Thinking Big: 1897-1913
In 1897, the United States government began appropriating funds for enlarging the future ship channel in Houston. Many of Houston's leading businessmen and politcians were involved in the effort bring deep water into Houston in the late 1890s and early 1900s.
Congressman Thomas H. Ball is known as the "Father of the Port of Houston" for his early efforts to develop business and trade in Houston by championing the port's possibilities. Ball’s predecessor, Congressman J.C. Hutcheson, had a bill passed in the Fifty-fourth congress providing for a federal survey of Buffalo Bayou looking to the dredging of a 25-foot channel.
A few of the many other leaders included Houston mayors John T. Browne and Baldwin Rice; Capt. James A. Baker (attorney); H.M. Garwood of Houston Cotton Exchange; W.D. Cleveland Sr., Joseph S. Rice, O.T. Holt, John T. Scott (banker), H.F. MacGregor, F.A. Heitmann, Jesse Jones, J.E. McAshan, J.S. Rice, Joseph F. Meyer, Sr., E.A. Peden, John Wortham (father of Gus Wortham), F.B. Pettibone, R.S. Sterling, Charles Dillingham, C.G. Pillot.
Oil magnates; R.L. Blaffer (Humble Oil and Refining), J.S. Cullinan (Texas Company), R.M. Farrar (member of first harbor board), Underwood Nazro (Gulf Company) Judge D.E. Greer (Gulf Company).
The Houston Yacht Club was founded in that same year. Even from these earliest days, this single moment reflected how both entities evolved together, both in size and geography. For example, C.G. Pillot, active support of the Port of Houston, also served as Commodore for the Houston Yacht Club, 1914-1916. Lumberman John H. Kirby presented the yacht "Lawrence" to the Houston Yacht Club in 1905, for the purpose of building the fleet to support business tours of the area.
Houston’s port, long before it became a principal international seaport, initially was a small, inefficient locale at Buffalo Bayou, just off Main Street in Houston.
It struggled merely for survival amidst the more robust and easily accessible ports at Galveston. However, the confluence of railways, oil, cotton & lumber trade in Houston would soon turn the tides.
A large Turning Basin, first dredged in 1908, was included in the project, which signaled the port’s ability to cater to large ships.
One of the Houston Yacht Club’s large yachts, Zeeland, was used to demonstrate the Basin’s effectiveness.
Although the U.S. government had long expressed interest in expanding the Houston Ship Channel, the progress by 1909 was still slow.
In 1909, the voters of Harris County approved the port as the Harris County Houston Ship Channel Navigation District. Local Houston interests and U.S. Congressman Tom Ball, however, petitioned Congress and offered to put up more than $1 million for the expansion project.
Many in the community had long desired to widen the waterway into a navigable and useful channel.
In 1911, leaders in both Houston business and the Houston Yacht Club had insisted that Buffalo Bayou be transformed into a deep-water body so as to promote the city and its access to the sea. This was a challenging proposition considering Houston’s relatively inland location, as well as nearby Galveston’s easy access to the Gulf of Mexico.
That year, Texas governor O. B. Colquitt established the first Board of Pilot Commissioners to prepare for ocean-going vessels traveling up the Houston Ship Channel. The petition was successful and efforts were underway to expand the Channel into Buffalo Bayou.