Crossing of the Houston & Texas Central, the Galveston, Houston & Henderson, and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroads
Thanks to Steve Hesse for locating this image of Tower 108 in a larger photo
(see below) owned by the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston
Public Library, Houston, Texas -- used with permission.
Tower 108 was established on April 6, 1918 near the confluence of White Oak Bayou and Buffalo Bayou north of downtown Houston. At the time, this area was known as Bonner's Point, but few references to this geographical name have been found. The Galveston, Houston & Henderson (GH&H) Railroad reached Houston in 1859, but a series of financial problems and court battles eventually resulted in two other railroads, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT, a.k.a. "the Katy") and the International-Great Northern (I-GN), having equal joint ownership of the GH&H. When the MKT reached Houston from the west in 1893, it connected to the GH&H after crossing White Oak Bayou onto Bonner's Point. The GH&H crossed Buffalo Bayou to the east into downtown Houston, and crossed White Oak Bayou to the west on a bridge shared with the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) railroad. The H&TC had started in Houston as one of the earliest railroads in Texas and became part of the Southern Pacific (SP) system. The H&TC line served its major rail yard and passenger station west of Bonner's Point, and provided a connection to the east with other SP yards in Houston. It appears that the GH&H track on the White Oak Bayou bridge was a transfer track that allowed GH&H to access the H&TC yard. The Katy passenger station was also located nearby, just northwest of the Katy bridge onto Bonner's Point.
Bonner's Point was undoubtedly a busy rail junction for many years, but the proximity of the two passenger stations and the H&TC rail yard meant that trains passing through this area most likely operated under "yard limits" rules. The impetus for building Tower 108 is unknown; there is no illuminating correspondence in the DeGolyer Library files. One possible explanation would be a reduction of H&TC yard activity in favor of other SP yards in Houston, or perhaps the closing of the Katy passenger depot when passenger service was moved to Houston Union Station (constructed in 1911). Either of these situations would have led to trains passing through Bonner's Point without needing to stop, and the uncontrolled crossing would have become a delay point. The original plan for Tower 108 called for it to be operational by April 18, 1917, but steel shortages caused by World War I delayed the tower a full year. A map in the files of DeGolyer Library shows that the tower was located on the northeast corner of the intersection of Allen St. and N. San Jacinto St. (Willow St.).
According to Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. maps of Houston, a GH&H tower also existed on Bonner's Point, at the west end of the GH&H bridge over Buffalo Bayou, approximately 800 ft. east of Tower 108. This GH&H tower is depicted on the 1907 Sanborn map ten years before the construction of Tower 108. The function of this tower has not been determined, but its proximity to the bridge and the lack of any other obvious purpose (e.g. yard tower) implies an association with operations over the bridge. If you have any information about the GH&H tower or Tower 108, please contact us.
Historic Photos, Tower 108 at Bonner's Point
Above: This undated photo shows Tower 108 in the background, overlooking the rail junction on Bonner's Point. The camera
is facing northeast with the double track SP/GH&H bridge in the foreground. The Katy bridge is to the left. Note the two
utility poles side-by-side in front of the tower and compare the photo (in the photo group below) of the current view east on
Allen St. Are these the same two poles that currently exist? Photo credit: Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston
Public Library, Houston, Texas -- used with permission.
Below: This excerpt from an undated photo in the Texas Dept. of Transportation archives appears to be late 1960 or early 1961
based on some freeway construction that appears in the larger photo. The view is to the southwest, and Tower 108 is clearly
visible as are the bridges over Buffalo Bayou.
Below: Tower 108 is in the center of this image extracted from a larger
digitized photo provided
by the Houston Area Digital Archives of the Houston Public Library. The photo was taken
in the 1940s by R. L. Browning.
Below: This image, extracted from photo SP498 in the
John W Barriger III
National Railroad Library,
shows a glimpse of Tower 108 to the left of the tracks where they curve to the right as they reach the
Houston Terminal Warehouse Cold Storage Co. Compare the north face and top of that building to
the same building in the TxDOT image (second above).
Historic Maps, Bonner's Point and Tower 108
Above: The 1907 Sanborn map shows both the shared H&TC/GH&H bridge (lower) and the Katy bridge (upper) across White Oak Bayou immediately north of its confluence
with Buffalo Bayou. Where the railroads cross in the middle of Allen Street, a one-story "R R Flagman" structure is shown (magnification at right). The flagman apparently
served the function that was later incorporated into the Tower 108 interlocker. Willow St. was renamed North San Jacinto sometime between 1907 and 1924 when it was
joined with San Jacinto St. via a street bridge over Buffalo Bayou. The Bonner's Point Hotel (far right) was located at the southeast corner of Willow St. and Allen St.
This is the only geographic reference to Bonner's Point we've been able to find that is not from a railroad source. Note that Willow St. is shown as "Brick Paved".
Below left: Continuing east along Allen St., the 1907 map shows a 2-story "GH&H RR Signal Tower" at the west end of the GH&H bridge over Buffalo Bayou (magnification
at right). We have no other references or information about this structure. It also appears on the 1924 Sanborn map. It is not visible in the aerial photo above c.1961.
Below: The 1924 Sanborn map shows that Tower 108 had been constructed at the northeast corner of Allen St. and N. San Jacinto St. in the lower left corner of
the image. The mapmaker depicted the tower as a 2-story office (magnification at right). Neither Tower 108 nor the GH&H Signal Tower survived to the
present and their fates are unknown.
Satellite Image, Bonner's Point
This overview image of Bonner's Point shows the confluence of White Oak Bayou and Buffalo Bayou, and the double
right-angle bend in Buffalo Bayou to the east. All three railroad bridges remain intact, but the Katy line is abandoned,
so only the H&TC bridge (originally shared with GH&H) is still used. The large building complex on the west bank of
White Oak Bayou is the University of Houston - Downtown. The Katy depot was located just above the upper left
corner of the image, along the Katy right-of-way (which is visible directly below the word "Image" in the above title).
Site Photos, Bonner's Point (click to enlarge) - photos by Jim King