Other Views of Houston

Other Views from 1873

Where is Houston?

Above: Augustus Koch (1840–?). Bird’s Eye View Of the City of Houston, Texas 1873, 1873. Lithograph (hand-colored), 23.2 x 30.1 in. Published by J. J. Stoner, Madison, Wis. Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Houston in 1873

Shortly after Texas won its independence on the nearby battlefield at San Jacinto in 1836, Augustus C. and John K. Allen founded Houston at the head of tide on Buffalo Bayou to be the leading metropolis of the new nation. Sam Houston, elected first president of the Republic of Texas, was honored to have the city named after him and considered the site “far superior” to all others for business and government. The choice of Houston as the temporary capital meant that the Allens got a head start on their goal of making it the Republic’s most important city.[1]

Not everyone agreed, however, and the second president of the republic, Mirabeau B. Lamar, moved the capital to the new frontier village of Austin in 1839. It seems, also, that the Allen brothers had exaggerated Houston’s access to the Gulf of Mexico. By the 1850s Buffalo Bayou had silted to the point that only shallow-draft and relatively small boats could reach the city, and the city and county combined efforts to begin dredging of the channel. The Buffalo Bayou Ship Channel Company began work on a deep-water channel in 1870.[2] When Augustus Koch published his bird’s-eye view of Houston in 1873, the city, with its 9,382 residents, challenged Galveston and San Antonio as the most populous in the state, railroads had linked it to the national railroad network, and Houstonians were ready to contest Galveston for preeminence in Gulf shipping.

Both Buffalo Bayou and the railroads are evident in Koch’s view of the city, symbolizing Houston’s link between the interior of the state and the exterior world. Viewed from the northwest, the city sprawls southward from Buffalo Bayou, with the shipping terminals for both the railroad and the river boats in the foreground. The bayou is populated with rowboats, tugs, sail boats, and two river boats, the 175-foot long T. M. Bagby and its sister ship Diana, both described as “floating palaces.”[3] White Oak Bayou flows southward into Buffalo Bayou across from the foot of Main Street. The steamboats turned around for their return to the coast by backing into White Oak Bayou. To the east, a locomotive pulls several cars of the Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railway (which is casually renamed here the Houston, Henderson and Galveston) across the new $100,000 drawbridge, while leaving a billowing plume of steam that somehow blows in the opposite direction than that of the T. M. Bagby, nearby in the bayou.[4] Market Hall, which included the City Hall, did not open until May 1874, but it is shown on Main Street (2 on map) and featured in a detail at the bottom of the print. Much like a current-day mall, it housed retail shops, markets, professional offices, and a 1,000-seat theater. Unfortunately, the structure burned just two years later.[5]

In most of his views, Koch called attention to the African-American community, and his view of Houston is no exception, as he identifies two churches (although he does not name them): one on Travis (which Koch misspells Traves) Street between Bell and Clay, and another on Rusk Street, near the corner of Rusk and Bagby.