Pieces of History on Main Street

The 300 block of Main Street between Congress Street and Preston Avenue, 1866. A decade later, the same block of Main Street was populated with larger masonry buildings. These new buildings were constructed after a fire destroyed most of the older wood buildings on the block. Special Collections, University of Houston Digital Library.

The 300 block of Main Street between Congress Street and Preston Avenue, 1866. A decade later, the same block of Main Street was populated with larger masonry buildings. These new buildings were constructed after a fire destroyed most of the older wood buildings on the block. Special Collections, University of Houston Digital Library.

A LITTLE PIECE OF HISTORY | By The Heritage Society –

To catch a glimpse of historic Houston, look no further than Main Street. When the Allens established the town of Houston in 1836, they centered the town plat at the confluence of Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou. This resulted in a street grid that ran approximately northeast to southwest. Main Street ran perpendicular to Buffalo Bayou and directly in line with White Oak Bayou.

The earliest ships carrying cargo and pioneering residents to Allen’s Landing arrived at the foot of Main. During the two years Houston served as the capital of the Republic of Texas, the capitol building stood at Main and Texas. Though the building was used as a hotel for a few decades after the capital moved to Austin, it eventually was replaced by the Rice Hotel, which still stands today. When the City’s original political wards were established in 1840, Main Street formed the division between the third and fourth wards.

Now lined with skyscrapers, Main Street at Dallas included grand residences and trees in the early 20th century. Special Collections, University of Houston Digital Library.

Now lined with skyscrapers, Main Street at Dallas included grand residences and trees in the early 20th century. Special Collections, University of Houston Digital Library.

Early photographs show rapid development and redevelopment of Main Street near the bayou as the City’s growth and architectural improvements called for larger buildings. Farther from the bayou, Main Street’s early development in what is now considered downtown was mostly residential. Large, grand residences and trees lined Main Street outside the commercial center. One of these was occupied by Charlotte Baldwin Allen, wife of Augustus Allen, who lived in Houston and was an active community member until her death in 1895. Her residence at 718 Main was demolished in 1915, and the 1929 Gulf Building, now the J.P. Morgan Chase Building, stands in its place. Likewise, none of the grand mansions that lined Main Street in the late 19th and early 20th centuries remain today.

As Houston grew into the 20th century, commercial and institutional development gradually replaced residential areas as it extended farther south. By the 1960s, Houstonians could travel down Main Street from downtown, through the museum district, through the newly developed Texas Medical Center and all the way to the brand new Harris County Domed Stadium, better known as the Astrodome.

Nineteenth and early 20th century Houston is most visible between Commerce and Texas Streets downtown. These blocks, along with a portion of Main that stretches across the bayou to Girard, are included in the City’s Main Street Market Square Historic District. Other examples are Allen’s Landing, the Main Street Viaduct, the H.S. Kress and Co. Building, First United Methodist Church, the Beaconsfield, First Church of Christ Scientist, Trinity Episcopal Church, commercial buildings between Berry and Alabama, Isabella Court, South Main Baptist Church, Sears, Baker Brothers Studio, The Museum of Fine Arts original building and the Warwick Hotel. Hermann Park and Rice University remain well-loved institutions along historic Main Street. Today, Houston’s METRORail Red Line provides an easy way to take in the City’s history along one of its earliest major corridors.