Harris Gully

Someone asked a fun question in the comments yesterday, and by “fun question” I mean one that I am able to answer:

In the aerial photo, across from the Main St. entrance, there seems to be a pathway, going over a bridge which crosses some stream of water. Correct? What was that body of water, where did it go and where is it now?

Yes, correct. The stream is Harris Gully, famous in Rice lore for being an early collecting ground for the Biology Department. Here’s a picture of it taken by someone standing on Main Street in 1913, looking towards campus. Note the newly installed culverts.

And here’s a picture of taken from the same spot after a hard rain:

Wilmer Waldo, the engineer who handled much of Rice’s early infrastructure tackled this problem head on right at the start and made significant drainage improvements, but the regular sequence of drought followed by floods continued to plague that part of campus. The constant soil expansion and contraction was the main culprit in the condemnation of the original field house after enormous cracks appeared in the late 1940s:

More drainage improvements were made in the 1950s and part of the gully was buried, resulting in the creation of my all-time favorite Rice geographical feature, the Gaping Maw.  Zoom in and you can see it in the southeast part of the stadium parking lot. I’ve never seen anything that explains why this rather odd decision was made.

Since sometime in the 60s it’s all been buried but it’s still there, underground in concrete, and still a source of drainage problems on campus and in the Med Center.

Bonus: Here’s the only picture I’ve ever seen of the footbridge that allowed people to walk from the main part of campus to the athletic field. It was taken on Thanksgiving Day, 1926. It’s pretty fuzzy but it’s all I’ve got.

Extra Bonus: It’s still kind of rough out there.

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21 Responses to Harris Gully

  1. effegee says:

    I’ve always wondered when they buried the part of the gully that must have extended into Southampton. The northernmost visible remnants today are the massive storm drains on the south side of Rice Blvd adjacent to the stadium. Until storm drains were installed in Southampton (early ’90s), runoff just ran through the streets. Apparently the surface flow into the Harris Gully system started near the intersection of Kirby and Westheimer.

    The gully continued through the TMC entering Bray’s Bayou opposite the point that the street formerly known as Outer Belt intersected MacGregor/Braeswood. There are massive flood gates on the outlet of the box culvert that once was Harris Gully to prevent backflow when the bayou runs around 90% full. It looks like you could easily drive a semi tractor trailer rig in there.

    Colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine told me that the gully runs beneath one of the BCM buildings — Debakey, I think.

  2. James Medford says:

    Very cool to finally see a picture of the bridge over Harris Gulley. I love the sign in the background.

    Regarding the question about the pathway going over the bridge visible in the aerial photo from 1921, I don’t think he was asking about Harris Gulley. Go back to that photo and zoom in at the bottom of the photo, just left of center (and to the right of the plane’s wing). There’s a bridge crossing what appears to be a drainage ditch in Hermann Park.

    • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

      James is correct.
      That is the footbridge and small stream of water I was asking about.
      What was it? Where did It take the water?
      What was done with it?

      • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

        After more analysis (=guessing), I believe that small stream of water is where Fannin St. was yet to be constructed.

      • Richard Miller (Hanszen '75 & '76) says:

        It looks like it is a drainage ditch east of main (Not sure if Fannin extended that far then or not) but the construction appears to be that of a uncovered storm drain and does not appear to be natural

  3. This brings back memories of my roommates kayaking from Bissonet to campus after a big rain. They headed down this nice bit of water by the fieldhouse, then realized it was disappearing into a hole in the ground. Time for some serious backpaddling. I would have been with them, but I was recovering from a broken collarbone I acquired in during the Houston Midnight Ramble. So they borrowed my kayak. That would have been around 1980.

    OK, it was a huge rain.

    “Wilmer Waldo” is an awesome name.

  4. effegee says:

    I recall seeing the ghost of Harris Gully while driving to campus along Rice Blvd. on the mornings after some of the floods between 1976 and 1979.

    One time a Continental Trailways highway bus, used at the time as an IAH shuttle, sat in the crown of the road near the intersection with S. Shepherd where it had obviously stalled out. I was impressed that the water had been deep enough to stall a highway bus. As I drove by, I looked up at side of the bus and screeched to a halt to be sure that I was really seeing what I thought I saw. Just below the passenger windows, a good 6 feet above the pavement were dead leaves that stuck to the side of the bus as the water receded. Now, that’s some deep water.

    My favorite, though, was the morning that I had to weave around stalled cars as I drove east from the Village. As I approached the east stadium lot, I saw a large car like a Pontiac Bonneville. Its front end was in Rice Blvd. while its back end resting on the trunk of a large oak tree. That would have been impressive enough. But the Toyota sitting with its front wheels on the hood of the Pontiac and its rear wheels sitting on the Pontiac’s roof really made it an unforgettable sight!

  5. Grungy says:

    The afternoon of 15 June 1976, it took me close to two hours to drive from roughly the NW Mall to the Village, because of the flooding and stalled cars. I followed an ambulance as it wove its way east on 59. The closest I could get to campus in my ’71 SuperBeetle was the other side of Morningside, and I parked behind Weingarten’s and waded to the RMC.
    The water was over the hoods of most cars at Greenbriar and Rice, and there were two guys sitting on the hood of a stalled car in the middle of the intersection, handicapping the vehicles that were headed south on Greenbriar. “That one – no… that one – yes”
    I held my wallet held over my head in one hand, and a big 6V flashlight in the other, and headed east on Rice Boulevard.
    The deepest spot was roughly where Harris Gully was – up to my shoulders – and I was wading down the crown of the road. Then I noticed an antenna sticking out of the water – just an antenna.
    There was no telling what it was attached to, at the time. When I waded back to my car much later, after the water had receded, it turned out to be a Triumph TR7.
    The shallowest point between Morningside at Rice and the RMC was out in the prairie between the stadium lot and Spac. That was knee-deep. This was maybe four hours after the storm had passed.
    I spent a long time wading around the bandhall, salvaging what I could in the 46″ of water in the basement of the RMC.
    Rice excavated the large trench east of the gym after this, to give the water somewhere to go in the future (the TMC, as it turned out, during Allison). That trench is pretty much directly over the Harris Gully box culvert.

    • Richard Miller (Hanszen '75 & '76) says:

      I was at BCM during that flood. I lived on sunset at that time (just across from the Medical Clinic) so many days I would walk to work. Luckily I did that day. I walked home through several ponds and the water was still high.

      TMC took a hit, UTHSC had its anatomy lab flooded and the garage under the TMC library filled up. (Dr. Debakey’s prized mustang got flooded).

      TMC tried to fix things after that and built several berms (one of them is between Hermann and the back of the library).

      Allison was an interesting event for the TMC. A Rice hyrologist determined so much rain came down the then entire ground west of the medical center became a small lake and sheets of water over the entire geographic area moved west to east to TMC. (I spent the night @ BCM during Allison and got to experiance it first hand; it turns out to be a very interesting exercise to move large wet dogs up stairs when they really would rather be somewhere else)

  6. Grungy says:

    My bad – I hadn’t looked at the photo, and had my campus geography off.
    I had no idea that the gully ran west of the gym.
    That is an impressive maw.

    • effegee says:

      During that 1976 incident, KTRK had a camera crew that canoed down Rice Blvd. past the entrance at the then Central Kitchen.

      (I think this was talked about in comments on an earlier post.) Not long after that a bunch of bedraggled ROTC members came splashing through calf-deep water to Herman Brown. They had just escaped from the basement of CK after both stairwells flooded, jamming the doors until the basement flooded enough to equalize the pressure on the back door on Rice Blvd. In those days, the stairwells were “at grade”, not elevated as they are today.

      Had the water risen another 4-6 inches, the basement of Herman Brown would have been taking on water, flooding the computer center.

    • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

      Grungy,
      This article of yours was posted about 5 hours from now (in Baytown,TEXAS).
      So where are you, in England?

      • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

        Looking at the time of my posting here, I gather that perhaps ALL of the postings are in GMT (Green M. Time).

    • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

      Grungy,
      Thanks for posting that link.
      Even with my BA-History mind, I can now understand the drainage of Harris Gully.
      And I can see what my “small stream of water” apparently became in the overall drainage system of the area.
      Velly intelesting.

  7. Deborah Gronke Bennett says:

    Back to the photo in yesterday’s post: I assume Harris Gully runs along that line of trees in the mod-background of the picture?

    I matriculated at Rice in the fall of 1976, when the June 1976 flood was still recent news. KTRU, Willy’s Pub and the band hall were all damaged and still recovering.

    Melissa, do you have enough flood pictures of Rice to do a whole post about them?

  8. Pingback: “Freshmen must swim to and from all classes,” 1926 | Rice History Corner

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