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Houston History: The first steamboat to travel across Buffalo Bayou and help create Houston’s port

Steamboat Laura
Steamboat Laura (KPRC)

HOUSTON – Before airplanes and Uber existed, trains and steam engines played an important role in transporting people and cargo.

In the early days of Houston’s founding, one little ship paved the way to our city’s port.

Built in 1835, in Louisville, Kentucky, Laura the steamboat was operated by Thomas F. McKinney and Samuel May Williams.

At 85-feet long, Laura was the smallest steamboat on the Texas rivers at the time.

Steamboat Laura Advertisement (KPRC)

The steamboat was intended to travel through the Brazos River but was used for a different purpose during the Texas revolution.

In September of 1836, the ship was no longer operated by the government and returned to McKinney and Williams to gather cotton on the Brazos River.

However, it would play another role in the history books, by traveling to Buffalo Bayou, making it the first steamboat to vessel through this waterway.

Telegraph and Texas Register, Friday, January 27, 1837 (University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History)

In January 1837, Laura took the founders of Houston and other prominent figures across the bayou to Houston.

It took three days to travel twelve miles between Harrisburg and Houston. It’s believed the waterway was overgrown, making it a challenge to travel.

On January 22, 1837, the ship arrived in Houston.

Although historians can’t point the exact location of Laura’s landing, the trip was historically significant for the finding of Houston’s port.

The last known of Laura’s existence was June 1840.