Port of Texas City



The first pier and first rail (Sept. 1894)

The Meyers brothers of Duluth, Minn., first devised the idea to build a port in 1893, when they bought 10,000 acres of land that would eventually become Texas City. The brothers planned to build a port that could compete with (and, ideally, supersede) those already operating in Galveston and Houston. This idea was a key selling point to investors in the fledging enterprise of Texas City. The Texas City Improvement Company, the company that investors formed to do the business of developing the city, got permission from the federal government to dredge a channel from Shoal Point to Bolivar Roads, the channel which connects Galveston Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. It was initially only eight feet deep (DeMaet, 1993). In addition to dredging the channel, the Texas City Improvement Company built a dock with a railway trestle and laid four-and-a-half miles of track from the Texas City Port running southwest to connect with the Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railway. The port offered free use of their wharves and no switching fees for use of the Texas City tracks in order to compete with the Port of Galveston (Benham, 1987).


Early port scene

One of the first principal exports for Texas City was cotton, and one of the first companies to locate at the port was Inman Terminal & Dock Company, a Houston cotton handler (Benham, 1987). Although this business proved profitable for Texas City, a glance at the statistics shows that the 16,661 bales of cotton shipped by rail between 1898 and 1899 to Texas City hardly compares to the 2,245,244 bales shipped to Galveston during the same time period. In 1895, the Texas City Improvement Company got permission to deepen the Texas City channel to 16 feet, finishing in 1896. While a flour mill and grain elevator had been constructed, shipments of grain to the Texas City Port were still not feasible given the channel depth and the effects of shoaling which resulted from the exchange of sediment between Galveston Bay proper and West Galveston Bay (Benham, 1987).


Oceanliners at Texas City in 1910


SS Pawnee in port


Under the River and Harbor Act of 1899, the federal government allocated funding for the U.S. Corp of Engineers to deepen the channel to 25 feet. The hurricane of 1900 delayed this project somewhat; it was not completed until 1905. Dredging of the channel allowed the port to begin receiving ocean-going vessels, which proved much more profitable than limiting port traffic to ships that could navigate shallow water. After the channel was deepened, the economy in Texas City strengthened considerably (Benham, 1987). Material dredged from the channel was carried inland, and a canal had to be dug to float it out; this canal served as the beginning of the Industrial Canal which serves the Texas City Port today (DeMaet, 1993).


An aerial view of the port

Two major steel and concrete warehouses were added to the port in 1903, and a turning basin and port slips were dug (DeMaet, 1993). The effect of deepening the channel was reflected in the amount shipped yearly through the Port of Texas City; from some 36,000 tons in 1904 to almost 180,000 tons in 1909 (United States Army, 1910).

While improvements were underway at the port, Augustus Wolvin and his associates were lobbying for more investment by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Texas City Channel. While the Corps deepened the channel to 27 feet in 1910, repeated silting necessitated more dredging to keep the channel at this depth. By 1915 the 5.3-mile Texas City Dike was completed and the Texas City Channel had been deepened to 30 feet by May of the following year (Benham, 1987).


Telegram to K.R. Guthrie


1923 report on earliest developments as a port (7 pages)


With a protected and almost land-locked harbor, the Texas City Port continued to expand its facilities and its business. Several other steamship lines began to use the port, including lines from England, France and Germany. By 1913 there were nine new steel warehouses, a new grain elevator with storage and handling tanks, and an electric power plant. A coal dock and an oil dock were added and coal was shipped to Bethlehem Steel (Benham, 1987).

Union Carbide (then called Carbide & Carbon Chemicals Company) built a plant on a 300-acre site in 1940 as the Port's first major chemical company (Price, 1941). Eventually chemicals and petroleum products were to replace cotton, grain and other bulk imports. In 1939 Seatrain Lines of New York contracted with the Port of Texas City and completed their dock facilities in 1940. Their ships were built to accommodate railroad cars, so that no unloading was necessary (Benham, 1987).


Building the largest pier


New passenger and pleasure pier

World War II only served to increase the Port of Texas City's development, with government contracts for fuel and other petroleum products. Most of the port was destroyed in the Texas City Disaster of 1947, which occurred after two ships filled with ammonium nitrate exploded while docked in the port. After the disaster, the Texas City Terminal Railroad Company and port industries rebuilt the port facilities fairly quickly. Carbide and the Terminal Railway Company together in 1948 dredged the 2-mile Industrial Canal serving the main harbor area (DeMaet, 1993). The harbor's turning basin was also widened at this time, to accommodate 800 feet supertankers.

The post-War boom continued through the 1950s and '60s and only slowed in the 1970s, with foreign competition proving a deciding factor. Texas City Port companies have since focused on becoming more automated in their production. The port has also had to adjust to environmental concerns regarding air and water pollution.


At the docks in Texas City


At the port in Texas City in 1923


Today, the Port of Texas City is the 8th largest port in the United States and the third largest port in the state of Texas (Port of Texas City website, n.d.). Over 78 million waterborne tons of material moves through the port annually. It is owned by the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads and operated by the Texas City Terminal Railway Company. The City of Texas City acts as a sponsor to the port for situations in which the port requires a governmental entity to act on its behalf. The port is located on the southwestern shore of Galveston Bay, near much of Texas City's heavy industry. In 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $61.8 million contract to a New Jersey firm to deepen the channel by five additional feet, which will bring the channel depth to 45 feet. Funding for the project is largely from federal stimulus money, with the exception of about $17 million funded by local industry (United States, 2009).

References