Dirt Piles, 1947

One of the small treasures in George Miner’s things is a tidy little notebook he used for Engineering 250, Plane Surveying, in the fall of 1947. One page is of particular interest. On a warm and cloudy October 8th, he and his lab partners surveyed the northeastern edge of campus:

New George Miner surveying 2

It took a moment to orient myself–the “A.B.” at far left is Lovett Hall, off to the right is Entrance 1–and then I started learning. I had not known that the road from the main entrance to the Power House was made of shell. More tantalizing were the dirt piles just south of that road. What could this possibly be about? The first thing I found was an aerial shot of just this area from 1946. You can see the parallel lines of crepe myrtles (I didn’t know about those either) that extend along the side of the parking lot where Duncan Hall is today to the shell road–but no dirt piles:

Aerial 1946

A bit of inspiration sent me to the Fondren construction files and this image from December 2, 1947, just a couple months after the map was drawn. There are the piles and even more behind the Chemistry Building to boot:


At first I thought the crepe myrtles were gone, but they’re still there. It’s winter so they’ve shed their leaves but if you zoom in you can see what look like two dotted lines. Those are their shadows. I’m guessing the dirt piles must be construction related, maybe from digging the basement of Fondren.



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12 Responses to Dirt Piles, 1947

  1. C Kelly says:

    Looking down South Main in that first photo is fascinating. Virtually nothing out there except oil wells (on the eastern side) which are obscured by the haze. Maybe I’m dreaming, but I think I can barely make out the South Main Drive In out where the road curves.

    • Steve Lukingbeal says:

      Does anyone know if the South Main Drive In is the same facility as the McLendon Triple Drive In? The McLendon was also located where South Main takes a hard curve. The McLendon was the closest drive in to Rice when I attended there in the early 70s and I recall it being open for several decades after that. Presently, it appears to be a very large RV park.

      • C Kelly says:

        They were separate drive in theaters in different locations. The South Main Theater was on the east side of South Main Street where it intersected with Stella Link. I guess that would make it the southwest corner. If you headed a little further down South Main, you’d see Brochstein’s plant.

        • C Kelly says:

          Oops – I should have said South Main was on the west side of South Main — sorry about the confusion.

  2. almadenmike says:

    Might Miner’s notes have solved the question that you posed March 15, 2011 (http://ricehistorycorner.com/2011/03/15/two-aerial-views-from-1947-48/):

    >>> Now check out something else: If you zoom in on the top photo, there are two areas that are clearly under cultivation. One is to the right of the parking lot between Abercrombie and the Physics Building, where the North Colleges are today. The other is just behind the left side of Chemistry Building. This picture was taken in April (1948). Now look at the bottom picture, which was taken in very early December (1947). I’m not completely sure what to make of this, but it looks like hay that’s been cut and raked but not yet baled. But that’s really just a guess. Any thoughts? <<<

    The 2011 "bottom picture" is virtually the same as the second one above. So it would seem that the piles could be construction/excavation dirt, not hay. And perhaps by the time the April 1948 photo had been taken, those piles had been spread about and grass planted, seemingly in broad rows behind a tractor rather than evenly.

  3. almadenmike says:

    (Clarification: The 2011 “bottom picture” is virtually the same as the second AERIAL one above. It’s the third photo in today’s post.)

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Mike, I think you’ve got it! I also must say that I’m deeply, deeply impressed that you remembered that question from four years ago.

      • almadenmike says:

        Yay! For some reason, I remembered that there was a discussion about hay and row crops on campus … and this site’s excellent internal search function pointed me to the correct post. 🙂

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

          I mistrust people who STILL have a memory!

  4. mjthannisch says:

    I wander if they would have bailed it. Hay bailing was invented in 1940.

    There were still shell roads in Houston to the 1970s. The one I remember best is Anderson Road where S. Post Oak and West Fuqua come together (SW Hoston) Most of the communities on the coast used shell roads until the 70s as did the refineries, I can asssur eyou fro m experience, you did not want to fall out of the car when driving on a shell road.

  5. marmer01 says:

    You did not want to fall out of the car at all. But car doors coming open spontaneously used to be a thing and you had to take measures to prevent it. That was one of the early stated benefits of seat belts.

    • mjthannisch says:

      So true, it was a 1953 MG, and I was 3 or 4 (1959) and I was playing with the door latch. I don’t know how he did it, but I was sworn to secrecy, and my mother did not find out about it until the 1990s (I didn’t remember being sworn to secrecy!

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