Buffalo Bayou
An Echo of Houston's Wilderness Beginnings
by
   Louis F. Aulbach   
The Caroline Street Gully and Its Significance to the City

SewerThe unimposing concrete panel of civil engineering art at the foot of Caroline Street, scarcely reveals the importance of this particular drainage to the town of Houston. The simple, yet engaging, circle and square storm sewer outlet is all that remains of the large ravine that extended up Caroline Street.

A number of ravines cut through the Houston town site in 1837. Most prominent among these was the large gully at the lower end of Caroline Street. The size of the ravine decreased significantly south of Congress Avenue, and it continued to gradually narrow until it disappeared between Prairie Avenue and Texas Avenue. As the gully flowed toward the bayou, it curved to the east near Commerce Avenue and cut through Block 6 (Houston town plat) before dropping into Buffalo Bayou near the end of Austin Street.

The Dry Gully, as it was sometimes called, varied from twenty to forty feet deep and was a significant barrier separating the business district from the residential neighborhood of Quality Hill to the east.  As a result, bridges were built across the gully at Franklin Avenue and at Congress Avenue. An 1852 painting by Thomas Flintoff shows St. Vincent Church situated near the corner of Franklin Avenue, just west of the wooden bridge across the Caroline Street gully.
    
Gully 1873According to James L. Glass, a noted local historian and map maker who has studied the history of Houston from 1836 to 1839, the Caroline Street gully may have played a pivotal role in the layout of the town of Houston. On the sixty-two block rectangular plat of the town, the east-west streets of Houston were laid out at angle of North 55 degrees West while the north-south streets were at an angle of South 35 degrees West.

Supposedly, the streets were offset from a true north-south alignment in order to conform to the curvature of Buffalo Bayou and to assure "maximum wharfage and commercial opportunities." However, the Caroline Street gully was a significant topographic feature of the land where the Allen brothers wanted to locate their town. By aligning the plat of the streets to the gully, the Allens were able to maximize the number of available town lots for sale. Any other alignment meant that several blocks would have been cut diagonally by the gully and many lots would have been unsellable.                                                         
 
After the Civil War, mayor Horace Taylor set out to revitalize the City after a period of neglect due to war. Among the civic projects, which included adding new shell to the streets and the posting of street signs with names on street corners, was the installation of a culvert in gully at Caroline Street and Congress Avenue. By 1873, the drainage south of Commerce Avenue had been filled in, and only the ravine winding through Block 6 remained. Block 6 was undeveloped as late as 1907, but by 1924, a major sewer outlet had been constructed at the end of Austin Street and Block 6 was covered with the tracks of the International and Great Northern railroad tracks.

Today, Block 6 lies vacant and is used as a parking lot. From the street level, no trace of the historic gully is evident. 

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Copyright by Louis F. Aulbach, 2006


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