Excerpt from August 2011 Skyline article:
The Allen Brothers, the founders of Houston, originally planned to build a steam saw mill on that spot, but the plans fell apart in 1837 as leaders of the planned mill, the Texas Steam Mill Company, fell victim to shipwreck or yellow fever.
The tract of land remained empty throughout the 19th century, and Buffalo Bayou was used for transportation, drinking water and waste disposal—and not necessarily in that order. By the end of the century, citizens were complaining about the waste. The federal government threatened to no longer fund construction projects on the Houston Ship Channel unless the city cleaned up the bayou.
In 1902, the city responded by building the city’s first waste and sewage treatment facility: the Willow Street Pump Station. The original upper building was for storage and the lower building on the banks housed the pump system, built into the steep slope of the hill. In 1915, an incinerator to burn solid waste was built adjacent to the storage building and helped to successfully clean the bayou.