What is that?

Perhaps, as you are walking up the Main Street Viaduct, you have noticed this weird metal door halfway up the bank between Buffalo Bayou and the One Main Building. Perhaps you have wondered what, exactly, that weird thing is. Fear not, gentle readers, for the University Archives is here to help.

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The weird thing in question

 

 

It is in fact a cargo entrance.

When the M&M building (what we now call the One Main building) was built in 1929, it was built in exactly this spot for a specific reason: it sat at the confluence of two railroads and two bayous. It was meant to take advantage of both railroads *and* waterways. Originally, that door was the cargo entrance for anything that came into the building via river barge. In fact, if you look on the left side of this photograph, you can still see the pilings for the old loading dock.

Now, you may be asking, how did they get cargo all the way from the bayou to the first floor of the building, up that slope? Well, the short answer is that they didn’t. Behind that metal door is a tunnel which leads directly up a gentle slope to the lower basement of our building (yes, we have a basement. In fact, we have a basement and a sub-basement, which is where the door’s tunnel came into). Once inside the building through the sub-basement’s tunnel, there was a big freight elevator that would take goods up to the basement or up to the first floor, where they could be offloaded for transport by train, or by truck through the Girard Street entrance.

But they didn’t carry stuff through the tunnel; that would have been a job for two or more men, or even impossible in some cases. Instead they used carts, like these, which are currently stacked on top of each other in the basement.

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These handcarts are waiting to find a good permanent home, perhaps on display

It had to be slow work, but there was really no other efficient way of offloading cargo up such a steep slope. There is also a theory that the sub-basement and tunnel are actually remnants of the original warehouse which stood here since the 1850s, and which was used as a holding area for Union POWs for a time during the Civil War, after the Battle of Galveston Bay. The current door is clearly not that old, but was probably added once shipping was fully routed to the Ship Channel and upstream commercial traffic stopped.

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