The Omaha and South Texas Land Company
In the City Directory, 1892-1893 an advertisement names the directors of the Omaha and South Texas Land Company for that year:
C. S. Montgomery, Omaha, Neb., Vice-President
Philip Potter, Omaha, Neb., Sec'y
D. D. Cooley, Treasurer and General Manager
And on the opposite side of the advertisement are more directors:
W. J. Connery, Boston, Mass.
F. E. Clarke, Lawrence, Mass.
G. B. Hengen, Engineer in charge
John Austin had obtained the two leagues from the Mexican government in 1824. He died of cholera in 1833, and his wife inherited the land.* The following year, after her marriage to T. F. L. Parrott, she settled the estate by ceding to John Austin's father the upper or western league. But the father died of cholera in 1834, and his portion then went to his next son and heir, William T. Austin.
In 1836, the Allen Brothers enter the picture, seeking to buy land for their proposed town of Houston. Elizabeth E. Parrott and her husband then sold the lower league and William T. Austin likewise disposed of his upper league, both to A. C. and J. K. Allen.
By 1838 the Allens had paid the remainder of their $5,000 obligation to the Parrotts and the town of Houston was a reality. However, in 1839, the Allens ran into financial difficulties. They were forced by sheriff's order (for debt) to sell 600 acres (at approximately $1.00 an acre) of the upper league to Thomas William Ward. Gradually the whole of the upper league slipped from joint ownership with the lower league that had become Houston.
In 1891, when Carter's agents were negotiating, most of the tract originally known as the upper league was owned by Mrs. Sarah Brashear, widow of I. W. Brashear, who had acquired the land in 1872. The Allens had paid $1.00 an acre in 1836; Carter's company paid $45 an acre a little over fifty years later.
The tract was 75 feet above sea level and 23 feet above the level of downtown Houston. The name Houston Heights then was a natural title and gave confidence to people hunting a healthful location. It is a matter of history that during the terrible yellow fever epidemics that periodically struck Houston, many people fled to the Heights and camped out until the siege subsided. The West Montgomery Road that ran through the woods was well traveled.
The sale of lots in the Heights did not begin until 1892. A few of the early residents recall that the panic of 1893 hurt development and made some prospective buyers fearful about the purchase of real estate at that time. However, there are too many pamphlets and view books printed around 1893 and 1894, with actual photographs of industries and concrete evidence of real estate development, to permit any doubt about the almost stupendous beginning of the Heights.
Other associates had joined Mr. Carter and Mr. Cooley. C. A. McKinney, N. L. Mills, and John A. Milroy linked their names with the first two members of the land company to make up what might be called "the first five citizens" directly responsible for the development of the Heights. Only Mr. Mills of the group seems early to have severed direct connection with the Heights when he left to resume his real estate business in Houston. However, his short stay was commemorated with music in his honor. Clifford Grunewald composed "Houston Heights Polka dedicated to My Friend, Col. N. L. Mills, Superintendent of Real estate, Omaha and South Texas Land Company" and published the sheet music in 1893 in Houston. The cover had an elaborate drawing of "Hotel" which seems to be essentially the ground plan of the Company's real hotel, but with enough added spires and towers to make it look like a castle on the Rhine.
Houston Heights is possibly the only old addition near Houston where the streets were laid out to vary only six degrees from true north and south. Mr. Cooley was chiefly responsible for planning the Boulevard and that street remains his great memorial. It is the oldest street in the vicinity of Houston which has needed no change in 65 years to widen its service area nor enhance its beauty, with its original esplanade in the middle and one-way thoroughfare on each side.
It is doubtful that in this part of the Gulf Coast country any other street has received as much notice for its natural beauty and its fortunate landscaping. Time and again the Boulevard scores the leading picture in the Sunday magazine section of Houston newspapers. One article deals with "then and now" centered about the fact that most of the pine trees have vanished. Another showed springtime blossoming of the "willow oaks" that "some old-timers called . . . pin oaks. "
The latest article, by Sigman Byrd (Houston Chronicle, May 10, 1955) paid homage to "The Most Beautiful Street in Old Houston or the New" and showed the Boulevard resplendent in its glory of new street lights.
Long ago when ostrich feathers (the bigger the better) and feather boas, and long skirts with frills, and soutache braid and lacy jabots for trimming, and new collars built up on wire supports, made m'lady something truly wonderful to behold, why Sunday promenading (in carriage or on high heels) along the Boulevard was Houston's original concept of a Fifth Avenue's Easter Parade.
Then on April 29, 1893, records show a deed from the Omaha and South Texas Land Company to the Houston Heights Street Railway Company setting out the right-of-way for the single track on either side of the esplanade, the east side turning on Boulevard to run west on 19th Avenue to Railroad Street, then south on Railroad to 17th Avenue and back to the west side of the esplanade on Boulevard.
The first motorman of the first street car to the Heights was Mr. Frank Wisnoski who remembers when the cars sometimes went out Railroad Street on the railroad tracks to the industries around 25th Avenue. Mr. Wisnoski says that often a boxcar would be left on the spur track of the railroad and thus hold up the street car. The company finally changed the route so that the cars turned down Ashland from 19th to 17th and avoided any use of the railroad tracks. A shuttle then was added to the service to run out to the industries.
Mention here should be made of Sam Danna, who for years was the best loved man on the Heights line. Sam went to work in 1907 and old-timers can remember how as children they would pass up others and wait for Sam Danna's car. The people of the Heights paid compliment to their favorite when the Houston Press ran a popularity contest for street car conductors. Coupons for votes were cut from the newspapers. Fifty conductors entered the race. In the back of the Nineteenth Avenue Drug Store, Sam's managers spent hours cutting out the coupons, and every child in the Heights was scouring the neighborhood for extra papers. On February 1, 1913, Sam Danna won, with 959,480 votes to his credit.
Houston Heights Hotel
They opened the entire ground floor of the west wing for a dance hall. Mrs. Lottie Peacock remembers very "elegant" affairs being given there. The first floor of the east wing was the dining room. Parlors were on the second floor. In the spring of 1899 all rooms were rented for the summer and business seemed particularly promising for the Kennedy family. Miss Kennedy remembers only keen disappointment then, when Mr. Carter announced that he was thinking of selling. Actually he leased the hotel to Doctors Thornton and Davis. (This was the first time that any old settler had linked these two names with the change of the hotel to a medical center. Later P. V. Myers substantiated this statement.)
Miss Kennedy remembers that some of the soldiers, recruits for the Spanish-American War, in tent encampments around 4th and Boulevard, often came to the hotel for breakfast and dinner. One officer roomed and boarded there. 0. M. Carter lived there, as did Mr. Stanley, who managed the water works. Dr. Fuller and his wife, and a Miss Yolland, a nurse, lived at the hotel. Miss Kennedy says that board and room ran about $3.50 per week, with a high rate of $5.00 for the best rooms.
Usually the program was mediocre, if not really poor. However, on occasion an unusual circumstance gave the place a good show. Mrs. McBride remembers that the National Band of Mexico played at the Heights Opera House about 1897, and the crowds were impressive because the music was worthwhile.
During Mayor Barker's term of office, the saloons were driven out when the Heights was voted dry on September 25, 1912. The Heights already had half a dozen saloons and the residents wanted these removed from the vicinity of their homes. The matter was never a question of Pros and Antis. The electioneering, Mayor Barker recalls, was all carried on at night, because that was the only time that anybody could spare for the business. It was all kept free of politics and remained to the end a matter of homeowners protecting their neighborhoods from disturbing influences.
The dry law in the Heights is still enforced. And the question of boundaries affected by the law comes more frequently to the Heights Library for solution than any other purely local inquiry. -Here are the boundaries as quoted by Mayor Barker to the Heights Library:
The Railroad Station
Before 1913 the Heights station seemingly was just a building by the side of the road, on 7th and Allston. The Suburbanite on April 18, 1913, gave the following article with the headline as is:
In answer to an inquiry regarding the history of this station, the following information. was received from M. R. Cring, Assistant to President, M. K. and T. Lines, St. Louis:
Before that time residents who were near enough to the trolley line could get electric lights from the power of the street car service. But, Miss Helen Milroy remembers, every time the car passed, the lights dimmed.
26th and Ashland
SOUTH TEXAS COTTON OIL COMPANY
Please remember that we deliver ice without extra cost to you ALL WINTER ... ANYBODY can sell ice cheap in SUMMERTIME and then sell their mules, discharge their workmen, and let you whistle for ice in wintertime.
DON'T patronize the irresponsible wagons ...
Homes and First Settlers
Mr. and Mrs. D. D. Cooley, with their three little boys, Denton, Arthur, and Ralph, moved in when the building was only partially finished. Arthur Cooley remembers hearing his mother tell of keeping the children upstairs because of prowling wolves before the neighborhood was built up.
A block from the Cooleys, also on Heights Boulevard, C. A. McKinney built his home. Each of the Carter associates in turn erected a fine house on the east side of the Boulevard. The reason for choosing that side was the fact that only on the east side of the esplanade did the street have shell surfacing. The only home of any of the group that was sold was the N. L. Mills house, between 15th and 16th on the Boulevard, which about 1894 became the home of Nelson A. Baker. After 1901 the house belonged to the H. A. Paine family, and then after 1908 for about thirty years was the home of the W. A. McNeill family, long prominent in Heights history. John A. Milroy at first resided at 16th and Harvard, and before 1898 moved his family to the home at 1102 Boulevard which he had bought from H. F. McGregor. The home is still owned by Mr. Milroy's daughter, Helen.
All of these old homes had the popular cupola of the period and the gabled roof to top off the elegant decoration. The Mills home was possibly the most pretentious, highly decorative with its intricate "gingerbread" fretwork. One pictures lace curtains, the tea cozy, and the tray for calling cards as setting the tone for early Boulevard society.
Only Carter of the group at first made no home for himself, but after his second marriage in 1920, he lived in the big house at 1316 Boulevard. That home in 1893 is pictured in a view book as the residence of William Shannon, a real estate agent. Shannon himself seems to have left behind an aura of great elegance. One early settler says that Mr. Shannon's real estate office was truly a grand reception room. The caller presented his card and was formally received (or discouraged) and without the card had little chance of any notice. The Shannon home was built of the finest lumber and with the best possible cabinet work. But by 1894 the Shannon family had left the Heights and the family of the Rev. Benjamin A. Rogers occupied the home. The house later became known to old-timers as the Tempest home, due to the fact that Mrs. Tempest, a prominent woman in the Heights and a daughter of the Rev. and Mrs. B. A. Rogers, lived there. In 1907, for a time, it was leased to Purdy Sanitarium. It seems likely that this house, which after 1920 finally became known as the Carter home, was first erected in connection with Carter interests, although there is no proof of any relationship between Shannon and Carter.
William Peacock, from New York, had been persuaded by Mr. Carter to come to Texas in 1893. With his bride, Mr. Peacock planned a home at 16th and Harvard and later moved the house to 1401 Boulevard. In 1955, Mrs. Lottie Peacock, now a widow, is probably the oldest resident who has continuously lived on Heights Boulevard. Her home was the second built on the west side of the esplanade.
The first was the home of John L. Garwood, located on the southwest corner of 16th. It is quite probable that the house was built by Carter. At any rate, the Garwood family left the Heights about 1897.
From 1894 until 1898, John T. Boyle and his father were proprietors of the famous Hutchins House in Houston. 0.M. Carter had boarded there. John T. Boyle also engaged in the real estate business. This mutual interest sealed a friendship between the two men, and usually Carter led his friends to the Heights. In 1898, therefore, the Boyle family moved into the vacated Garwood home. Except for a short period away from the Heights, this family remained for years prominent in Heights affairs.
Factories and Business Development
Just north, across the street from the Electric Company, on 25th and Railroad and running back to Lawrence, was the A. J. Wheeler Furniture Company, which according to The City of Houston, 1893, had capital "$100,000, capacity 600 chamber suites per month, in addition to other lines of furniture." Other than this entry in a book, no further evidence was discovered of actual production.
This one-story extensive plant apparently changed its first purpose because it later manufactured compo-board, and compo-board in turn made history for the Heights. The product is said to have been the first compressed wall board made in the United States. The factory sent out by the thousands small sample blocks of its product, mailed through the Houston Heights Post Office, with a $0.02 stamp on each postcard sample. This big boost to cancellations for the Heights Post Office caused officials to make inquiry and then to determine to divert "all this business" to the downtown office. That effort failed. Then the authorities tried to change the name of the post office. It was humiliating that such a bulk of business should be credited to the new post office station. But 0. M. Carter was personally acquainted with President William McKinley and the matter was taken to the White House and settled to the satisfaction of the Heights Post Office.
This all happened before the end of 1897, Mrs. Irene McBride is authority for the details, and she resigned as postmaster in that year. In 1955, Mrs. McBride is still living and active as one of Houston Heights' oldest and best-loved citizens.
After the compo-board experiment, the building at 25th and Railroad housed its most successful venture, the Pickle Factory. After two fires and many vicissitudes, a part of the old plant still remains, and on the site today is a venetian blind industry.
A block south of the Houston General Electric Company and the original furniture company's building stood a planing mill, across the street from where Helms School is now located. Here on the sidetrack of the railroad that Carter had switched out on the street that is now called Nicholson, material could conveniently be assembled and shipped. The sawmill took care of the immense amount of lumber from trees felled in laying out streets. Its capacity was 20,000 feet a day, and many homes in the Heights were built from lumber prepared in the neighborhood.
If the homes needed brick, that, too, was handy. On the corner of 4th and Yale, on the railroad (which does not turn off Yale until it reaches 6th) was located the Houston Brick and Tile Company "in full operation" in 1893, with a capital stock of $30,000.
According to The City of Houston ... 1893, the Houston Car Company (called the Car Works) had "capital of $400,000 and capacity of 28 cars a day." No real evidence could be found that the car works actually turned out any cars [Harris County Mortgage Records, vol. 23, p. 233, give deed of trust.] But the photograph of the building shows an imposing plant. Even before Carter sold his steam railroad and his street car interests (about 1895) this building had gradually slipped out of the picture of transportation interests in the Heights.
A mattress factory with $30,000 invested was built on 22nd and Lawrence. This building, too, was diverted from its first purpose and converted into the Oriental Textile Mill. The mill proper took up the large block between 22nd and 23rd and between Lawrence and North Shepherd. The company built cottages on the block directly north of the plant for its employees, and the unit came to be known as the Textile Village. A spur of the railroad ran over from what is now known as Nicholson Street to accommodate the mill. B. J. Platt for years was superintendent of the plant that turned out a product which looked like long rolls of carpeting and which was used for pressing cotton seed oil. The plant's capacity was about 50 rolls a day, varying in price from $200 to $400 a roll.
The textile was woven from hair. Old residents of the Heights have handed down the story that in the beginning much of the hair was obtained from China when pigtails were being discarded. But certain it is that camel's hair in time came to be the staple used in production. Only within the last few years did the Textile Mill discontinue operation.
Farther out, on 26th and Railroad, was located the South Texas Cotton Oil Company. According to F. G. Brashear, who went to work there in 1907, the plant operated as the Roberts Cotton Oil Company. It was built around 1900, possibly earlier. A recorded deed shows that Roberts sold out on July 7, 1910, for $30,000 cash and three notes of $10,000 each, to the South Texas Cotton Oil Company. W. A. Sherman, who had been secretary of the Roberts Cotton Oil Company, then became president of the new firm.
There was an earlier cotton seed oil mill on 6th Street "in course of construction" in 1893, which was known as the Consumers Oil Mill, now called the Houston Oil Mill, and in 1955 a subsidiary of Swift and Company. The original company's capital was $500,000 (*The Heights Library a number of years ago came into possession of some excellent photos of early industries taken about 1901 and including pictures of the Hotel, the Car Works, the Houston General Electric Company, the Planing Mill, and the Consumers Oil Mill).
Stores and Small Business Enterprises
John L. Garwood, who lived on the southwest corner of 16th and Boulevard, followed the McBrides with a dry goods and grocery store, located on the southeast corner of 19th and Ashland. Garwood was also the first marshal, serving one term. In 1899 he is not listed in the City Directory.
Miss Nellie Kennedy, who helped to operate Carter's hotel from 1898 to 1899, remembers that William Backus had a store across from the hotel, possibly in the building vacated by Garwood. Backus is there in 1899, the year City Directory fails to list Garwood.
Mrs. Lottie Peacock is authority that her husband, William Peacock, built a small business house near the corner of 19th and Ashland and rented it to a Chinaman for a Chinese laundry. She says that the business lasted several years until about 1896.
The first substantial merchandise business that left behind a long record of service was the A. J. Myers store, opened on August 12, 1902, on the southeast corner of 9th and Yale. For years Myers Store, wholesale and retail, groceries and feed department, including a meat market, covered the whole territory of the Heights. Later, stores in different localities drew neighborhood trade. Wimberly's on 7th, set back from the Boulevard, was for a long time the gathering place for that section of the Heights. S. J. Wimberly (known to old timers as Spot Wimberly) was for years tax collector, and people paid their taxes at the store on 7th until the Fire Station and City Hall was built in 1914. Odd about payment of those taxes: before Wimberly G. W. Wilson was Tax Assessor and Collector and people paid at the Wilson home at 7 and a half Oxford or had Mr. Wilson call to collect.
Stores played a great part in building the community, especially those around the center called "the Heights." After 1900 there were at that location, in addition to the Nineteenth Avenue Drug Store on the southeast corner of 19th and Ashland, McDonald's Grocery Store, Lewis's Grocery, Ernest Long's Store, and Trautwein's Meat Market.
One early customer remembers that Trautwein's Market was particularly clean. It had the freshly scrubbed look that one associates with a Dutch kitchen. A big sign on the wall was significant: "If you spit on the floor at home, spit on the floor here. We want you to feel at home." The atmosphere in the store was likewise as homey as in a kitchen. The average child then was simple in the sense of being unaware of the clever sayings that today make him wise at an early age. Then he would say in a wheedling voice, "Mr. Trautwein gimme a weenie?" And Mr. Trautwein, grumbling, but well aware that the youngster would understand, would hand down a weiner as if it were an apple.
The Trautwein family and the McDonald family lived over their business houses, but many stores had halls on the second floors. The Presbyterian Church for a time held services over Frank Johnson's drug store, and the Baptist Temple started over the Lewis store. Moreover, Cooley School's two classrooms occupied the upstairs of these same two stores when Cooley was remodeled into a larger building in 1906. Then, too, the first medical center (as such) was located in the top story of the same drug store. Fred Dexter's Department Store, on 17th and Rutland, lent its second story for meetings. Later still, Whiteside's Store on 18th and Ashland also contributed in this way when Fraternal Hall burned and made necessary some other community center.
The G. A. Maack family were active in the social and civic life of the Heights after 1900. They had the Heights Meat Market at 346 West 19th. Their old ad appears in the advertising section of the Houston Heights Charter, and after their routine announcement they add "Green Ground Bone for Chickens."
F. F. Ibsch, on 22nd and Yale had a grocery and general merchandise store listed in the City Directory 1908-1909. In 1912, Mr. and Mrs. Dave Kaplan leased the Ibsch store for two years. In 1914 the Kaplans purchased the property across the street from Ibsch and built their own business house with living quarters above the store.
Today Kaplan's and Ben Hur Department Store is located on, the original plot of ground, and is one of the very few early stores that has continued in business. It is still owned and operated by the Dave Kaplan family.
R. T. Mumme, at 13th and Rutland, is entered in the phone book in 1911. H. P. Guinn and Son, at 112 West 8th, ran big advertisements in the Suburbanite around 1912.
One odd custom that has died out was the daily visitation from the grocery store. Every morning the grocery man (and nobody said grocer man) came to the back door, not because that door was his proper place but because he followed that custom. Perhaps because the lady of the house in the morning would be in the kitchen. At any rate, he got the list for the day and later delivered the groceries. Nobody shopped for groceries, and only the children were chased to the store for what their mother forgot to order. One time a little girl had climbed up on the roof of the barn and was afraid to look down, much less to come down. She simply stayed on the roof yelling. The worried mother waited for the grocery man, had the ladder ready, and the good Samaritan fixed everything. The grocery man even got kids down off the roof.
The Heights A Real Estate Proposition
One of them never moved to the Heights, but acquired interest in Heights property through other negotiations, as in the securities involved in Carter's street car transactions with H. F. MacGregor. One or two of them engaged in other business and made real estate merely their investment consideration. The early Suburbanite mentions house after house built by some of these men who had faith in the Heights. The history of the Heights then is a history of land.
Besides the original group of men associated with the Omaha and in this story of real estate were: William Shannon, Nelson A. Baker, William Peacock, Eden L. Coombs, P. M. Granberry, John T. Boyle, Wm. A. Wilson, D. Barker, and W. A. McNeill.