Rediscovering you’re two years old.

RSETXlight

Well, another milestone has been reached here under the oaks at ye olde Block Farm. Rediscovering SETX has turned two! First, I would like to thank all who read our blog, follow us on Twitter, or have liked us on Facebook. Your input and support makes bringing SETX history to those who might otherwise not know of our interesting past even more a labor of love. As in our first year, over the past twelve months we’ve met and heard from many wonderful SETXans, been to many great places, and learned more and more from all of you.

The PeopleTFHG

We learned the trials and tribulations of life in Jefferson County during World War II. We discovered who Tom “the Tramp” was and delved into the fascinating life of Port Arthur’s Evelyn Keyes via out new monthly segment Tales from Hallowed Ground. But my favorite article has definitely been from a reader who shared her grandmother’s journey to Port Arthur in 1905. Blanche Morgan’s story provides a captivating account of the hardships and successes of a widowed mother of four in the early 1900s. Finally, it was fitting to investigate architect Nicholas Clayton’s marvelous legacy of Galveston architecture for the 40th anniversary of the Galveston Historic Homes Tour.

The Places

IMG_5778Since its creation in 2012, Rediscovering SETX has strived to promote SETX museums and historic houses, as well as its history. Well, this year was no different, and we explored many magnificent places. Here are some of the highlights:

I was fortunate to be invited to the grand opening of a marvelous museum in Kountze called the Museum of Hardin County. The museum opened its doors in August, after years of hard work and determination by the Hardin County Historical Commission and its members. Another prized invitation from Hardin County was to the Terry Bertha Cromwell Museum located in Sour Lake. Lutcher Memorial Building

In Orange County, we discovered the Heritage House Museum and did an awe-inspiring tour of the Lutcher Memorial Church Building; I must say that this is one of SETX’s greatest treasures.

Other memorable sites include the Beaumont Police Department Museum, Clifton Steamboat Museum, Christmas at the Pompeiian Villa, the Women’s Club of Beaumont, Heritage Village (Woodville), Liberty Opry (Liberty), Polk County Museum (Livingston), Bayou Bend (Houston), Bishop’s Palace (Galveston), and finally Galveston’s 40th Annual Historic Homes Tour.

History

Texas fight DDD2013We also attended some notable historic celebrations, memorials, and fun reenactments. Dick Dowling Days turned 50th in September, and this coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Sabine Pass. The Liberty County Historical Commission did a wonderful job of treating a few of its esteemed residents, who forged the grounds of what is today Liberty County, with the “Whispers from the Past” tour in October. It was both inspiring and entertaining. IMG_9580

IMG_1428In December, the 15th, to be exact, it was the 100th anniversary of the Interurban. (The Interurban was an electric train that ran from Port Arthur to Beaumont for 19 years, between 1913 and 1932.)  Unfortunately. little is left of this SETX achievement, and very few know of its existence. We were glad to be able to shine a light on this awesome part of our past.

In January, the 113th anniversary of Spindletop was celebrated at Gladys City with the Driller’s Reunion. And what a splendid time was had by all. I bet even the Temperance ladies had an enjoyable time!IMG_2721

Future

As in the first two years, we will continue to visit and promote what SETX has to offer. Our little part of the world is rich with history, and we think it should be communicated to all and sundry. So if you know of a museum, historic home, or any other part of our history that you think should be given some online airtime, then please send us your feedback and suggestions. You can contact me by email at rediscoveringsetx@gmail.com. Alternatively, you can also leave a comment on our Facebook page, Flickr, or @RediscoveringSE on Twitter.

Here’s to another remarkable year of rediscovering SETX!

Blanche’s Journey: An Early Look at Life in Port Arthur

 

 

In February of 1905, as winter’s hold clamped down hard on Mason City, Iowa, Blanche’s mother lay sick with a high fever. As the doctor looked on, he knew her health would not improve if she continued to live in the Corn Belt state.

“Mr. Rowley, you will have to leave the North. You have got to go to a warm climate near a sea shore if your wife is to get well,” explained Doctor Marston.

And so this is how the journey began for the Rowley family.

The following are excerpts, written on May 25, 1962, from Mrs. Blanche Lee Morgan’s journal. I thought it appropriate that you experience her journey in her own words.

It was the first of October, before father had sold all his rent property and our lovely home.  Finally, the day came for he and brother to leave. He kissed us good bye and held mother close to him and said, “Now don’t you worry, I am going to find a place where the sun shines all the time.”

We were lonely without father and brother. Grace and I went to school and finally one day mother received a letter from father which said, “I am on my way south to Port Arthur, Texas. While I was in the depot in Kansas City, Missouri on my way to sell the apple orchard I met a man named Gates and another named Stillwell. I got to talking to them, and what do you know – right across the ticket room hung a canvas which said, “Port Arthur, Texas – the Flower of the South.”  Mr. Gates said the town was close to the sea and was built on Lake Sabine, that it was sunshiny and warm.  He was taking several other men with him to Port Arthur. He bought my father and brother a ticket and said to come on this excursion with him to Port Arthur.  My father gladly accepted the offer and traveled with them.  Port Arthur was not much of a place to live in.

The Journey:

I took along a note book to write down events and things which I saw out of the train car window. Laura, my oldest sister had her pet canary in his cage to take care of. Mother sat back in the car with her eyes closed, and I noticed tears rolling down her cheeks. My youngest sister, Grace, saw them too, and she said, “What are you crying about, we are going to see Daddy.”  I kept up with the stations we stopped at, and watched the people get off and on the train. We reached Albia, Iowa, and changed cars to the Wabash. It was so dark now you could not see anything out of the windows.

Time passed and everyone was sleeping, or lying quiet. I just couldn’t sleep but somewhere between midnight and 8 a.m. in the morning of the next day mother was shaking me and saying, “Gather up your things, we are in Kansas City, Missouri.”  We climbed on a bus drawn by horses and sat up on top, and it was awful cold. The bus took us to the Kansas City Southern Railway station.  We went inside, and there was people from everywhere. We were pretty hungry and mother opened her basket of food and spread out a tablecloth on the bench, and she gave thanks for the food, and for getting this far safely. We were about halfway now, on the road to our new home, a place of excitement, awe and disappointment. If mother had of just known what kind of place we were coming to, she never would have come.

At 12 noon we boarded the Kansas City Southern train for Port Arthur, Texas. We were 2 days and nights on this train, all of us growing tireder all the time. After we left Kansas City, Mo. the snow left and finally the last day, all we could see was farms, hill sides all green, flowers blooming, the sun shining, and it was unbelievable to us, at this time of the year to not see snow and see green trees and flowers blooming.  When the conductor would come through, we would ask him, what kind of place was Port Arthur, Texas. He just grinned, and said, “Oh, I can’t tell you anything, just let it be a surprise.” And believe me, it was a surprise.

On the third night we arrived in Port Arthur, Texas. It was dark and hot for we had on our winter woolens for Iowa weather. The Kansas City station still stands and looks like it did when we first came here. Father and my brother came and helped us off of the train.

Entering of Port Arthur, Texas

As I stepped off the train into the darkness, I was afraid for in those days there was very few electric lights. My brother walked with me, we was going to a hotel to stay all night.  In the dim light I could see one story wood frame buildings, dim lights shining out of the doors and windows. One block away from the station, on Proctor Street on each corner was a saloon.  I heard my mother say, “What kind of place is this, for you to bring your family to.”

In those days there was saloons on every corner. Procter Street was the main street, it ended at Greensport. The streets was shelled and nothing but board sidewalks, with most of the board being loose or gone. As we walked along father warned to watch our step, and not fall on a loose board.  We arrived at the hotel – a one story framed building, were given our rooms. We three girls together, father and mother, a room and brother one by his self.  The air was filled with the odor of the refineries, and we could hardly stand it. We girls finally got bathed and into bed, for we had not slept in a bed for three nights. It felt good and I am sure we never turned over, for all three of us were worn out.

We were awakened by our father who rapped on the door and said, “Come to breakfast.” That is one thing our family always did was have breakfast, and supper together. If one was late from school, the supper was held up until all could sit down together. You talk about a surprise, we were used to creamery butter on our toast and what we had was so rancid we could not eat it. The bacon was all right, but the milk was canned, and nobody in Iowa ever used canned milk. Well, our meal was not eaten. We found out later, that everything had to be shipped in and by the time it arrived here it was too old. As you know there was no refrigeration in those days. You got your ice from the icehouse and had those old ice boxes, that by night fall, the ice had already melted.

The drinking water was tanks of rain water. Every home had a large galvanized cistern attached to pipes from the roof of the house where it was caught and ran into the cistern. All drinking water had to be boiled and all milk had to be brought to a boil.  There was very little sewage. All toilets had a galvanized container in them, that was emptied by negroes who pulled a large tank on a wagon drawn by two horses, down the alley and emptied them into the tank. The odor was sickening, when this was being done.

After we ate breakfast we went for a walk out to the peer. The sun was shining on those white shell streets and it was beautiful. I never saw so many yellow roses as was blooming here then. The peer was a wooden frame buildings, dance floors, band stands, restaurant, but on piling. We walked out there and looked at the lake, which was beautiful, a white sandy beach was all along Lake Shore. This was before the canal was cut through and ruined our beautiful bathing resort.

There were excursions every Sunday who came in to visit our peer, and bathing resort.  Gates and Stillwell had did a good job of advertising of Port Arthur. Boats came in from Lake Charles, Orange, and Port Neches – all tied up at the peer, loaded with men and women in their Sunday best to eat or sit and listen to the Mexican Band who played all Sunday and way into the night.

On our way back from the peer I gathered up some of the shells and put them in a box and sent them to my school teacher I had left in Iowa. Oh – I thought to have streets covered with shells was the most wonderful  thing I had ever seen. As you know people who live away inland never see boats and sea shells in large quantities, like they do when living near the Gulf or Sea.

Sunday finally arrived and we had always went to church. So father, mother, and all of us children went to the Methodist church. It was a 1 story framed building on fifth street. We had left a large brick building with pipe organs, plush seats, and when we entered this church it was quite a contrast. We sang the same hymns and the preaching sounded the same, he was reading God’s word from the same bible I knew, and it made no difference to father, when I heard him say to mother, “God is everywhere, Bless his Holy name.”

Learning the latter history of this strong woman’s life was, for me, even more amazing than her journey to our little part of the world. Mrs. Morgan had married and had three children by 1917. She was pregnant with her fourth child when tragedy struck. On November 2, 1917, Robert Morgan, Blanche’s husband, kissed her and their children goodbye, and set off with a few coworkers to work at the Gulf Commissary. While in transit, a man stepped in front of the Ford, which was being driven by Percy Deveries. Percy slammed on his brakes and managed to avoid the man, but the car turned over, and Robert was severely injured. He later died in hospital.

Now a widow, Blanche took a job at the Gulf Commissary. I would note that, back in 1917, working at a refinery was not the friendliest of work environments—especially for a young widow with four kids. But Blanche worked at the commissary until it closed in 1935. She was then transferred to accounting, where she remained until the end of her working career. She retired in 1952 after 35 years of service.

You would think that once she had retired from Gulf Oil, she would settle for a happy life filled with friends, family, and grandchildren. But Blanche was not finished yet! Upon her retirement, she enrolled in Lamar Tech to study religious education. She also taught an adult Sunday school class for over 25 years at the Central Baptist Church in Port Arthur.

Mrs. Blanche Lee Morgan passed away following a sudden illness at the age of 84.

I am honored that one of her descendants would share her story with me and allow me the privilege of doing the same on this blog. I am also glad that Mrs. Morgan took the time to document her story.

There are many of our SETX folk who are passing every day, and their stories are passing with them. Please bear that in mind when a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or even a neighbor shares their tales of the past. It may be their history, but it’s our history as well.

 

Tales From Hallowed Ground: Evelyn Keyes

 

Evelyn Keyes

This month, Tales from SETX’s Hallowed Ground takes us to Port Arthur for a look at one of our early daughters who achieved fame and fortune but never forgot her roots.

Evelyn Louise Keyes was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on November 20, 1916. The daughter of Methodist minister Omar Dow Keyes and Maude Olive Keyes, her life in SETX was brief to say the least. At age three, her father died, so she and her mother moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where her grandparents resided. In her biography, Scarlett O’Hara’s Younger Sister: My Lively Life In and Out Of Hollywood, she tells of her impoverished youth and the hardships that she would overcome. In her teen years, she took dancing lessons, which signaled the start of her journey out of poverty and into what would become stardom.Evelyn in Port Arthur

Discovered by Cecil B. DeMille, Keyes was cast in a few lesser known pictures until she landed the role of Suellen, Scarlet O’Hara’s sister, in the movie Gone with the Wind (1939). She then went on to star in other motion pictures, including The Jolson Story (1946), The Prowler (1951), and A Thousand and One Nights (1945), and played Helen Sherman in the classic The Seven Year Itch (1955). She officially retired from acting in 1956 but did take on a few roles in her later years.

Sueellen 1939Keyes’ private life appeared similar to that of a Hollywood script. Her first husband committed suicide in 1940. After divorcing her second husband, director Charles Vidor, after two years, she married director John Huston. The couple adopted a boy that Huston had discovered in Mexico while filming The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Unfortunately that marriage failed as well, and they were divorced in 1950. After her retirement from film, she married bandleader Artie Shaw in 1957. That marriage would last 28 years.IMG_1178

In her later years, on occasion, Keyes traveled back to her birth city and donated memorabilia from her career to the Museum of the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer, and at the ripe old age of 91, succumbed to the retched disease at her home in Montecito, California. She died on July 4, 2008.

She now rests in her birth city of Port Arthur, but when scanning the old stones from Greenlawn or the Calvary cemeteries, I found no mention of her. This is because, “it was her last wish that, upon her death, her ashes be placed in a lamp, similar to the one she emerged from when she played a genie in the 1945 film  A Thousand and One Nights.”IMG_1181

When you visit the Museum of the Gulf Coast, you will find that there is a lot to see. But remember when you are strolling through the Evelyn Keyes exhibit that you are, for all intensive purposes, walking through hallowed ground.

Tales from Hallowed Ground: Tom The Tramp

 

tom

Still inspired by the Liberty County Historical Commission’s “Whispers of the Past,” I find myself wanting to bring a few stories from my own county’s cemeteries to light. This is why I want to start a new topic about the inhabitants of cemeteries, which will hopefully feature on this blog once a month. There are many stories out there, hidden away in our hallowed grounds, and I for one am interested in bringing these stories, legends, and tales to the fore. I would also love your input, so please leave your suggestions, stories, and comments on the Rediscovering SETX Facebook page or email me at rediscoveringsetx@gmail.com.

Roaming through the hilly terrain of one of Beaumont’s oldest cemeteries, I passed many obelisks, mausoleums, and other monuments dedicated to the “who was who” of Beaumont’s 175-year existence—each edifice undoubtedly clutching a story that’s waiting to be told. However, let us sidestep our SETX citizens at this time in favor of a hero who became a permanent resident of the Magnolia Cemetery too soon.

Because the Great Storm of 1900 took many lives and devastated Galveston’s shore, most forget that the residents of Bolivar Peninsula also shared the same fate, and this is where our story begins.

Alice and Frank Keith were two prominent names in old Beaumont, not least because Frank owned the Keith Lumber Company. On September 8th of 1900, Alice and Frank were in New York while their two daughters, Alice and Olga, stayed with relatives at a hotel in Patton Beach (now named Crystal Beach). As the storm worsened, Mrs. Irwin, the hotel manager, and an employee, Tom, nicknamed “Tom the Tramp,” thought it would be safer for the Keith’s daughters to ride the storm out in another house near the hotel.

Unfortunately the severity of the storm proved too much for the structure, and the house began to break up. Mrs. Irwin picked up Alice, and taking Olga’s hand to hers, headed for another house. As they departed, a large wave knocked Alice out. Mrs. Irwin managed to hold onto the girl, but Olga was separated from her. As if by fate, Tom swiftly retrieved Olga from the water and gave her back to Mrs. Irwin. He then took Alice and began to roll her back and forth over his shoulder, which revived her. As the storm raged on, the four again sought shelter in the house. Luckily, they all survived.

Both Frank and Alice were unaware of their daughters’ struggle for survival, but I’m sure they were devastated when they read a story in a New York newspaper that reported that their daughters had perished. However, as we already know, the newspaper was fortunately wrong, and the Keith’s were able to hold their daughters once again and hear the tale of heroism of the girls’ two saviors. Indeed, the Keith’s were so grateful to the two that they offered them each a house, which Tom accepted.

This would have made for a happy ending to a great story, but sadly in 1909, Tom kicked over an oil lamp while having a seizure and burned to death in his house. Ever grateful for his heroism, Frank and Alice laid him to rest in their family plot at Magnolia Cemetery with the name they knew him by and a tribute befitting of their hero:

Tom

The Tramp

Died December 5, 1909

“He alone is great, who by an act heroic, renders a real service.”

 

Source: Judy Linsley

A Look Back and a Look Forward

 

2013 was a grand year for me here at Rediscovering Southeast Texas. I had the opportunity to explore many wonderful places and meet countless interesting people. I believe that with your help, 2014 will be even better. SETX has a rich history, and I would like to share it with as many people as possible. Your input is important, and I welcome your suggestions, insights, and stories.

The Houses:

Dolls and Train at Rose Hill ManorRose Hill Manor is a Port Arthur treasure that I had never visited—until 2013. To find out that Donia Thibodeaux’s doll collection is on display there brought back scores of memories. I knew Mrs. Thibodeaux back in the 1990s and found her to be the nicest of individuals who was also most informative about the old Port Arthur.

“The reason Griffin Park roads are the way they are is because they were once wagon trails. You can’t turn a wagon on a dime. You have to make a wide swing.” Thanks, Mrs. Thibodeaux, you are missed.IMG_1233

The Women’s Club of Beaumont is a place that I have passed many times, but it wasn’t until 2013 that I finally got to see inside. Thank you, Mrs. Walker- King, for the invite. Over its 100-plus years, the who’s who of Beaumont have been associated with this house in one way or another. I’m glad it’s in good hands.

It goes without saying that the Chambers, French, and McFaddin-Ward houses were a favorite stop as well.

The Museums:

IMG_57782013 also brought us a new museum. The Museum of Hardin County, located in Kountze, opened its doors in August, and what a fantastic source of SETX history this is for all of us to cherish. Not only does it show all Hardin County’s history, but it is a valuable repository for neighboring counties as well.

Speaking of Hardin County, I was invited to the Terry Bertha Cromwell Museum in Sour Lake in October. This is another destination that everyone who is interested in SETX history should frequent. From the birth of Texaco to the old Hardin County jail, it’s all on display. My favorites are the photographs—I particularly love the old photos of the early Hardin County families.Sour Lake Jail

The History:

This year I found out about the origin of the name Beauxart Gardens, located in Mid-Jefferson County, as well as life in Port Arthur during World War II. These insights were shared by two people who experienced life in the 30s and 40s firsthand. I found their stories irresistible and would love to hear more. Do you know someone with a story to tell? My contact info is at the end of this article.IMG_1428

2013 was also the 100th anniversary of the Interurban. The Interurban was an electric train that ran between Port Arthur and Beaumont from December 15, 1913, to August 15, 1932. This is a subject that I would like to investigate further in the future.

The Events:

Line at Wehmeyer HouseCertainly many events took place in SETX last year. One of my favorites was the Galveston Historic Homes Tour. There were nine notable private homes on display for all of us to experience and enjoy, but the 10th, which you might remember as being the cause of the Great Bootie Debacle, was simple, modern, and dangerous. Yep, it’s always those folk who screw up a tour. Just say “no” to tours involving booties. They may just get you into trouble.

Orangefield 2In 2013, Orangefield turned 100, and what a celebration these fine folks put on. The Cormier Museum was also open for people to browse through and enjoy. Another highlight was a visit from the Big Thicket Outlaws. Tejano and clan always put on a good show.IMG_6720

2013 was also a year of remembrance for American history. It marked the sesquicentennial of many of the War against the States battles, and Sabine Pass was no exception.  The 50th anniversary of Dick Dowling Days and the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Sabine Pass drew many spectators and reenactors—both foreign and domestic—and was a huge success. I personally met a lot of new and fascinating people. Indeed, I never knew what really went into reenacting, but after talking to a few accomplished living historians, I now realize that it involves a substantial amount of time and effort.

Texas fight DDD2013For that reason, I would like to say what a tremendous job the members of the Dick Dowling Camp #1295 and the Kate Dorman OCR Chapter 11 did in making this event possible. Some members certainly went above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks especially to Mr. Michael McGreevy.

Jane Long Days in Bolivar brought many things, too. I was particularly glad to see such a fine lady remembered as such. The new memorial, located at the entrance to Fort Travis, is one of a kind, and I was happy to see a few Texan reenactors at this event. Another gift, brought to us by the Galveston Historical Commission, was the opening of Battery 236. This structure, built in the 1940s during WWII, is not the only fortification on the peninsula—two more had previously been built in 1898, and another in 1917.IMG_8307

Shangri La in Orange has always been a favorite of mine. I especially love the Scarecrow Festival (in October) and the Evening Strolls (in December). There is always something to see in this astonishing place, especially if you are into wildlife photography. IMG_1879

IMG_9580The Liberty County Historical Commission put on “Whispers from the Past” in October, both as a fundraiser and to promote their rich heritage. I hope this becomes a yearly event because it really inspired me to search my own backyard (so to speak). Whether it’s Magnolia Cemetery (Beaumont), Greenlawn (Port Arthur), or Oak Bluff (Port Neches), there are stories waiting to be told. So stay tuned!

One of my highlights of 2013 was undoubtedly the new discoveries in my research into Florence Stratton’s life. After 14 months’ investigation, I can now finally say that her birthdate is March 21, 1881. I discovered two mentions of this in her column, “Susie Spindletop’s Weekly Letter.” Furthermore, a descendent from the Stephens/Stevens family kindly donated 62 letters from Asa Evan Stratton (Florence’s father), Asa’s brother, and Emily (Florence’s older sister), to the Tyrrell Historical Library. Thanks to a letter written by Emily, dated February 1883, along with the 1900 census record, I was finally able to confirm that Florence was born in 1881 and to therefore dismiss Eunice’s (Florence’s niece) account in the Texas Historical and Biographical Record that Florence was born in 1883. Yes, it’s a relatively minuscule detail, but if one is doing historical preservation, I believe this type of information needs to be correct.fs14

2014:

I am looking forward to this New Year and all that it holds. If you have a story, know of a legend, or have any interesting historical treasures to share, I would love to hear from you. I am also looking for historical houses, old cemeteries, and museums that many people may not know about.

Here’s to you, SETX! Thank you for your continued interest and support.

My Contact information: rediscoveringsetx@gmail.com

Where to find us

 

Whispers from Liberty County

IMG_9580

It seems I’ve been spending a lot of time in cemeteries lately. Of course, with Halloween just past, it is the time of year to remember our ancestors, friends, and those whose memories we cherish and who have passed on to lay the groundwork for when we join them. It also helps to pique one’s interest in their lives when the living honor them by holding a tribute of sorts. This is what the Liberty County Historical Commission did last weekend, and boy, was it a special!

Whispers from the Past… Tales and Tours from the Liberty City Cemetery was an event that I found intriguing and enjoyed wholeheartedly. It also got me thinking that each county—or city—could do the same as these fine folks and bring their history alive for all to see. But as always it will come down to volunteers, volunteers, and more volunteers.

I was very impressed with the actors. Not only did they do an impressive job of taking us back in time, but they revealed their passion for their characters by providing us with insights into these people’s lives. It’s hard to choose the best story to share. In all honesty, all the stories were fantastic when told in this way. Here are a few examples:

Ephraim Jesse Crain, portrayed by Cody AbshireIMG_9605

This individual endured a hard life, but when he was handed lemons, Ephraim made lemonade.

Born on a plantation in Louisiana in 1836 (or 1837), Ephraim lost his father at the age of eight but was lucky to have a caring stepfather who made sure he received an education. Ephraim got married at age 22 although his wife sadly passed on three years later.

During the War Between the States, Ephraim fought for the Confederates, even participating in the Battle of Gettysburg, where he saw much death and destruction. Afterwards, he walked back to Louisiana from Virginia, seeing firsthand how the war had ravaged the land and the toll it had taken on its people.

After returning to the plantation, Ephraim tried to get it running again but went bankrupt. Later he travelled to Natchitoches where he met his second wife, Corinne. They set out together for greener pastures in Houston but ended up settling in Liberty after hearing about Houston’s yellow fever epidemic. They are buried side by side in the Liberty City Cemetery.

IMG_9609Col. E. B. Pickett, portrayed by Bob Sherer

Colonel Pickett was born in Wilson County, Tennessee, in 1826. In 1848 he served in the U.S. Army during the Mexican–American War. After the War he married Virginia Bell and immediately relocated to Liberty County, Texas, where he started practicing law.

During the War Between the States, he joined the Confederate Army, but he and his regiment were captured in Arkansas. He spent one-and-a-half to two years in a prisoner-of-war camp but was released during a prisoner exchange. With the death of his wife in 1864, Col. Pickett immersed himself in his work. He became a familiar figure in the political world and served in the Texas Senate from 1870 to 1874.

Colonel E. B. Pickett died in 1882, but his descendants continue to live in Liberty County.

Katherine Nolan, portrayed by Deborah PickettIMG_9620

Katherine Butler, who was known as Kate, was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1827. When she was nine, a wealthy cousin took an interest in her and saw to it that she received an education. She studied many languages, including French, Italian, and German.

Kate met an Irish widower from Texas named William Nolan, and after a six-week courtship, they were married. They sailed to Galveston in 1850 and then moved to Richmond, Texas. Between the harshness of the land, the Indians, and the mosquitoes, her new surroundings didn’t sit well with Kate. But William, his library, and musical instruments helped her persevere.

Despite many hard times, the couple both survived, finally ending up in Liberty, thanks to the Catholic Bishop who offered them an opportunity to open a school there. Kate and William taught at the school for about eight years before moving back to Richmond in 1875. Sadly William died two years later, so Kate went to live with her daughter in Liberty where she taught music and lived out the remainder of her life. Kate died in 1904.

Other stories from the Whispers from the Past event that I want to delve into at a later date are:

IMG_9685“Little Miss Rose,” the Runaway Scrape child, portrayed by Alana Inman

Capt. William Duncan and Celima DeBlanc Duncan, portrayed by Don Smart and Darlene Mott

James Madison Hall, portrayed by Kevin Ladd

Thomas Blake Smith, portrayed by Neal Thorton

Col. Franklin Hardin and Cynthia O’Brien Hardin, portrayed by Eric and Glenda Sandifer

IMG_9686All proceeds from Whispers from the Past… Tales and Tours from the Liberty City Cemetery go to the Liberty County Historical Commission.

This was indeed an event that I will attend again next year. Once more, I commend all who participated… You did a magnificent job!

More photos :

http://www.flickr.com/photos/25032584@N05/sets/72157637031488165/

 

Dick Dowling Days 2013

IMG_6720

 

Now that the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Sabine Pass and the 50th anniversary of Dick Dowling Days has come and gone, I sit in front of this keyboard in remembrance—remembrance not of the battle itself or our history, but of the people involved in this year’s events. Whether they be the re-enactors or the historians or its proud planners, for whom I have an enormous amount of respect, especially after this celebration. I contributed only a minuscule part behind the scenes with the writing of the press release, and this pales in comparison to the sleepless nights and long volunteer days and nights that these few people put forth to make this event a success. They are to be commended and saluted. You all did an outstanding job!DSC06578

Please enjoy the photos on our Flickr page.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/25032584@N05/sets/72157635422654445/

I will also be posting a few videos of the battles and scenarios on our youtube page.

Rediscovering You’re One Year Old

RSETXlight

With the conclusion of the 39th Annual Galveston Historic Homes Tour, I can’t help but notice that it has been one year since this blog began. The people I have met, the places I have seen, and the history I have learned have been priceless. In reflecting on this past year, I find myself asking: where should I begin?

The Peoplefs14

Certainly there are many people who deserve a spot in my wishful “if I could go back in time and talk to” roundtable discussion. Two obvious candidates who would be high on my list are Kate Dorman and Florence Stratton, both of whom I did not know of before early April 2012. I will refrain from adding the other eight in light of a future blog.

One of the most interesting lives that I have stumbled upon certainly has to be that of Blind Willie. Something about being at my first Jefferson County Historical Commission meeting and hearing his name enticed me to find out just how this Beaumont resident had contributed to music.BlindWillieJohnson

Later, I delved into Richard William Dowling’s life beyond the battles he fought. Although such a young man, he accomplished a great deal. Indeed, if he had lived longer, his run of prosperity would surely have continued, and some say he might probably even have run for governor of Texas. Unfortunately we will never know the impact of what could have been. 0_DickDowling

 

 

 

 

The Places

FountainThis blog was created in part because I wanted to cast a spotlight on some of the great treasures that we have in SETX. Not forgetting the three gems in Port Arthur, namely, the Pompeiian Villa, the Vuylsteke, and White Haven, I will say that Beaumont’s Chambers House is my favorite hands-down. All these places have a certain mystique about them, which I love.

I was also thrilled to learn of the Neches River Adventure Tour, and thoroughly enjoyed the rich beauty of our area when I took a trip down the Neches River and spent time amongst the cypress trees.DSC02289

One of my favorite explorations has to be the Jefferson County Courthouse. All thirteen floors, including the old jail, revealed yet another part of our history that I never knew existed.JC Courthouse Jail

 

The History

SETX has its share of historical significance, and I was able to delve into just a small portion of it over the past year. From the discovery of stalags throughout Texas, including Jefferson and Orange counties, to a civil war battle in Sabine Pass and the majestic lighthouse, which stood guard for nearly 100 years. I also explored the destructive aspect of living on the Gulf coast via our tropical storm history.100.jpg

Legends of our past, like Kisselpoo or Bragg Road, have had a fascinating hold on this researcher when digging for the root of the source.

Learning of the existence and disappearance of an oil pond just off the coast of Texas Point filled me with many more questions, including whether or not Spindletop had a hand in its disappearance.

The Future

This has been an epic year in terms of my thirst for both discovering and rediscovering SETX’s past, and I see much of the same in the next year. I will certainly be exploring Orange and Hardin counties a bit more.

As importantly however, I would like to know what you would like to see here, whether it is the houses, museums, people, or history. You can contact me by email rediscoveringsetx@gmail.com. Alternatively, you can also leave a comment on our Facebook page or @RediscoveringSE on Twitter. Here’s to another great year rediscovering SETX!

 

Florence Stratton Mini Museum Exhibit @ the Jefferson County Courthouse

 

Florence Stratton Mini Museum Exhibit

Florence Stratton was born in Brazoria, Texas, in March 1881, to Judge Asa Evan Stratton and Louisa Henrietta Waldman Stratton. Her parents moved to Alabama when she was a child. Educated through the Alabama public school system, she then attended “normal” college in Troy, Alabama, and was valedictorian of her 1900 graduating class.

Florence moved to Beaumont in 1903 and took a job as a member of the faculty of Miss Anne’s private school. She also taught at Central High School in 1904. During this time and throughout most of her early years in Beaumont, she lived with her sister and brother-in-law, Emily and W. H. Stevens.Stratton 1907 1

In 1907 Florence began her journalistic career at the Beaumont Journal. Apart from teaching literature at Belle Austin Instate in 1909, she continued at the Journal as society editor, and by some accounts, even helped with the printing of the newspaper.

In 1914 Florence started the Milk and Ice Fund to help provide poor families during the summer months with needed milk and ice. Six years later, while at the Beaumont Enterprise, she started the Empty Stocking Fund to, again, give relief to the poor but this time with food and monetary donations. This fund is still active today and provides assistance to the poor in Southeast Texas each Christmas.

From 1917 to 1921, Florence spent time with her good friend Willie Cooper at the Governor’s mansion in Austin. Willie was married to W. P. Hobby, who served as Governor of Texas for a five-year term ending in 1921.

In 1920 the Beaumont Enterprise bought the Beaumont Journal, and it was there that Florence enjoyed most of her success as a journalist. Her column, “Susie Spindletop’s Weekly Letter,” which began in 1926, drew more readers than any other column. Her popularity soared, and many relished reading each Sunday morning’s offering over the 12-year period it ran.

It was at the same time that her column started that Florence began, as she called it, “dabbling” in writing books. She compiled all of O. Henry’s articles, which were written while he was employed at the Houston Post, and published them in a book called Postscripts by O. Henry. She would also publish The White Plume in 1931, which was a short biography of O. Henry’s life.

Other books would follow, such as Favorite Recipes of Famous Women (1925),  and her most memorable literary contribution to Southeast Texas history, The Story of Beaumont (1925). This work delved into the early settlement of Beaumont, and to this day, is a reliable reference regarding the region’s past.

Yet another literary work, called When the Storm God Rides, was published in 1936. It was co-written with Bessie M. Reid and disclosed much-needed information about the Indians of East Texas.

Sadly in January of 1938, Florence died at Touro Infirmary in New Orleans, a day after she underwent surgery. Her death certificate states the cause of death as “Arterio Sclerotic heart disease.”

 

After five months of research into Florence Stratton’s life, I have found a lot of misinformation about her. I believe all the dates and other information used in this article to be true. It is amazing how much you can find out in a city directory and censuses. Florence was an amazing individual, and I hope to explore more of her life in the next year. I have also begun work to have a marker dedicated in her honor, possibly at the Beaumont Enterprise.

If anyone reading this has knowledge of Beaumont’s first historian, whether in the form of documents, letters, photos, memories, or any other stories, I would love to hear about them. It is my wish to give Florence the credit she deserves.

 

 

Elisha O. Brewer Cemetery

 

 

Not many people know about the grave off Amoco Road just south of Beaumont. I never knew of it until it was pointed out to me while I was working at Oiltanking Beaumont (formerly Amoco). After looking over the cracked stone, I knew there was a story there, but what story, I did not know.

That night I did an internet search for Elisha Brewer, the name on the headstone, and found an article written by W. T. Block, which was first published in the Beaumont Enterprise on November 13, 1999. It told the story of Elisha O. Brewer, who, after visiting the deathly ill mayor of Beaumont, Columbus Caswell, had been un-harnessing his wagon when his horse had kicked him in the groin. Elisha died a short time later. He was 31.

Elisha Brewer was the grandson of Christian Hillebrandt, a cattle baron, who was the namesake of Hillebrandt Bayou. His wife Mary was the granddaughter of John Sparks, the first settler and founder of the Sparks settlement (Aurora), which was the precursor to the city of Port Arthur.

It is unclear why Elisha O. Brewer had been buried in what would have been his backyard 129 years ago. Possibly it was out of haste or necessity, but whatever the reason, we can assume from the words on his gravestone that he was deeply missed.

“Since thou canst no longer stay

To cheer me thy love

I hope to meet with thee again

In yon bright world above.”

Elisha O. Brewer

February 2, 1852 – August 5, 1883

The grave is located less than a hundred yards from Amoco Road, and the small fence surrounding the hallowed site can be seen from Highway 347. Although it is technically on Oiltanking Beaumont’s property, it is not located in a fenced or restricted area. With that said, I do make a point of driving past the grave and up to the guard shack and explaining to security why I’m there and what I am doing.