Streets of Downtown Houston

Recently, I was asked why so many streets in Downtown Houston were named after US Presidents. I responded saying that I only could answer for Polk, but that it was interesting that there were a few more (Pierce, Jefferson, Jackson) and it piqued my curiosity: where do the names of Downtown Houston streets come from?

I was surprised to find that no such list exists, so I set about researching the names of Houston streets. The following is my attempt, though some of my research was a little difficult and there may be some mistakes. Some things are unclear as well, when there was not enough reliable information.

East-West Streets, from South to North

  • Pierce – It’s possible that this is named after the president, but much more likely that it was named after Abel Head “Shanghai” Pierce or his descendants. Abel was a 19th century Texas cattleman who was fabulously wealthy and whose research led to the prominence of Texas cattle.
  • St. Joseph – Named after the St. Joseph Hospital on the street, which was the first hospital in Houston, opening in 1887. [This street was originally named Calhoun, after John C. Calhoun, the US Secretary of State who was instrumental in the annexation of Texas.]
  • Jefferson – Unclear. Probably named after the president (the city of Jefferson, TX was), though I have no idea why.
  • Pease – Named for Elisha M. Pease, the cowriter of the Texas Constitution and eventual TX Governor.
  • Leeland – I could find nothing on this. I have no idea.
  • Bell – Named for Peter H. Bell, a soldier at San Jacinto, the adjutant general under Sam Houston, and eventual TX Governor and US Congressman.
  • Clay – Named for Henry Clay, US Congressman who was instrumental in passing a law that set the official borders of Texas and assumed its ten million dollar debt. Oddly, Clay opposed annexation of the state, so it seems incongruous that there is a Houston Downtown street and Texas county named after him.
  • Polk – Named for President James K. Polk, who defeated Clay for the presidency (take that!) by promising to annex Texas. He fulfilled his promise.
  • Dallas – This street (unlike the city) is most likely named for George M. Dallas, Polk’s VP.
  • Lamar – Named for Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second President of Texas, the Father of Texas Education, and the exterminator of Texas Indians. He also moved the capital from Houston to Austin. Not an overwhelmingly good guy. Did I mention I went to Lamar High School? And that we were the Redskins? And that that’s horribly offensive considering his extermination of Texas Cherokees and Comanches.
  • McKinney – Named for Collin McKinney, one of the five people who drafted the TX Declaration of Independence. Also, its oldest signatory. How old? His father fought in the American Revolution. McKinney had serious freedom in his blood.
  • Walker – Named for Walker, Texas Ranger. Okay not really. Too bad though, right? Actually, it was probably named for Robert J. Walker, the US Senator who introduced a resolution to annex Texas.
  • Rusk – Named for Thomas Jefferson Rusk, a general at San Jacinto, the first TX Secretary of War, and a US Senator and President Pro Tem.
  • Capitol – Named because this is where the Capitol building was located when Houston was the capital. Not that surprising of a street name. Way better than “Pennsylvania.”
  • Texas – Seriously? Take a guess.
  • Prairie – Uncertain. Probably just named after the landscape. But I have nothing to prove this.
  • Preston – Named for William C. Preston, a US Senator who also introduced a resolution to annex Texas.
  • Congress – Most likely because the plan was to house the Texas congress here. However, as best as I can tell, this never happened.
  • Franklin – Probably named after Benjamin C. Franklin, a captain in the Texas army, and first ever appointed judge in Texas.
  • Commerce – Every major city needs a commerce street.
  • Ruiz – Named for José Francisco Ruiz, important figure in the Texas Revolution, and one of only two native Texans to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence. [This street was originally named Magnolia, presumably after the flower.]

North-South Streets, from West to East

  • Bagby – Named for Arthur P. Bagby, a Governor of Alabama who served briefly in the US Senate and advocated heavily for annexation of Texas.
  • Brazos – Named either after the Texas river. And that was originally named Rio de los Brazos de Dios, which apparently means “River of the Arms of God.”
  • Smith – Named for James Smith, another soldier at San Jacinto who became a general under Rusk a few years later.
  • Louisiana – Presumably named after the neighboring state, though I have found nothing to confirm this. I also found nothing that suggests otherwise.
  • Milam – Named for Benjamin Milam, a prominent soldier in the Texas Revolution who was shot in the head during the Siege of Bexar.
  • Travis – Named for William B. Travis, a lieutenant colonel in the Texas Revolution who died at the Battle of the Alamo. He drew the “line in the sand” offering soldiers to remain or flee. (“Across this line you do not! Also, Dude, Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian American, please.”)
  • Main – If every major city needs a commerce street, every hamlet needs a main street.
  • Fannin – Named for Colonel James Fannin, the leader of the troops at the Massacre of Goliad. If you don’t know the story of Goliad you need to: after the Battle of Coleto Creek, Fannin and his troops surrendered, facing insurmountable Mexican forces. They were taken prisoner at Goliad, and eight days later, rather than being granted mercy, Santa Anna ordered the cold-blooded execution of the over 300 prisoners of war. Forty injured men were executed without moving, the other 302 shot at point blank on the road. Survivors were stabbed and clubbed until they died. Fannin himself was burned after the shooting left his corpse desecrated. A few escaped, joining the Texian forces at San Jacinto, where they lent their voices to the battle cry “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!”
  • San Jacinto – Named for the battle of San Jacinto, where the Texas Revolution was won.
  • Caroline – Very unclear. It seems that when the city was planned, this was named Carolina, possibly after the Carolina Creek some eighty miles away. There’s no proof of this though, it’s a guess, and it’s possible that “Carolina” which as far as I can tell never was actually the name of the street” was a mistake on the original street plan.
  • Austin – Named for Stephen F. Austin, Father of Texas.
  • La Branch – No clue. I couldn’t find anything on this, except that it was originally planned as “Milton Street” and I couldn’t find anything on where that name came from either.
  • Crawford – It’s possible this was named for William C. Crawford, a signatory of the TX Declaration of Independence (the last living, but the street was already named when he died), but this seems unlikely. Again I’m not sure here.
  • Jackson – Named for US President Andrew Jackson, president at the time Houston was established and when the Texas Revolution was occurring. (It seems a little odd to name a street in another country after the president at the time of a neighboring country. But remember that most Texans were American by birth and still felt ties to the US.)
  • Chenevert – Probably named after the Live Oak, which is common along the Gulf Coast and was known in the 19th century in Louisiana and nearby areas as Chéne Vert.
  • Hamilton – Named for James Hamilton, a South Carolina governor who was a major supporter of Texas during the revolution and (financially) after.

Bam! There you go. This actually took some time to research, and though it’s not all 100%, I hope this will be useful to others looking to answer the same question. And of course, if anyone can fill in the blanks I had above, I’d greatly appreciate it.

  • Tostephe

    After taking a pub tour of downtown Houston I learned that Prairie was the edge of town so everything past Prairie was literally the prairie. It was also where duels happened since they were illegal inside the city. That's where the expression "Meet me on the other side of Prairie" came from.

  • TexasHistoryFan
  • TexasHistoryFan

    Labranch is possibly named after

    LA BRANCHE, ALCEE LOUIS

  • http://twitter.com/dhanix dhanix

    Great research! I also am very curious about street names in Houston and sometimes I find out where they come from by doing some research. 

     

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  • May
    • http://www.nathan-miller.com Nathan Miller

      Gah I wish I knew about that before I did all this independent research. I'll have to check out the book and see if it fills in any of my gaps.

    • http://www.nathan-miller.com Nathan Miller

      So this book is informative but not superb when it comes to citing things. For instance, for Pierce, it claims it is named after the president (as opposed to Abel), but the source is a biography of the president in an encyclopedia. That's not a source. That's just more information about President Pierce. (The same source is used for a LOT of people's names.) Or, it claims that St. Joseph was once named Crawford (when in fact, it was once named Calhoun) and does not explain why. It's more excited that the author was born at St. Joseph's Hospital.

      However, it does fill some of my gaps with suggestions, and corrects some of the suggestions I made that may not be right (but I'm not convinced of the legitimacy of this book, so I'm taking these as suggestions only):
      Jefferson – possibly named after Jefferson Davis. Seems very unlikely, and even the book suggests it's questionable.
      Leeland – possibly named after W.W. Leeland, a man who owned two blocks of land nearby in 1859.
      Prairie – beyond this point in Gail Borden's survey was only prairie.
      Bagby – named after Thomas M. Bagby, a merchant who helped found the Houston Public Library.
      Caroline – originally named Carolina for South Carolina, where Preston and Calhoun were from. Mistakenly became Caroline later.
      La Branch – Alcee LaBranche was the charge d'affaires to the Republic of Texas from the US. Formerly Milton street, probably named after John Milton.