Preserving a Landmark

On September 8, 1863 a Union infantry invasion set to take the cities of Houston and Galveston Texas sailed into Sabine Pass with 27 ships carrying upwards of 5,000 men. Major Richard William “Dick” Dowling was in command at Fort Griffin located at the Sabine Pass and was ordered to retreat. Ignoring the orders, Dowling and his 47 men held their ground. Dowling and “The Irish Davis Guards” shot so accurately, that Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin’s forces were forced to surrender within 45 minutes. The Confederate Congress called the Battle of Sabine Pass “one of the most brilliant…achievements…of this war”.

Major Dowling was born near Tuam, Ireland in 1837. The potato famine forced Dowling to emigrate to the U.S. at the age of 11. Dowling quickly found his way to Houston, marrying Elizabeth Anne Odlum in 1857 and quickly established himself as a business man and a visionary. By 1860 he had owned three bars and was the first in Houston to install gas lighting in both his home and his business. This would be the start of many “firsts” for Dowling. He was prone to being part of “the first”. He was also a founding member of the Houston Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. Yet his most famous first was still to come.

During the Civil War and the Battle of Sabine Pass, Dowling was the First Lieutenant Company, F, Cook’s Regiment, First Texas Heavy Artillery. This put him in command of those “Irish Davis Guards” that thwarted what was sure to be a devastating invasion. This was by far Dowling’s most important “first” for what his command did in saving the city that he loved. This wouldn’t be Dowling’s last first.

After the war, Dowling reopened his most famous bar, “The Bank of Bacchus” located directly across the street from the courthouse. Before his death at the age of 30, Dowling had time enough for one more first, when he started Houston’s first ever oil company. Did I mention that he was a visionary.

The Dick Dowling Statue in Hermann Park was, you guessed it, the first piece of civic art in the City of Houston. It was first unveiled over one hundred years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day in 1905. One of the largest crowd, at the time, in Houston history attended a parade and dedication ceremony for this historic moment. With bands playing both “God Save Ireland” and “Dixie” the crowd went wild as Mrs. W.F. “Annie” Robertson, Dowling’s daughter pulled the cord that revealed the Italian marble statue of her father. The crowd of school children, dignitaries, Confederate veterans and others had all come out to celebrate one of Houston’s most interesting characters of all time, Major Richard William “Dick” Dowling.

The statue was originally placed at Market Square near Houston’s City Hall. It was later relocated to Sam Houston Park before reaching its present place in 1958 near Houston’s Hermann Park. The Dick Dowling Statue had been at this spot for nearly 50 years when the contractor and engineers involved in a nearby project saw the monument start to sink and lean before their eyes.

The construction of a massive underground storm drainage tunnel had caused the statue to move downward and sideways as much as 4 inches. News of this quickly spread throughout the city agencies and art alliances with the contractor obviously being blamed.

The contractor, in conjunction with the engineering firm called on URETEK ICR Gulf Coast to get involved. After a careful inspection of the monument structure, assessment of the supporting soil conditions, and a full understanding of the underground tunnel location and construction, URETEK determined that could not be an ordinary concrete lifting job. This job would require careful planning and delicate execution.

There were a few major problems with the Major’s statue that prevented an ordinary lift. First of all, care had to be taken that the 16’ diameter underground storm drain that was directly below the statue was not disturbed. Secondly, the supporting soil was quite soft and damp due to continual landscape irrigation by the parks department. Thirdly, because of the limited dimensions of the statue base versus its height, the footprint was too small for a straight polymer lift a certain success.

Undeterred, URETEK ICR Gulf Coast knew that they were the contractor’s and the city’s best option. Solving complex lifting and soil stabilization problems is what URETEK does best. While the URETEK Method is the most highly controllable process in the industry, the personnel at URETEK took a step back to look at all of the options. The question became, how can we get the best results for our customers with this highly complex situation? The answer came as a three prong approach.

Given the delicacy of the situation, it was decided to lift the monument hydraulically first. However, with the soft soil conditions and the shallow depth of the tunnel directly below, special jacking blocks had to be used to provide maximum counter resistance. After the hydraulic assist was begun, URETEK polymer injections at depth were made under and around the perimeter of the statue’s base. In addition to stabilizing and strengthening the supporting soil, these at depth injections filled and expanded the soil upward under the monument base. Lastly, polymer injections were made horizontally into any remaining void space under the base structure to assure full support across the full footprint of the statue’s base. A final check with an electronic “smart level” showed the statue’s base “dead on”.

Not only had URETEK solved the problem for the tunneling contractor, but had done so with the approval and probing oversight of five City of Houston departments and numerous arts alliances and Irish Heritage groups. The plan was executed without a hitch, and none too soon either. The entire project, including the replacement of the decorative landscaping, was completed just days before a St. Patrick’s Day Ceremony that rededicated the monument. Major Dick Dowling’s Statue was back on solid ground for the 104th anniversary of its first unveiling.