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.

Clifton Steamboat Museum: A Grand Re-Opening

 

 

It’s been a long time since I visited the Clifton Steamboat Museum. In fact, May 2013 was the last time I set foot onto the complex (story here). Unfortunately, work, research, and other endeavors have not let me branch out and revisit as many places as I would like, but I hope to change this in 2017!

In the past, the Clifton Steamboat Museum has been open by appointment only, but that all changed last Thursday when the museum held its grand re-opening to the delight of all who attended. Some of the exhibits have changed a bit, but the changes make this gem an even more wonderful experience for all the family to enjoy.

As I said, in the past, there was a plethora of eye-catching mementos of both Southeast Texas, and our nation’s history. The 24,000-square-foot museum is packed with items from top to bottom, beginning with the grain elevator built between 1895 and 1898 and used at the port of Port Arthur until it was saved from demolition by the museum’s founder David Hearn Jr. and brought to the complex. You also can say the same for Hercules, the tugboat outside that was saved in 1991.

Throughout the museum, you’ll find ship models created by Robert V. Haas, a collection of work by sculptor Matchett Herring Coe, and many exhibits dedicated to each of the nation’s war campaigns. I found this most intriguing since my 1940’s scrapbook regenerated my interest in World War II this past year.

Other highlights include an art gallery, a massive Boy Scout collection, and an SETX riverboat exhibit on the second floor.

Museum hours are Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or by appointment at (409) 842-3162.

For more information, you can go to their website www.cliftonsteamboatmuseum.com

Promoting SETX

 

When I started this blog/website, my intention was to promote our local SETX (Southeast Texas) history, and by local, I mean all of SETX. You can also add a little bit of SWLA (Southwest Louisiana) as well, since we share most of the same history. I will also add that the caretakers of my favorite lighthouse are there.

I hope we’ve done our part in the last four-and-a-half years to shed light on our rich history, and to promote a positive image of this area. In the beginning, I wanted to devote time to promoting our museums, places of interest, and other historic sites so that visitors could have an educational experience. Here in SETX we have a plethora of great places and unique histories that I think should be known to everyone (especially to our own Southeast Texans). In our first few years, we visited many hidden gems that do a wonderful job of bringing SETX’s history to life (links to the stories of our jaunts are located at the end of this article), and I want to expand this scope in 2017.

So, as of now, I am requesting suggestions from you for places of interest, museums, etc., for us to visit in 2017. I am particularly interested in branching out into the northern counties this year, because in the past, I wasn’t able to explore most of these counties since I could not take time off from my other job.

Another project that I have been wanting to do is add a “Places to Visit” page to the website. I would like to provide a list all our museums, with working links and completely up-to-date information, such as what days and times they are open to the public. I can only accomplish this if those of you in the know send me the information. I hope this page will be yet another tool for promoting our history.

Finally, if you have anything that you think should be of interest to Southeast Texans please don’t hesitate to email me at rediscoveringsetx@gmail.com, or if you prefer, send letters and/or other info to:

Rediscoveringsetx Press

P.O. Box 2078

Nederland, Texas  77627

Heritage House (Orange)

Museum of Hardin County (Kountze)

Bertha Terry Cornwell Museum (Sour Lake)

Beaumont Police Department Museum

Vuylsteke House (Port Arthur)

Pompeiian Villa  (Port Arthur)

White Haven (Port Arthur)

Chambers House Museum (Beaumont)

Neches River Adventures Tour

Clifton Steamboat Museum

La Maison Beausoleil Museum (Port Neches)

T.J. Chambers House & Chambers County Historical Commission Museum (Anahuac)

 

 

Willie Chapman Cooper Hobby

 

 

Throughout my research of Florence Stratton, I have been down many rabbit holes, so to speak. She certainly led an interesting life, which involved many people. And yes, I have files on just about all of them. One person who I can say influenced Florence’s life more than the rest was Willie Cooper Hobby. Their friendship lasted many years, and I’m sure they had many tales that were never told nor graced the pages of any periodicals, but in Willie’s life of fifty-three years, she definitely had a social advantage over most.

Willie Chapman Cooper was born in Woodville, Texas, on June 19, 1876, to Sam Bronson Cooper and Phebe Young. There is little information about her life as a youth, other than that she grew up in Woodville. I do know she attended Kidd-Key College in Sherman, Texas; yet I don’t know the year nor if it was, at the time, a women’s high school or a genuine college. And looking into her father’s endeavors, with the few available records that I have, I can see little information about her until she resided in Washington D.C. in March of 1893, when her father was a congressman. So, let’s delve into his history a bit.

Sam B. Cooper served as the prosecuting attorney of Tyler County for four years (1876–1880), then as a Texas state senator for the next four years (1880–1884). I assume that this is where the friendship of the Stratton and Cooper families began. Florence’s father, Asa Evan Stratton Jr., was a Texas senator from January 1883 to May 1884. In 1885, he was named collector of internal revenue at Galveston. Sam would hold this position until 1888. After an unsuccessful run for district judge in 1889, his next stint in politics came in 1892 as a congressman in the United States House of Representatives. He would serve six consecutive terms for the Second Texas District, before losing to Moses Broocks in 1904. Sam served for one more term, from 1906 to 1908, after defeating Broocks in the next election. So, knowing the political path her father took, it seems obvious to me that Willie would take on the role of a socialite, especially living in Washington and later New York, where her father was appointed to the Board of General Appraisers of New York by President William Howard Taft in 1910.

Throughout her years in Washington, Willie was indeed popular around the social circles and was even invited to the White House a time or two. I know this from a few newspaper clippings and her invitation, which, as I stated in the last article, are in her scrapbook at the Briscoe Center for American History in Austin. As friends do, Florence also tagged along and got to mingle with the elite, or should I say, the world’s hubs, which capitals can be, especially in a thriving country.

On May 15, 1915, Willie married her childhood sweetheart and, at the time, the lieutenant governor of Texas, William Pettus Hobby. Her early years in Washington would play an important part in her life due to her social duties as the lieutenant governor’s wife.

In August of 1917, W. P. Hobby became governor of Texas after the sitting governor, James E. Ferguson, was impeached. Hobby held the Democratic ticket and eventually won the governorship in 1918 after Ferguson ran against him in the primary. Willie shone as first lady of Texas and won the praises of many in her years in Austin. She was highly popular and entertained much, except during World War I, because she felt it inappropriate, according to Dining at the Governor’s Mansion by Carl McQueary. She also wanted to follow government guidelines for food conservation during wartime. In addition, Willie was responsible for making needed repairs and additions to the 60-year-old mansion, such as installing steam heating and adding a bath to one of the bedrooms.

While living in New York, Willie became interested in the women’s suffrage movement, which was a cause most dear to her. I found much evidence of this in my Briscoe Center research and in newspapers from her days as first lady of Texas. In fact, much of her scrapbook dwells on this topic. I also found an ample number of newspaper clippings from this era that show that both Florence and Willie did their part to promote women’s right to vote.

Throughout her life, Willie was always gracious and charming and treated everyone the same, whether servant or dignitary. In her memorial book, there are many references to how she was loved by those who knew and conversed with her. As I wrote at the beginning of this article, Willie was Florence’s best friend, and many years were spent together enjoying social events. From a visit to the White House 1909 to attending the inauguration of Mexican president Álvaro Obregón in 1920, both always seemed to be in good company. In fact, one of Florence’s books, Favorite Recipes of Famous Women (1925), is a compilation of Willie’s recipes when she was first lady from such visiting dignitaries as authors, actresses, and wives of past presidents or foreign leaders.

Willie died in her sleep at her Houston residence on the morning of January 14, 1929, to the shock of most. During the following days, there were many heartfelt condolences sent to her husband, W. P. Hobby, from all across the world. Many of these condolences can be found in a memorial book entitled Tributes in Memory of Willie Cooper Hobby, which was privately published by (I would assume) her husband. Here are a few excerpts:

 

 

I cannot longer wait to tell you how distressed and grieved I am over Willie’s death. Words fail to express the love and sympathy which has gone out from my heart to you all. I just cannot reconcile myself to the fact so grand and useful a woman should be taken.

As I write my thoughts run over the twenty-five or thirty years. Dear Mrs. Cooper and her family are vividly before me. So well do I remember the party I had and Willie, a beautiful young girl there and received the prize. In the years which followed the Cooper family figured in my life. You know how I loved Mrs. Cooper and Willie. Although of late years I saw so little of her I knew she was nearby. She it was who suggested to me to change the name of the Woman’s Reading Club to the Woman’s Club. Some hesitate to mention it to me thinking I would feel hurt but soon as I heard of it I made a motion to make the change.

Beaumont                                                                                                                    Sally Greer

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To me Willie was the embodiment of all the word, “friend,” implies; her charity of thought… the kindliness of her heart and the deep solicitude for her friends… qualities the make one so worthy of admiration and love and for which I feel my life has been enriched for having known her.

Houston                                                                                                                       Edwina Wiess

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We the members of the Woman’s Club of Beaumont, wish to extend to you our deepest sympathy. Mrs. Hobby has been loyal and faithful to our club and our hearts too are full of sorrow. We shall miss Mrs. Hobby but we shall ever hold her in memory and we shall strive to reach the goal of high ideals which she held before us.

Beaumont                                                                                                                     Woman’s Club