A hidden part of Houston history resides in the underbrush at Memorial Park, and every year a group of amateur urban archeologists sets out to see as much of it as they can find. Yesterday, the group, led by Louis Aulbach, found the foundation of latrines and bathhouses built in 1917 for the 130th Infantry at Camp Logan, the World War I-era Army training facility after which Memorial Park is named.
Aulbach is a publisher of Texas River Guides and has a personal website that is an excellent resource for stories about Houston's history. The group was joined by Aulbach's writing and research consultant Linda Gorski and J.R. Gonzales, who writes the Houston Chronicle blog Bayou City History, plus a handful of history buffs.
Finding remnants of Camp Logan is not hard, thanks to a map drawn by Paul B. Hendrickson, a soldier stationed there whose extensive letters home shed light on life at the camp.
The railroad line just west of Memorial Park was completed in 1885 and shows up on Hendrickson's map. By lining his drawing up with modern maps of the area using the railroad as a guide, researchers have been able to find exactly where parts of the camp once stood. Ruins also exist on the south side of Memorial Drive.
Aulbach has led a group into the park's brush pretty much every year for the last five or six. Late winter is the perfect time, he said, because the usually thick undergrowth is dead and the weather is the right temperature. Yesterday's trek was fruitful. Among the ruins seen by the group were foundations and drains from latrines and bathhouses, including ceramic piping, as well as four outdoor ovens used to bake bread and other foods.
"I can't tell you how many times I've been out here and haven't found anything," he said.
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There has been talk of the Memorial Park Arboretum cleaning up the area and turning it into an interpretive walk with informational signs detailing the history of the park and camp, which was the site of one of Houston's worst race riots during its construction and the location of a deadly Spanish flu outbreak in 1918. It's a project Aulbach supports, if it ever gets off the ground.
"You can't really do history until you get out and see it," he said.
See video of the trek below.