Texas Railroad History - Towers 102 and 208 - Houston (Magnolia Park)

Tower 102: Crossing of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railway and the International & Great Northern Railroad
Tower 208: Crossing of the Houston Belt & Terminal Railroad and the Port Terminal Railroad Association (Public Belt Railroad)


Above: Kenneth Anthony took these two photos of the gate that constituted the Tower 102 interlocker in its later years. The gate was normally closed across the Southern Pacific tracks, allowing continuous movements on the Houston Belt & Terminal tracks. This gate was designed so that when fully closed and locked, trains on the opposite track would see a signal authorizing them to proceed without delay. If the gate was unlocked, the signals on the opposite track would warn trains that they may not proceed through the crossing. Gates were used as a simple manual control system for tracks that were seldom used, to be opened only on the rare occasions when a train or maintenance vehicle needed to cross.

John Thomas Brady (sometimes incorrectly referenced as Thomas M. Brady) was 26 years old when he arrived in Houston in 1856. Born in Maryland, educated as an attorney, Brady settled at Harrisburg near Buffalo Bayou and opened a law practice. Seeing Buffalo Bayou on a regular basis no doubt influenced his thinking that it might one day become a transportation artery for ocean-going vessels. To capitalize on his vision, Brady bought 2,000 acres of land on April 18, 1866 along the south bank of Buffalo Bayou, north of Harrisburg, several miles east of Houston. Brady and other investors proceeded to establish two companies, the New Houston City Company and the Texas Transportation Company (TTC), to develop Brady's property and build a rail line to serve it. Their timing was poor; the slow economic recovery after the Civil War left investors leery of funding these ventures. Very little construction was ever accomplished, and by 1876, Charles Morgan had bought controlling interest in the TTC. Morgan owned a large steamship business that dominated shipping in the Gulf of Mexico. He wanted the TTC for its charter so he could build a rail line along the north bank of Buffalo Bayou to the new port of Clinton, from which he had paid to dredge a channel to the Gulf. The TTC opened tracks from Houston to Clinton in late 1876, a right-of-way (ROW) that remains in use today. Morgan's Louisiana and Texas steamship and rail operations were eventually acquired and merged into the Southern Pacific (SP) railroad.

Brady's New Houston City Company did not succeed so he founded the Magnolia Park Company to develop his land. In 1890, he established the Magnolia Park community on 1,374 acres and built a large amusement area, Magnolia Park, at Long Reach along the south bank of Buffalo Bayou at Constitution Bend. Brady planned a railroad that would ferry passengers between Houston and Magnolia Park, and develop freight business along the waterway. To this end, he chartered the Houston Belt & Magnolia Park (HB&MP) Railway on April 2, 1889. The name captured the dual purpose of the railroad -- function as a "belt" railroad interconnecting other main lines while carrying passengers to and from Magnolia Park. The charter specified that the railroad would be "...located so that it or any part of it may be used as a belt or connecting line."

Brady's vision of an integrated rail-served port along Buffalo Bayou was prescient, but once again, his timing was poor. The industries that used Buffalo Bayou shipping remained on the north side of the bayou, not the south side near the HB&MP. The railroad sold passenger excursions to Magnolia Park from Houston, but the fare volume was insufficient to sustain the railroad; it went into receivership in 1891. [The appointed Receiver was James A. Baker II, father of James A. Baker III, U.S. Secretary of Treasury and White House Chief of Staff under President Ronald Reagan.] Brady died from a stroke in June, 1890, and the courts and his heirs sorted out his holdings over many years.

Although the HB&MP's initial construction is not listed in the official records of the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT), the definitive source of Texas railroad history, S. G. Reed's A History of the Texas Railroads (1941) states that in 1890, the HB&MP "...built six miles of track from Fannin St. eastward on Commerce Avenue through Magnolia Park to Constitution Bend on Buffalo Bayou." Reed's description measures a total distance of roughly five miles. However, an 1891 "Bird's-Eye View" map of Houston shows that where the line curved northeast toward the park, a branch continued east into the residential area Brady was developing. If this spur was a mile long, that would account for Reed's assertion of six miles of construction.

Above: This image is extracted from an 1891 "Bird's-eye view" drawing of Houston. It faces southeast, with Buffalo Bayou at left meandering toward Galveston Bay. The town of Harrisburg is depicted along Buffalo Bayou south of the mouth of Brays Bayou. The locomotive is going east on the HB&MP, away from downtown Houston toward a junction where the main line curves to the northeast to reach Magnolia Park. The rail spur that continues east from the junction ends abruptly in the area Brady planned to develop as a residential community. (Library of Congress image)

The HB&MP was not well-constructed. In receivership, it faced lawsuits from the city of Houston and other property owners claiming that it was not compliant with the ordinances that had authorized its ROW. In particular, the city claimed they had only authorized an electric rail line suitable for urban passenger service, not the steam locomotives HB&MP operated. The HB&MP countered that the ordinance allowed "...electricity, or such other power as will not necessarily obstruct the use of said streets by the public...", and that steam was in common use and met the criteria. As litigation proceeded, the Receiver made arrangements to allow the International & Great Northern (I-GN) Railroad to lease portions of the HB&MP for car storage, providing a small but steady income. In 1894, the Receiver got a better offer; the Galveston, La Porte & Houston (GL&H) Railway proposed to lease four miles of the HB&MP's track to reach downtown Houston. As Reed explains, the lease gave the HB&MP "...a mileage prorate of all revenue. This enabled the Receiver to keep the road alive...".

The GL&H did not yet officially exist. It was the La Porte, Houston and Northern Railroad and it was in the process of getting the legal arrangements in place to change its name, to consolidate various rail lines between Houston and Galveston, and to build new tracks where necessary. The authorization was signed into law on January 23, 1895 as Senate Bill 35, Chapter 7, subtitled "An act to authorize the La Porte, Houston and Northern Railroad Company to purchase and acquire and consolidate with it, all the property, rights and franchises of the North Galveston, Houston and Kansas City Railroad Company and the Houston Belt and Magnolia Park Railway Company, and to change its corporate name." The name change to GL&H proceeded immediately with a new charter dated January 30, 1895, and the purchase of the North Galveston, Houston and Kansas City Railroad Company was completed a month later. Although authorized to do so, the GL&H did not purchase the HB&MP, choosing instead to lease four miles of track into downtown Houston. With this accomplished, the GL&H began to build the remaining tracks to form a complete line between Houston and Galveston.

The GL&H's primary purpose was to establish rail competition for the Houston - Galveston market, capitalizing on their new bridge onto Galveston Island. Two bridges already existed; one was owned by the Galveston, Houston & Henderson (GH&H), part of Jay Gould's rail empire that included the Missouri Pacific, the Texas & Pacific, and various other lines. The GH&H was leased to another Gould property, the I-GN. The other Galveston bridge belonged to the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway, a component of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway that was competing with SP for rail dominance in the western U.S. The GL&H's long term plan was to build a railroad that would be attractive to SP, taking advantage of an odd situation -- the largest railroad system in Texas (SP) did not have a bridge to the largest port in Texas (Galveston). But, in early 1896, before their Galveston bridge was finished, the GL&H filed for bankruptcy protection on January 7, having exhausted its capital in less than a year.

The District Court appointed Receivers to take control of the GL&H and selected an independent Master to review the financial situation and make recommendations. A hearing was held on January 20, 1896, and three days later, the Master reported to the Court that approximately $300,000 was needed to make the GL&H a viable competitor for Houston - Galveston traffic. The Court approved the Master's report and authorized the GL&H Receivers to borrow money by issuing "Receiver Certificates" for a total not to exceed $250,000. With the authority granted by the Court, the Receivers proceeded to hire L. J. Smith, a Kansas City construction firm, to perform much of the work, including completion of the Galveston Island bridge.

Left: This map appears in the book Railroad Consolidations in Texas 1891 - 1903 by Joseph Draper Sayers published in 1903. Note that the final segment of the GL&H into Houston is from "Brady" on the HB&MP. Objective evidence for the precise location of Brady, and whether it differs from "Brady Junction", has not been found.

Above Right
: This valuation statement published by the Interstate Commerce Commission in the 1930s describes the holdings of the GL&H prior to its sale under foreclosure. The table lists "Brady Junction" in two places, but no map purporting to show the precise location of "Brady Junction" has been found.

Below Right: This notional map shows the railroads between Houston and La Porte that existed in 1895 when the consolidation of the GL&H took place. The map assumes that Brady was the location of the connection between the GL&H and the HB&MP.

The 1903 map (above left) states that the HB&MP provided four miles of tracks for the GL&H route into Houston, and it denotes these tracks as between Houston and Brady. While the location of Brady has not been objectively identified, four miles of track is generally consistent with Reed's description of the HB&MP's construction between the intersection of Fannin and Commerce street in downtown Houston, and the location where the HB&MP tracks curved to the northeast toward the amusement park. But that location also served as a junction for the HB&MP's eastward spur into the future Magnolia Park residential area, and it is likely that "Brady" was the location on that spur where the GL&H tracks intersected the HB&MP.

The 1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Houston shows the GL&H freight depot on the north side of Buffalo Bayou close to Bonner's Point. To reach this depot from south of the bayou, the GL&H would not have needed to use the entire HB&MP line into downtown Houston at Fannin and Commerce streets. Instead, they would have turned north near the intersection of Commerce and Hutchins Street to take a rail bridge shared by SP and other railroads leading over Buffalo Bayou to Bonner's Point and SP's Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) passenger station. The distance from the intersection of Commerce and Hutchins St. east along the ROW to the HB&MP junction where its main line curved northeast is about 3.5 miles. Continuing east on the HB&MP spur another half mile brings the total distance to four miles near the intersection of 75th St. and Avenue B. This theory accounts for the four miles assigned to the HB&MP tracks on the GL&H map above, and it's consistent with the fact that the GL&H tracks from Harrisburg across Brays Bayou into Magnolia Park passed through the intersection of 75th St. and Avenue B. This was where the two railroads intersected and it is the most likely location for "Brady".

Unfortunately, this theory conflicts with Reed's declaration that the HB&MP's lease was "...four miles of its track from Brady St. to Fannin St. ...". There are several problems with Reed's description. First and foremost, Brady St. was essentially the same as Commerce Ave. as it passed east of Milby St. A map from 1920 shows the name changed at Milby St., but current maps show Commerce retaining the name for a short distance east of Milby St. At minimum, the HB&MP ROW was on Brady St. between its intersections with Drennan St. and Jenkins St., a distance of less than 1,200 ft. Regardless of where on Brady St. Reed was referencing as the beginning of the four mile lease, the distance along the HB&MP ROW west to Fannin St. is only about two miles, just half the distance that the lease reportedly covered. More significantly, there would be no way for the GL&H to actually reach the HB&MP on Brady St. without also traveling on the HB&MP east of Brady St. at least 2.5 miles to a location where the GL&H could intersect the existing tracks, specifically the intersection of 75th St. and Avenue B. And finally, actually going all the way to Fannin St. would serve no purpose for the GL&H because (with all due respect to Mr. William J. Lemp, as explained below) there was literally nothing there! The tracks ended in the middle of the intersection of Commerce and Fannin, without any depot located nearby and with no means to turn a train around. While this might have been marginally acceptable for the HB&MP's modest attempt to serve park excursion passengers from downtown Houston, it certainly would not work for a railroad that was planning to offer competitive passenger and freight service between Houston and Galveston. Note, however, that Reed's statement becomes almost completely correct if the "St." is dropped after the word "Brady", i.e. "...four miles of its track from Brady to Fannin St. ...". This assumes, consistent with the GL&H map above, that Brady was the location where the two rail lines intersected. Reed's statement becomes "almost" correct because the GL&H did not need to operate all the way to Fannin St. Four miles of track west from Brady was precisely enough to reach the rail junction near Commerce and Hutchins that led to the GL&H depot north of Buffalo Bayou via the shared bridge. That the HB&MP ROW passed through "Brady" but also operated on "Brady St." appears to have led to the confusion.

1896 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Houston
Above Left: The GL&H freight depot was north of Buffalo Bayou near the intersection of Steam Mill St. and Walnut St., about 500 ft. northeast of the future Tower 108 (commissioned in 1918) at Bonner's Point. Both streets still exist but no longer intersect. The GL&H used the H&TC passenger depot which was also north of Buffalo Bayou. Above Right: The HB&MP tracks ended literally in the center of the intersection of Fannin and Commerce in downtown Houston, without a wye or a depot in sight (unless you count "Wm. J. Lemp's Beer Depot" at the northeast corner of Commerce and San Jacinto!) Below: This annotated Google Earth image shows the rail connections and crossings in Magnolia Park, with dashed lines used for tracks that are no longer intact, and pink arrows for tracks that continue to use the HB&MP ROW. The red circle shows the presumed location of Brady where the GL&H, coming north (orange dashes) from Harrisburg, intersected the HB&MP extension (pink dashes) that ran east from the HB&MP junction (pink circle). The GL&H did not stop at Brady; their construction continued north, crossing the HB&MP at the future Tower 102 (green circle) and continuing to a new bridge over Buffalo Bayou. The HB&MP continued northeast from the Tower 102 crossing toward the original Magnolia Park amusement area. After the demise of the HB&MP, those tracks became valuable for servicing industries along the south bank of the Houston Ship Channel. At some point, the HB&MP ROW through Brady was extended east (from the red circle) to the Ship Channel to provide an alternate route for servicing the Port of Houston, but the tracks were subsequently removed. Although not marked, the tracks on the former GH&H ROW are visible in the lower left quadrant of the image.

It's likely that Brady was the junction of the GL&H and the HB&MP at the intersection of 75th St. and Avenue B, but confirming this idea is not straightforward. There are RCT construction records that mention Brady, but they are not particularly enlightening. For example, RCT lists 4.07 miles of construction for the HB&MP in 1895 between Houston and Brady. Notwithstanding the fact that the HB&MP was in receivership at the time and in no financial position to be doing any construction on its own, this is probably a report of the rehabilitation of the HB&MP's tracks to support the lease, presumably funded by the GL&H. It may also reflect a realization by the GL&H that the original HB&MP construction in 1890 was never reported to RCT. Either way, it says little about the actual location of Brady.

For 1895, RCT records list two construction activities by the GL&H: 5.76 miles between "0.5 mi. E. of Thayer" and La Porte, and 1.7 miles between Harrisburg and Brady. Both of these activities were cited in a small article about the GL&H in the industry periodical Railway Review in 1895. The article mentions that "Tracklaying between Thayer and La Porte is now in progress. The contract let to L. J. Smith of Kansas City, mentioned last week, calls for the construction of two miles of road between Magnolia Park and Harrisburg, including a bridge over Bray's Bayou...". This construction gave the GL&H the connection they needed to use the HB&MP's tracks into downtown Houston from Brady. It was a northern continuation of GL&H's prior construction of 12 miles of track between "0.5 mi. E. of Thayer" and Harrisburg that was reported to RCT in 1894 by the La Porte, Houston and Northern, their previous corporate name. Since the GL&H had leased the four miles of HB&MP tracks west from Brady in 1894, it is reasonable to assume that the rehabilitation of the GL&H tracks had been completed by the time this construction north from Harrisburg reached Brady, hence service to Houston could begin immediately. Without knowing specifically where in Harrisburg the construction began, a distance of 1.7 miles to Brady is certainly within the realm of possibility, and tends to favor the idea that Brady was a name for the location where the two railroads intersected. It may also have literally been John T. Brady's homestead at some point in time.

The Master's plan also allowed the construction from Harrisburg to Brady to be extended north through Magnolia Park to a new bridge over Buffalo Bayou, adjacent to what is now the Turning Basin of the Houston Ship Channel. Thus, the GL&H tracks intersected the HB&MP twice, once at the HB&MP spur (Brady, presumably) and again at the HB&MP main track, later interlocked as Tower 102. There is no doubt that the effort to build to the north side of Buffalo Bayou was to a large extent a result of the GL&H's discussions with SP. At the time, SP was negotiating to use the new GL&H bridge onto Galveston Island. SP owned several railroads that served industries north of Buffalo Bayou, but those lines had no direct route to Galveston (and since the Houston Ship Channel did not yet exist, the Port of Galveston remained important.) With the GL&H having completed consolidation of tracks and construction of missing segments between Harrisburg and Galveston during 1895, continuing the Harrisburg - Brady tracks north through Magnolia Park and across Buffalo Bayou would allow SP's north side railroads to offer direct service to the Port of Galveston. Presumably, the former connection at Brady became a switch so that the tracks under lease from the HB&MP could be accessed in addition to the new route north to Buffalo Bayou. Perhaps this caused "Brady" to also become known as "Brady Junction". Looking back, it is apparent that the long term plan to entice SP into a relationship to serve their railroads north of Buffalo Bayou into Galveston explains why the GL&H leased the HB&MP instead of buying it. North of the bayou, SP tracks could be used to reach the GL&H freight depot and the SP passenger depot in downtown Houston. In essence, the HB&MP lease was just an expedient means to get a presence into downtown Houston pending construction of the new Buffalo Bayou bridge and final negotiations with SP.

It didn't take long for GL&H's creditors to sue the company for non-payment of Receiver Certificates. After a ruling in Federal District Court, the case went to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1900. The published decision of the Appeals Court included a lengthy description of the sad state of the GL&H at the time it began operations over the HB&MP. The Court explained (Federal Reporter, 1900) that the GL&H's only connections were...

"...bridges along its line needed repairing..." along with numerous other maintenance issues. The Court discussed the rationale for borrowing money to build a bridge across Buffalo Bayou, even though, at the time of receivership, the Galveston Bay bridge had not yet been completed. The Master's report had insisted that completing the Galveston Bay bridge was necessary for its...

"...Galveston with the tracks of the Galveston Wharf Company..." was essential to having any business at all. Later in the ruling, the Court looked back at the justification for building north across Buffalo Bayou, quoting from the District Court's decision...  "While the result shows that the road under the receivership was operated at a heavy loss, even after its extension and completion, yet 95 per cent of the business done by it was derived from those railroads and manufacturing industries on the north side of Buffalo Bayou, in Houston, with which there could have been no connection, and consequently there could have been no opportunity to get business, unless the extension across Buffalo Bayou had been made."

In 1897, SP President C. P. Huntington offered to buy the GL&H from the Receiver. Railway Review reported in its March 20, 1897 edition... "An offer has been made, so it is reported, by Mr. C. P. Huntington for the purchase of the Galveston, La Porte & Houston, and while nothing definite concerning the matter is known, it is thought the offer will be accepted. The price offered is said to be $1,000,000. This is taken to be a confirmation of the promise made by the Southern Pacific some time ago to make Galveston one of its principal gulf ports. The G. L. P. & H. is 53 miles in length running from Brady Junction to Galveston." But the sale did not take place, for undetermined reasons. Instead, on July 6, 1898, the GL&H was sold for $400,000. Volume 26 (July-December 1898) of The Northwestern Railroader and Railway Age reported the sale:

C. P. Huntington finally got what he wanted, at a better price albeit through an intermediary. Given the lawsuits that were pending against the GL&H, the reason for the intermediary's involvement was undoubtedly to protect SP from corporate liability. It is somewhat problematic, however, that both of the above periodical citations reference Brady as a GL&H endpoint, even though by the time of the first one, March, 1897, the GL&H had already been extended across Buffalo Bayou. Furthermore, there are no RCT construction records for any railroad in the 1896-1899 timeframe that could be candidates to have included the Buffalo Bayou bridge construction (the three GL&H records for 1896 are all for construction south of Strang.) Hypothetically, the 1.7 miles of construction from Harrisburg to Brady in 1895 could be stretched to fit, but the endpoints would be neither Brady nor Harrisburg. From the south bank of the GL&H's Brays Bayou bridge to the north bank of the GL&H's Buffalo Bayou bridge is approximately 1.92 miles. This does fit, however, with the Railway Review commentary in 1895 "...the construction of two miles of road between Magnolia Park and Harrisburg, including a bridge over Bray's Bayou...". [emphasis added]

Although the GL&H was technically out of receivership with the sale to George C. Holt in July, 1898, the GL&H's advertisement for the November, 1898 edition of Official Railway Guide had already been submitted for publication. It still showed T. W. House as Receiver. More significantly, this timetable into Houston included a stop at "La Porte Junction", a mere 3.9 miles from Bonner's Point near downtown Houston.

Above: Notwithstanding the significant creative license exercised in drawing the map, this GL&H advertisement in the November, 1898 edition of Official Railway Guide can be presumed to present an accurate timetable for that date. It shows a stop at La Porte Junction which was just beyond the north end of the GL&H bridge over Buffalo Bayou (despite the map showing the route always south of the "Buffalo River".)

Today, "La Porte Junction" is more commonly known as "Galena Junction" located immediately north of the GL&H bridge over Buffalo Bayou. It was, and remains, an important junction for rail movements along the north side of Buffalo Bayou. The passenger stop at La Porte Junction indicates that the GL&H was no longer using the HB&MP tracks from Brady into downtown Houston for passenger service. Instead, GL&H trains coming north from Harrisburg would continue past Brady, cross the HB&MP at the future Tower 102, and then cross the GL&H's Buffalo Bayou bridge to La Porte Junction. From there, trains proceeded west on existing SP tracks past Bonner's Point to the H&TC passenger depot (noted in the advertisement) which was located at Washington Street. It is likely that the GL&H had begun using this passenger service routing as soon as the Buffalo Bayou bridge and the tracks to La Porte Junction were completed. They were presumably getting favorable rates for the use of SP's tracks and passenger depot (in exchange for SP's use of GL&H's Galveston Island bridge), and it allowed them to phase out their lease of the HB&MP.

In 1897, Poor's Manual of Railroads - Southwestern Group stated that the HB&MP had been sold for $10,000 to "M. Young", a Chicago investor, and that it was being operated under contract by the GL&H. While there were undoubtedly legal arrangements for the GL&H's lease of the HB&MP, there's no other evidence that this transaction actually occurred. Neither Reed nor the Handbook of Texas reference "M. Young" in association with the history of the HB&MP. Reed does state, however, that the HB&MP was reported to have been offered to SP for $10,000, but SP declined. Instead, all sources agree that the HB&MP was sold by the Receiver to Herbert F. Fuller for $9,100 on November 1, 1898. Six months later, Fuller transferred the property to the newly chartered Houston, Oak Lawn & Magnolia Park (HOL&MP) Railway, of which he was a Director. Shortly thereafter, the HOL&MP was sold to the I-GN. The HOL&MP operated passenger service under their name; I-GN handled all freight service on the line.

It's clear that I-GN was working with Fuller to create a railroad to acquire the HB&MP. Again, corporate liability related to various pending lawsuits against the HB&MP may have led I-GN to acquire the property through a subsidiary. I-GN valued the property with the same vision that motivated Brady to build it; ocean-going ships would someday traverse Buffalo Bayou up to Constitution Bend, and industries would populate the south bank as was already happening on the north bank. I-GN later built tracks along the south bank all the way to the mouth of Brays Bayou. The city of Houston owned some of this land and established the Port of Houston, served by I-GN.

On October 4, 1898, L. J. Smith, the Kansas City contractor who had built much of the GL&H, was able to foreclose on the railroad for non-payment. The GL&H was then operated by a Trustee until it could be sold to a new ownership group. In March, 1899, the Galveston, Houston & Northern (GH&N) Railway was chartered to acquire the GL&H, with Smith becoming a GH&N board member. The sale was completed in April and the GH&N began operating the GL&H's routes and trackage rights arrangement with SP. The GH&N ownership group had been assembled by SP (again, likely for corporate liability reasons while remaining court cases were settled.) SP management operated the GH&N even though it was an independent railroad.

RCT has a construction record for 1900 stating that the GH&N built 1.2 miles between Brady and Magers (the future Tower 86). Again, this is somewhat problematic since tracks had already extended past Brady well before 1900. The fact that Magers was listed as an endpoint may indicate that these tracks were built to bypass La Porte Junction, i.e. this may have simply been an expedient to avoid congestion at La Porte Junction since GH&N passenger trains depended on this route. It's also possible that this was some kind of delayed report (instigated by SP) of the construction north from Brady across Buffalo Bayou that had occurred earlier but was never reported to RCT. Also, the term "Magers" is not well-defined; it has always been associated with the location of Tower 86, but otherwise, the origin of the name "Magers" is lost to history, i.e. it may have encompassed a larger area, not just the Tower 86 junction. The GH&N officially became part of SP when a state law was passed in 1905 allowing SP to acquire it and assign its assets to one of its Texas railroads, the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio (GH&SA). The GH&SA had long been involved in shipping on Buffalo Bayou, getting its start at Harrisburg when it was the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado (BBB&C) Railway chartered in 1850, the first railroad in Texas.

Prior to acquiring the GL&H, SP had determined that it needed another bridge over Brays Bayou to reach the port that was rapidly developing along the south bank of Buffalo Bayou. The planned bridge was approved by the Secretary of War on January 13, 1903, but the bridge was not built. In 1915, SP built a 50 ft. plate girder lift bridge at the mouth of Brays Bayou. This allowed SP to gain access to various port industries in competition with I-GN without having to circle through the north side of Magnolia Park. Eventually, SP tracks went north along the waterway all the way from their new bridge over Brays Bayou to their bridge over Buffalo Bayou. This helped bring the demise of SP's route through Tower 102 since SP did not need two routes between Harrisburg and Galena Junction and the Tower 102 route did not serve any industries.

In 1917, the city of Houston decided that it needed its own bridge over Brays Bayou, presumably in support of mass transit for the port's workforce. This was reported by Electric Railway Journal to be part of a proposed 4-mile municipal rail line from near the Port of Houston to the Sinclair refinery east of Harrisburg. A 1917 issue of Texas Trade Review posted this notice: "Houston, Tex., Bridge - City Secretary will receive bids until noon February 11, for railroad plate girder bridge over Brays Bayou for Houston Municipal Railway. Plans and specifications on file with E. E. Sands, city engineer. Usual rights reserved." The bridge was built about 750 ft. upstream of SP's lift bridge. SP's lift bridge was removed sometime in the 1950s, and they began using the former electric railway bridge which was no longer in use for transit.


Above Left: This image is taken from a 1918 map of Magnolia Park (Univ. of Houston Digital Library) showing the two rail bridges near the mouth of Brays Bayou. The lift bridge was east of Broadway and no longer exists. The Municipal Railroad bridge remains intact and is used by PTRA. Above Right: Kenneth Anthony supplies this graphic showing how Harrisburg Blvd. and the Brays Bayou channel have been revised over the years.

The hurricane of 1900 that obliterated much of Galveston, including two of the three rail bridges (only Santa Fe's survived), put renewed emphasis on the value of establishing a "Houston Ship Channel" as a protected deep-water port. The railroads responded to the development by establishing the Houston Belt & Terminal (HB&T) Railway in 1905 to coordinate freight movements around Houston and to build a new Union Station for passenger traffic. The HB&T's founding railroads contributed various tracks around Houston; for I-GN, this included the former HB&MP tracks along the south bank of Buffalo Bayou. By 1924, the growth of industrial trackage along the ship channel motivated the creation of the Port Terminal Railroad Association (PTRA) to coordinate port-related movements and guarantee port access to all railroads.

Over time, rail traffic through Magnolia Park increased substantially. The former GL&H/HB&MP crossing, now a GH&SA/I-GN crossing, was becoming a bottleneck. As a non-interlocked grade crossing of two railroads, all trains were required to stop before proceeding across the diamond. The decision was made to interlock the crossing, and it was authorized for service as Tower 102 on March 31, 1915, reported by RCT to have an 8-function mechanical interlocker.

Left: Two weeks before RCT authorized Tower 102 to be placed in service, this interlocker drawing (from SP's archives, courtesy Carl Codney) was finalized on March 11, 1915. It shows that a Magnolia Park interlocking plan existed as early as October 27, 1914. This plan defines Tower 102 as a cabin interlocker, typically used to reduce expenses where a busy line crossed a lightly used one. Instead of a manned tower, the interlocker controls were in a trackside cabin and normally were set to signal trains on the busier track to proceed. When a train on the lightly used track needed to cross, a trainman entered the cabin to set the controls to signal approaching trains on the busier line to stop. After his train crossed, he reset the controls to permit unimpeded operations on the busier line. Because the Tower 102 cabin was "Operated by I&GN Trainmen", the signals were normally lined to allow continuous movement on the GH&SA tracks. This is not surprising; SP was still building its new Brays Bayou bridge, so their Galveston traffic from north of Buffalo Bayou went through Tower 102. Note that RCT's initial report of 8 functions was incorrect from the outset; it was always 9 functions which RCT corrected in its 1923 list.

There are three clues in this drawing that suggest Tower 102 had been planned originally as a manned tower. Generally, no division of operation expenses is listed for a cabin interlocker since the cabin is not manned; train crews operate the controls as part of their regular job duties. Yet, this drawing shows operating expenses divided equally between the two railroads, followed by "See note above." to explain that actually, I&GN trainmen would be operating the controls (hence, no tower staffing costs to split.) Also, "(Cabin Interlocking)" and the twice-appearing "(Operated by I&GN Trainmen)" are parenthetical, as if they were explanatory amendments to an original drawing.
Right: This plan for Tower 102 (obtained from SP, courtesy Carl Codney) was a redrawn and revised version beginning April 2, 1934 when the interlocker was converted to an automatic plant. The GH&SA's participation was replaced by the Texas & New Orleans (T&NO) Railway, SP's principal operating railroad in Texas which had leased the GH&SA in 1927 (and then formally merged it in 1934.) The I-GN's participation was replaced by the HB&T, which had taken over responsibility for what became known as their Magnolia Branch.

On July 23, 1956, the interlocker plan was revised with a new sketch ("Sk.") of unknown changes. The plan was then updated on March 8, 1957 to conform to the new sketch. The 8 month period between the finalization of the sketch and the implementation of the plan may indicate that construction work was required, which might be related to a known connecting track at the crossing.

On October 1, 1957, the document was updated to show that Tower 30 had taken over responsibility for remote control of the Tower 102 interlocking plant. Sometime later, the remote control was removed and a manual gate was installed (photos at top of page.)

Above Left: This aerial view of the Tower 102 crossing in 1957 ((c)historicaerials.com) reveals that there was a spur track in the east quadrant that allowed I-GN trains to travel between the port area and another yard to the south. Above Right: This 1957 USGS topographic map corresponding to the image at left shows that the spur track ended southeast of Tower 102 at a location that (as of 1948) was owned by Southwest Fabricating and Welding Co. Whether this track was in place to serve that facility or perhaps serve as a railcar storage area is unknown. Today, Gallegos Elementary School occupies that site. The map also shows that this spur track did not intersect SP's tracks. Historic imagery suggests that the spur track might still have been in place in 1989, but it was definitely gone by 1995. Note also that the original HB&MP spur that ran from the main track to Brady and beyond was no longer intact by 1957. The topographic map shows a break in the middle, creating two spurs served from either end. Below: These two images of Tower 102 taken in 1957 (left) and 1962 (right) appear to show the installation of an equipment cabinet between those dates. The cabinet casts a distinctive square shadow in the later image. This may have been related to providing a remote control system for the Tower 30 operator in late 1957. The I-GN spur track discussed above is visible in both images east of the crossing.

Below: notional overview of historic rail lines showing seven interlockers within a 1.5 mile radius of Tower 102.

SP's tracks along the Ship Channel waterfront were extended by PTRA to connect to the SP bridge over Buffalo Bayou to facilitate easy access to PTRA's large yard on the north side of via Galena Junction (Tower 214). This required crossing HB&T's former I-GN line at a junction that was known initially as "Crossing C" near Old City Yard and Booth Siding. Years later, a decision was made to interlock Crossing C to improve traffic flow in the vicinity. On November 12, 1957, a letter from HB&T to RCT announced that an interlocker at Crossing C had become operational on September 24, and that this junction was "not previously interlocked but now controlled by Tower 30". The letter also requested RCT to "please assign tower number to interlocked HB&T (I-GN) - PTRA crossing". The next day, a response letter from RCT stated that the engineering department "can't find a file for this interlocker, but will set one up", requesting additional details as to the precise nature of the interlocking. This was provided in a return letter on November 15, and on November 18, the Tower 208 designation for Crossing C was officially conveyed to HB&T in a letter from RCT.

Below: This image is taken from a map that appeared in the May, 1928 edition of Port Book, a periodical produced by the Port of Houston. The map is oriented with North to the left, and the Turning Basin at the bottom. It is significant because it shows that by this date, there were two bridges over Buffalo Bayou adjacent to the Turning Basin. The GL&H bridge is the lower of the two in the image, attributed to the GH&SA. The other bridge is immediately to the east (up) and is attributed to the Public Belt Railroad. Technically, the Public Belt Railroad was the railroad operated by the PTRA. South of the bridge (to the right), the track splits into two tracks, one of which crosses the HB&T (ex-I-GN) Magnolia Branch at the future Tower 208. The history of this bridge has not been determined and by 1939 it had been removed, with the tracks to the port instead branching off of the GH&SA tracks.

The GL&H bridge over Brays Bayou was dismantled by SP between 1964 and 1966 according to historic aerial imagery. The tracks from Harrisburg up to (but not including) the Buffalo Bayou bridge were taken out of service and eventually removed. Instead, SP trains traveling between the north side of Buffalo Bayou and points south of Brays Bayou were routed along the south side of the Ship Channel, crossing Brays Bayou near its mouth on the former Houston Municipal Railway bridge.

Above: This photo from c.1998 shows the Tower 208 crossing (magnification at right.) Below: Two views looking north at the Tower 208 crossing: left (Kenneth Anthony photo, undated); right  (Google Street View, Dec. 2019), with sign providing radio communications instructions

Above: Facing north c.2006, the site of the Tower 102 crossing is at the south end of a greenbelt park and trail built along the former SP ROW. The HB&T Magnolia Branch continues to Tower 208 to the right. The gate lock was still standing, padlocked to prevent vandals from opening the phantom gate for ghost trains on the SP. Below Left: This view looking southwest along the HB&T at the Tower 102 crossing is a 3D perspective transformation of a Google Earth satellite image. The SP ROW runs diagonally from upper left to lower right. The large width of the ROW from left of center to upper left is due to the HB&T connecting track that curved along the east (left) side of the image. Traces of the connecting track can be seen in the pavement at lower left a few yards to the left of the grade crossing. The switch would have been approximately where the track intersects the lower edge of the image. Below Right: Rails are still evident in this December, 2019 Google Street View looking south from 75th St. where the SP tracks crossed it approximately 100 ft. south of the intersection of 75th St. and Avenue B, i.e. this is approximately the presumed location of "Brady" and "Brady Junction". The switch was located somewhere in this open field. The visible rails could either be the main track continuing to Tower 102 or the connecting track to join the HB&MP rails heading into Houston. The large utility tower above the red sign sits on the SP ROW and its power lines proceed southeast (to the right, away from the viewer) to cross Brays Bayou at the former GL&H bridge site.

Above Left: The Community Family Center on Ave. E was built atop the former SP right-of-way, as evidenced by the rails buried in the street. (Abel Garcia photo) Above Right: a Nov. 2020 drone-captured image of the Buffalo Bayou bridge (Abel Garcia image) Below: This drone image of the Tower 102 crossing was captured in Nov. 2020 by Abel Garcia. The existing HB&T Magnolia Branch remains active through the former crossing. The annotations show the SP ROW (blue dashed line) and the spur track ROW (green dashed line.) The Buffalo Bayou bridge in the above right photo is located where the dashed blue line ends near the top right corner of the image. The tracks coming off the bridge toward the camera swing to the southeast and cross the HB&T tracks at Tower 208 off the upper right edge of the image.

Last Revised: 11/10/2020 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.