Dr. Nicholson has been teaching a course this semester on Houston history, and I was lucky enough to get to teach her class how we do primary source research in physical archives, as well as what materials are available online. One of the resources that are especially useful to anyone studying Houston are the Sanborn Insurance Company’s maps of Houston. They were done over several years, document nearly every commercial property in Houston, and usually have interesting information on whether the place kept a security guard, or what the building was constructed of, as these would affect insurance rates.
I can use maps like this to find out more about what sat on our location at One Main Street, before the Merchants and Manufacturer’s Building was built in 1930. We know that originally, it was the site of a warehouse owned by two founding fathers of the city of Houston, Louis Pless and Samuel L. Allen, and served a role in the Battle of Galveston Bay during the Civil War.
I can use the original land use research from the 1920s to reconstruct other owners of the land, although it went back and forth between family, into probates, and out again until the early 1900s. The Sanborn maps become especially useful when trying to piece together legal narratives into physical property lines:
From this map, I was able to learn one very important fact that I spread to anyone who would listen to me: there used to be an ice cream factory located right where the south deck is now (I am open to starting a petition drive to revive it). It’s also possible to see where the American Brewing Association was located, at the corner of 2nd and Girard. Another interesting thing you can see from this map is that there was no “Main Street”, it was First Street and it was “not paved.”
Unfortunately, by 1924 the ice cream factory is no more, and most of the land has been taken by a descendent of the Brewing Association, the American Ice and Storage Company. Main Street, and its viaduct, are now built and the MKT railroad has its first passenger depot (which predated the one we have photographs for):
Just five years later, the M&M was under construction, and has dominated the skyline on the north side of the bayou ever since.