Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Day - Galveston - 1894


How It Will Be Observed in Galveston--The Church Services.


Orphan Children Made Happy—Needs of the Old Woman's Home—Hospital Patients Will Feast.
Poor gobble-gobble! No longer will he strut in the barnyard singing his monotonous chant. Stripped of his feathers, he lies stuffed in the hot oven of nearly every kitchen in the land, a savory sacrifice to a thanksgiving nation. And the rest of the feast. What boy grown to manhood's estate does not remember the turkey, the chicken, the gravy and cranberry sauce, the celery and olives, the wealth of vegetables, ending with plum pudding, mince and pumpkin pie, fruit, nuts and raisins? And then the dreams that came in the silent watches of the night!

There are those who have not the advantages of the home feast, and it was among the different benevolent institutions that a News reporter strolled yesterday afternoon and evening.


All afternoon wagons and carriages had driven up to the entrance of the home for homeless children on Twenty-ninth and Winnie, leaving good things more than enough for to-day's feast. At the particular moment the visitor from The News approached a clatter of children's voices rent the air. Mrs. Dart had just driven up in a carriage filled with as many little presents as ever Santa Claus loaded in his sleigh on the eve before Christmas. There were dollies, big and little, hoops, jumping jacks, picture books and toys of all kinds, which she passed out to the bright-eyed, excited children who clambered around her carriage. A few feet away the second wagon load of presents from the children of the Third district school at Thirty-first street and avenue L was being unloaded. The two big boys who brought the load had no need for assistants to carry the goods into the house. Everyone, from little tots 3 years old up, wanted to carry something in. The scene reminded this visitor of a lot of Palmer Cox's Brownies attacking a grocery wagon. They were in and under and all around the wagon, and it was fortunate that the horse was a gentle animal, or some of the little Brownies would have been trampled upon.

The two wagon loads contributed by the scholars of this school consisted of two or three hundred cans of vegetables, fruit and sardines, and four sacks of flour, potatoes, coffee, apples, sugar, oranges, grapes. The canned fruit came in like pickle casters at a wedding. The school at Thirty-fifth street and avenue P 1/2 added to the canned assortment. The Bath avenue school sent vegetables and fruit. Miss Warner's kindergarten sent donations of eatables. Some big-hearted unknown sent up a a dozen turkeys. The Farris club sent in $20 in cash. There were other gifts, so many that all can not be enumerated.

The dinner, which will be served to the twenty-five little folks about 2 o'clock today, will be prepared by the ladies of the society. The matron, Mrs. Anna Hughes, will have the virtues of her medicine chest tested to-morrow, from all appearances.


All was expectancy about the Protestant orphans' home when a News reporter peeped into that model of neatness yesterday. The different churches of the city take turs in preparing the Thanksgiving dinner, and this year the ladies of the synagogue will perform that duly. All that the matron, Mrs. Christie, will have to do will be to make the oyster soup. This is the one day in the year on which the children get oyster soup. The dinner will consist of turkey and cranberry sauce, ham, vegetables, cake, etc. The ladies will wait upon the children themselves. There are thirty-six children in the home at present, ranging from 2 to 16 years of age. Mrs. Chrlstie only has one assistant, each child doing some work. Even 4-year-olds are taught to make their own beds.


When the reporter visited Miss Gray, matron of the old woman's home, yesterday at noon, the prospects were not so bright for a big feast as at the two homes for children. There are eight old women at the home, one of whom is 87 and two 78 years of age. The building is small and ten people would crowd the place. Ten or twelve applicants are unable to obtain admission. The late Henry Rosenberg left $30,000 for this home, but it is only available for building, and the association, of which Mrs. Geo. P. Finlay is president, is suffering for cash. Of the eight occupants one, widow of a soldier in the Mexican war, is able to pay $5 of her pension each month. Another is paid for by the Presbyterian church society. The other six are entirely dependent upon charity. A little while ago the cook had to be dispensed with for want of funds and an old lady on crutches does the cooking. A citizen writes to The News about the home as follows:

"I fear that the citizens are not aware of the needs of the old woman's association. Their finances are running very low, and without assistance they will have to give up, which would be a shame. The old women have to do the work, and are all sorely afflicted. Three use canes; one can't walk at all, one is on crutches and others are crippled or suffering with chronic diseases. I was there the other day and actually saw the one on crutches cooking. She was thankful that she was able to do something to show her gratitude. Now if some one would donate so much a year so that the ladies could hire a woman to do all the work it would be a deed of charity. I understand that the population of this city is 45,000. In such a city is it possible that the moneyed men are not going to help the ladies? I care not what business they follow or what denomination of the Christian religion they belong to. I beseech them to deal out their charity lavishly on Thanksgiving day to the old woman's home at 3027 avenue L, corner of Thirty-first and avenue L. Let this be a thanksgiving long to be remembered, even long after every present member has passed to the great beyond. Don't forget that we all are growing old and that the wheel of fortune turns, and some day, when forsaken by sons and daughters, your mothers may be knocking at the old woman's home for admittance. God forbid it is my prayer."


An extra dinner will be served to the patients in St. Mary's Infirmary this noon by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, consisting of turkey and dressing, light pudding, nice soups and the like. There are 105 patients in the hospital, in every stage of illness from nearly every complaint except contagious diseases. Ninety of these are pay patients and fifteen charity patients. The patients for whom the sisters receive a remuneration are marine, county and Santa Fe railroad patients and some twenty-five who are paying individually for the most excellent service they receive. Five or six of the patients are there from old age and expect to remain there until death carries them away.

The News reporter was shown over the hospital by a sister. Everything was spotlessly clean and the different wards showed much attention upon the part of the thirty-five sisters at present in the mother house.


Dr. Gammon, superintendent of the Sealy hospital, was engaged in the rather peculiar occupation of slicing a cat's tail when the reporter called upon him in the laboratory of the medical college yesterday. The cat was dead and the slicing was done in the interest of science, not for a Thanksgiving dinner for the hospital patients. The doctor said that there were ninety-eight patients in the Sealy hospital just at present and they certainly would have a little turkey and cranberry sauce. There are three kinds of diet in the Sealy. Those who have a good, hard working stomach and digestive organs were on house diet and could eat anything from beef broth to a keg of nails. Another class were on soft diet and had to be looked after. The third class were on milk diet, and even pictures of turkeys had to be turned to the wall in their apartments.


Union Thanksgiving services will be held in the First Presbyterian church this morning, beginning at 11 o'clock. Rev. J. W. Lowber will preach the sermon. Other resident clergymen will participate in the services.
Thanksgiving service will be held at Grace church at 11 a. m. According to custom the thank offerings will be distributed between the homes for old women, orphans and homeless children. The pastor requests all his people and all who would like to contribute to send their offerings to the church before 10 o'clock.
Thanksgiving services todasy at the Mount Olive Baptist church on Thirty-sixth and avenue I [Sealy Avenue]. Thanksgiving sermon at 3.30 p. m. by the pastor, Rev. E. M. Wright. At 8 p. m. sermon by Rev R. M. Floyd, D. D., of San Antonio, superintendent of missions for the Baptist general convention, colored, of Texas, assisted by Rev. M. E. Terrell of this city.


The following petition was circulated and signed by those whose names are attached:
Galveston, Tex., Nov. 28.—Thursday, November 29. Thanksgiving day, being a legal holiday, we, the undersigned, agree to close our respective places of business at 12 o'clock m. on that day.
Marx & Blum.
Leon & H. Blum.
J. Rosentfield & Co.
The Galveston dry goods company.
Mayer, Kahn & Freiberg.
Ulhmann, Lewis & Co.
P. J. Willis & Bro.
R. B. Hawley & Co.
Gus Lewy & Co.
J. S. Brown hardware company
Mensing Bros. & Co.
Focke, Wilkens & Lange
Penland & Breath.
Jake Davis & Co.
Gust Heye & Co.
Sass & Cohen.
J. F. Smith & Bro.

All the bnnks in the city will close to-day.
There will be no school to-day. School to-morrow as usual.
The criminal district and the recorder's courts will not sit to-day.
All the local insurance agents will close their offices to-day.
Yesterday Mayor Fly gave orders to Chief of Police Lordan to liberate the eight city prisoners in the county Jail, that they might properly give thanks.

--Article from the Galveston Daily News, Thursday, November 29, 1894

Sunday, October 17, 2010

View of Galveston Harbor, 1874, by William Aiken Walker

View of Galveston Harbor, 1874, by William Aiken Walker

William Aiken Walker (1839–1921) is an American artist who was born to an Irish Protestant father and a mother of South Carolina background in Charleston, South Carolina in 1839. In 1842, when his father died, Walker's mother moved the family to Baltimore, Maryland, where they remained until returning to Charleston in 1848.

In 1861 Walker enlisted in the Confederate army and was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines (1862). After recuperating, he was transferred back to Charleston. After the Civil War, Walker moved to Baltimore, where he produced small paintings of the “Old South” to sell as tourist souvenirs.

He is best known for his paintings depicting the lives of poor black emancipated slaves, especially sharecroppers in the post-Reconstruction American South. He travelled up and down the southern seaboard, selling his paintings locally in towns and cities he visited. He showed his work in galleries, shops and salons along the way, or he would set up his easel on busy street corners and sell his harbor views, portraits and genre scenes to tourists and townies. Walker continued painting until his death on January 3, 1921 in Charleston.

Walker lived and painted in Texas for several years during the 1870s.  He arrived in Galveston in 1874 and spent most of his time there. He painted the harbor from the water, resulting in the expansive "View of Galveston Harbor" (29 X 63 inches). He advertised this large painting in the Galveston Daily News on October 28, 1874.

In 1907, R. D. Bowen of Paris, Texas, gave the painting to the Rosenberg Library after displaying it for years in the office of his Galveston business associate, E. J. Hart.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

T. Ratto & Co., Wholesale Confectioners

A very early and scarce example of a postcard used for business use.

T. Ratto & Co., Wholesale Confectioners
159, 161 & 163 Strand.

Thomas Ratto was born in 1843 in Italy. He emigrated to America at an unknown date, but certainly before 1872.

Thomas married Mary Repetto on August 8 or 15, 1872 in Louisville, Jefferson Co., Kentucky. Mary was born in 1851 in Kentucky. She was the daughter of John and Mary Repetto of Louisville. John, a saloon keeper, was born circa 1822 in Italy, and his wife Mary Repetto was born about 1822 in Italy. They were living in Louisville, Kentucky at the time of the 1860, 1870 and 1880 census.

Thomas Ratto and his first wife Mary had a daughter named Mary Anna Louisa Ratto, who was born May 28, 1873 in Galveston. She died December 10, 1923 in Galveston, and was buried there at Calvary Cemetery. This daughter Mary married, November 6, 1893 in Galveston, Victor Louis Baulard, who was born about 1871 in Galveston, and died January 18, 1941 in Galveston, Texas.

In the Galveston census of 1880 Thomas was listed as a Wholesale Candy Dealer, age 37, and widowed. It is unknown when his wife Mary died.

About one month after the census, Thomas went back to Louisville, Kentucky and married the younger sister of his first wife, Louisa Repetto on July 25, 1880. Louisa was born in 1857 in Kentucky. I would suspect that they went down to Galveston almost immediately after the marriage, so he could resume his business.

Thomas' business was located at 159, 161 and 163 Strand (old style numbering) by 1881, when the postal card was dated and mailed. The Sanborn Insurance map of 1885 shows the location, below, at 161 Strand.

Thomas Ratto and his second wife Louisa had a child, Joseph Ratto, who was born November 19, 1883 in Galveston, and baptized January 20, 1884 in St. Mary's Cathedral, also in Galveston.

In the January 17, 1895 issue of the Cameron Herald (Milam Co., Texas) newspaper, it was reported that "T. Ratto, wholesale dealer of candy and fruits in Galveston failed last week."

While there was subsequent mention of his daughter Anna after this date, I have not been able to trace Thomas and his second wife, nor his child, Joseph, by that marriage. Whether they pulled up stakes and moved elsewhere is unknow, as I haven't been able to find them listed in any 1900 (or later) census returns. Their names did not show up on the 1900 Hurricane list of known dead. A close look at the Galveston City Directories may provide further details of this family.

Friday, October 8, 2010

An Aerial Hotel

The latest thing in hotels is suggested by the ingenious correspondent of the 'Galveston News'. It is to be called the Aerial Sanitarium. It is to be a huge balloon, firmly secured by strong attachments at a proper height. "Galveston," he says, "is within one mile of the most delightful climate in the world, and this climate is directly overhead." To the enormous balloon there is to be attached a frame-work of sufficiently strong wire, fitted up to accomodate one hundred guests. This airy saloon will be reached by a smaller balloon acting as an elevator. When the barometer indicates disturbing weather, the gas can be let off and the whole establishment brought down to solid earth. We can imagine a caravansary of this kind perfectly delightful. Owing to the purity of the air the chambermaids would bloom in perpetual youth; and in such vicinity to the immortal gods every man-waiter would develop into a Gannymede and every table-girl into a Hebe. As for the gentlemanly clerk, what limit would there be to his celestial gifts and graces? And here would the landlord grow solid, impressive, and jovial as Jove himself! So near the moon and stars what more charming place could there be for flirting? And when we call to mind how easily the bores could be thrown over, we feel we need say no more. [The Star (Christchurch, New Zealand), Issue 1776, November 5, 1873, page 3]

The Washington Hotel

The history of Galveston's Washington Hotel (in its various incarnations) now spans well over 150 years. Never was it able to compete with the prestige of the Tremont Hotel, yet it was considerd by most to be in the top tier of island hostelries during the nineteenth century.

The first Washington Hotel seems to have started out as the Caravansary Hotel at the corner of Mechanic (Avenue C) and 21st Street, where the Cotton Exchange building now stands. Howard Barnstone says that it was built "in the building boom of 1838-1839 and lasted with additions and modifications on the same site until it was destroyed in 1877. It possessed something of the charm of an old New England inn...." [Howard Barnstone; The Galveston That Was, 1966, page 47.]

I have not found any further descriptions of the building, and the only drawing I've seen is a 1871 birdseye view of the roof from the backside angle, which doesn't provide much information. I am also unaware of any photographs available of the building.

In November of 1841, the explorer and adventurer Josiah Gregg visited Galveston and noted in his diary that "I was assured the water was 1/2 feet deep upon the site of the hotel at which I stopped (the Caravansary Hotel). Notwithstanding these disadvantages, he found the town to be "handsome though too monotonous in appearance" and seemed destined to be the New York of Texas, "as it is conveniently located...."[Maurice Garland Fulton, editor; Diary & Letters of Josiah Gregg 1840-1847, 1941]

By 1843, the inn was known as Shaw's Hotel, owned by Joshua Clark Shaw, originally from Bath, Maine. When the Galveston Guard met for organization around 1839, the company elected Joshua C. Shaw First Lieutenant. He "was a prominent citizen, a member of the City Council and the proprietor of Shaw's Hotel, afterwards the Old Washington Hotel, which was torn down and removed to make way for the
Cotton Exchange building." [Charles W. Hayes; Galveston: History of the Island and the City, 1974 (1879), Volume 1, page 392-393.]

Joshua Shaw was born circa 1815 and had married Lucy Parker Weston (ca1815-ca1851) of Bangor, Maine, before moving to Galveston around 1837. They had 3 children. Joshua married, soon after the death of his first wife, to Elnina S. Williams in July of 1852 at Galveston. Hayes also states that Shaw was Alderman for the First Ward in 1840. [ibid, page 364.] For the City Council election of March, 1843,
Shaw's Hotel was the polling place for the Second Ward. Shaw was elected Alderman for the Second Ward in that contest, and again in March of 1844. [ibid, page 432-434]

By the middle of 1850, when the Federal Census was taken, Shaw was listed as the proprietor of the Tremont House. "Shaw was for a long time 'mine host' at the old Tremont Hotel, 'the' hotel of Galveston until destroyed by fire, in 1867." [ibid, page 393.]

In a newspaper ad of 1844 Shaw's Hotel touts that "This establishment is now ready to receive Boarders at reduced prices, and the Proprietor flatters himself that the accommodatons and fare are as good as can be had at any house in the city. He pledges himself that no pains shall be spared to make his House pleasant and agreeable to all who may favor him with their company." Board and lodging ran $1.25 per day, $7.00 per week, and $30.00 per month. These prices included a room and three meals. The Tremont House rates were similar, except for the daily rate, which was only $1.00 a day. [Telegraph and Texas Register, Houston, Texas, May 15, 1844.]

Charles Louis Beissner emigrated to Galveston in 1842, leasing the old Planter's House hotel where "it became, under his careful supervision, one of the most popular hostelries in the city." In August of 1845 he "secured a lease on the old Caravansary... changing its name to the Washington Hotel." He remodeled and improved the inn, and it "soon became a favorite hotel and maintained its popularity during the twenty-three years that Mr. Beissner presided over its well-spread board. In 1849 he purchased the property of Colonel John S. Sydnor, and shortly after added the three-story frame edition [sic] that stood on the alley." [Charles W. Hayes; Galveston: History of the Island and the City, 1974 (1879), Volume 1, page 911.]

Beissner had married Helen Heydenreich of Bremen, Germany in 1837, and brought her over in 1844, along with their child. In the 1850 Galveston Census, Charles Beissner (b.1810) was enumerated as Inn Keeper, with his second wife Magdaline (b.1820) and their five children. He was elected as a City Alderman in 1849, and served for three years. He was again elected in 1854 and served until around 1858. "In 1867 Mr. Beissner sold the Washington Hotel to Moses F. Thompson of Houston, and retired from business on an ample fortune, and is now spending the evening of his days in the city of Bremen..." [ibid, page 911-912.]

The first Washington Hotel building was destroyed by fire in 1877, according to Barnstone. [Howard Barnstone; The Galveston That Was, 1966, page 47.] It is unclear to me, until I can access the City Directories for these years, whether the hotel was still in business at the time of the June of 1877 fire.

The second incarnation of the Washington Hotel begins, according to Barnstone, in 1871. Originally known as the Cosmopolitan Hotel, by 1877 it had been renamed the Washington Hotel. Barnstone writes that "perhaps John P. Davie, who built the present building, felt that some of the success of the hostelry would rub off on the new structure if the name were the same." [ibid, page 47.] There is mention of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in May of 1874. [Earle B. Young; Galveston and the Great West, 1997, page 42]

"On the surface an example of very late Galveston Greek Revival, the Washington Hotel is in fact a combination of styles. One first thinks of the eighteenth century, a moment later of Federal and then of the mid-nineteenth century.... Where is the usual Victorian exerberance? There is no suggestion here of the Romantric Revival.

"How did it happen that a building of this size and importance was built in a style of almost fifty years old? Was it the archconservative nature of the architect or owner? Was it the innocence of the designer who thought style stood still? Or, perhaps most likely of all, was it the fulfilled ambition of the owner, who in his poverty-ridden childhood had dreamed of one day living in an establishment as gracious as the mansions of his youth? Whatever the answer, the Washington Hotel cements and reflects the love affair with the Greek Revival seen everywhere in the Galveston vernacular architecture of the time - the houses built by carpenters in what was known as the 'Galveston style.'

"The influence of the Hendley Building is seen in the general composure of the elevations, although the ground floor with its succession of French doors and fanlight windows is a great deal more delicate. Its elegance indeed suggests an egress to a terrace and an elaborate eighteenth-century garden rather than to a cluttered sidewalk.

"The structure of the four-story building is brick, traditionally stuccoed to look like stone, with floor joists supported on the exterior walls and on interior cast-iron columns. The sidewalk canopy, like that of the Hendley Building,  seems an afterthought though it was built with the building. Galveston designers seemed to feel that a canopy was an unimportant or even an invisible detail and they never came to grips with the element, though it plays such a strong role in the appearance of the structure.

"The Washington Hotel never 'made it' as a large important downtown hotel. It had the mighty competiton of the Tremont, the social center and prestige address.

"Mr. Davie died twenty-one years  after the building was completed and willed his property to the Galveston Orphans Home. His heirs seemed to take considerable exception to this civic and philanthropic act and it was not until 1955 that the last of the lawsuits were even filed - this time by a granddaughter who died in the same year. In 1958, sixty-six years after the death of Mr. Davie, the case was finally settled and the building sold." [Howard Barnstone; The Galveston That Was, 1966, page 47, with the address wrongly assigned to
Twenty-second Street and Avenue C.; also, Galveston Tribune, Nov 22, 1958; also, Files of the Stewart Title Company.]

John W. Fisher (b1858) moved to Galveston in 1895, and quickly bought the Washington Hotel. After only one year of management, he sold out and moved on to El Paso.

During the Great Galveston Storm of 1900 there were several stories related to the Washington Hotel. One unidentified survivor said. "At 2 o'clock my wife and I waded into the Washington Hotel. From that time on the wind grew stronger. At 5 o'clock the water was six feet deep in the lower floor of the Washington Hotel. Why, it covered the telephone box in the office." Another story tells of the Blum family arriving "at daylight Sunday morning with nothing on them but shreds. They had lost everything."

"I. Thompson, a young man who was very active in saving life during the night of the storm, became insane because of the awful scenes he witnessed. One evening he retired to his room on the third floor of the Washington Hotel, seemingly sane. Soon afterwards he began to moan, and soon became violent, rushing from one side of his room to the other, and declaring his determination to commit suicide. Employees of the hotel did all they could to pacify the man, and during the night he became more rational and lay down. In the morning it was found that Thompson had wrenched the shutters off his window and leaped out upon an awning and thence to the street. It is believed he ran to the bay and threw himself in, because he was not seen again.' [Paul Lester; The Great Galveston Disaster, 1900, page 204-5.]

Over the course of the twentieth-century, the hotel slid into disrepair, most probably because of the extended lawsuits which clouded the buildings future. In the mid-1960s, Howard Barnstone's important survey of Galveston's architectural heritage shone a light on the Washington Hotel. It was then a fairly seedy boarding house, situated in a depressed downtown area. Yhe hotel was at that time owned by James Brady, a Galveston attorney, who then sold it to Don Welch of Texas City. [Douglas R. Zwiener and Elizabeth Darst; A Guide to Historic Galveston, 1966, page 8.]

In 1980 the Historic American Buildings Survey reports that "Although simple in appearance, the building has double French doors with fanlights on the first floor. The painted letters, 'Washington Hotel' occupies south (front) and west walls between second and third floor windows." No architect was named. [Historic American Buildings Survey, 1980, citing Howard Barnstone's The Galveston That Was, 1966 as their source for information.]

The Washington Hotel Building, 2228 Ship’s Mechanic Row was acquired by Cynthia and George Mitchell in 1982. The four-story hotel, after having withstood the high winds of Hurricane Alicia, was heavily damaged on August 25, 1983 by a fire that swept through the historic downtown area. Witnesses claimed that flames leapt 50 feet into the air as one of the hotel's walls collapsed. The building, which was called a "total loss," was restored by the Mitchell's at a cost of $4 million in 1987. The building is presently managed by Mitchell Historic Properties which are owned by Cynthia and George Mitchell and the Mitchell family.

The Negro waiters in black coats and white aprons on the far left side of the original stereoview above. There is a restaurant noted in the Sanborn map of 1877 that are in the later editions shown as offices. This helps in putting a date on the photograph.

The barber shop is located on the corner with what are to me rather unusual 3 to 4 foot long striped poles mounted at about a 10 degree angle out of 30 inch tall stands announcing a 15 cent shave.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The USS Comal at the Galveston Wharf, September 1900

The 'SS Comal', of the Mallory Steamship Line, was built in 1885 and scrapped in 1935. The ship was 340 feet long with 3 decks, and could carry 3,000 bales of cotton, rooms for 100 first class passengers, and more in steerage class. The Mallory Line (New York & Texas Steamship Co.) was one of the old family-owned passenger lines in the coastwise trade. Utilizing eight ships on this route, the line connected New York with Galveston, Texas with twice-a-week arrivals and departures.

The New York Times of September 12, 1900 reported the safe arrival at Galveston of the steamship 'Comal' on Monday morning [September 10]. "Grave fears as to the vessel's safety have existed since the receipt of the news of the West Indian hurricane."

"On the Mallory wharves is a conglomerated pile of boxcars and boats and cotton wreckage of every description. The Mallory liner 'Comal' arrived there just after the storm, and, thank goodness, the crew had sense enough to stay on board the boat. Dead bodies are in all the wreckage under the wharf just like dead rats." [The Great Galveston Disaster, by Paul Lester, 1900, page 206.]

It seems that the 'Comal' had actually weathered its own hurricane a few days earlier along the northeastern coast of Florida, with some reports saying it was the Galveston Storm, while most experts attributing it as another storm or hurricane altogether.

The building on the left side is unidentified. The 'Comal' may or may not be docked at the Mallory Wharf at the foot of 25th Street, looking west.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Looking West from Ball High School, Galveston, Texas

If you're like me, you have an interest in views of Galveston. I have collected postcards of Galveston for the last ten years or so, especially those postcard views that highlight its turn-of-the-century architecture, be it houses, commercial buildings, or government offices. 

Tonight on eBay a new to me "birdseye view", circa 1909, sold for $32.00. Sadly, not to me! Obviously, it appears to be a particularly scarce postcard for it to sell for so much. I copied the view from the website so I could share until I can find a copy I can afford.

The postcard is entitles "Looking West from Ball High School, Galveston, Texas." I have identified this residence as the Herman Marwitz House, also known as the "Marwitz Castle" or the "Old Castle". Located at 801 22nd Street, it was built between 1890 and 1894. Designed in the Queen Anne style by Marwitz's nephew, the architect Alfred Muller, the three-story mansion was built with bricks over a stone foundation.
Allen Stross, photographer, 1967

This wonderfully designed Victorian mansion sports a distinctive facade and a set of sweeping double-entry stairs. "The exterior elements include an elliptical arcaded porch with a circular corner pavilion and a monumental curving stair ascending to the entrance level. The second story bay is delineated by stone balusters with rich Victorian detail throughout. The structure is capped by gabled and mansard roofs." [Historic American Buildings Survey Habs-TX 2105]

Construction of the house nearly wiped out Marwitz's checkbook, despite his position as president of the Street Railway Company and the Galveston Savings Bank. After completion, he decided that rather then live there, he would lease it out to the Goldbeck College of Music. Marwitz died in 1899, and by the time of the 1900 Storm, the residence served as a women's boardinghouse.

Upon review of the Sanborn Insurance map of 1912, the building is listed as a boarding house, at the southwest corner of Ball and 22nd, directly across the street from Eaton Chapel. That is one fine boarding house. Its use eventually devolved to that of a whorehouse before being bought by the First Baptist Church in 1931. It was demolished in 1969.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Site of F. W. Medlenka Bakery and St. Mary's Infirmary

A few years ago I was able to acquire a large (12 x 17 cm.) photograph entitled "Site of the F. W. Medlenka Bakery" taken soon after the Galveston Storm of 1900. The photographer, who stamped his name on the embossed mount, was [Victor J.] Biron of Galveston. The photograph certainly shows its age, with fading and surface scratches, but is still an interesting view, historically.

Ferdinand Medlenka was born in Galveston around October of 1861 to Antone Medlenka, a tailor from Bohemia. He married in Galveston on November 15, 1882 Emma Nelson, born May 27, 1860 in Galveston, and died in Houston May 7, 1919. She was the daughter of Pete Nelson, of Denmark, and Willa Meda, of Germany.

Ferdinand and Emma had five children, as listed in the June, 1900 Federal Census. Of their two daughters, Irene and Oralee, I know nothing further. Their three sons were Ferdinand Jr., Joseph, and Flore. Fred Medlenka was born December 31, 1883 and died in June of 1963. Joseph was born July 29, 1887 and died in February of 1967 in Houston. Flore W. was born April 13, 1888 in Galveston, and died January 14, 1967 in Houston. None of the family are found in the lists of the known dead from the 1900 Storm, but they could have been among the unidentified and unlisted.

Victor John Biron was born May 22, 1862 in New Orleans, Louisiana and died January 17, 1937 in Galveston. He married in Galveston on January 7, 1886 Pauline E. Boussion, born about 1860 in Louisiana.

The Medlenka Bakery was located at 609 Church (or Avenue F) near 6th Street. According to the Sanborn Insurance map of 1899, the bakery was a one story building that fronted the property, and was attached to the two story house slightly set back from the unpaved street. At the front of the bakery was a large awning or shed, typical of Galveston storefronts, that reached to the street. The bake house and oven were in separate buildings out back along the alley, nearby the stables which possibly held a delivery wagon, along with the horses.

The Medlenka Bakery is in the map,with the star just above it. The photograph by Biron was taken roughly from the southeast corner (see arrow) towards the northwest. In the photo you can see the ruins of the house and bakery, as well as in the distance, the rear of St. Mary's Infirmary. The dormitory of the Sisters of Mercy was located along 7th Street, attached to the octagonal Chapel, both seen in the 1899 Sanborn map.

An extreme close-up of St. Mary's shows how the dormitory, along with the building facing Post Office Street housing the laundry and the Colored Ward, are completely destroyed. All that remains is the octagonal Chapel, with the connecting wall, on the right, completely missing. Among the debris being inspected by the two men in the foreground (and their trusty mule), appears to be railroad tracks, though I could be mistaken. If they are indeed rails, then they may have come from the nearby Galveston and Western Railroad along 9th Street.

This undated drawing of St. Mary's showa the buldings from the corner of Avenue D (Market) and 7th Street. The Sister's Residence and childrens Dormitory is the building on the left with the cupola.

This handcolored postcard dates from around 1900-1910 and was published by Charles Daferner, the Galveston bookdealer and stationer. This view was taken from the corner of Avenue D (Market) and 8th Street. Note the horse and buggy and the early model automobile on 8th Street, and the streetcar or trolley tracks along Market.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fred Brown is dead. Well, maybe not.

Here's another interesting article from the Weimar Mercury.

Fred Brown, the ex-livery stable man of our city, who was reported as having been killed in the Galveston storm of Sept. 8, was in our city last Friday, looking quite lively for a dead man. Fred was caught in that storm all right enough. He was struck on the back of the neck—a large scar is visible where the timber struck him—rendered unconscious, and while in that condition was found, identified, pronounced dead and thrown with a lot of dead bodies to be carried out and dumped in the gulf. Very fortunately, he regained consciousness ere they dumped him into the waters of the gulf, and he lost no time in separating himself from his grewsome [sic] company. Fred says he has enough of Galveston to last him for a lifetime.

Weimar Mercury, October 13, 1900, page 5.

Well, I can certainly understand Fred's reticence about visiting Galveston again after his near-untimely demise. He was not alone in deciding to quit Galveston for good. One reason for the wide range in estimated deaths due to the 1900 Storm was the unknown number of citizens who left Galveston after the storm and never returned. The (human) bean-counters could only estimate the death-toll because of so many unidentified folks who left the island for good after the hurricane.

A Handsome Residence Comes and Goes

Recently I found this series of articles on the Weimar Mercury website. I thought it was worth posting here as it pertains to a Galveston resident, T. H. James, and the architect, Nicholas J. Clayton.

Is the One Now Being Erected for Col. T. H. James.

A MERCURY reporter last Monday morning wended his way to the Western portion of the city, where the commodious residence of Col. T. H. James is in course of construction. Arriving there, we were kindly received by Mr. Jake Wirtz, one of the contractors, who showed us the plans and specifications of the buildings. This handsome residence was designed by N. J. Clayton & Co., the Galveston architects, and they certainly had an eye to beauty and comfort while engaged in the work. Messrs. Wirtz Bros. of Columbus are the contractors, and as they and their work are already so well known in this county, we will only add that a glance at their work will convince any one that they are masters of their profession. Both are Colorado county boys.

The building will be two stories in height. The first floor has a 70 foot gallery on the east. This leads into a reception hall. On the west is a 15x21 foot parlor. Two bed-rooms 15x18, on the south, next come into view. Then on the north is an octagon-shaped dinning-room. In the rear of the first floor are the trunk room, kitchen and gallery, with a neat porch surmounted by a hood on the extreme west.
The second floor has a 70 foot gallery in front, with five bed-rooms, a bath-room, a sewing-room, and a gallery on the south. Small closets are conveniently situated throughout the building. In length the building will be 70 feet from east to west, and 42 from north to south. The roof will be a marvel of mechanical beauty and finish.
Bay windows are to be placed upstairs and downstairs, on both the east and north sides.
The contractors inform us that, with fair weather, the building will be finished about the 15th of December. There are at present only five men at work, but the force will be doubled next week.
Weimar Mercury, October 31, 1891


The fine residence of Col. T. H. James--so much admired by all--was entirely destroyed by fire Tuesday night. The building was erected several months ago by Wirtz Bros. of Columbus at a cost of about $7,000, and was a very beautiful and substantial two-story structure. The fire originated in the second story from a defective flue, and was under good headway when discovered about 83:0 [8:30] o’clock. At the first alarm the fire boys responded, and did all in their power, but the flames had gained too much headway, and as no water could be procured in the neighborhood, the steamer was rendered powerless. Every effort was then made to save the furniture and good on the first floor, with the results that almost everything was removed to a place of safety ere the walls fell in. In about thirty minutes the handsome residence was a glowing bed of embers. The residence of Mr. John H. Fisher would have been destroyed but for the heroic efforts of the firement and citizens, The James’ residence was occupied by Mrs. Falwell and Miss Blanche Rogers, Mr. and Mrs. James being absent on a visit to relatives in Virginia. The loss is estimated at $9,000; Insurance $5,000. The fluthes were observed at Ammansville, Pecan, Schulenburg and other points. Mr. James and family have the sympathy of the community in their misfortune.
Weimar Mercury, July 15, 1893

Mr. Jake Wirtz of Columbus, who was one of the firm of contractors that built the James residence, claims tht the fire was not the result of a defective flue, as the kitchen flue was one of the most substantial ever put up, and he says he stands ready to prove the assertion. If some one removed the cap to the flue, then the fire may have originated from the flue, otherwise not.
Weimar Mercury August 5, 1893

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

City Hall and Farmers Market, circa 1900 to 1908

Speaking of City Hall, here are two postcard views of the City Hall and Farmers Market, shown from the south. Both views offer the same building from the same perspective, but there are slight variances, other than the artistic freedoms taken in the drawn and colored version.

The first postcard (above, click to enlarge) was based on a real photograph and printed in the rotograph method. This postcard is from my personal collection, and is undated, but circa 1900. Note on the third level that the offices extend back only a short ways, well under half the length of the building.

The second postcard (below, click to enlarge) is a hand-drafted drawing and printed in color. The card is also from my collection, and is postmarked 1908. A close look at the third floor show the offices now extend almost all the way to the end of the building.

Howard Barnstone, in "The Galveston That Was", states, "It was once a fine example of the French Renaissance.... [T]he ground floor base is a highly rusticated firm foundation on which sits a myriad of columns, statues and architectural paraphernalia ranging from fourteenth-century English windows to sixteenth-century Italian balustrades and eighteenth-century American pilasters and garlands. Springing from the east and west corners of the south elevation were minaretlike round bays (oriels) rather precariously hung and crowned with mansard tile roofs and open fleches. The central tower had an open Palladian-motif pass-through below the clock."

"The building was three stories high," Barnstone continues, "with the farmers' market occupying the ground floor; the other two floors were city offices. The north portico, with its eight Ionic columns and decorated frieze, made an imposing sight. The grand stairways on the east and west sides made the building look even larger."

Photo of damaged City Hall after the 1900 Storm

"In the hurricane of 1900 the building , though severely damaged, was used as a refuge for the victims." Barnstone closes with a description of the building as it existed, circa 1965. "Architecturally, the building has been completely ruined since. The third story and tower have been removed and, where there had been statuary and other architectural motifs, signs designating the north section as the police department, and the south section as the central fire station have been installed."

If someone has a picture they can share of the City Hall building in its final indignity, I would gladly add it to this article. Thank you.

Galveston Island Birdseye View Pre-1890

This pre-1890 birdseye view of Galveston was taken from the roof of the second Tremont Hotel (1872-1928) at the corner of Tremont (23rd) and Avenue F (Church Street). The photographer was probably Paul H. Naschke and his camera was aimed to the northeast, with Grain Elevator 'A' at the foot of 14th Street and Wharf in the background. The Texas History Center of the Rosenberg Library has a similar photo credited to Naschke from the same viewpoint and dated circa 1890s. But there are enough differences between the two photos to date this version as an earlier view.

Shown here in this close-up is the side view of the old City Hall that was situated in the middle of 20th Street between Mechanic and Market streets. Visible is the distinctive clock tower which was lost in the 1900 Storm, along with the 3rd story offices with 6 windows on the western side. At an unknown later date the 3rd floor seems to have been expanded to at least double the length seen here. The Rosenberg's Naschke photo, mentioned above, had at least 12 windows on the 3rd floor.

The 1888 building was designed by the architect Alfred Muller, who declared the building his "masterpiece". The general contractor was Frank Jones, calling it one of the most elaborate and intricate he had ever constructed. The building was three stories high, with a farmers market on the ground floor and city offices on the 2nd and 3rd levels. The clock tower rose 108 feet from the base to the clock. Above the clock was a pinnacle 30 feet high.

Seen in this close-up is the Island City Savings Bank Building. Sadly, I have not been able to find anything about this building; its architect, its date of construction, or even its location. If anyone knows anything about the building, please let me know. At one point, Morris Lasker was President of the bank. He hired Nicholas J. Clayton to build the Romanesque Lasker House in 1889, so perhaps Lasker commissioned Clayton to design the bank building also.