Boating on the Buffalo Bayou and Beyond
Buffalo Bayou, the waterway destined to become a centerpiece in Houston’s growth, was seen as an essential link between the interior of Texas, the sea, and the rest of the world.
It was the first home to the Houston Yacht Club as well as Houston’s shipping industry. The Club and the commercial infrastructure on the Bayou, grew apace in size and geography with the city of Houston.
Buffalo Bayou, the most important waterway in the Houston, was seen as an essential link between the city of Houston, the interior landscapes of Texas, the sea, and the world.
The Bayou was a major throughfare in Houston's shipping industry. In addition, it was the first home of the Houston Yacht Club. Both the Yacht Club and Buffalo Bayou grew in size and space alongside the rapid growth with the city of Houston.
Allen’s Landing, which lies on the banks of Buffalo Bayou at the foot of Main Street in downtown Houston, was the first home of the Houston Yacht Club on the Bayou.
The Yacht Club docked their boats at the city wharves near the Landing, a place bustling with larger boats carrying bricks, cotton and lumber alongside fresh seafood from Galveston Bay.
In later years, the Houston Yacht Club moved east to Galveston Bay. Nonetheless, many members still opted to house their boats on the Buffalo Bayou near Allen’s Landing, the original home of the burgeoning yachting organization. Some of the larger and more exclusive yachts, such as Arthur Burton’s Sebonac, were anchored in the ship channel’s turning basin. Likewise, even though the Houston Yacht Club no longer officially called it home, other members, such as Jerry Mitchell, William P. Hobby, and the Hogg brothers, kept their boats at Harrisburg, in what is now Houston's East End neighborhood. In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers even docked a quartermaster boat at the old clubhouse.
It is quite clear that, although the Yacht Club had formally moved to Galveston Bay, many members still retained unofficial ties to the Club’s formative locales along Buffalo Bayou.
While dredging and commercial construction occurred along the Buffalo Bayou from approximently 1910-1927, the Houston Yacht Club was re-located further east on the bayou at Harrisburg, near Brady Island. This location is a few miles east of current day University of Houston.
Harrisburg initially represented an ideal locale for sailing sports: the dredging of the ship channel offered quiet, deep streams for the organization’s members. This property also fostered group’s canoeists who relished the quiet and calm waters near Harrisburg.
By 1910, the fleet numbered more than 100 boats, from large cruisers to small crafts.
As Houston and the commercial waterway grew, however, the Club’s canoeists encountered increased difficulties from their position at Harrisburg. In March 1924, the canoeing division, whose summer retreat was near Greens Bayou on the Ship Channel, opted to relocate to an entirely new site. According to the canoeing division, “The ship channel was no longer an ideal location for canoeing because increased traffic on the Channel resulted in the constant threat of being overturned by the wake of tugs, speedboats, and freighters.” Thus, the Yacht Club’s longstanding support of the Ship Channel and the development of the Port of Houston, ironically, served as a disadvantage to one of the organization’s more formidable and popular wings. The canoeing division, in the end, moved to a new site near the San Jacinto River.
Events on the Water
Sailing, boating, and other water based events have been part of Houston history since the city was founded.
Sailing and canoeing and many other sports, as well as parades and festivals of many varieties, have taken place on the bayous and Galveston Bay for many, many years. This recreation sometimes related to historical events or business interests. For example, the Not-Su-Oh (Houston, spelled backwards) festival included a water-borne arrival of King Nottoc (Cotton), a fitting symbol for the role of waterways (and the explotative labor practices of cotton plantations) in building Houston's economy.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Houston in 1936 and toured the ship channel, turning basin, and San Jacinto battlefield aboard Captiva, one of the Houston Yacht Club fleet’s finest yachts. President Roosevelt's trip to Houston reflected the partnership between the Yacht Club and Ship Channel both of which had grown together for more than a quarter-century.
The Houston Yacht Club was becoming increasingly successful in various sailing competitions, which led to diverse types of recreational boating and constant annual events.
Black and white photograph of Buffalo Bayou looking east from Preston Street Bridge
Allen's Landing on Buffalo Bayou in Houston, Texas, 1910. Forms part of the HHRC Photo Collection at the Houston History Research Center, Houston Public Library
Harrisburg portion of larger map "Port Terminal Railroad Association map of track owned by the Harris County Houston Ship Channel Navigation District and track owned by private industry"