Centennial Mayhem Produces A Railroad Surprise

In between tasks today I only had about ten minutes to look at pictures, a very sad state of affairs. One of the things I was working on took me to the papers of Rice architect William Ward Watkin where I quickly found what I needed, a couple of early construction photos. Some of these images are rather bland, but others remain startling no matter how many times I see them. Here’s one from 1910:

I mean, obviously we should put a university in the middle of this field. Let’s start digging right . . . . here.

Here’s one from a little later, sometime in 1911:

Instead of a pasture, we now have soggy chaos. (It’s worth zooming in on.)

This one, though, really surprised me. It shows construction materials for the first buildings laid out in neat rows. It’s an eye-catcher—they almost look like headstones—and I’ve paused over it many times before. This time, though, I scanned it. And looking at the scan I noticed something I hadn’t seen before—behind the building materials sits a train and a train track stretches off into the distance.

At first I excitedly thought this was the Rice spur, but then realized that it can’t be. The spur wasn’t built until 1913 and this picture was clearly taken much earlier than that, in 1910 or 1911. The farmhouses don’t look familiar either. (Believe it or not, I can identify every farmhouse that bordered Rice at a glance. Talk about wasted youth.)

So what are we looking at here? I think it must be a train unloading the supplies, maybe up at the Aransas Pass line, for transport down to the construction site. I guess they would have finished the trip by wagon. Sounds like kind of a drag.

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9 Responses to Centennial Mayhem Produces A Railroad Surprise

  1. Grungy says:

    What a mud-pit!
    Are there any records of yellow fever outbreaks amongst the construction crew?

  2. I think the Aransas Pass idea sounds about right. Or maybe they built a very temporary rail line during construction. I don’t know how practical that would be. Or, both may be right, it may be closer than Aransas Pass but not specifically on campus.

  3. Leoguy says:

    Fascinating photographs! The first Rice buildings were truly “handmade” structures. Notice that the men in the last photograph are constructing temporary forms to support the masony arches built using the stone stacked so carefully in this yard. And, there appears to be a wooden boardwalk running through the yard; probably to support the weight of wagons carrying the stone to the building site. (See second photo for potential problems moving heavy loads in this landscape.) This “marshalling” yard must be close to the building site, in my opinion.

  4. Deborah Gronke Bennett says:

    I agree it looks pretty swampy in the Lovett Hall construction picture. How odd to see what only one built story looked like.. Where was the picture taken from? You can see some wooden railings in the foreground. Also, do you know anything about the barn and the sheds surrounding the construction site? I am drawn to the house or barn to the right, and the several sheds to the left (just under the smoke or steam).

  5. Grungy says:

    It’s taken from what was then the top of the smoke stack/campanile, looking vaguely SE toward Main St.

  6. Grungy says:

    That’s the coal chute at the bottom-center of the wall closest to us.

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  9. Dennis Hogan says:

    The SA&AP Ry in fact had a spur into the Rice campus!

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