43rd Annual Galveston Historic Homes Tour

This past weekend marked a beautiful start to the 43rd Annual Galveston Historic Homes Tour. The weather was gorgeous, and the powers that be expect the same for this coming weekend. Given such good weather, I anticipated that the tour would have a huge turnout, and boy was that confirmed as the day progressed. Lines were long at some houses, but they moved swiftly. Most homes on the tour have shade for visitors, with the exception of the c1880 Alley House, so you might want to see this one first, before the sun gets too hot.

 

 

 

 

After a stop at the Old City Cemetery on Broadway to photograph the wildflowers, we began at the tour’s Cover House, the 1868 Charles and Susan Hurley House. I immediately understood why this was the premier house on the tour. Its posh landscape along with its lovely exterior can entice all who visit, but a look inside is also a must: this is truly the jewel of the tour. My fondness for this gem only grew during the additional day I spent volunteering there as the gatekeeper on Sunday.

Our next stop was the c1880 Alley House: a very tiny abode, but a well-done restoration. The current owner has done a fabulous job. While you are visiting, please make a note to stay on the runners; although the owner has not requested that all who enter wear booties, he still would not like his floors tarnished from the gravel outside. So wipe your feet!

Our next venture was touring the 1904 Thomas and Maggie Bollinger House. Note that this is the only house in which the owners requested all visitors to wear booties. It’s a beautiful house, with varying decor. My favorite was the original 1910 Ouija board!

 

Moving on, we visited the 1905 James and Emma Davis House, where I noticed the amazing wood floors. I decided they surely could not be original, and I was correct in my assumption – but as usual, I was totally wrong on the period! Originally from a bank, they were installed in the house in 1915.

 

Next on the list were two abodes side by side: the 1925 Joseph and Helen Swiff House and the 1926 Harry and Harriet Wetmore House. The Wetmore house had long lines, but as with the other properties, they moved quickly. Inside, both dwellings had appeal. The blueprint reproductions of the house, including the fireplace, was a nice touch in the Swiff house, and the elevator inside the Wetmore House was priceless.

 

 

Lunch was our usual. I don’t think we can go to Galveston and not eat at Shrimp and Stuff.

 

 

Our second leg of the tour began at the largest house, the 1916 Hans and Marguerite Guldmann House. By size, this castle dwarfed most of the other houses on the tour, and understandably, there was a wait. If you want to see this house, please be prepared for the wait, both in line beforehand and throughout the tour. There is a lot to see.

The final stop for the restored houses was the 1899 William and Ella Dugey House. It’s a beautiful house, both inside and out, and should be a definite stop on your tour. And yes, 15 people did live in the house. I know this because I was reminded by each docent as we walked through.

 

 

 

 

 

We also visited the 1915 H.W. Hildebrand Tenant House, a restoration in progress. I hope to see it on future tours, along with the 1920 City National Bank Building, which is also being restored.

Overall, the tour included beautiful houses with some modern flair, as expected. The lines for entry were long in a few cases but were generally fast moving, with the exception of the 1916 Hans and Marguerite Guldmann House. The scripts were shortened this year by the Galveston Historical Foundation to help the tour flow more smoothly. After all, most visitors (including me) are there to see the wonderful restorations that the current owners have made inside the houses. So hopefully this will make your visit even grander.

The Galveston Historic Homes Tour will resume this weekend. Hours for both Saturday and Sunday are 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. I will be at the 1926 Harry and Harriet Wetmore House on Sunday from 12:30 to 3:30, so stop by and take a look at this beautiful house. I’ll try not to stand in the way!

The Rowley Trio

 

In December 2015, I wrote an article about Virginia Rowley, a young girl whose tragic death is shrouded in mystery, not least because of the poem on her gravestone. Although we never really learned the reason for the poem, we did find out about the many triumphs and tragedies of the Rowley family. I tried to present just the facts without adding speculation to the mix. I figured Virginia, or “Gene” as she was sometimes called, was owed some respect.

About a week before Christmas I received a message from a family member doing genealogical research on the Rowleys. They had found my article, and fortunately my research had helped them in their own quest to find out more about the family. I only mention this because in our correspondence, I also gained some information on the younger siblings. While doing my research, I was not able to find out what became of the younger Rowleys. Since then, I’ve dug a little deeper and found out a bit more about Gene’s younger siblings, Vera and Jerry. I thought it might be poignant to look back at their accomplishments as well.

A search through newspapers such as the Port Arthur News, the now-defunct Port Neches Chronicle, and the Nederland Midcounty Review revealed a few early accounts of the siblings performing at recitals and such, but it wasn’t until 1947 that the Rowley duo—Jerry, who sang and played the fiddle, and Vera (nicknamed Dido), who also sang and played bass and sometimes guitar—became a trio following the marriage of Jerry to Evelyn Jo Deloney that November. Nevertheless, it was only in the early 50s that their talents began to be noticed.

In reading through a few articles and George Jones’s book I Lived to Tell It All, I learned that the Rowley Trio got their start as a backup band at KFDM radio in Beaumont. Jones writes

Shortly before I worked with Dalton I played with the Reily Trio, made up of a brother, his wife, and his sister. That was at KFDM in Beaumont, where we did a live show at 5:30 a.m. That job didn’t last very long because I couldn’t stand getting up that early and because the Reilys left Beaumont to play in the band of Lefty Frizzell, the country music legend who had big hits on Starday Records before I later joined the label.

Although Jones uses a different spelling of the name, I am certain that that the “Reily Trio” and the Rowley Trio were one and the same.

After playing for Lefty Frizzell, the writer of such hits as I Love You a Thousand Ways, and If You Got the Money (I’ve Got the Time), the Rowley Trio backed up another well-known up-and-coming star named Johnny Horton in September 1952. The band performed on the country radio show Louisiana Hayride, which was broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana. The show ran from 1948 to 1960 and would launch many careers during that time, including the likes of Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Jim Reeves, and many more. Although the Rowley Trio did not rise to national stardom during their short stint at the show, they did earn the respect of many of their peers.

In late 1953, the Rowleys parted ways with Johnny Horton, but this was not the end of the trio. Johnny Horton’s manager Fabor Robinson, who had left just before the Rowleys, invited them to his recording studio in Malibu, California. Unfortunately, I could not find any recordings from this era but learned from Dido’s bio that she released a single in 1954 called “The Hands of Time.”

I noticed Dido’s name on a few country show billings around the state in the latter part of the 50s, but nothing of the Rowley Trio. It does appear though that Jerry performed locally given that there are multiple mentions of this in various newspapers. What is clear is that all the members of the trio were living back in the Nederland area by 1957, although Dido would later move to Houston and release a few singles, one of which was written by Don Mahoney. Some of you who grew up in the 60s might remember his name if you had watched KPRC on Saturdays. Don Mahoney had a local television show called Don Mahoney and Jeanna Clare and Their Kiddie Troupers. It was a talent show for kids, but the two hosts emulated Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. If you remember this, then you might also remember Dido. Yes, Jeanna Clare was the stage name Dido/Vera Rowley took while on the show.

I’m sure there is a lot more to these stories, and in time, I may look into them further. Again, you never know where your research journey will take you. There are just so many rabbit holes to explore…

 

A brief History of Florence Stratton part2

 

 

 

In 1920, the Beaumont Enterprise, which was owned by longtime friend, W.P. Hobby, bought out its rival newspaper, the Beaumont Journal. Florence then would move onto the Enterprise’s pages as a reporter and society editor. She would find even more opportunities there as a writer and a journalist.

Florence’s first foray into book writing and publication did not involve her own work. It was, in fact, a compilation of articles written by the popular short story writer William Sydney Porter, who used the pen name O. Henry. O. Henry’s writings was from his time at the Houston Post, from October 1895 to June of 1896. She compiled his work, wrote the foreword, and published “Postscripts by O. Henry.” O. Henry’s popularity still appeared to be intact among Americans even 13 years after his death. This 1923 publication was a monetary success for Florence. Another book would be released the same year called, “Favorite Recipes of Famous Women.” Again, the content was compiled by Florence, but this time with the help of her best friend Willie Cooper. The book of recipes was actually compiled during Willie’s time as first lady in the governor’s mansion.

Florence’s first literary work would be published in 1925. “The Story of Beaumont” was, as its name implied, an early history of Beaumont. The book was a popular success among the locals. Below is the foreword written by M.E. Moore, Beaumont’s superintendent of schools.

   In “The Story of Beaumont,” Beaumont has an achievement which few cities and their schools can enjoy. Its possession certainly places our schools in a restricted class so far as local historical material is concerned.

Far sighted and thoughtful school authorities everywhere recommend that a course in local history and civics be given in the upper grades and in the high school, so that children will not grow up un appreciative and ignorant of their home city and its possibilities. David Compayre, a noted French authority on education, has said “Growth comes from realizing possibilities.” Certainly no city can fully realize its possibilities for the future unless it studies its achievements in the past. But it is usually very difficult to obtain local history in a form such that it can be used in the school. This book offers such material.

There is nothing finer or better to promote citizenship, a love of country and a high resolve to serve the community, the state and the nation than to teach such histories in our schools. Beaumont and the schools owe a debt of gratitude to the author of this volume, not only for the facts in the book but for the charm and interest with which each chapter is written and illustrated.

In stating that this book will prove of great worth to the children in the schools, let me add that I would not create the impression that it will not prove of high value and gripping interest to the grown-up as well. He will find the book written in readable, whimsical language, bristling with human interest on every page and filled with information that every person in Beaumont will keenly appreciate.

M.E. Moore,

Superintendent of schools.

In 1926, Beaumonters would get the opportunity to take a closer look at their own lives through the Sunday morning pages of the Beaumont Enterprise. A new feature, Susie Spindletop’s Weekly Letter, began in February 1926 and would run until 1938. The articles would always begin with “Dear Della,” with Della, of course, representing the intrigued Beaumont residents who would sift through the pages of the newspaper looking for local gossip. The “Weekly Letter” wouldn’t turn into a weekly column until the latter part of 1926 and into 1927, and over the years, it grew in popularity.

Throughout her life in Beaumont, Florence seemed to maintain a close relationship with family. From the old directories and census records, it appears that she had always lived with her sister Emily and her brother-in-law. However, in 1929, Florence decided to build a house of her own. The house was constructed using some of the bricks of the old 1893 Jefferson County Courthouse, which was demolished around the same time to pave way for the current 13-story structure that was finished in 1931. The house still stands today across the street from the McFaddin-Ward House.

Another publication released in 1931 was called “The White Plume.” The short story was co-written with Vincent Burke, a sports editor for the Beaumont Enterprise. It was billed a true love story from O. Henry’s past and featured a twist reminiscent of one of his short stories.

Florence’s final publication would be released in 1936. It was titled “When the Storm God Rides; Tejas and Other Indian Legends” and comprised stories that were collected by Bessie M. Reid and retold by Florence Stratton, with illustrations by Berniece Burrough. It went on to be used as a textbook in local schools.

Sadly, Florence’s life would come to an end on January 28, 1938. She had suffered a stroke a few weeks earlier and was to go to New Orleans to try a novel type of surgery (for those times), but she would expire prematurely at the Touro Infirmary from arteriosclerotic heart disease. Her funeral was held at her house at 1929 McFaddin. Over 200 mourners and well-wishers attended the service, with a mile-long funeral procession to Magnolia Cemetery. Her typewriter at the Beaumont Enterprise was covered in flowers in honor of her passing.

A brief History of Florence Stratton part1

 

 

Florence Stratton was born in Brazoria, Texas to Asa Evan Stratton and Louisa Henrietta Waldman on March 21, 1881. Although some references state she was born in 1883, I have confirmed her month, day, and year of birth through the following sources: a 1900 census, at least six mentions in Florence’s Sunday Enterprise weekly letters, and a letter from Florence’s 10-year-old sister, Emily, in February 1883. Little is known of her childhood, but I hope to keep peeling away the layers and find out more of her early life.

One interesting note I found while researching Florence’s early years in Brazoria County is that her grandfather, Major Asa Stratton, owned a sugarcane plantation. On that property sat the second oldest log cabin in Texas, known today as the McCroskey-Stringfellow House. Florence mentioned it several times in her weekly Sunday Enterprise articles, which we will get into next week. Another interesting fact is that Major Stratton’s daughter and Florence’s aunt, Sarah Emily Stratton married Samuel Bryan, son of W. Joel Bryan and nephew of Stephen F. Austin. Does that make Florence related to Stephen F. Austin?

In 1900, Florence graduated as valedictorian from Troy Normal College in Troy, Alabama. She lived there two more years while teaching and then moved to Beaumont in 1903, most likely to live near her sister Emily. Emily and her husband, Walter Stevens, had already been living in Beaumont for at least a year; Walter was working as a clerk in the E. L. Clough Drug Store.

In Beaumont, Florence continued her teaching career by becoming a faculty member at Miss Anne’s private school in 1903, then moving on to Beaumont High to teach grammar. Her salary is unknown to me, but when she resigned in 1905, her successor took on the job at $60 a month.

In 1906, Aurelia Peters Norvell formed the Colonel Moffett Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Many prominent Beaumont women joined this organization, and Florence was no different: She became its charter secretary. Florence’s Revolutionary War ancestor was her great-grandfather Peleg Stratton.

In 1907, Florence began her journalism career at the Beaumont Journal as society editor. She also spent much of the following years, 1908-09, in Washington D.C. with her best friend, Willie Cooper. Together, they rubbed elbows with Washington’s elite, even attending a White House reception in January 1909.

Florence and Willie had spent many early years together, and when Willie finally married her childhood sweetheart, W.P. Hobby, in 1915, little changed in their friendship. In fact, Florence probably spent more time with her, especially after Hobby became governor in 1917. Evidence in Texas newspaper archives dating from 1917 to 1920 put the three together at many events in this time frame.

Florence started two charity funds: the Milk and Ice Fund, which gave underprivileged people milk and ice during the summer months, and the Empty Stocking Fund, which gave toys to the poor children of Beaumont. Unfortunately, I haven’t discovered when the Milk and Ice Fund was founded. Each year, the Beaumont Enterprise rehashes the same article and says it began in 1914. I would agree, but the only proof I have of the fund starting earlier than 1920 is a 1921 article in the Beaumont Journal stating the fund had been running for a few years. The Empty Stocking Fund, which I believe was started in 1920, is run by the Beaumont Enterprise today.

A November 1980 article by Laura Young of the Beaumont Enterprise stated that Florence had written speeches for Governor Hobby. Though not farfetched, I haven’t found proof of it. In fairness, the article was an interview with Eunice Stephens, Florence’s niece. Unfortunately, Eunice is partially to blame for some of the incorrect information out there. Her recollections do not seem to fit the facts. In defense of Eunice, however, all information gathering on Florence using Eunice seemed to happen during the final years of Eunice’s life (1979-1980; she died in January 1982). I do not and will not speculate on Eunice’s ability to remember her aunt’s ventures, but publications that have used her as a source, such as the November 1979 issue of The Texas Gulf Historical & Biographical Record, have contained completely inaccurate information on Florence’s life.

To be continued…

Tyrrell Historical Library

 

 

My ongoing research into all things SETX has spanned many counties—even taking me off our clay paths to places like Austin—and the search continues. For instance, last month I talked about my affection for the Sam Houston Research Center and all the great things they offer. Well, this month I thought I’d stay closer to home and give the number one research hub in Jefferson County the opportunity to be in the spotlight. Through my research on Susie Spindletop and her “Weekly Letter,” I’ve spent many hours—and a fair sum of money—at the old Baptist Church. In fact, I’m sure I’ve personally kept them well stocked in quarters over the past two and a half years by printing out the Sunday Enterprise’s “Weekly Letter” from their microfilm machine at $0.25 per page. To be honest, I get a lot more out of a roll of quarters at the Tyrrell than I do at our neighboring state’s casinos!

The Tyrrell Historical Library has been a fixture in Beaumont since its inception in 1926, but the intention wasn’t always for it to be a library. Indeed, this classic structure had its own history before being converted into its current form. Built to be the First Baptist Church in 1903, it served as a replacement for the original brick church previously erected on the same grounds. In the early 20s, the congregation had outgrown that building, so they constructed a church at the corner of Broadway and Willow that was sufficiently large to host the masses of new members each Sunday.

In 1923 W.C. Tyrrell, a venture capitalist and one of Beaumont’s most prominent businessmen, purchased the building and donated it to the city for use as a public library. The library opened in 1926 and served as the main public library until the new structure was built in 1974. The building was subsequently renamed the Tyrrell Historical Library in honor of Mr. Tyrrell.

To assist those doing genealogical research, the Tyrrell has an extensive collection of family archives, city directories, and newspapers, and has gateway access to other research venues such as Ancestry.com. As an aside, volunteers from the Daughters of the Revolution (DAR) are usually on hand on the first Saturday of each month to help anyone doing family research. But it is a good idea to call beforehand to make sure that they will be there.

The Tyrrell has been a very useful resource for me, especially when I was doing research on old Beaumont through the pages of the former Beaumont Enterprise and Beaumont Journal. I do have private access to a newspaper archive, but unfortunately neither newspaper is digitized so are not currently available there. I have also found the collections at the Tyrrell to be excellent. Old photos and letter archives of a few subjects that I’ve written about in the past can be found there. One collection in particular is the Stratton-Stevens-Follin family papers, which were donated in October 2013. This collection comprises 60-plus letters by the Stratton family. Those of Asa Evan Stratton, the father of Florence Stratton (Susie Spindletop), account for most of them. Notably, it was here that I obtained a copy of a letter proving the year of Florence’s birth. Most of the other letters are general correspondence between various family members, which are not of particular interest at the moment. However, they should provide me with further insights into her parents’ lives during my future research.

The Tyrrell Historical Library is certainly a gem, not only to Beaumont, but also to all our surrounding counties. The archives are a pivotal resource documenting our history. And I for one am glad to have it as my number one starting point when delving into our past.

Did You Know:

You can support the Tyrrell Historical Library by joining the Tyrrell Historical Library Association.

$15 Associate Membership

$25 Family Membership

$50 Sustaining Membership

$100 Patron Membership

—– Institutional Membership

Your tax-deductible membership dues and donations are used to support the library’s restoration, promote the development of its diverse collections, and encourage the use and enjoyment of the library.

 

Mail contributions to:

Tyrrell Historical Library Association

P.O. Box 12563

Beaumont, Texas 77726-2563

 

 

 

 

TSHA Annual Meeting 2017

 

 

The Texas State Historical Association Annual Meeting 2017 was held last weekend, and I, for one, had a pretty good time. Although Houston traffic was its usual self, I managed to arrive intact for both Friday’s and Saturday’s sessions. I’ve only attended a few of these conferences, but I will say that each year seems to bring a few interesting subjects to light that pique my interest, and this year was no different.

On Friday, after registration, I perused the exhibitors, vendors, and the silent auction, hoping to find certain publications, documents, or memorabilia pertaining to some of my interests. I did find a few books, but nothing to brag about, unfortunately. I will say that most exhibitors were focused on Texas history, and not really on SETX history, except for a few postcards, reprinted maps, and other documents. As for the documents, I did see two notable ones at a vendor’s table; fellow researcher and JCHC member Bruce A. Hamilton had already purchased the first. He found the original roster of the Albert Sidney Johnson Camp #75 of the United Confederate Veterans, dated 1895. I also saw a Sabine Stock document for sale, but I wasn’t prepared to shell out $4750 for it – nor was anyone else, for that matter.

One of the best sessions of the day, for me at least, was Using Oral History to Document Rural Dispersed Communities, sponsored by the Texas Oral History Association. This subject has been a very popular topic at the JCHC the past few years, and I can’t stress enough the importance of documenting history straight from the sources of our past. It really doesn’t matter how glorious a life someone has lived, or how simple their means. It is better to ask the questions now than to have someone like me, years from now, examine the facts but fail to generate the “human factor,” of the life they’ve lived. In other words, I can give you the facts, but I can’t give you their story through their own eyes.

On Saturday, I knew which late session I would be attending, but had no clue about which early session to choose. Since I wasn’t alone on this voyage into Texas history, a friend suggested A Tale of Two Bayous: Preservation and Conservation in Houston. This seemed like a good topic, and it was. Both speakers were excellent, and their stories were fascinating. I especially enjoyed Nathan Jones’ presentation on Ima Hogg and her architect, Wayne Bell, during the session Building the Decorative Arts Collection of Ima Hogg, since I have visited the property multiple times. For those who haven’t yet visited Bayou Bend, you are missing out on a wonderful tour. There is much to see, and it was surprising to hear the explanation of how collection came to be.

The last session, and the one I most wanted to attend, was History in Action: The College Classroom in 2017. I initially wanted to go to this because I saw that someone had done a paper on William P. Hobby. Hobby is an interest of mine, because of my research into Florence Stratton. I was amazed by the talk and pleased to learn a few things from speaker Hector Zuniga that I did not know about the former Texas governor. To me, this talk alone was worth the trip.

Looking back on the conference, I can say that I took away some new knowledge of how to use oral history, and I am looking forward to meeting a cast of young scholars who do their homework and churn out some great historical research papers. I hope the trend continues.

The Search for Lewis Cemetery

 

While looking through historian Bill Quick’s research papers, located in the Sam Houston Research Center in Liberty, I came across a file about Thomas H. Lewis. I discovered that the Lewis family was one of the first three families to settle in what would eventually become Beaumont. That was back in 1830. Among Mr. Quick’s papers, I unearthed an interesting copy of an old newspaper article, dated October 30, 1932 from the Beaumont Enterprise, entitled, ‘Pioneers Who Came to Beaumont in 1829 are Now Resting in Old and Forgotten Lewis Cemetery’, written by a Mary E. Kelley. The article spoke of an old cemetery located “a few hundred yards from Calder road, on a quiet knoll in the heart of the thicket.” This description would probably place the old cemetery on the old Lewis Survey, which covered the area from Gladys Avenue to just South of Harrison Avenue, with its west and east borders extending from Central Drive, to North 14th Street. In 1932, the area to the north of Calder Road, which passed the five-year-old Phelan Mansion, is very likely to have been a thicket. On Google Earth, there is a 1938 aerial view of Jefferson County, which shows little development in that area at the time.

My first thought was to look through the Jefferson County, Texas Cemeteries book which was compiled by Mildred Wright and published in 1981. (Note: The book is available in PDF format as a free download from the Jefferson County Historical Commission website and is a great reference book for any researcher!) Wright’s book mentions an old cemetery located on Calder and Thomas Roads, and at first, I imagined I had found what I was looking for. However, since then, I have found the actual perimeters of the old surveys. The cemetery mentioned by Wright would have been located on the H. Williams Survey, and not on the Lewis Survey.  Wright’s cemetery would have been located in the area now covered by the Westbrook Shopping Center.

Over the past few weeks, I have again tried to locate information on the Lewis cemetery. I visited the Sam Houston Research Center again to have another look through Quick’s file on Thomas Lewis, and to see whether I had perhaps missed another reference to the cemetery. I did find documents on other subjects that will warrant future research, but found nothing on the cemetery itself.

However, a few nights ago, I came across a website that gives you the exact perimeters for the Texas County surveys. I typed in ‘Lewis Survey’, and up came results far more accurate than I had derived from many hours spent trying to guess those borders. For someone like myself, devoid of mapping skills, this website is a godsend!

My next step was to email a fellow researcher about my interest in finding this old cemetery. She was able to find a couple of plats from the Calder Addition, developed in 1952. She also noticed a mention, which I had totally missed, in Wright’s book of a cemetery located north of Harrison, between 19th and 23rd Streets. This would definitely put the “missing” cemetery on the Lewis Survey. I am thankful for my research friends!

I think I am getting closer to finding the exact where-a-bouts of the old Lewis cemetery. Unfortunately, the plats provided no evidence of it, but I imagine that just indicates that they had moved it before the 1952 development. I did spend some time in the Magnolia and Forest Lawn cemeteries to see if Thomas H. Lewis, or the other few names I have from the Lewis cemetery, had been transferred, but as yet, I have found no evidence of such a move. I feel there is a mystery to be solved here: what became of those old families and their graves?

I will continue my search, but wish to give credit to both Mr. Quick, and Mrs. Wright. Without these two historians and their contributions to this County, and to Southeast Texas in general, my own journey would be far less interesting.

Old Survey locator link: http://www.earthpoint.us/TexasLandSurveySearchByDescription.aspx

Jefferson County, Texas Cemetery book links: http://www.co.jefferson.tx.us/Historical_Commission/Jeffco_History_Cemeteries.html

Jefferson County Historical Commission link: http://www.co.jefferson.tx.us/Historical_Commission/default.htm

 

Tales from Hallowed Ground: Miss Jack McDonough

 

 

In my time involved with the Jefferson County Historical Commission, along with my own personal adventures, I have spent a considerable amount of time in cemeteries tracing the history of our area through the lives of those who have passed. I have found many things that are not widely known or that have been obscured by time. It would seem that every time I enter a cemetery, I come across either a memorial, an interesting headstone that catches my eye, or both. And just as certainly, a mystery will follow.

In, 2014, while planning the first of our annual October cemetery tours, I noticed a unique headstone placed behind the Firefighters plot, located near the flagpole. At first glance, it was difficult to make out the wording, simply because the stone, once ivory white, had been weathered for over a hundred years on this bluff. I asked Judy Linsley, local historian and co-founder of the tour, about it. She did have some recollection of its origin, but didn’t know the specifics. The story was of a woman who lost her life, as did many, in the Great Hurricane of 1886 in Sabine Pass. Her body was never recovered, and this stone was a memorial to her, erected by her brother.

During the first two cemetery tours, we acknowledged the memorial, but we never went into the story in full detail as it wasn’t really a part of the main tour. It wouldn’t be until 2016 that I tried to document what I could of this tale, but, as usual, I ended up with more questions than answers. So, as of early 2017, I still haven’t found all of what I am searching for, but it is becoming more clear that this isn’t just a memorial to Miss McDonough; to me, this a springboard to find out more about this family’s alluring history.

My search began, of course, with the question, who was Miss Jack McDonough? There are a few sources out there, but little was known to me until I ran across her memorial page on Find a Grave. For those who don’t know, findagrave.com is a free website in which you can make a memorial to your departed family members, friends, or anyone you would like remembered. I’ve used this website for research a few times, and I’ve had mixed reviews with regard to the historical accuracy of some of its members, but it can be a good starting point all the same. In this case, the source behind the memorial page was family, and they did seem to have knowledge of, or at least family lore, pertaining to Miss McDonough.

Miss Jack McDonough was born in Henderson, Texas (Rusk County), in 1855 to Benjamin Franklin McDonough and Adalissa Williams McDonough, but there is no information regarding her childhood or her adulthood until 1885, when she was appointed Postmistress of Sabine Pass on August 17. I did find documentation of this on both the memorial page and in a scanned document on Ancestry.com. The next documented evidence of her unfortunately, is of her demise. I found countless articles of the aftermath of the hurricane, but mostly mentioning Miss Jack McDonough in the list of the dead and/or missing. Miss McDonough’s memorial page tells the story of what happened on that dark day. Note: The story is from research and genealogy done by Martin McDonough (1915–1987), who was the son of Andrew T. McDonough (Miss Jack’s brother).

 

On October 12, 1886, a tremendous hurricane hurled high waters and fierce winds through Sabine Pass, and more than 50 residents were drowned. Benjamin and Adalissa, Benjamin Jr., and the small grandchild, (son of the deceased Jesse) went to the post office to rescue Jack; she would not leave until she had counted up the postal funds and put them in a bag to take with her. By then the two Benjamins were pushing a boat with the two women and the child in it. The boat overturned, and in the darkness, wind, and the confusion the three occupants were lost. The bodies of Adalissa, and Benjamin Foley, were recovered by rescue workers two days later, but that of Jack was never found.

Some of the citizens of Beaumont and Sabine Pass erected a monument to Jack in Magnolia Cemetery, in Beaumont, where it still stands in a prominent place.

https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=38196304

 

Another mystery in this story was Miss Jack’s father, Ben Franklin McDonough. While I believe he lived in Sabine Pass in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s, with a few minor stints in Austin County, Texas, I found no evidence of his existence here locally. I contacted a few local historians on Sabine Pass, sifted through another historian’s papers, at the Sam Houston Center in Liberty, and even contacted the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I figured if anyone would have information on him, it would be the SCV, since he was a Confederate veteran. Unfortunately, nothing was found.

At first I believed that the family might have been mistaken, but last week, instead of typing Benjamin Franklin McDonough’s full name into a Google search, I typed in his initials B.F., which opened a wealth of information on him through Google books. Not only did I find records of his life in Sabine Pass, I found documents concerning his life in Henderson as well. But best of all, I found a letter he had written to the then-sitting President of the United States Andrew Johnson, dated May 27th, 1865.

He writes:

From Benjamin F. McDonough

                                             Sabine Pass Texas May 27th 1865

His Excellency Andrew Johnson

President US

Dear Sir

     You will perhaps recognize in the signature attached to this letter an old friend and relative.

    I am the son of James McDonough (Brother to your Decesd. Mother) of Bledsoe County Tenn. My Father now resides in Georgia. The last time I had the pleasure of seeing [you] was in Pikeville Tenn. 9th May 1840, in great contest for the presidency between Van Buren & Harrison since which time a great many changes have taken place. I have married and removed to Texas some years ago. When the war commenced I was appointed to the office of Collector of Customs for the Port of Sabine Texas, which office I have held until the re establishment of the U S Authority in this District.

   I have nothing to conceal having acted my part as I believed properly & honestly and have nothing more to add except that as the war seems to have terminated and finally it appears to be the General wish to settle down once more in amicable relations &c.

   The gift of the Collectorship of the Port of Galveston Texas in your hands in remembrance of times now past and our former friendship &c you will confer a favor by appointing me to the office of Collector of Customs for the Port of Galveston Texas. If my application is granted it [will] be remembered with pleasure. If not I shall not harbor an ill feeling or even feel disappointed.

   I can give the best references as to my General Character. I refer immediately to Honl L D Evans who is now in Washington and was formerly a member of Congress from this State who has known me for years in Henderson Texas.

  Your Brother Wm. P Johnson who as you know married my Sister is residing in Columbia Texas. Family all quite well. I will not further trespass on your time &c with a long letter well knowing how much you are occupied with public business &c.

  Hoping soon to have a favorable reply I remain

                                      very respectfully your B F McDonough

address B F McDonough

Sabine Pass Texas

 

 

I guess being first cousin to the President of the United States could be a plus when asking for a pardon, and a new job!. Don’t you think?

In the end, my continuing pursuit of collecting research on the McDonough family for future reference will go on. Their mark on Southeast Texas history, however minor, should be remembered and told. It is good, though, to see their descendants keeping their history visible. For whether prince or pauper, no one should be forgotten

Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center

 

 

I believe that here in SETX we are a lot better off than in some areas, where gathering historical documents can be next to impossible at times. I found this out in my first year researching Florence Stratton’s college years at Troy Normal College in Alabama (now called Troy University). I will say it is still an ongoing process. But when the archives are in shambles, and there is no one to sort them out, it is quite frustrating to say the least. Nevertheless, I hope to persevere.

To begin with, I would say that we certainly have some great places that are top-notch institutions, which provide a home for most of our historic archives. They keep them safe and accessible for those of us laying the groundwork into our historical past. These sanctuaries of history are certainly an essential part to my research. I could never see myself obtaining as much documentation about my subjects without them.

Over the past five years, I’ve visited many places, seeking information on many different subjects. There are too many, in fact, to mention them all in this article, but I do have a couple of “go-to” places I will use regularly. The first is the Tyrrell Historical Library, which I hope to cover in depth in another upcoming article slated for March. The second would be the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center.

I first visited this library back in 2012. I learned about it through Darlene Mott, whom I met at Dick Dowling Days in Sabine Pass. She was a reenactor portraying Kate Dorman in a living history scenario at the event. I was new to this research thing, and to the history of Mrs. Dorman, but I wanted to find out a little more information on her other than the lone W.T. Block article that everyone writing about her uses as a source. (I will admit that I was guilty of this as well.)

I emailed the research center and set up a day on which I could visit. What I found that day was nothing less than amazing. The treasure trove of information stored at the library is beyond belief. Not only can you sort through government records, tax rolls, and such (which I did researching Kate Dorman), you can also browse through many family and other collections on file. Most of the collections are accessible, but as always, you should plan your trip and give the library notice about which contents you want to research. The staff is astounding at what they do, but it would be best to let them know ahead of time what you are researching. It will save time.

I have since returned a multitude of times these past four years for different research topics and projects, and have always enjoyed my times there. I had the good fortune to help in the inventory of historian Bill Quick’s research papers, along with Don Smart and Bruce Hamilton. These colleagues from the Jefferson County Historical Commission are “foot soldiers in Bill Quick’s army,” as Bruce always refers to himself. On a side note, I never met Mr. Quick, but I will say that through learning about the man and his research, and from the many who hold him dear, he has definitely been an ongoing inspiration to me and my own fact-finding missions.

Another treasure that the Sam Houston Center holds is their collection of Beaumont newspapers. I’ll admit that through my research of Florence Stratton, I have spent many hours in Beaumont at the Tyrrell looking at old microfilm. I have nearly all the “Susie Spindletop’s Weekly Letter” articles (Miss Stratton’s weekly journal of Beaumont happenings, published in the Beaumont Enterprise from 1926 to 1938). But with no fault to the Tyrrell, some of the film is blurred and unreadable. Fortunately, most of the originals are at the Sam Houston Center, and I have been able to make much-needed copies.

On the grounds of the property, you will no doubt see the multiple structures near the library. You can tour these buildings, along with the Price Daniel mansion, but must reserve them two weeks in advance.

About the library: The Center was built in 1975 on land donated by former Texas Governor Price Daniel and his wife Jean to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission to construct a regional historical resource depository. Most of the funds for the construction came from private donations. The Center takes its name from Jean Daniel’s great-great grandfather, Sam Houston.

 

Before you visit: www.tsl.texas.gov/shc/visit

Contact information:

Physical Address: 650 FM 1011, Liberty, TX 77575

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 310, Liberty, TX 77575

Telephone: (936) 336-8821

Email: SamHoustonCenter@tsl.texas.gov

Kirby Hill – House

Last year, a friend entrusted me with the task of finding a home for some historical papers belonging to W.W. Cruse, dated between 1911 and 1928, and a Hardin County map dating back to roughly 1900. While sorting through these treasures, I found that most of them were legal documents pertaining to either abstracts, wills, or business ventures. Some of these ventures were Beaumont-related, such as the Beaumont Brick Company, but most of them were based within the borders of Hardin County. I contacted the Museum of Hardin County, and they gladly gave this piece of history a home.

So, in December, while dropping off these papers at the museum, I made it a point to see if the historic Kirby-Hill House of Hardin Country was open to tourists. When I made an enquiry a few years ago, there were unfortunately no volunteers to hold regular tours of the house. I did learn about their Murder Mystery Dinner Theater events but found that they were usually sold out.

 

One thing I learned about Hardin County is that they are workers. All their historical houses, museums, etc., are sponsored, paid for, and established by private donors and volunteers. It amazes me just how much gets done without monetary help other than that from the good people of Hardin County. I know this also holds true for the Kirby-Hill House.

The house was built by James Kirby in 1902. James was the brother and partner of the lumber mogul John Henry Kirby. In 1907, Lucy Kirby Hill, James’ daughter, purchased the house from her father. It would remain family-owned until 1987 when it was put on the market by Autie Lois Hill.

In 1992, the Kirby-Hill House Educational Foundation was established by a few concerned citizens with the intention of saving the deteriorating home from demolition. The foundation’s main goal was to purchase the house and restore it to its original glory. The house has since been exceptionally renovated to its former beauty, thanks in part to donations and the money earned from tours, rentals, as well as the popular Murder Mystery Dinner Theater events.

As stated before, the Murder Mystery Dinner Theater events sell out quickly, so if you are interested in attending, be sure to get your tickets early! These funds go toward the upkeep of this house, and your support would be greatly appreciated.

The Murder Mystery Dinner Theater is held in the fall and spring. Tickets cost $64 per person for a live play performed while you enjoy a five-course meal.

The house is open every Wednesday and every 2nd & 4th Saturday of the month from 10 am to 4 pm.

You can also call 409-246-8000 to make reservations for renting this gem.