Houston in 1891
A. L. Westyard’s view of Houston in 1891 documented the city as it began a decade of explosive growth—in population, growing from 27,557 in 1890 to 44,633 in 1900, as well as in area, with suburbs such as Magnolia Park appearing beyond the jurisdictional reach of the City Council but made convenient to the city center by rail transportation. Houston in the 1890s came face-to-face with the advantages and problems of other urban centers. Among the advantages was Houston’s situation as the middle-man in both the cotton and lumber trade, which fueled its growth; among the problems were the delivery of municipal services, such as transportation, water, and electricity; pavement of the streets (one reporter called the city “a huddle of houses arranged on unoccupied lines of black mud”); and competition with Galveston for the trade that sustained both cities.
Key to Houston’s success was the maturation of the transportation system, which is well documented in Westyard’s print. In the foreground, on and near Buffalo Bayou, he depicted the combination of railroads and shipping via the bayou that enabled Houston to challenge Galveston for shipping supremacy on the Texas coast. Although the Houston Ship Channel had not yet been established, low-draft vessels had been ferrying cargo between Houston and the Gulf ever since the city was founded in 1836. By 1876 a vessel drawing nine and one-half feet of water could regularly get as far up Buffalo Bayou as Sims Bayou, a tributary just beyond Harrisburg. Westyard depicts Galveston Bay, the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, as if it were just over the hill from the downtown, when in reality it is some fifty miles to the San Jacinto River and the bay. The next step in this transportation chain was to connect that point to the developing Texas railroad network. Within the city itself, infrastructure concerns turned to a good streetcar system, so that workers could easily get to and from their jobs, and also to street paving, to bring the city out of the “sea of mud,” which had long been “a proverb in the mouths of the people who stop in or pass through the city’s precincts.”
Westyard’s colorful depiction of the city, the third largest in the state in 1890, focused on the growing industrialization of the region, with black smoke billowing from mills and factories, and the spread of the city, showing suburban growth in every direction. Westyard’s print is a chromolithograph, which means that it is composed of several different colors printed from the stone or zinc plate.