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!

Nicholas Joseph Clayton (Architect)

 

While attending tours and lectures, or just sightseeing on Galveston Island over the past three years, one name has constantly been mentioned in relation to the history of the island’s beautiful architecture. I therefore decided to delve into the background of the person who produced so much of the artistry that is still here for us to enjoy.

Nicholas Joseph Clayton was born on November 1, 1840, in Cloyne, County Cork, Ireland. After his father’s death, he and his mother immigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1848. During his pre-civil wartime life, he worked as a plasterer in a few cities that spanned both sides of the Mason–Dixon line. From 1862 to 1865 he served as a yeoman in the U.S. Navy.

After the war he returned to Cincinnati and worked as a marble carver. City directories show his progress from working as a carver in 1866 to becoming an architectural draftsman in 1871. In October of 1871 he moved to Houston. While there, he was appointed as the supervising architect for the First Presbyterian Church in Galveston. It is here that evidence of his exceptional craftsmanship first revealed itself. Clayton designed many different types of buildings from 1873 to 1900 with most of his greatest works being produced in the 1880s and 1890s.

Although his artistry can be found in many structures, I could not include all the treasures he designed and/or built in this post, so I will present a few highlights from his illustrious career.

Eaton Memorial Chapel:  In 1882, the chapel was dedicated as a memorial to the Rev. Benjamin Eaton, founding rector, 1841–71. DSC00848

George Sealy House and Carriage House (circa 1891): Nicholas Clayton is credited as being the supervising architect, Stanford White the designer, and McKim, Mead, and White the architectural firm.

Ursuline Academy (circa 1894): According to Howard Barnstone’s book, The Galveston That Was, this was Clayton’s largest and most important architectural design. Unfortunately it was demolished in 1962 after sustaining major damage from Hurricane Carla in 1961.

University of Texas Medical School (circa 1890): This treasure still stands as a monument to Clayton’s work but is surrounded by progress. It is part of what is now the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Gresham Mansion (circa 1892): Since taking the Basement to Attic tour a few weeks ago, I regard this castle as my favorite of his works. The Gresham Mansion is now known as Bishop’s Palace and is open for tours.IMG_9908

Sacred Heart Church (circa 1892): The original building was destroyed in the Great Storm of 1900. At the time of its construction, the Catholic Diocese was unhappy with the original design and sought out Clayton to finish the project. The present building was designed by Brother S. J. Jimenez.IMG_9912

Other architectural designs by Clayton include Galveston Pavilion (circa 1881, burned in 1883), Harmony Hall (circa 1881, burned in 1928), Beach Hotel (circa 1883, burned in 1898), and St. Mary’s Infirmary (circa 1874, demolished in 1965).

Nicholas Clayton died on December 9, 1916, and is buried in Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Galveston. I for one see his contributions as a major part of SETX architecture. So many of his beautiful structures still stand today. These works are a tribute to the genius of a poor Irish immigrant who succeeded in making SETX that much more beautiful.

 

Sources:

Howard Barnstone, The Galveston That Was (1966)

Galveston Historical Foundation

Bishop’s Palace (Galveston Texas)

 

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One tour that has eluded me for a few years now is the Bishop’s Palace in Galveston.  I have religiously taken the Galveston Tour of Homes for the past three years, and I will continue to do so, but this “castle” has been unavailable for my scheduling. This is why I was so elated for the Galveston Historical Foundation to have its “Basement to Attic Tour” of their treasure in February.

First, let me say that the $30 charge for the tour was well worth it. All funds go to the restoration of this fine structure, and I for one want to help when I can. Second, the docent was a wealth of knowledge, and entertaining as well.

The main highlight of the tour includes, of course, the architecture. IMG_9842

The Bishop’s Palace, built circa 1892 and originally called the Gresham House, or Gresham Mansion, was built by Nicholas Clayton for railroad magnate and politician Walter Gresham.  The stone and woodwork is simply unmatched to most in SETX. I will say the George Sealy Mansion, circa 1889 and designed by Stanford White, is on the same level, but it is privately owned by UTMB and unavailable for tours. I was fortunate to visit it during the Galveston Historical Foundation’s 39th annual Tour of Homes in 2013.  Those of us who live in the Sabine-Neches River part of SETX might be reminded of the woodwork found in the Stark and McFaddin-Ward Houses.

IMG_9806During the tour, you will see a few painted prints, ceilings, cups, etc. painted by Josephine Gresham, wife of Walter. The artwork, especially on the ceiling of the dining room, is a must see.

The Catholic Diocese of Galveston purchased the mansion in 1923 to serve as the residence for Bishop C. E. Byrne. After the Diocese moved their offices to Houston, it was turned into a museum in the early 1960s and remained under their control until it was sold in 2013 to the Galveston Historical Foundation.

IMG_9800Again, I stress that this is a treasure that needs to be enjoyed in person. My preference is the Basement to Attic Tour. Enjoy!

Guided tours are available seven days a week, from 12:30 – 3:30 pm.

Audio tours are also available seven days a week, from 11 am – 5 pm.

The Galveston Historical Foundation’s “Basement to Attic Tour” dates are as follows:

March 15; April 19; May 17; June 7, 21; July 5, 19; and August 2, 16

The tour starts at 11 am sharp!

For more photos click here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjTvq7EV

 

100th Anniversay of the Interurban

 

IMG_1428December will mark the 100th anniversary of the inaugural run of one of Jefferson County’s faded treasures. The Interurban, a full-sized electric train, ran daily between Port Arthur and Beaumont from December 15, 1913, to August 15, 1932. DSC07835

In the early 1900s, both Port Arthur and Beaumont were thriving. Oil had surpassed cattle and lumber as the major export of SETX, and many people had come here at the turn of the century to earn a better living. A burgeoning industry as well as a growing population had given rise to the need for transportation between the two cities, and in 1913, Jefferson County residents received a gem.

DSC07837In July of that year, the Stone and Webster Corporation purchased the Beaumont Traction Company, thus acquiring 12 miles of track with overhead electric lines, 20 passenger cars, and a car barn. This, along with the formation of the Jefferson County Traction Company, laid the groundwork for a rail system between Beaumont and Port Arthur. Acquiring the right of way through the county was a simple task since most of the landowners and farmers welcomed the idea of easy transportation to and from the cities. Most gave the required land away or sold it for a token dollar.DSC07838

The train would make 19 trips per day with an early start of 5:45 am and a midnight finish. Tickets cost 90 cents for a roundtrip or 50 cents one way and were prorated for the 10 stops between the two cities. Stops along the way included South Park, Spindletop, Nederland, Rice Farm, and Griffing/Pear Ridge.

Certainly the railway was a great asset to Jefferson County during its run, and in 1915, it aided the fleeing residents of Port Arthur during a hurricane until a power outage stranded the train. Some passengers rode out the storm, spending a total of 12 hours in the railcars.

BmtPAIn August 1932, the Interurban railway made its final departure, ending 19 years of service. Although it had survived hurricanes and other element-related hardships, it could not survive progress. By the 1930s, private ownership of cars and a bus system ultimately made the need for a passenger railway between Beaumont and Port Arthur redundant.IMG_1437

Nothing is left of the original line except a right of way where the tracks once lay. Sadly, the tracks have been replaced with power lines, which stretch from 19th Street in Port Arthur to near Lamar University in Beaumont. A historical marker, dedicated in 2002, is located on Austin Avenue in front of what was then the office.

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Halloween on 19th st in Port Arthur

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When I was growing up, October was special to me. Not only is it my birth month, but it was also a time of great joy. CavOILcade was still something to look forward to, and toward the end of the month we would always anticipate trick-or-treating down 19th Street with keen enthusiasm.

I vaguely remember my sisters telling ghost stories in the living room. (Does anyone remember the man with the golden arm?) Just when the spooky part would happen, Tiger, our cat, would jump up onto the air-conditioning window unit outside and scare the hell out of us. I loved that cat!

Trick-or-treating was special. We would walk down 19th Street to the train bridge, knocking on doors and waiting excitedly for our treats. Of course, not everyone enjoyed this time. There was that fly-by-night church (if I recall correctly, it was called the Church of Port Arthur) where some kid who looked to be 10 years old yelled at us that we were all going to hell. I promptly responded, “And a fun time we will have!” He didn’t respond. I guess that was the only thing he had been taught to say.

For the most part I did have a good time haunting 19th Street in my cheap Casper costume. I will say though that that damned rubber band on the bargain-basement mask never lasted the whole night, but it made it as far as the house where candy was consumed with great relish. I guess in all honesty I wasn’t a friendly ghost. Just ask the 10 year old at the Church of Port Arthur.

I also remember this was the time when there were stories of some candy being tainted with horrible things, such as razor blades. My father was first to make sure that the candy was safe and edible. Of course he took it upon himself to eat each candy where the wrapper had been slightly disturbed. Even at a young age I could figure this ploy out.

Halloween was special while I was growing up. We had fun in somewhat dark times, but all in all, it was a joyful time in my life, and now I would like to commemorate those who made this time a hoot! Even that poor 10 year old. I hope that in his later years he found greater happiness than that derived from yelling at children who were looking for candy.

 

 

100 Marceau Road (A Ghost Story)

 

Heather drove up to the locked iron gate. She felt an eerie chill as she stared at the massive fence surrounding the twenty-acre property. She was supposed to meet Devon, the maintenance man for Sterling Investments. But, as usual, he was late, and his phone was turned off. “This is spooky,” she thought aloud.

   “Yes it is.” Jennifer, her daughter sitting next to her was adjusting her ipod and headphones. “Why is Mr. John buying this stuff now? I thought he was just flipping houses.”

   “I don’t know. Something about a gambling license and waterway access,” said Heather. “Anyway the housing market isn’t too good right now.”

   “Gambling? He’s going to make a casino? Cool!” Jennifer exclaimed animatedly.

   Heather glanced at her daughter. “Nah, I don’t think so. He may want to, but it’s who you know in that business, and I don’t see it going there.”

   “Ook sqwiwwel!” Heather’s two-year-old son shouted from the backseat as he pointed out the window toward a squirrel leaping from branch to branch in a nearby tree.

   “Yes Jordan,” Jennifer replied, more humoring him than listening.

   Heather looked at her watch then dug into her purse, retrieving the keys to the property. Devon or no Devon, she had to look at the house, so she stepped out of the car, walked to the gate, and unlocked it.

   “Hey! Come here and help,” Heather said to her daughter, while trying to slide the gate open.

   Jennifer, unhappy, rolled her eyes but helped her mother all the same.

   “Damn, this thing is heavy,” puffed Heather, trying to heave the gate forward.

   “You’re telling me?” said Jennifer, pushing as hard as she could.

   With both putting their full weight behind it, the rusty gate finally gave way and began opening inward, which was a relief, especially to Jennifer. Although she felt kind of excited by this eerie new place, she wasn’t in the mood for actual labor.

   With the gate open, Heather and her daughter rushed back to the car then drove along the winding drive that took them to the main house. They got out of the car along with Jordan, who had unbuckled his safety seat even before the car had stopped.

   “Wow!” Jennifer exclaimed looking at the extraordinary, massive house. “This is huge. How’d he find this?”

  Heather, chasing down Jordan, replied, “It’s been vacant for years. He got it real cheap. The previous owner was an old woman who died owing a lot of money. After her death, the bank tried to take the property back, but the woman had a sister who kept it in the legal system for years, I think. No one could touch or remove anything in the house. It was a mess. Finally the sister died, and her children just wanted to be through with it. No telling the last time a living person was in there.”

Jennifer looked around the grounds, taking in the colossal structure. The grounds were definitely not manicured as a house of this size would be if it were in its prime, but that didn’t get in the way of Jennifer having thoughts about the grace and beauty of the old property. “I can’t believe he bought this. Are you sure it didn’t cost him a fortune?” she asked, peering at the second-story windows.

“Actually he got it dirt cheap,” replied Heather. “For some reason the bank had just had enough and wanted to let it go. I’m sure it was a drain considering their investment was already lost. Don’t know why they didn’t just spend a little more and divide the land up. Heck, even if the house is unlivable, with all the land here, they could have subdivided it and sold the lots.”

   Still looking up at the second floor, Jennifer noticed a balcony with French doors. Although the noon sun was in her eyes, she squinted in the hope of getting a better view, but without luck. She turned her head away and began scanning the rest of the building, stopping at the bay windows on the east side of the house.

   She was startled to see what appeared to be a face staring back at her through the window. Speechless, she turned to her mother, before looking at the window again. Her second look revealed nothing but an empty space.

   “Are you sure Devon isn’t here?” Jennifer asked her mother, her mind struggling to make sense of what she had just seen.

   “No, his truck isn’t here. If he was here, the gate would have been wide open, and he’d be at the front complaining about all the work he would have to do.”  Heather grabbed Jordan’s hand and knelt down beside him, “Why do you ask?”

   Jennifer shook her head, “Oh, no reason. I just thought he would have been here already.” She avoiding mentioning what she thought she had just seen for fear of ridicule.

   “Jordan, settle down!” Heather pointed her finger at her son and clasped his wrist. Jordan stood in front of her grinning. Non-stop giggling ensued. “Behave! I mean it, Jordan.”

   Jordan, still with a mischievous grin on his face, made an attempt to calm himself, but the excitement of the new place caused his eyes to wander. Jennifer walked up to the massive old wooden front door and grasped the handle, trying to open it without any success. “Mom it’s locked,” she said, pulling the handle.

   “No kidding,” Heather replied as she tossed the keys to her daughter.

   Jennifer reached up and caught the keys mid-air, all the while giving her mother an odd look, then tried again to open the door. The jostling of keys continued till finally Jennifer found the right one. She then turned the key and unlocked the door.

   As Jennifer opened the door, a loud creak echoed across the threshold and into a tall-ceiling entryway. Heather, holding Jordan’s hand, followed quickly into the old house, out of the sweltering mid-morning heat. Jennifer reached for the light switch and quickly found out that the electric company hadn’t turned the power on yet.

   “Darn, looks like we’ll be looking around in the dark,” she said as she flicked the light switch a few times.

   “I’m sure they’ll be here today,” Heather guessed.

   Although the electricity was off, the high ceilings and stone foundations made the dwelling much cooler than the ninety-plus degrees of the early September mid-morning swelter. They walked through the house, astounded by the architecture but also puzzled by the fact that the antique furnishings were still in place, and the wall paintings were hung as if someone still lived there.

   “Are you sure no one is living here?” Jennifer asked, admiring all furnishings. “This stuff is old.”

   “And expensive,” Heather added. She was in awe of the décor. “I think he could double his money back in just the sale of the antiques.”

   Jennifer moved into the living room. The drapes were drawn, and the room was nearly pitch-black aside from a few strands of light shining out from under them. She walked nervously to the front windows and tugged at the drawstrings to pull the heavy drapes open. As she pulled, the room filled with light, enough to ease the spookiness. Heather ambled into the room, marveling at yet more antiques. One in particular caught her eye. It was an old grandfather clock, which stood against the back wall, opposite the windows.

   “This is nice,” she said, moving closer.

   Jennifer, having now opened the drapes fully, glanced at her mother’s find. “Yes it is—and it’s moving,” she said as she noticed the pendulum swaying back and forth.

   “What!” Heather exclaimed. “How the heck is that possible?” She looked down at the swaying pendulum. “I thought you had to wind these things up or something” She took in the monotonous tick-tock of the clock.

   “Are you sure no one has been in here?” Jennifer was becoming a bit apprehensive.

   “No, no one has been here. Anyway, I have more to do than sit and wonder how ticking clocks work, okay?”

   Jennifer could tell that her mother had a lot on her mind, but from the snappish tone, she knew her mother was also feeling a bit unnerved. “Sorry.” She offered an innocent grin.

   “It’s alright,” Heather smiled, “Now let’s look around the other rooms.”

   Jennifer walked out of the living room. Something about the clock had given her the creeps, and she felt it better to look around other parts of the house—preferably the well-lit parts. Heather, on the other hand, browsed through a few trinkets, which lay dusty and dormant on a shelf on the back wall, still amazed at how all of the furnishings were still in place after so many years.

   Heather’s browsing was cut short by a sudden feeling of uneasiness. She looked around. “Jordan! Jordan, where are you?”

   Jordan was nowhere to be seen. As usual when left unattended, he had wandered off into another part of the house. Heather left the living room and walked into the entryway near the huge staircase. “Jordan! Where are you?” she shouted again, but there was not even a snicker from him.

   Jennifer made her way down from atop the staircase. “He’s not up here,” she said trotting quickly down the stairs, “but he’s here somewhere.”

   Heather walked down the hall calling Jordan’s name. Finally, as she neared the library, she heard his voice, “Uh-huh. Uh-huh.” Oddly, it sounded as if Jordan was talking with someone.

   “Jordan?” Heather strode into the library. She saw Jordan standing near a bookshelf, but as expected, there was no one else. “Jordan! Get over here!” she demanded, “What are you doing?”

   Jordan turned to Heather and smiled with his devilish grin, “Uni!” he replied. “Like uni!”

   “What . . .? Never mind, I don’t have time for charades,” Heather said distractedly, pulling the half-opened curtains of the double window to the sides.

   Jennifer entered the library and was astonished to see the endless shelves of books. “This is mind-blowing!” she blurted out in awe.

   “Yes, and all so very old.” Heather brushed her fingers through the dust on a nearby shelf.

   “I’m sure Mr. John doesn’t know what all he’s bought,” Jennifer said, scanning the thousands of books. She was in heaven. There wasn’t a time in her young life that she didn’t have a book in hand. Jennifer loved to read and could finish an entire book in one sitting. Her eyes glistened with excitement at all the choices in front of her (that is, if her mother would let her borrow one.)

   “What the hell is this?” Heather asked, peeking into a wooden cabinet in the corner of the room.

   Jennifer turned her head and saw her mother reaching into the top of the cabinet. There was something sticking out the side. To her it looked like a handle with which to wind something up.

    “Wow, wish we had power so that we could hear this.” Heather adjusted the arm of the newly-found record player.

   Jennifer quickly walked over and began turning the crank on the side of the cabinet. “Okay, now try it,” she said, watching her mother with amusement.

   Heather put the needle down onto the record, and instantly, the room was filled with music. She stood flabbergasted. How could a 14-year-old in 2010 actually know what it was, never mind how to start a record player? “How the hell did you know to do that?”

   Jennifer looked at her mother, a little petulant—like a standard teenager looks at an adult. “I watch Pawn Stars, it’s not that hard to figure out. Anyway, didn’t you have one of these?”

   Heather glared at her daughter. If looks could kill, then she would have one less mouth to feed. “No I didn’t! Well, yes, I did, but you plugged it into the wall. It wasn’t like this.”

   Jennifer grinned. She knew she had struck a chord, but to her it was all in good fun. “Hey, it’s The Little Rascals!” she said as they listened.

   Heather turned to her daughter, even more astonished, and gave her an odd stare. Jennifer returned it with intensity, “They’re on Hulu.”

   “Okay, whatever,” Heather said as she continued to browse through the shelves.

   Jennifer, also searching through the many books, began to feel anxious. “Would it be alright if I borrowed one of these books?” she asked. “Do you think Mr. John would mind?”

   Heather, still browsing, nodded, “No, he wouldn’t mind. Look for an interesting one. I can bring it back when you’re through.”

   Jennifer’s eyes lit up, “Yes!” she yelled excitedly.

   As Jennifer searched, a book fell to the floor, startling them both. They figured that, with all their shuffling around the book shelves, it must have maneuvered too close to the edge. Jennifer, eyeing the book, reached down to pick it up. She spent a few moments looking it over, then closed it and acknowledged that this was the one.

   “I want to borrow this book,” Jennifer said, grinning from ear to ear.

   “What is it about?” Heather asked, glancing at it.

   “I don’t know. It’s not a book really. I think it’s a sort of diary or something”

   “A diary?”

   “Well that’s what it looks like. It might be interesting to see what happened here long ago.”

   Heather nodded and continued with her inventory. Jennifer placed the book on a coffee table where she would not forget it.

Jordan, it seemed, was always searching for something new. He walked up to the fireplace and gazed at the portrait above it. He grinned and giggled excitedly. “Uni!” he gurgled, pointing at the portrait. But he was ignored by both his mother and sister.

   After taking a mental inventory of the library, Heather proceeded across the hall to the kitchen, dragging Jordan along with her. Jennifer, feeling the urge to explore alone, walked back up the stairs, anxious to look around the other parts of the house.

   Suddenly the outside kitchen door began to rattle, startling Heather. She turned and saw Devon in the window, attempting to unlock the door, but he was having trouble.

   “Dammit!” Heather exclaimed, trying to calm her trembling.

   As Heather stood near the window, visibly shaken, the door opened, and Devon sauntered in, along with his helper Trace. “Hello, hello, hello,” he said with a half-smoked cigarette dangling from his lips. 

   Heather peered at Devon wickedly. “You’re late dammit!”

   Devon’s eyes opened wide as he threw his hands up in the air, “Sorry! It’s a long drive, and I had a helluva time trying to find this place.”

   Irritated, more for being startled than for Devon’s tardiness, Heather returned to browsing, “Whatever. By the way, they still haven’t turned the power on.”

   “Yes they have,” Devon grinned, flicking the light switch on. “See?”

   With the bulb now illuminated, Heather became more annoyed with Devon. “Well, we checked the living room and the study, and the lights didn’t work, okay,” she growled.

   “Calm down,” Devon continued grinning inanely, “you just had to flick the main switch on. I just turned it on before I opened the door. Problem solved.”

   “Great. Now I think it best to change the locks before we do anything else here. This is different from the other houses. There are still a lot of things here, and we need to make sure it’s secure. Mr. Sterling’s orders.”

   Devon made a face but nodded in agreement, “Okay. Will do.” He turned to Trace and instructed him to go back to the truck and retrieve some new locks. “We’ll start with this one here. Had a helluva time trying to open the damn thing.”

   “That’s fine as long as they’re all changed. I don’t want things here falling into someone’s pockets,” Heather said snidely, but regretted the comment as soon as it had left her lips.

   Devon nodded and walked out the door, his grin now faded. Heather sighed. She had known Devon for about three years, and in this time, although lazy, he was trustworthy for the most part. Devon’s checkered past was well-known to all. He wasn’t proud of doing time in Louisiana’s State correctional facility, and it haunted him.

   An hour had passed, and Heather had combed the first floor and parts of the second, but now she returned to the living room, anxious to leave. Jennifer, exhilarated but also growing weary, walked out of the library with her book in hand, ready for a quiet trip back home.

   “Hey Mr. Devon,” Jennifer smiled politely as she passed Devon and Trace near the front door.

   “Hey,” Devon grinned as he continued putting the new lock on the front door.

   “Well, are we ready?” Heather looked at Jennifer while grasping the hand of a tired and agitated Jordan, whose nap was now severely overdue.

   “Sure.” Jennifer waited for her mother to exit the living room.

   As Heather guided a sniffling Jordan from the living room and out the front door, she turned to Devon, “So now that the locks are changed, I think John wants you to see what might need to be fixed around the house if you have time. There’s nothing major that needs to be done at the moment so it’s at your discretion.”

   “Yeah, I got time to look around this afternoon,” Devon replied as he let Jennifer and Heather pass out the door to the driveway.

   “Great,” Heather said smiling, “Then I’ll leave it in your capable hands. He’ll be here tomorrow afternoon to do a walk-through. I’ll be here around three if you want to be here.”

   “Well, if you want to be able to get in the house, you might want these.” Devon held up the new keys.

   Heather looked at Devon with a wide grin, “Thanks.” She walked up to him and grabbed the keys from his hand.

   Devon chuckled, “You three have a safe trip home.”

   “Thanks Mr. Devon, you too,” Jennifer replied as she opened the passenger door of her mother’s car.

   Devon winked at Jennifer playfully, then turned to finish replacing the final lock. Heather, now carrying Jordan, opened the back door of the car and placed him in the child seat. Heather had no problem securing him because, after all the excitement he’d had, Jordan was ready for a nap. With herself strapped in the car, Heather started the engine, waved goodbye to Devon and Trace, then made her way down the long drive and out the gate toward home.

   Devon finished changing the lock and then proceeded to do a walk-through as Mr. Sterling had requested. He first entered the living room, but saw nothing that needed repair, only old dusty antiques, and a musty carpet that could definitely use steam cleaning.

   Hell, this whole house could use a good scrubbing, he thought, seeing the film of dust layering its contents.

   Next Devon, with Trace not far behind, walked into the library. Again he saw nothing particularly wrong with the room—the lights worked, there was no rotten wood, and the paint wasn’t faded—so he thought it best to move on. Trace, on the other hand, began to look in drawers and other spaces to satisfy his curiosity. As he opened one drawer, he was astonished to find a silver flask.

   “Hey. What’s this?” he asked, holding up the flask and shaking it, a smile on his face.

   “Let me see.” Devon took it from Trace. His eyes lit up as he held the flask. “Wow, good find,” Devon said as he looked at Trace.

   “Yeah, shame there’s no alcohol in it,” Trace laughed.

   Trace wasn’t the smartest of helpers, or human beings for that matter. He had seen enough spaghetti westerns to figure out what the flask was used for, but didn’t think beyond television to consider what it was made from.

   “Yes it is,” Devon replied, laughing politely at Trace but not with him.

   Devon raised the flask and inspected it thoroughly. He was surprised that something like this hadn’t been pocketed by someone in all the years the house had been vacant. It was definitely old and, as far as he could tell, it was solid silver.

   Hell, this thing’s probably worth a fortune, he thought. Even just the silver, never mind someone craving antiques.

   Devon’s mind wandered. Something like this could sure pay some bills. Especially that truck payment which was two months behind.

   “Well, what do you think?” Trace asked, “I think it’s cool. Can I keep it?”

   Devon, still gazing at the flask replied instantly, “No! We aren’t allowed to take things off site no matter how obscure. Company policy.”

   “Damn, and I wanted that too,” Trace muttered, then walked out the door.

   Devon’s heart raced. He knew something like this would lift him out of debt easily. His life after incarceration had been hard, but he had done well to get himself back on his feet. Should he throw his well-earned progress into the garbage can for a quick fix? Devon placed the flask back where Trace had found it. Solid silver or pure gold, nothing was worth going back to that hell hole.

   About an hour had passed in the time Devon had roamed the upper two floors. He had sent Trace back to the truck for a few things, but he still hadn’t returned. Slightly irritated, Devon walked to the window to see if Trace was still near the truck, smoking perhaps, but he saw nothing.

   “Shit,” Devon muttered, and stormed through the hallway and to the top of the stairs. “Trace! You in here?” he yelled.

   “Yeah!”

   Devon watched as Trace quickly exited the library and ran up the stairs. “What the hell you doing in there?” He was aggravated.

   “Forgot my cell phone,” Trace replied with a grin, knowing he had taken too much time. “I left it on the table. Sorry about that.”

   Devon shook his head and barked out a few orders. He walked down the stairs and out the back door for a smoke.

   Trace walked into a bedroom, paying no attention to his surroundings. He grasped the silver flask, which was hidden in the back of his trousers and fondled it absentmindedly. He knew no one would miss this trinket. Heck, it was old and worthless, he thought, but I’ll get a good laugh out of it. Even if it’s worth something, John Sterling already has a pile of money. Must be nice, those types of people who don’t do shit to earn their money.

   Trace slipped the flask into the back of his trousers and walked into the bathroom to inspect the plumbing. After a few flushes and seeing no sign of leaks, he moved on. As he walked by the dresser, he noticed a dusty film covering the surface and the mirror. Then something else caught his eye. It was as if someone had scribbled something in the dust with their fingers. Trace stopped in his tracks, both puzzled and curious to see what graffiti someone had created. Wash me probably, he thought to himself with a faint smirk.

   Trace walked up to the dresser and could now see what was written. “Thief?” he said out loud.

   Trace became a bit unsettled as he pondered the origin of the freshly drawn words. It couldn’t have been Devon because he’d have called him out for taking something. Maybe it was the young girl making a joke to tick Devon off, but that seemed unlikely. Nothing really made sense.

   Trace turned away and walked into the hall. Whoever put that there, it didn’t concern him. His only real concern was that the time was ticking closer to four-thirty. Quitting time. And he was definitely ready to leave.

   “Hey! Are we closing up for today?” Trace shouted so Devon could hear him on the ground floor.

   “Yeah, get your stuff!” replied Devon walking out of the kitchen and heading for the stairs. He felt regenerated after a much-needed smoke.

   “Cool,” Trace said, grinning as he walked toward the stairs.

   As Trace reached the top stair, he felt a sudden and forceful shove in his back. It was as if someone had deliberately pushed him. He plummeted down the stairs. Trace hit his head multiple times on the way down, which left him unconscious.

   Devon, walking toward the staircase, saw Trace falling down the stairs and immediately ran to him to see if he was alright.

   “Shit!” Devon was shocked. “Trace?”

   Devon ran up to where Trace lay. Thankfully he was still breathing, but Devon knew there was a possibility that he could have broken his neck.

   Devon retrieved his cell phone from his pocket and called 911, explaining the situation and the address. All he could do was wait for help and hope they would arrive in time.

   About fifteen minutes later, Devon heard sirens. He rushed to the door, opened it, and led the paramedics inside. By this time, Trace had somewhat regained consciousness, but was disoriented and couldn’t move. His vision, although blurred, allowed his eyes to wander around the room, trying to piece together what had happened to him. He looked at the top of the stairs where he could vaguely make out a dark shape. It  resembled a human form and seemed to be looking down at him. He then quickly lost consciousness again.

   “We need to get him out of here,” Janis, one of the paramedics, said to the other with a hint of anxiety in her tone.

   “Sooner the better,” Jason replied, “Let’s secure his neck and then lift him onto the stretcher.”

   After Trace was placed gently on the stretcher and secured in the ambulance, Devon watched them drive away. He had notified Mr. Sterling about the accident while the paramedics worked on him. As far as he could tell, there was no immediate family or girlfriend to contact. Trace was a nomad, he rarely stayed in one place too long, and Devon was amazed that he had stayed the month and a half that he did.

   Devon walked back into the house to gather his things before leaving. As he walked to the kitchen, he noticed something lying on the floor at the base of the stairs.

   “What the hell?” he thought out loud as he peered down at the silver flask lying at the base of the stairs.

   With all the ruckus, the flask had been overlooked by everyone. It lay in the corner, at the base of the stairs. Devon shook his head, picked up the flask, and returned it to its rightful place in the drawer, then walked to the kitchen and left out the back door. He felt he probably needed to go to the hospital to check on Trace, but as bad as he seemed, Devon was truly unconcerned for Trace’s wellbeing, especially now that he knew Trace couldn’t be trusted. To have a thief in his employ would not set well with John Sterling—or anyone else at the firm. Devon also knew that, if anything else were ever taken, all eyes would turn directly to him.

   “Yep, and why wouldn’t they look at me?” Devon said to himself. “Hell, I’d look at me too. It ain’t fair, but fair goes out the window when you get caught.”

   Devon retrieved a cigarette from his pocket as he walked to his truck. He lit the cigarette and inhaled, holding the smoke in for a few seconds longer than normal. Then he slowly exhaled. A few more puffs and his overactive mind seemed to calm considerably.

   “Well hell,” he said, getting into his truck, “guess I need to at least make an appearance.”

    Devon started the truck and drove away. His thoughts were still conflicted, but he thought it best to head to the hospital. He was certain Barbara, Mr. Sterling’s number two, was already en route with insurance information in hand. The last thing this company wanted was a lawsuit, and with the discovery of the flask, Devon needed to tell someone just in case other things turned up missing.

 

Finding History Through 80 Year Old Pages

 

Susie Spindltop's Weekly Letter's 1926-1931

 

For the past year or so, I have spent countless hours browsing through the microfilms of the Sunday editions of the Beaumont Enterprise. My main reason for spending so much time doing this has been to research the life and times of Florence Stratton, and I have determined that most of the “historically accurate” information about her is wrong. I found this out by going through census records, city directories, and yes, her weekly letter, which was published from February 1926 to January 1938. It is interesting to note how much you can learn a lot about the culture and happenings of a society through its gossip column.f3

I figured that if I wanted to learn more about someone then I would have to go to the source, and “Susie Spindletop’s Weekly Letter” was where Florence revealed a few tidbits of information about her private life. So off I went to the Tyrrell Historical Library to copy each issue of those Sunday articles. Currently, I have all the copies from 1926 to 1931. I still need those from 1932 to 1937, which will probably take approximately six months to collect and assimilate.

edhotel1While spending these countless hours reading through the Sunday Enterprise, I found out about other aspects of our history that are equally entertaining. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, after the second Spindletop oil boom, there was an enormous amount of construction taking place in the area. Indeed, most of the buildings standing today are from this time as evidenced when you drive the streets in the neighborhood near the courthouse: you will see many of Beaumont’s old buildings with a date from this era stamped on the upper frontage. (Note: There are many buildings in Port Arthur dated the same way.)6187_384311335014342_945480920_n

9533121351_f53b802117_oIt was interesting to come across articles about the construction of the then-new Edson Hotel circa 1929 and to read that the Phelan Mansion was to be ready by Christmas 1928. The Enterprise is full of Sunday articles highlighting the growth and expansion of Beaumont’s adolescent years.

I have also come to enjoy Dean Tevis’ articles on the SETX farmers of that time. I found mention of one farmer in particular, Martin Block (the great uncle of historian W. T. Block), particularly insightful since I live next door to where his house once stood here in Port Neches.

martin blockEach week brings a new beginning and a time stamp in our history. For instance, do you know that the McFaddin’s land is to be cut in two by a little waterway, to be built in 1928, called the Intercoastal?  How about the new County courthouse’s five-floor jailhouse (1931)? The more you delve into these papers, the more you lose track of time.

During these years, Beaumont was definitely a happening place. And thanks to Spindletop’s second boom, this area would not feel the full brunt of the Great Depression like so many other parts of the United States. SETX was growing and working, even into the mid to late 1930s.

So as you drive around Beaumont, especially near the river, take time to appreciate some of the restored 80-plus-year-old landmarks. They are truly treasures that are worthy of investigation.

 http://www.flickr.com/photos/25032584@N05/sets/72157635822955784/

 

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Dick Dowling Days 2013 Preview

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With the sesquicentennial of the battle of Sabine Pass only a day away, it is interesting to note that Dick Dowling Days turns 50 this year. And boy, what an action-packed series of events are lined up! Dick Dowling Days began as a tribute to honor Lt. Richard W. Dowling and his band of 40-plus Irishmen who, incredibly, repelled an invasion of 5,000 Federals on September 8th, 1863. It also memorializes the fallen Union marines and sailors who perished in the battle.

September 7 and 8 will be the biggest in Dick Dowling Days history with over 350 reenactors, both military and civilian. Numerous cannons and cavalry will be on guard for the planned scenarios. It will also be a great time to maneuver through the camps and get a taste of how life was in the 1860s. Dick Dowling Days is a family affair so kids of all ages are welcome.

Some of the highlights that I’m looking forward to, which are also the usual crowd favorites, are the scenarios:

–       The court martial and execution of Lt. Elijah Allen was a real event, which I only learned about at last year’s Dick Dowling Days. Lt. Allen was tried and convicted in 1864 for deserting his post in High Island and inciting his command to do the same.

 

DSC01406–       Kate Dorman is one lady whom I have come to admire since I first encountered her in April 2012. The feisty Catfish Hotel owner will be well represented at Dick Dowling Days 2013. Her scenario, confronting a Union officer while he tries to confiscate her horse and cart is a must-see.

The main highlight however is the memorial service. Representative James White and author and historian Edward Cotham will speak to honor those who perished in the battle. The Lone Star Pipe band will be on hand, as will the Order of the Confederate Rose, to give the floral tribute. A rifle and artillery salute will follow.

Another highlight of Dick Dowling Days 2013 is Jed Marum. He will be performing on both Saturday and Sunday. Jed is a talented Celtic/folk/Bluegrass musician whose music I believe everyone will enjoy. You can see more of his work at http://www.youtube.com/user/jedmarum .

Admission and parking is free. Parking will be at the Sabine Pass High School with a free bus service to and from the battleground. The gates will open to the public at 9 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.

 

A brief history of the battle:DSC01641

One sultry September day in 1863, a decisive victory was had by a small but well-drilled band of Irish volunteers commanded by Lt. Richard William Dowling. Union forces had planned a surprise attack by using their four gunboats as an advance party to take Fort Griffin and secure a landing site for their 18 transport ships, which carried an invading force of 5,000 men. But the Union’s secret plan quickly unraveled, and Dowling’s men were well aware of the Federal threat before it materialized.

On the afternoon of September 8, 1863, Union forces began their attack with a barrage of artillery fire on the fort. Later, it was intended that the Union gunboat Sachem would make its way up the Louisiana side of the channel in the hope of drawing fire from all of Fort Griffin’s guns while the Clifton, one of the Union’s main ships, would sneak up through the Texas side of the channel in an attempt to take out the fort’s artillery. But Dowling’s gunners immediately disabled the Sachem by sending a shot into her boiler. With the Sachem’s threat dealt with, Dowling turned the guns toward the oncoming Clifton. A shot through the wheelhouse disabled the steering of the Clifton and sent her aground. After a brief onslaught of canon fire, the Clifton surrendered. Seeing the two gunboats taken out so quickly, the invading force opted to retreat rather than to lose more men and guns. In the end Dowling’s men took 350 prisoners and had no casualties. The Union forces lost 50 men, with scores wounded.

DSC01428SCHEDULE of EVENTS

Saturday 9-7-13
9:00 Gates open to the public
10:00 Court Martial & Execution
11:00 150th Anniversary Memorial Ceremony
2:00 Battle: Union Attack & Occupation of Sabine City
3:00 Jed Marum in Concert

Sunday 9-8-13
9:00 Gates open to the public
9:00 Church Service
10:00 Court Martial & Execution
11:00 Jed Marum in Concert
2:00 Battle: Union attack on the Garrison at Sabine City

 

Rediscovering SETX Going Forward

 

My absence from posting weekly blogs these past few months is not without cause. A few of you know I have finished my book, Blood of the Innocent, which is a fictional story that takes place here in Southeast Texas in 1875. I hope to release it in May this year. It is partially historic fiction. I say partially because, due to the nature of the story, I did not want to include actual people from early Beaumont history.

I have also been doing research about the historian, journalist, and author, Florence Stratton (1881–1938). Her contribution to this area is second to none, and I believe she deserves to be honored with a historical marker depicting her achievements. I have therefore started the process. It has been difficult to find accurate information about her in the months since I started this journey (I truly believe Florence likes her secrets), but as of this posting, I believe I have an accurate timeline of her life.

Accuracy resonates with me because I started this blog to share our rich history as precisely as possible, but that is hard to do on a weekly basis. Research needs to done on each subject, but even in-depth research can be wrong when a historic source is incorrect. Understandably, people make mistakes, but I want to provide as accurate an account as I can in my postings.

As my research is ongoing, I constantly discover more and more history from this area that few, including myself, have never heard of. This is what I feel is a priority to include on this blog. I do not call myself a historian. That is a label for people like Bill Quick (whose papers I have been honored to go through these past two Saturdays at the Sam Houston Regional Library), W. T. Block, Judith Linsley, and others who have documented our past.

As this blog goes forward, I want to promote more places, such as houses, museums, etc., by offering access for people to visit and learn about our past. I do have a few people whose history I want to delve into in the future. I will do this as accurately as possible.

I will say this however: my time spent in these places has been nothing less than awesome, and I am enjoying the ride.

Paul

La Maison Beausoleil Museum

 

La Maison BeausoleilLately I have spent every non-working minute doing research for an upcoming project, which I will elaborate on at a later date. This can be very fun and interesting, but spending hours upon hours peering into a computer screen and/or microfilm at the historical library does tend to be tedious and time-consuming. That is why, today, I decided I’d had enough. It was time to take a break. So, with camera in hand, I headed out the door toward the river. 

As I drove down Grigsby Avenue, near the old jail, I noticed that the windows of the old cabin in Port Neches Park were open. Of course, I had to investigate, so I immediately began my exploration.Grigsby's Bluff Jail

Truth be told, I have wanted to tour this small 200-year-old museum for a long time, but I was either unable to make it to the park at the time the volunteer was there or the house was closed up. To be fair, the owners of these obscure little historic homes are not able to have either a paid or unpaid docent available a lot of the time. It is the same with other larger places, such as the Vuylsteke Home, White Haven (Port Arthur), or the smaller T.J. Chambers House (Anahuac). It is not feasible to keep someone there permanently, and volunteers are becoming few and far between, so most times you must call ahead to tour.DSC04233

Le Maison Beausoleil (the House of Beautiful Sunshine) was built around 1810 in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana. It was donated by the descendants of the original owner, Joseph Broussard Dit Beausoleil, and transported via barge to its current site in Port Neches Park. The cabin/museum was restored and opened to the public in 1988 by Les Acadiens du Texas, a club promoting the rich culture and heritage of the Acadien (Cajun) people.

Loom @ La Maison BeausoleilThe first thing that sticks out amongst the many artifacts is the loom and spinning wheel. Other items of interest were the musical instruments, miniature replica houses, and the old family Bible.DSC04208

Overall, Les Acadiens du Texas does a good job of promoting their heritage with this museum. I just hope that it will be open more regularly on weekends for all to enjoy.

DSC04222This is the touring information, but I would definitely call ahead to confirm anyhow: Le Maison Beausoleil is open Saturday and Sunday from 1–5pm. Other times can be arranged for bus tours and special occasions by calling 409-722-3014, 409—722-5650, 409-729-0341, or 409-832-6733. There is no admission charge.