San Francisco has its trolleys and Houston has its Metro light rail, but for 34 years, the Tri-Cities area had light rail too. It was the last new electric interurban completed in the United States and from 1927 to 1961, the Houston-North Shore rail line ran between Goose Creek and downtown Houston, serving Pelly, Baytown, and Highlands, as well as other towns along the way.
Some of the cars were named for towns along the route, “Houston”, “Highlands”, “Baytown” and “Goose Creek.”
Let’s take a ride and see what it was like in the summer of 1928.
We’ll catch the interurban at the Goose Creek Depot on Texas Avenue and ride to Elena. When we get to the depot we buy our ticket. We won’t have to wait long because the line has seven cars and runs every 30 minutes. We look over the yard outside the depot and see the tracks with the electrical cables stretched overhead.
The track makes a roundabout south of the depot because the early cars could only go one direction. We leave the depot in the new green interurban car and head south, going about 40 mph. The cars don’t have much power from the 600 volt 40 hp electric motors, but that’s OK because it wouldn’t be safe going much faster. The only sound we hear is the hum of the motors and the clickity clack of the wheels. In a couple of minutes, we pass the repair barn on the left, located on the west side of S. Main Street at the end of East Republic. This is where almost all repair work is done on the cars. Continuing south we take a slight right turn and enter Pelly.
There is a small shelter on Pruett Street which serves as a stop. It’s called simply the Pelly waiting shed.
The tracks turn west and to the right we can see Goose Creek Grammar School and Goose Creek High School.
In the fall of 1928 when the new Lee High School opens, the schools will be renamed Anson Jones and Horace Mann. We see some school children standing around and guess that they had put pennies on the track so they could have a flattened souvenir of the interurban.
Continuing west we find ourselves traveling down the middle of Daniel Street with houses on both sides. Then we come to a cleared right-of-way which extends south to the bay shore.
There had been talk of extending the interurban tracks all the way to Tabb’s Bay for the oil field workers. Land had been purchased and designated, but nothing came of it. Eventually Lee Drive will be built on that strip of land.
Looking to the right we see an earthen fuel oil reservoir with a wooden roof. In a few years when the roof is removed it will fill with water and neighborhood kids will use it as a swimming hole.
But a few years after that it will create all kinds of problems when the property is developed into George Washington Carver School. But that is in the future and right now the school is located just north of the tracks next to Mt Rose Baptist Church on property provided by John Schilling.
For two blocks, we travel down the middle of Daniel Street again and then enter some woods. When we break out of the trees, we see the crossing over Goose Creek. Here the car slows to 25 mph over the bridge.
Looking right we see another railroad bridge. This is the Dayton-Goose Creek Railroad, built in 1919 by Ross Sterling to service the Humble refinery.
Luckily there’s nobody walking over the tracks because people living to the south of the tracks use it as a short-cut. Some even use it as a diving platform to jump into Goose Creek stream.
We can’t see it from here, but to the south is Durain’s Ferry. It’s not a ferry any more, but a floating bridge across Goose Creek which can be pulled out of the way to let barges pass; the Baytown Pelly Road bridge over Goose Creek won’t be built until 1931 and the road will later be named W. Main Street. There is also a bridge on Market Street, but it is dangerous and just barely passable and will be replaced in 1933.
Continuing west we enter some more woods and then arrive at Baytown. This is a new company town built by Humble Oil on the site of a much older community. Baytown was a place name as early as 1845 and in 1859 had a school and a post office.
We ride down the middle of Oak Street and, looking right, we see the Mexican school which will soon be renamed Lorenzo De Zavala to honor the early Texas hero and designer of the Texas flag. This is the only Mexican school in the area and students ride the interurban from as far away as Elena, which will be renamed Highlands when the post office there opens in 1929.
We arrive at the Baytown depot and several men working at the Humble refinery get on. Their shift has ended and they are anxious to get home. Their clothes smell of oil from the refinery.
In a few years they will be issued coveralls which the company will wash, but right now they are responsible for cleaning their own clothes, and their wives will remember this for years to come.
A little further along we see Baytown Elementary School and the new Baytown Junior High, built on property donated by Humble Oil & Refining Company. At the same time, we can see the 10-year-old Humble Refinery, which will eventually grow to become the largest in the world and have a major contribution to the war effort in the 40’s and on Baytown growth in general.
The ride then continues along the prairie. There is a stop in Wooster where the tracks turn north, another in Cody, and another stop in McNair consisting of only a roof, much like the picnic pavilions at roadside parks.
Then the tracks turn west toward Elena and we can see the San Jacinto River. It’s not there yet, but in 1939 we will be able to see the San Jacinto Monument, built to commemorate the battle which gave Texas its independence from Mexico.
Eventually we pull into Elena Station. Elena was developed as a major agricultural area and boasted thousands of acres of fig orchards and farms. There are plans to extend the tracks to Crosby but, like the spur to Tabb’s Bay, that won’t happen either.
The trip from Goose Creek to Elena has taken 25 minutes including stops.
The car will continue to downtown Houston, traveling across the San Jacinto River on the north side of what will eventually become Highway 90, which will itself be replaced by Interstate 10. It will make stops at Bratton, Cedar Bluff, Mantu, Ridlon, Oakley, Greens Bayou, Abbey, Universal, Martin, M.K. Junction, Eugene, McCarthy Ave, and Lyons Station before it reaches the end of the line at Union Station in Houston.
The entire trip from Goose Creek to Union Station takes an hour and 35 minutes.
In 1929, Market Street Road between Houston and Goose Creek was paved with concrete and bridged the San Jacinto River at Lynchburg, providing a shorter trip to Houston. In 1931 service was reduced to a car every two hours and by 1933 further reduced to six trips per day.
In 1941 Missouri Pacific tried to discontinue all passenger rail service, but the request was denied by Harris County Commissioners Court. There was a brief resurgence of ridership during the war due to gasoline rationing but stopped with the end of the war.
On Sept. 25, 1948, electric car No. 524 made its last run. All the electric cars were replaced by gasoline rail buses and the electrical cables were taken down. Ridership continued to decline and by 1961 it was no longer economically feasible to continue operations, so Missouri Pacific closed the doors on this era of transportation.
The last car left Goose Creek Depot on Oct. 26, 1961.
Longtime Baytown resident Chuck Chandler is retired from the Exxon Refinery and currently serves as Vice President of Baytown Historic Preservation Association.