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

In 1880, the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway built a new line to provide a connection between Stella (near Pierce Junction on the GH&SA east/west main line south of Houston) and the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railroad yards northeast of downtown Houston. This line crossed the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railway at Chaney Junction (Tower 14). As GH&SA did not have its own passenger depot in Houston, it began using this route to access the H&TC passenger depot. 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 south of downtown. When interlocker commissioning began in 1902, Tower 12 was one of the early interlockers to be commissioned. This occured on July 6, 1903 to serve the GH&SA / SA&AP junction with a 12-function mechanical plant. By this time, the GH&SA had long been owned by Southern Pacific (SP). SP had also acquired controlling interest in the SA&AP in 1892, but a lawsuit resulted in SP divesting its SA&AP stock in 1903. It was not until 1925 that SP was able to re-acquire the SA&AP permanently.

According to Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) records, Tower 12 was located at "Blodgett". The origin of the name "Blodgett" is in question; it's appearance in the RCT lists of interlockers published annually was in the context of a location that was virtually always a town or community (or in rare cases, a geographic reference.) But no applicable community or geographic reference to the name "Blodgett" has been found in the vicinity of Houston (the Handbook of Texas lists a town of Blodgett near Mt. Pleasant in north Texas.) It appears that RCT simply listed the tower as being located at "Blodgett" because it was near the intersection of South Main and Blodgett Street south of downtown Houston. Why it wasn't listed as "Houston (Blodgett)" is a mystery. It was recorded simply as "Blodgett" through its last appearance in an RCT list dated October 31, 1915. After that, it no longer appeared in RCT interlocker lists because it had been decommissioned.

And why was it decommissioned? In 1914, the H&TC constructed a line from Tower 13 (Eureka Junction) in Houston to the newly established West Junction southwest of town 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 a new 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 significant 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 and Satellite Map, Tower 12 Vicinity

Above Left: This 1913 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. Blodgett Ave., for which the tower location was presumably named, is visible near the crossing. Above Right: Although Blodgett St. is not labeled on this satellite image, it still exists east of the 527 freeway spur. West of the spur, it's now called Woodrow St.

The precise location of the tower is not known, but there is a suggestion based on some historic maps that have been viewed, but not copied, that Tower 12 was close to the intersection of Alabama and Jack. 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, particularly since it was apparently associated with Blodgett Street. However, a compelling reason to be located farther north might have existed, 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. Although the GH&SA would have crossed the Texas Western somewhere near the intersection of Alabama and Jack, the Texas Western was abandoned in 1899, three years before RCT began regulating interlockers. However, GH&SA could have built a single control tower to serve its rail junctions with the Texas Western and the SA&AP well before the legal requirement imposed by RCT. If so, Tower 12 might have been located farther north than the "expected" location shown on this map.

Julian Erceg adds to this discussion...
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: 1/29/2020 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.