Houston History Mystery IV: Braes, Bray's or Brays?
A reader recently asked how Bray’s Bayou got its name.
In short, no one is certain.
We do know that Bray’s Bayou was likely named by the mid-to-early 1820s. John R. Harris set up Harrisburg near where the bayou empties into Buffalo Bayou in 1826. About two years earlier, he had received a land grant for that area.
Page 23 of the WPA Guide to Houston makes reference to Bray’s Bayou in a quote from the 1828 diary of Joseph Clopper:
"Harrisburg is laid out on the west side of (Buffalo Bayou) just below its junction with Bray's bayou..."
But, thanks to some research by the Harris County Flood Control District, Clopper and his brother Edward apparently couldn’t agree on a name.
On January 3, 1828, Edward N. Clopper referred to "the junction of Buffalo Bayou and Brays Bayou" in his journal. On January 4, he wrote "at the junction of Braes and Buffalo Bayou."
The name discrepancy endures 180 years later:
- The WPA Guide to Houston calls it Bray’s and Brays on maps.
- A 1953 Humble Oil street map and a 1964 Texaco street map call it Brays Bayou.
- A 1939 chamber of commerce map calls it Bray’s Bayou.
- My 41st edition Key Map calls it Brays Bayou.
- The Handbook of Texas calls it Bray’s Bayou.
- Finally, the plan to alleviate flooding along the bayou is called Project Brays.
Some have said the word “Braes” is derived from a Scottish place name in which “brae” means “hillside” or “slope.” Webster’s New World Dictionary defines it as “a sloping bank; hillside.”
Some local history aficionados on the Houston Architecture Info forum speculated the name could have come from Spanish explorer Alonso Álvarez de Pineda, but it doesn’t seem likely. Nothing in the Handbook of Texas seems to indicate any other Spanish or French explorer contributed to the naming of Bray’s Bayou.
Another member of that board said a man named James Bray, who settled in that area with others in 1822, may have been responsible for the name. That is being looked at.
Keep in mind though, that settlers were already living along the waterways when Harris moved into where he would set up Harrisburg. Therefore, it would seem likely that someone had named the bayou by that point.
(Background information and research credit for this post also goes to the Houston Public Library.)
Labels: Houston History Mystery