from Stella to Chaney Junction through Montrose was GH&SA's only track into Houston, its abandonment meant that GH&SA technically did not serve Houston. The new line was built because it was "thought best for the GH&SA to actually own a track into Houston...".

Chris Tolley adds:
"The bridges of the old GH&SA main across Memorial Dr. and Allen Parkway have been removed for some time now (c.1990). The spur track at Chaney is still there, but the switch to the Glidden/Terminal mains is gone. There used to be some grain silos on the SE end of Washington and Studemont that used to be a customer long time ago for the SP. That got torn down about 1996 (I think) and is now home to an upscale strip shopping area and some new apartment/condo buildings on the land."

Historic Map, Tower 12

Above: An index sheet to the 1907 Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. map of Houston shows the crossing
of the GH&SA and SA&AP served by Tower 12. The diagonal street adjacent to the crossing is South
Main. Many of the north/south street names (e.g. Greely, Jack, Elsbury, Garrott, Butte, Brandt) have
survived to the present, whereas most of the east/west names have changed, e.g. Rugeley is now
Richmond Ave., Mound Av. is now W. Alabama, and Fourth St. is long gone, replaced by the Southwest
Freeway (see map below). The precise location of the tower structure is not known.

Chris Tolley adds:
"The street crossing you are referring to in the Montrose area is Alabama and Jack. They cross each other
immediately west of downtown. This was the home of Tower 12. The downtown library has some great maps
that show in detail what was around back then."

Given the half-mile distance between the SA&AP/GH&SA crossing diamond and the Alabama/Jack intersection, it would be unlikely for Tower 12 to have been located that far north absent some other compelling reason. However, Chris may be on to something, as illustrated below.


Above: This 1896 Sanborn index map shows the route of the Texas Western Railroad (narrow gauge) into downtown Houston, its tracks
paralleling the SA&AP a couple of blocks to the northwest. The map ends along the left edge with the Texas Western running due west at
a point approximately one block southwest of the intersection of Holman and Milam streets, both of which still exist in Houston. Projecting
a continuation of this route on a due west heading places it on what is now W. Alabama, as shown below. This line was opened in 1877, three
years before the GH&SA line was built through Montrose. Clearly, the two railroads would have crossed somewhere near the intersection of
Alabama and Jack, but by the time RCT began to regulate interlocking towers, there would have been no need for one at this location since
the Texas Western was abandoned in 1899. However, GH&SA could have built a single control tower to serve both rail junctions prior to the
legal requirement imposed by RCT. If so, Tower 12 might have been located further north than would otherwise be expected.

While independent confirmation of Alabama being located on the Texas Western right-of-way is lacking, it is interesting to note that west of Milam, the path of W. Alabama (and eventually, Westheimer, which Alabama converges into) is essentially a perfectly straight line for 16 miles, with only slight deviations that most likely resulted from local road construction issues. Compare this to other nearby parallel streets (e.g. Richmond Ave, San Felipe) which meander around quite a bit while generally heading west. For Alabama to not be atop the former Texas Western right-of-way would be truly unusual.

Julian Erceg provided this email update on 7 May 2009 relevant to our speculation about the Texas Western Narrow Gauge (TWNG)...
"I was reading your speculation about the location of the Texas Western Narrow Gauge right of way leaving Houston on your Tower 12 page. ...I did a very small amount of research on the Texas Western about 10 years ago just using sources I could find in the Houston Library, and everything I found says your speculation is, as expected, correct. This is the most reliable evidence I found: Quoted from The Road to Piney Point edited by Melissa M. Peterson, published by the Piney Point Village Historic Committee in 1994: "In 1877, the Texas Western Narrow Gauge was built from Houston to Pattison and San Felipe along the route of present Westheimer Road, swinging northerly past Katy, TX. Piney Point was a regular stop on this railroad although there is no evidence that any station building ever existed. The TWNG owned 40 acres north of the line and to the west of the Canfield homestead. A railroad bridge crossed the Piney Point Gully to the west of Piney Point Road... A lady living on Piney Point Road around 1950 retold this story about the Piney Point stop in the 1890's: As a youngster she and her family, usually on a Saturday or a Sunday, caught the old TWNG to Piney Point Station, walked down to Buffalo Bayou past the present site of Vargo's restaurant to picnic areas and sandy beaches and cool clear water for swimming. Late in the day they caught the train back to town. Apparently this was a popular excursion for many Houstonians. The stopping place was near the old Canfield House, but history does not record the role of its inhabitants in this picnic site. This picnic area was either on Canfield property or on the TWNG property to the west." A History of the Texas Railroads by S.G. Reed and Uriah Lott by J. L. Allhands both use the same wording to suggest the route may have turned west at Alabama. From Uriah Lott: "...its freight and passenger stations were located at the corner of St. Emanuel and Commerce Streets, and its tracks ran out St. Emanuel to what is now known as East Alabama." Hopefully this helps confirm your suspicions- it is always satisfying to have a well educated hunch prove to be correct."

General Location Map for Tower 12

 
Last Revised: 12/6/2009 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.