Monday, June 25, 2018

First Baptist Church of Galveston

The First Baptist Church Galveston is the oldest Southern Baptist Church in Texas, having been organized by James Huckins (1807-1863), with nine charter members on February 3, 1840. Their first permanent house of worship was a log cabin sanctuary erected near the corner of 22nd Street and Sealy Avenue (Avenue I) in 1847. The congregation's second building, was built in 1883, and featured seven steeples. Designed by architect Nathaniel Tobey, Jr., it was a mixture of Gothic and Eastern Orthodox styles. It was destroyed in the 1900 storm, and the original log cabin sanctuary was crushed by the falling church building. A replacement building was dedicated in 1905 and constructed with heavy mortar walls and a dome. It was replaced in 1958 by the fourth (and current) church structure.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Harmony Hall Masonic Temple 1884-1928

The Harmony Hall No. 6, the extravagant Scottish Rite Temple was designed by architect Nicholas J. Clayton.

This Masonic Temple was situated at the southeast corner of 21st and Post Office Streets. Its cornerstone was laid in 1882 and completed in 1884.

The leading features of the architecture style were its plaster buttresses and Gothic detail engrafted on classic forms of the Italian renaissance, with the distinctive details of each style modified in a harmonious manner to blend the pleasing features of each. A preponderance of Gothic outlines was maintained in the arched construction, the tracery of the openings, and other salient features of this distinctively Northern European style.

The buildings corner tower was sheared off during the 1900 Storm, and not replaced. Sadly, the building was later destroyed by fire in 1928.

A front page story in The Galveston Daily News on the following day said: “A demon fire licked his way ravenously through the rich furnishings, gutted the building, cracked its wall with fiery breath, and sent flying debris into the streets where thousands of Galvestonians stood helplessly by.”

“Back then, many of the Masons worked downtown and even as the building burned, they were able to save many of the library books and some of the furniture,” said Abbie Hughes, a master Mason and member of the Scottish Rite for 56 years.

“They moved almost everything, even the grandfather clock, from the hall’s first floor to the Kahn & Levy Building directly across the street. Levy, a Mason, stored them until the new building was complete.”

The elaborate Italian marble staircase also was saved, salvaged from the charred remains.

“It was removed piece by piece, cleaned and given a place in our new home,” Wood said.

In fact, the surviving staircase became a centerpiece for the current cathedral, the Art Deco masterpiece designed by Alfred C. Finn.

Gruetzmacher Print Shop on the Strand

The late Frank Heizer sent me the photograph below showing Ritter's Saloon and Cafe (owned by Thomas Ritter, 1848-1903) immediately after the 1900 Galveston Storm. His e-mail got my juices flowing, and I did a little research into the family legend that it was the Gruetzmacher's printing presses that crashed through the ceiling into Ritter's Cafe, killing several customers.

First off, I checked my records for the location of Paul Gruetzmacher's shop, finding it located at 2109 Strand (on the 2nd floor), circa 1896, which was the last confirmed date I have. After that date, Paul is mentioned in the city directories as a printer, but gives no business address. 

The building at 2109 Strand was built for Clara (nee Gruetzmacher) Lang in 1887-1888. Clara was the sister of the printer Paul Gruetzmacher.
I was able to confirm with the Rosenberg Library that Ritter's was also located at 2109 Strand, and not on Mechanic street, as had been stated in at least one report. According to the Sanborn Insurance maps for 1899 Galveston, the address of 2109 Strand was assigned to the second building from 21st street, on the south side. In the photo above, this is the 4-story dark-colored building with the large pile of wreckage in front. The top floors were blown away by the 100-120 mph hurricane winds. This building is still standing, and is the (now) two-story building painted green in the modern photo, below.
To give you an idea of where this building is, it is located across and down the street from The Old Strand Emporium, which has been a fixture on the street for at least the last 35 years.
So, now we know that it may have indeed been Paul Gruetzmacher's printing presses that fell through the ceiling of Ritter's Cafe the afternoon of the storm, resulting in the first fatalities of the deadly hurricane. One first-hand report had called it "a strongly-built brick building, which was thought to be very safe" As the wind increased in velocity, "a blast of wind tore the roof from the building, collapsing the ceiling onto the ground-floor dining room. Desks, chairs and presses from the printing shop on the second floor crashed onto the diners."
One of these days, I will pore through the daily Galveston newspapers just prior to the Storm to see if I can find any mention of Paul Gruetzmacher's shop being open. I think there is a good possibility that the presses on the 2nd floor at 2109 Strand were indeed Paul's.

Johann Friedrich W. Ahrens, Alderman and Cabinetmaker

Johann Friedrich W. Ahrens, was born August 7, 1818 in Schleswig-Holstein. Johann married Bettie Burtner and to this union at least 3 children were born; Wilhelmina, Betty and Ann. He and his family lived at 24-26 East Market Street. [Old style address.] (Marston 1868, p. 17.) He was a cabinetmaker by trade, and served as a City Alderman in 1865 and 1866.

Ahrens immigrated from the Kingdom of Hanover to Galveston in 1845, on board the Hamilton. (Chester William Geue and Ethel Hander Geue, A New Land Beckoned, p. 76).

He was situated in Galveston before 1849, when The Galveston Weekly News had printed his advertisement, "Cabinet Making and Repairing. The subscribers furniture manufactory to be found on the corner of Post Office and 22nd Street, directly opposite Mr. Lurcher's Grocery. He is prepared to execute at short notice, all orders for making, repairing, or cleaning any kind of furniture that may be wanted. He keeps on hand a supply of Cedar, Black Walnut, Magnolia, Mahogany, etc. ready seasoned and prepared for use. His prices will be found very low, and the style of work may be seen by giving him a call." In the 1856-7 Galveston Directory, his advertisement was virtually the same but a different address given on Market Street. By 1860, Census data reveals JFW Ahrens is the foremost furniture manufacturer in Galveston County with $1,692 of Total Value of Furniture Produced. The shop employed two hands, to produce 24 desks, 18 bookcases, and 48 tables. Galveston records show that his business continued as late as 1870 (Texas Furniture, The Cabinetmakers and Their Work, 1840-1880, by Lonn Taylor and David B. Warren, Forward by Miss Ima Hogg, University of Texas Press, Austin and London, (C) 1975, pages 275, 333, and Texas Furniture, Volume Two: The Cabinetmakers and Their Work, 1840–1880; By Lonn Taylor, David B. Warren. pp. 257.)

AN ANTIQUE TEXAS CARVED PINE AND CEDAR WARDROBE, BY GALVESTON CABINETMAKER JOHANN FRIEDRICH AHRENS, THIRD QUARTER 19TH CENTURY, the rectangular top above recess paneled hinged doors with the right door interior centering the manufacturers black stenciled label, "From J.F.W. AHRENS Furniture MANUFACTORY GALVESTON, Tex," opening to an interior enclosing adjustable shelves including one drawer and hand carved garment hooks, over a scalloped skirt rail. Height: 73"" Width: 51 1/4"" Depth: 20 3/8

Ahrens supposedly fought in the Civil War for the 1st Texas Infantry State Troops. I find this service to be doubtful, as he would have been about 43 years-old in 1861, and I think this would have been a little to old to serve in such an active regiment.

Johann Ahrens died December 8, 1870, and was buried in the Old City Cemetery, Galveston.

His wife Bettie (Burtner) Ahrens was born June 27, 1822, in Germany, and died November 27, 1912 (age 92) in Houston, Harris County, Texas. She was buried in the Old City Cemetery, Galveston.

Galveston Fire of 1885

The Galveston fire of 1885, started on Friday, November 13 near the business district. The sheet music to the left celebrating the fire is a song written by Louis Gruetzmacher, with music by Jacob Day.

Cary Cartwright, in his history 'Galveston' writes:

"The fire began at a foundry near 17th and the Strand, and a stiff north wind swept it from rooftop to rooftop.... Flames raged out of control, cutting a four-block-wide swath across the center of the Island-from the Strand, over Broadway, past Avenue O, nearly to the beach. Homeowners raced ahead to save what they could.... In the street, people stumbled about, dazed and bewildered.

"Galveston's first professional fire department was barely a month old and no match for the conflagration. The pressure on its newly installed saltwater system proved insufficient, and bits of shell clogged the nozzles of the firehose. By the time it burned itself out, the fire had consumed forty-two blocks, destroying 568 buildings and homes.... Amazingly, no one died."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kicking Up a Muss in the Irrepressable Melodeon

Yes, indeed, the Melodeon had a bad reputation. The saloon seems to have only been in business for less than two years, as the only period I find mention of the joint is in 1868 and early 1869. It was located on Postoffice, but I have yet to find the exact address. Does anybody know?

Reports of various "events" at the Melodeon made the newspaper police beat as early as April 11, 1868. A unnamed soldier on detachment in Galveston "was arrested and locked up in the jail last night, for kicking up a fuss at the front of the Melodeon. He was intoxicated."

A month later, on May 29th, the newspaper reported a fight at the bar: "John Rich alias Rickaby and Scottie [?] late a hotel runner, had a lively scrimmage in a box at the Melodeon last night. Rickaby was imprisoned."

On September 30th, When Alonzo Chinn and John Davis "were fined respectively $10 and $15 for kicking up a disturbance at the Melodeon last night" the editor of the paper, Willard Richardson, couldn't help but admonish them with, "Expensive fun, gentlemen."

Later that year, on November 5th, the Daily News reported on the 'Fatherly Advice' offered a unnamed miscreant, but I suspect that the young man in question was a local boy of some respectable family. The police chiefs efforts of "moral suasion" suggests to me that a sound beating was inflicted upon the pistol-packing bacchanalian.
"It was yesterday reported to Capt. McCormick, Chief of Police, that a certain young man drew a loaded revolver in the Melodeon on Tuesday night last. It was not seen by any of the police, and he consequently escaped arrest. Chief Mack, however, accosted the young hopeful on the street yesterday, and took it upon himself to give him some fatherly advice. Mack evidently has a high appreciation of the beneficial effects of moral suasion, and so he gave the gay and festive habitue of the Melodeon a moral lecture that we trust will sink into the soil, take root and bring forth the fruits of repentence and reformation.

"From what we can learn about the matter the lecture of Chief Mack was very complete in itself, and it is necessary for us to add to it a peroration of our own; but we improve the occasion to inform the young man referred to that he stands on dangerous ground, and that if he is found in a public place with arms on his person after what has already transpired his pockets will be made to bleed and his tarnished reputation will be further soiled and blasted by his name being published and held up to public censure and scorn."

A week later, on November the 12th, editor Richardson really tore into the Melodeon, probably after having his fill of the constant reports of pie-eyed and pugilisticly inclined patrons. Sadly, though, his post-Civil War racial bias really is rather disquieting.

"The Melodeon.—This 'free-and-easy,' on Postoffice street, is nightly the rendezvous for all the filthy, foul-tongued and hell bound negro harlots in the city, and hardly a day passes that some of these disgusting excrescences upon the body politic are now arraigned before the [court] Recorder to answer the various charges that are preferred against them.

"We presume that the Melodeon is a licensed institution, and that its proprietors have a perfect right under the law to 'run their machine' in any manner they see proper so the laws are not transgressed. But this mingling together of the white and black races on the same floor, as is nightly seen there, is too near social equality for our sanction or justification. We maintain that it should not be tolerated. Similar free shows are run and supported in other cities, but we have never before heard of negro women forming a part of the audience. We regard this portion of the arrangement as a nuisance; are we not right?"

In the next days issue, Richardson again reports the doings at the saloon in his usual succinct manner, that one H. Schulzenger was "charged with being drunk and disorderly at the Melodeon last night. The evidence was insufficient to a conviction, and the case was dismissed without cost." But, he couldn't let the dive-bar off without a darkly humorous poke; "The Melodeon rarely fails to furnish us with an item."

Richardson continues to add his feelings to the November 18th report that "John Lynn was taken to the station and required to give bond for his appearance this morning to answer the charge of kicking up a muss in the irrepressable Melodeon." The next day, Mr. Lynn was fined $5.00 and court costs.

The last report I've found on the Melodeon comes from January 19, 1869 when William McMullen was fined five dollars and court costs for being drunk and disorderly at the Melodeon. Because of the lack of further reports on this dive, I can only guess that the joint was either out-of-business, or simply plying its trade under a new name. Its location on Postoffice Street foretells the infamous brothels and barrooms that lined the street early in the next century. But its exact location is a mystery to me at this time. Perhaps a thorough search of the city directories of those years may provide the locale.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A beer-jerker at the famous Melodeon

Part of the fun in doing these write-ups is the odd bits-and-pieces of history that I stumble across while looking for something else altogether.

A case in point:

H. Barttele, accused of using insulting and abusive language to Mrs. Hyre, a beer-jerker at the famous Melodeon, (a friend at our elbow suggests "infamous," but we are opposed to calling hard names) was discharged, and the case dismissed without costs. [Galveston Daily News, November 15, 1868]

Some things never change, do they?

I did a little further research into the Melodeon, but I honestly didn't expect to find much about the saloon. To my surprise, I found that maybe the bar deserved its disreputable reputation.

It seems that earlier that year, on January 21, 1868, young Mr. James Day had committed suicide by taking morphine. Day, aged 18, was a native of Canada, and a clown and female impersonator [!!] with the Haight & Chambers' Circus. At the time of his death he was employed by the Melodeon Concert Hall in Galveston.

In March of that year it was reported that the circus stock of Haight & Chambers’ Palace Show and Menagerie was sold off by order of the Houston court. All the saddles, harness, tents, assorted livestock, and even the trick horse "Stonewall" (which brought $250) were auctioned off. All told the stock brought just over $2,400.

I have read that Galveston was used as winter quarters for travelling circuses. It could be that this circus was wintering in Houston, and ran out of funds. If anyone knows about this subject, drop me a line.