Texas Railroad History - Tower 108 and GH&H Tower - Houston (Bonner's Point)

A Crossing of the Houston & Texas Central, the Galveston, Houston & Henderson, and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroads

 

Historic Photos, Tower 108

Above: Southern Pacific photographer "La Lumiere" took this photo of the north side of Tower 108 in November, 1918, about seven months after it was commissioned. Note the small palm tree planted at the northwest corner of the tower. (Ken Stavinoha collection) Below: Steve Hesse located this image of Tower 108 in a larger photo at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center. Judging by the much larger palm tree, this photo was probably taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s. (Houston Public Library, used with permission.)



Above: This photo taken by John W Barriger III in the 1930s shows a glimpse of Tower 108 where the tracks curve near Houston Terminal Warehouse Cold Storage Co. Barriger was facing southwest at the rear of his business car as his train proceeded northeast toward Tower 26 and Englewood Yard. (John W Barriger III National Railroad Library)

The Galveston, Houston & Henderson (GH&H) Railroad was founded in Galveston in 1853, and by 1859, had completed a line into Houston ostensibly headed for the northeast Texas town of Henderson. At about the same time, the Houston & Texas Central Railway (H&TC, originally chartered as the Galveston & Red River Railway), began building northwest from Houston toward the rich agricultural area of the Brazos River, completing 81 miles to Millican by 1861. After the Civil War, H&TC expanded rapidly, reaching Dallas in 1872 and the Red River in 1873. Meanwhile, a series of financial problems and court battles for GH&H eventually resulted in two other railroads having equal joint ownership of it: the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT, a.k.a. "the Katy"), and the International-Great Northern (I-GN). It was in the interests of GH&H and H&TC to have a connection in Houston to provide service from central and north Texas to Galveston and its port. This connection was made north of Buffalo Bayou using a shared east/west bridge over White Oak Bayou located immediately north of the bayou's confluence with Buffalo Bayou. At the time, this area was apparently known as Bonner's Point, but relatively few references to this geographical name have been found. GH&H used the shared bridge for a transfer track to reach the H&TC passenger station and other facilities west of the bayou while H&TC used the bridge to reach facilities east of the bayou that were owned by Southern Pacific (SP), which had obtained control of H&TC in 1883.

When the Katy reached Houston from the west in 1893, it built a passenger station near White Oak Bayou and built a bridge over the bayou to connect with GH&H. The Katy bridge was located a short distance north of the shared GH&H/H&TC bridge. At some point after 1907, GH&H stopped using the shared bridge and it became exclusively an "SP bridge". East of both bridges, the Katy, GH&H and H&TC junction at Bonner's Point was undoubtedly a busy rail junction, but it was not among the early interlockers established in Texas. The proximity of the two passenger stations, the two bridges over White Oak Bayou, and a nearby GH&H bridge over Buffalo Bayou meant that trains passing through this area operated at very slow speeds. Hence, stopping at the junction to cross an opposing track (as required by state law for uncontrolled crossings at grade) was not a significant time penalty. By 1916 however, the opening of Houston Union Station (in 1911), the addition of industry tracks near the junction, and the substantial increase in volume and complexity of rail movements through Bonner's Point resulted in the need for an interlocker. The original plan called for a tower to be operational by April 18, 1917, but steel shortages caused by World War I delayed the tower a full year. Tower 108 was finally commissioned for operation at 2:00 pm on April 6, 1918 to control the Bonner's Point crossing with a 32-function electrical interlocker serving the GH&H, MKT and HT&C railroads. In 1923, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) officially reported that the function count for Tower 108 had decreased to 30, and the GH&H was no longer listed as a participating railroad. In 1926, the function count increased significantly to 48 functions, and it remained this way through the final RCT list published in 1930.

According to Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. maps of Houston, a 2-story "GH&H RR Signal 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 is unknown, but its proximity to the GH&H bridge and the lack of any other obvious purpose implies an association with operations over the bridge. It seems likely that its function would have been subsumed into Tower 108. References to this tower have yet to be found in the RCT archives at DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, and it is likely that it did not have an RCT-authorized function.

Area Map, Bonner's Point


Above: This photo shows Tower 108 in the background, overlooking the rail junction at Bonner's Point. The camera is facing northeast with the double track SP bridge in the foreground. As in the snippet further above, the palm tree dates the photo to at least the late 1920s (Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library, 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 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 and White Oak Bayou. It is possible that the "GH&H Signal Tower" is also visible as a small white dot to the right of the GH&H bridge.

Below Left: 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 facing east. Below Right: Further east, the same photo appears to provide a glimpse of the GH&H Tower.
 

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 center). The flagman presumably served a function that was later incorporated into Tower 108 (and this is the only "R R Flagman" found so far on Sanborn maps.) Willow St. runs north/south and was renamed North San Jacinto sometime between 1907 and 1924 when it was joined with San Jacinto St. by a bridge over Buffalo Bayou. The Bonner's Point Hotel (far right) was located at the southeast corner of Allen St. and Willow St. (noted as "brick paved".) Below: 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). It also appears on the 1924 Sanborn map.
  
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.
  

 

Bonner's Point, 2006 (photos by Jim King)

   
Above: Facing west, the track on the SP bridge sits off-center (to the south) on the concrete support because the track on the north side was removed.   Above: No longer with rails, the Katy bridge appears to have been modified for pedestrians. In 1907, the Katy depot would have been visible in the distance.   
       
       
Above: John Davis examines the foundation of the GH&H tower at the west end of the Buffalo Bayou bridge. The small retaining wall is shown on the 1907 Sanborn map.   Above: East on Allen St., the GH&H bridge over Buffalo Bayou is visible at distance. Tower 108 would have been behind the two utility poles. Might these be the same two utility poles visible in the photo at the top of the page?   
       

Bonner's Point, 2019 Simulated 3D View

Above: This simulated 3D view of the area faces south-southeast. The only remaining rail line, now owned by Union Pacific (UP), crosses west to east across the SP bridge, passes the Harris County Jail, and curves back to the northeast toward Englewood Yard. The Katy Bridge now hosts the White Oak Bayou Greenway Trail while the former GH&H right-of-way hosts the Heights Hike & Bike Trail.

Bonner's Point, Google Street View 2019

Above: There's a green hedge and a crepe myrtle growing where Tower 108 sat. The rectangular concrete (or brick) outline surrounding the hedge on all sides suspiciously resembles the perimeter foundation of Tower 108 but is probably too small. The red and white bollard marks the Heights Hike and Bike Trail which now occupies the GH&H right-of-way proceeding east toward Buffalo Bayou. Below: Looking west from the same location, the SP bridge remains in place. The pedestrian is departing the former Katy bridge on the White Oak Bayou Greenway Trail. Whether the actual Katy bridge structure was used for the trail bridge is unknown.

 

 
Last Revised: 3/13/2019 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.