www.txrrhistory.com - Tower 116 - Houston (Union Station)

Historic Photos, Tower 116

Above: The best image we have of Tower 116 is from Page 105 of Steve Allen Goen's book
Santa Fe in the Lone Star State, Volume One - 1949-1969 [Four Ways West Publications, 2000].
The photo is not credited, but the caption by George Werner identifies the structure as Tower 117
which "was located just to the east of the station and at one time controlled all movements in and
out of the terminal". The Tower 117 reference is incorrect; Tower 117 was located at New South
Yards. The tower near Union Station was Tower 116.
Below: This photo from Russell Crump's Railroad Photo Collection was taken in March, 1922
showing an unidentified interlocking tower "near the corner of Texas Ave. & St. Emanuel St."
in Houston, very close to Union Station.

Tower 116 first appears in Railroad Commission of Texas (RCT) records in the 1924 Annual Report where it is identified as a Houston Belt & Terminal (HB&T) Railway tower at "Houston Yards", authorized for operation on March 14, 1924. Tower 117 is similarly described, and it's hard to doubt the caption cited above, written by noted Houston rail historian George Werner identifying the Union Station tower as Tower 117. However, the RCT interlocker records at DeGolyer Library identify Tower 116 as being at "Texas Ave. and Hutchins St." (a location just east of Union Station), with Tower 117 identified as being at "South Yards" (approximately four miles south of Union Station). A positive identification of Tower 117 and its location can be found on the Tower 117 page.

If the other photo above is correctly identified as a March, 1922 scene, there may have been an interlocking tower at Union Station that preceded the Tower 116 designation assigned two years later. Comparing the two photos, it is not readily apparent that the images depict the same structure, even though both unquestionably show a tower near Houston Union Station. If the caption is correct that the tower was located close to the corner of Texas Ave. and St. Emanuel St., it is quite possible that these are not the same towers since Tower 116 was closer to Hutchins St. than St. Emanuel St. Despite these potential differences, there is no evidence in the DeGolyer files that Tower 116 was ever moved or re-built after its commissioning in 1924. It is possible that it replaced an older tower that had not been part of the RCT numbering system. The 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Houston (below) shows the Union Station interlocking tower along Texas Ave. at Hutchins St. which correlates with the location described in the DeGolyer Library file for Tower 116.

Various changes were made to the Tower 116 interlocking controls over the years. Interlocker "116-A" was installed at a nearby crossing of the International - Great Northern (I-GN) and the Galveston, Houston & Henderson (GH&H) railroads on October 21, 1947. The "116-A" nomenclature may imply that a separate interlocking control frame was installed in the tower, perhaps because function growth had filled the spare capacity of the original interlocker. Other changes included a new interlocking at the HB&T/I-GN crossing on Commerce St., and an HB&T/GH&H crossing on Canal St., both of which were activated on October 15, 1944. David Bernstein's history of the Southern Pacific in Texas states that "Towers 84, 116 and 116A were also consolidated into Tower 117" in June, 1971. Ralph Back reports that HB&T Timetable #6 dated 1/1/75 lists Tower 116 at Union Station, milepost 4.75 on the North Belt Subdivision, and 116-A at milepost 4.26 on the GH&H.

 
Above: This image from the 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Houston shows an interlocking tower (see magnification at right) located near the intersection of Texas Ave.
and Hutchins St., at the east edge of Union Station. It is interesting that there were two similarly sized structures, but one is a single story and the other had two stories.
Below: Since Houston Union Station is now the home of the major league baseball stadium in Houston, it is not surprising that the former site of Tower 116 no longer appears to correlate with any historic railroad activity. What was once the site of Tower 116 is now a parking lot for the stadium. Based on the Sanborn map, the tower was most likely located between the tree in the immediate foreground and the light tower beyond it. The other photos below show the former Hutchins St. as seen from Texas Ave. looking north (into the parking lot) and south (now a nicely landscaped green space sitting atop the former HB&T right-of-way).

Satellite Image and Map, Tower 116 location

This Google Earth image shows the proximity of the site of Tower 116 to Houston Union Station, now occupied by the baseball stadium.
Compare the street names and the location of Tower 116 with the corresponding details on the 1924 Sanborn map.

 
Last Revised: 5/10/2007 JGK - Contact the Texas Interlocking Towers Page.