Even if you have lived in the area your entire life, chances are you don’t know that there’s a burial crypt under the Franklin Street bridge over the Buffalo Bayou in Houston, Texas.
The Donnellan Crypt has been under the bridge for over 165 years. The burial vault is believed to have held three people: Timothy Donnellan, one of Houston’s earliest settlers, who died in 1849, his wife Emily who was buried there in 1867, and their son, Henry Donnellan.
According to the article featured in the Houston Chronicle, Henry died a few months before his mother did, of injuries suffered when he picked up an explosive cannon ball left over from the Civil War.
The family’s remains were moved to the Glenwood Cemetery in 1903 to allow construction of the Franklin Street bridge.
Louis Aulbach, who has studied the Houston-area in detail, guesses the crypt wall was enlarged to help support the bridge.
“It was a significant bridge, because the central railroad station was across the bayou,” Aulbach said. “It was the main entry point to Houston.”
The crypt was essentially hidden until about 15 to 20 years ago, when historians read about it in old newspaper articles and identified the location, Aulbach says.
Although the site of the crypt is now painted white to cover graffiti that defaced it around three years ago, it’s a highlight for tourists. The site is featured in history tours given by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, an umbrella organization working to protect and promote the downtown bayou.
Right now the best way to see the crypt is from a boat. But that could change once work is finished on a segment of the contiguous system of trails under construction along the bayou. When the construction is completed, bikers and walkers will be able to pass right by the crypt.