On August 30, 1836, just months after Texas won its independence from Mexico, New York land speculators Augustus and John Allen placed an advertisement in the local Telegraph and Texas Register bragging of their new “Town of Houston.”  Their description of the area was highly exaggerated, and was also filled with downright lies.  The biggest boast was that Houston was “situated at the head of navigation,” where Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou meet, and “at a point on the river which must ever command the trade of the largest and richest portion of Texas.”

A few months after their colorful ad, the Allen Brothers hired a captain to see if a commercial ship could, in fact, make it all the way from the Gulf of Mexico, through Galveston Bay, and up to Buffalo Bayou.  On January 22, 1837, the packet steamer Laura arrived at Allen’s Landing, at the foot of Main Street, proving that Houston could be a port city.

Local commercial enterprise was slow until the years following the Civil War.  When the new railroad network connected Houston to the nation, lumber and cotton could be shipped efficiently from the wharves along the banks of Buffalo Bayou.  Dredging and widening the channel kept Houston competitive with Galveston.  In the early 20th century, civic leaders would form the Houston Ship Channel and made sure Houston received federal funds to build it.  By 1914, the Ship Channel had been dredged to a depth of 25-feet, and today, it is a thriving, fifty-two-mile, deep water port connecting Houston to the world.

Laura Day commemorates the first commercial ship to arrive in Houston on January 22, and the importance of commerce on Buffalo Bayou and at the Port of Houston, which made Houston the world-class city it is today.  The town that built the port that built the city.

Laura Day is a project from Houstorian, Houston’s loudest preservation group, dedicated to telling the story of Houston.

James Glassman