Shepherd’s Dam

[1913 Map of Houston]

[Shepherd’s Dam –]

A 1913 Houston street map famously labeled Shepherd as “Shepherds Damn Road”, with the “n” crossed out (see photo excerpt above). While the “n” may have been an error, Shepherd was indeed known as Shepherd’s Dam Road for some period of time in reference to a dam once located on Buffalo Bayou just east of the current Shepherd Drive bridge.

The area around the bridge was once owned by Daniel Shepherd, the superintendent of the Southwest Telegraph Company. In the 1880’s, Shepherd apparently intended to build a sawmill and flour mill at the location, and built the dam to accommodate those plans. However, the plans were also contingent on state approval to divert water from the Brazos River into Buffalo Bayou, and Shepherd never received the required permission.

While the mills were never built, the dam did for a time create a stretch of deep water on the bayou that was used as a swimming hole as late as the 1920’s – even though the remains of the dam were likely washed away by floods before then.

Whether the modern-day Shepherd Drive is named for Daniel Shepherd is an interesting question. In his book Historic Houston Streets: The Stories Behind the Names, Marks Hinton attributes the street name to Benjamin Shepherd, an early Houston banker who gave the city the land for Shepherd Drive, and gave Rice University the money to start the Shepherd School of Music. Marguerite Johnston’s Houston: The Unknown City, 1836-1946 makes the same attribution. However, a lengthy November 5, 1922 article in the Galveston Daily News about the road’s name being changed from “Shepherd’s Dam Road” to “Shepherd Drive” at the request of residents of “Brunner (now called west end)” discusses Daniel Shepherd at length, and never mentions Benjamin Shepherd. (Brunner – which was annexed in 1915 – is defined in the article as the area north of Buffalo Bayou, south of White Oak Bayou, west of Patterson Street, and east of Reinemann Street.)

More information:
Aulbach, L.F., “Shepherd’s Damn Road”, Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (2003)


4 responses to “Shepherd’s Dam

  1. Jason Shepherd

    Dear Houstorian:

    I have a copy of a Houston newspaper article, passed down to me by my father, stating the following:
    “‘Shepherd’s Dam road’ it had been called for more than a quarter of a century. At the request of the residents of Brunner, now called west end, the city council this week renamed their road ‘Shepherds Drive.’ If D. P. Shepherd were alive it would cut him to the quick, for it thus oficially recognizes on the city maps that the dam on which he spent his savings is out of sight, and hereafter will soon be out of mind.”
    The article, written by staffwriter Burton Davis, is dated Nov. 4, 1922, and it clearly implies that Shepherd Drive was named after Daniel Shepherd, my grand-uncle.
    I have seen the book by Hinton, and I believe he was unaware of this information when he wrote it.

  2. Houstorian Tracey

    I’ve added a reference above to a similar article that appeared in the Galveston Daily News.

  3. Shepherd School of Music was endowed by Sally Shepherd Perkins in the early 1950s. Benjamin Shepherd was her ancestor.

  4. Incredible find! I only noticed Sheperd’s Dam Road recently. I have to wonder what Buffalo Bayou would look like had it been connected to the Brazos River?

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