Texas Railroad History - Tower 134 - Houston (Pierce Junction)
Crossing of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railway and the International - Great Northern Railroad
The first railroad in Texas was constructed by the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and
Colorado (BBB&C) Railroad from Harrisburg on Buffalo Bayou west to Stafford in
1853. In those days, Harrisburg's rival was Houston located on Buffalo Bayou a
few miles further upstream, and the concerned citizens of Houston sought a
railroad to connect their town with the BBB&C. Had they failed to do so, our
nation's 4th largest city might today be known as Harrisburg. The 6 1/2 mile
Houston Tap railroad was built in 1856 running south from Houston to connect
with the BBB&C at what thus became the first railroad junction in Texas.
Beginning in 1858, under the charter of the Houston Tap & Brazoria Railroad, the
Houston Tap rail line was extended further south, reaching East Columbia in
1860, some 45 rail miles south of the BBB&C junction. East Columbia was at that
time a major shipping center near the Brazos River, and the railroad picked up
the nickname "Columbia Tap", a nickname that persisted throughout its history
despite a merger into the International & Great Northern (I-GN) Railroad in 1873. The
Columbia Tap served the sugar plantations south of Houston, one of which was
owned by Thomas W. Peirce (who used the uncommon "ei" spelling) at Arcola.
The Columbia Tap railroad provided Peirce's sugar plantation with access to steamships at Harrisburg via the connection with the BBB&C. Peirce's wealth gave him an interest in the development of railroads in Texas, and by 1857, he had become a director of the Houston & Texas Central (H&TC) Railway and also had some interest in the BBB&C. In 1859, a small community was founded at the junction of the two railroads and was named Peirce Junction. The BBB&C continued building west and reached the east bank of the Colorado River by 1860. The Civil War significantly disrupted the BBB&C's traffic, and after the war, the line went bankrupt. The contractor that had built it, William Sledge, acquired the railroad in a judgment, and in 1870, Peirce became part of small investor group that purchased the railroad from Sledge under a new charter, the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio (GH&SA) Railway. Peirce soon bought out the other investors, and the line was commonly known as the "Peirce Line". It is interesting to note that by 1874, the railroad was using the nickname "Sunset Route" to describe its route to San Antonio, a nickname later adopted by Southern Pacific for the entire route to California which was completed in west Texas in 1883.
In 1880, the GH&SA built its own line into Houston, paralleling the Columbia Tap for several miles before turning to the northwest to cross the SA&AP at Tower 12 and the H&TC west of downtown at Chaney Junction (Tower 14). For the GH&SA, the departure point from the main line was officially known as "Stella", but it was located near "Pierce" Junction, a revised spelling from the way Thomas Peirce spelled his name. [It appears that this spelling change was forced by the Post Office when the town of "Pierce Junction" (spelled "ie") was granted a post office in 1876. Although the town of Pierce Junction didn't last long - the post office was closed in 1878 - the Pierce Junction name with the revised spelling stuck.] In 1918, the GH&SA opened a new route into Houston (via West Junction and Tower 13) and abandoned the line from Stella to Chaney Junction (Almeda Road appears to be constructed on the former GH&SA right-of-way). It is not known whether there was ever a manned railroad tower to control Peirce Junction in the early days. Railroad Commission records state that Tower 134 with a 10-function cabin interlocker was commissioned at Pierce Junction on March 27, 1929. A cabin interlocker would indicate that at least one of the lines was seldom used, and this was the case for the Columbia Tap rail line by the late 1920s. As railroads developed more favorable routes into town, the Columbia Tap was abandoned some distance north of Peirce Junction.
The former GH&SA line is still intact and sees regular Union Pacific traffic through Pierce Junction. A major oil field that was discovered beneath the rail junction in 1906 (in what, ironically, is known as a "shallow PIERCEment salt dome", so-called because heat and pressure have forced the dome to rise enough that it "pierces" overlying sediments.) The Pierce Junction Oil Field has produced more than 90 million barrels of oil, some of which undoubtedly must have moved by tank car through the interlocker at Pierce Junction.
Location Map - Tower 134
Satellite Image, Pierce Junction