Andrew Briscoe had a dream, a dream of a railroad
Harrisburg to the Pacific Coast. Since there were no railroads in Texas
the time, a transcontinental system was a giant leap of imagination. In
Briscoe wrote a paper in which he detailed his concept of the
Railroad". He envisioned a grand route from Harrisburg, through
Fayetteville, Austin and, then, on to El Paso and San Diego,
was a bold and audacious idea for Texas at the time, but, in many ways,
was typical of the optimism and vision of many of the young leaders of
nascent Republic of Texas.
Andrew Briscoe settled in Texas in 1833, at age 23, after making
between his home in Mississippi and Texas to assess the opportunities
the state of Coahuila y Tejas. In 1835, he received a shipment of goods
established a store in Anahuac. Almost immediately, he became involved
the unrest among the Texans there that was referred to as the Anahuac
Having distinguished himself in the cause of revolution and having
as a Captain at the Battle of San Jacinto, Briscoe was appointed the
justice of Harrisburg County by President Sam Houston in 1836.
As the first county judge of Harris County, Briscoe set a pattern for
ventures that several succeeding county judges have emulated. At the
his term of office in 1839, he returned to his interest in mercantile
He planned to build a railroad, the first in Texas, from the port of
to the agricultural lands of the Brazos River. About two miles of the
and Brazos Railroad were graded and laid with ties, but financial
caused the project to be abandoned.
On January 9, 1841, the Harrisburg Rail Road and Trading Company was
with Briscoe as president. The railroad was to extend from Harrisburg
on the Brazos River. The company failed to build any tracks due to lack
funds and the war with Mexico.
Although Andrew Briscoe lived in one of the first two story houses in
the county seat, he also owned substantial property interests in the
of Harrisburg. In 1840, he owned one town lot in Houston, but he owned
town lots in Harrisburg. As a merchant, he believed that commerce to
the interior counties of Texas, was best handled through the port at
not Houston. His railroad was designed to bypass the town of Houston by
miles to the south. The rivalry between the two towns for commercial
would persist for nearly forty years until the devastating hurricanes
the late 1870's flooded the wharves at Harrisburg and forced the
to move their warehouses farther inland to Houston.
Perhaps discouraged by his failure to establish a successful railroad
in Texas, Andrew Briscoe moved his family and his business operations
Orleans in the spring of 1849. The railroad holdings and the town site
Harrisburg had been sold in 1847 to a group headed by General Sidney
and Briscoe turned his interests in New Orleans to banking and
Tragically, on October 4, 1849, Andrew Briscoe died of bronchitis in
Orleans at age 39.
Briscoe did not live to see his dream become a reality. A good idea,
will persist until its time comes. General Sidney Sherman and a group
chartered the Buffalo Bayou Brazos and Colorado Railway in 1850, and
succeeded in building the first railroad in Texas. Tracks were laid
Harrisburg to Stafford's Point in 1853. The first passengers to ride a
in Texas went three miles from Harrisburg to Thomas Point on the
Bayou Brazos and Colorado Railroad, on April 21, 1853, to a celebration
salutes from the Twin Sisters cannons used at Battle of San Jacinto.
operations of the BBB&C Railroad were inaugurated in August, 1853.
The Civil War brought financial hardships to the railroad. In 1870,
Peirce acquired the BBB&C Railroad and renamed it the Galveston
and San Antonio Railroad. Peirce set his sights on extending the
of the GH&SA Railroad to San Antonio and beyond. He entered into an
with the Southern Pacific Railroad coming from the west coast, and the
railroads met on a trestle over a small ravine along the Rio Grande,
three miles west of the Pecos River in late 1882.
On January 12, 1883, Thomas Peirce emerged from his private car in the
of the trestle where the two railroads came together. In the presence
of the Southern Pacific Railroad, Peirce spoke eloquently of the
canyons of the Rio Grande and the superb engineering required to
the difficult terrain. He then drove in the last spike, a silver spike.
that, Andrew Briscoe's dream of a rail system from the port at
to the west coast was finally a reality.
Today, you can stand in the vacant lot at the end of Magnolia Street
once stood the railroad depot at Harrisburg. Buffalo Bayou and the
Ship Channel are only a few blocks away. The bustle of passengers and
hustle of the loading of merchandise for shipment have long since faded
But, the rail line is still active. You can follow the tracks down
Road, to Holmes Road, to South Main Street, and on to Stafford,
San Antonio, El Paso and San Diego -- the route of Southern Pacific's