Sam Houston's army reached Buffalo Bayou on April 18, 1836, and the ensuing Battle of San Jacinto called attention to the "meandering stream" as a link between the interior of sprawling Texas and the sea.
Early in Texas history, the waterway that would one day be known as the Houston Ship Channel evoked dreams in the minds of the enterprising. How these dreams became realities that surpassed all expectation is the subject of Marilyn McAdams Sibley's The Port of Houston: A History. It is the story of the growth of an unlikely inland port situated at a "tent city" that many Texans thought would die young. It proves, as an early visitor to Houston noted, that future greatness depends not so much on location of port or town as on an enterprising population.
Controversy between dreamers and promoters is a large part of the story. Was Houston or Harrisburg the head of navigation? Was the shallow stream valuable enough to the nation to warrant the costly deep-water dredging? Was Houston or Galveston to command the trade where land and water meet?
As the issues were settled, Houston had spread out to overtake Harrisburg; deep water was achieved in 1914 and was celebrated by ceremonies in which the President of the United States played a part; and Galveston grew into a self-contained island metropolis while Houston became, in the words of Sibley, "the perennial boom town of twentieth-century Texas."
As the Port of Houston continued to grow into a multi-billion-dollar institution serving and served by the cotton, wheat, oil, and space industries, its full economic impact on the city of Houston, the state, and the nation cannot be estimated in dollars and cents. But a glance at the trade statistics in the Appendix alone will give some idea of the world-wide value of this thriving port.
The many interesting illustrations accompanying Mrs. Sibley's story show in graphic terms the growth of a small town on a stream "of a very inconvenient size;—not quite narrow enough to jump over, a little too deep to wade through without taking off your shoes" into an international complex through which almost $4 billion in cargo passed in its fiftieth-anniversary year.
List of Illustrations
I. A Port Fifty Miles from the Sea
II. The Rio Buffalo: "A Beautifully Meandering River"
III. "The Great Interior Commercial Emporium"
IV. The Coming of the Railroads
V. Commodore Morgan and the Octopus of the Gulf
VI. The Drive for Deep Water
VII. Deep-Water Jubilee
VIII. Reaching for the Sea
IX. "A Channel Parvenu"
X. First of Houston's Seven Wonders
Appendix A: Members of City Harbor Board
Appendix B: Navigation and Canal Commissioners
Appendix C: Trade Statistics, 1961-1965
Marilyn McAdams Sibley (1921–2006) was Professor of History at Houston Baptist University.