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.