Drop Down MenusCSS Drop Down MenuPure CSS Dropdown Menu

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Richmond Is 175 Years Old

In May 1837 the new Republic of Texas awarded a municipal charter to Richmond, Texas.  A few months later in the same year, Congress designated Richmond as the seat of government for newly formed Fort Bend County.  If you do the math, you'll note that Richmond and Fort Bend County are 175-years old this year.

Richmond's start came in 1822 when a party of scouts led by William Little made their way up the Brazos.  They built a fort in the 'big bend' of the river.  Eventually, members of Stephen F. Austin's colony settled the area.  By the time the Revolution came it was a prominent settlement.  Here is a link to The Handbook of Texas if you want to read more.

I've spent a lot of time at another good Web site, Portal to Texas History, which contains many historic photos and documents.  Here is the first mention of Richmond, Texas in a newspaper - look near the top of the middle column.  It appeared in the Telegraph and Texas Register published in Columbia on April 4, 1837. I've included the following clip if you have trouble finding it.

Robert Eden Handy and William Lusk had operated a store in Brazoria.  This ad publicized their relocation from Brazoria to the new town of Richmond.

Once they had settled in Richmond, Handy and Lusk started wheeling and dealing. They and other entrepreneurs began selling real estate in the new town. This is ad appeared in the Telegraph & Texas Register, published in Houston on Saturday, August 5, 1837.  See the top of the middle column. Notice the paper had also relocated to another potential boom town in the Republic.

I've posted this clip in case you have trouble finding the second ad.

Much of what you see in Fort Bend County today started a mere 175 years ago.

A Short Betty Jenkins Story

I had the opportunity a few years ago to hear several women talk about life in Sugar Land back in the old days.  Betty Jenkins was one of them.  I'll edit her part of the video and post it in the future, but I thought I'd provide a preview with a short, funny tale she told that day.

As her obituary said, the came to Sugar Land in the late '40s when she married Bud Jenkins.  She said one of the first times she went into the old drug store, one of the clerks (a town character) told her she was beautiful.

As she and Bud walked out the door, she discretely pointed at the guy and whispered, "He said I was beautiful."

Her husband Bud said, "Aw, don't pay any attention to him.  He says that to every woman who walks in here."

Here are a couple of photos of the old drug store -- the one that stood in front of the refinery until 1952.

Sometime around 1910
Sometime in the '30s

Vintage Baseball at the George Ranch Historical Park

On July 4th I went to the George Ranch Historical Park to video a baseball game played according to rules established in 1860.  The teams were the Houston Babies and the Katy Combine.  

I don't know if there's a back story on the Combine, but I do know the Babies are named after the first professional team in Houston.  According to Bill McCurdy, Houston baseball historian, Houston was a founding member of the Texas League in 1888.  They were the last team formed and easy pickings for more able opponents.  Local media referred to them derisively as, 'the Babies."  The name stuck for a while, but after a succession of different names, they eventually became known as the Buffs in the early 20th century.

Everyone will remember that Independence Day in Fort Bend County was pretty steamy, but the 'cranks' (the 1860-era term for fans) and players out at the Park enjoyed some old-time baseball.

Here's a 9-minute video of the double-header, which the Babies swept 14-7 & 12-2.  (Click on the photo.)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sadie Lorfing IS 100 Years Old!

I want to thank Roger Howard (DHS '63) for notifying me about this big event.  Sadie Lorfing, mother of Faye Lorfing Booth (DHS '63), was 100-years old in June.  Congratulations, Mrs. Lorfing!

Mrs. Lorfing's son Carlton is a graduate of Missouri City High School.  (I'm not sure which year.)  Her husband Fritz Lorfing was the foreman at Frost Ranch for many years.

Mrs. Lorfing worked in the cafeteria at Missouri City's school for many years.  I'm not sure whether MC had just one cafeteria, like Sugar Land did in the old days, or if they had separate cafeterias for their high school and elementary school.  Regardless, I wanted to find a picture of her during those days, but I'm sorry to say I couldn't find one.  Here are two good ones from the celebration.  That's her daughter Faye also in the second picture.

Recent Deaths of Three Old-Time Sugar Landers

I want to thank Judy Harrington Diamond (SLHS '59) for sending me death notices for two residents of old Sugar Land.  I didn't know either of them.  The first is Pat Kelton (SLHS '55).  Here is a link to an obituary.  Here are two photos from the '55 Gator yearbook.

The second person is Clarence Roberts (SLHS '32).  I had no idea such an early graduate of Sugar Land High School was still living.  Once he left Sugar Land, he didn't come back too often (I surmise).  He led a very interesting life.  Here's an obituary.

C. F. “Prex” Roberts
COL (retired, Corps of Engineers) Clarence Francis Roberts, Legion of Merit recipient, died in El Paso, TX on July 7, 2012.  Born in Jasper, TX in 1915 to Om Seale and Clarence Francis Roberts, “Prex” (as he was known to all) graduated from Sugar Land High School (Valedictorian) in 1932 and Texas A&M University (Distinguished Military Graduate) in 1936 with a BS in Electrical Engineering.  In 1936, he married his high school sweetheart, June Smith.  They enjoyed adventures and traveled throughout the nation and the world due to his varied military assignments.

Prior to receiving his Regular Army Commission in 1947, COL Roberts served as an electrical engineer with Texas Electric Company (Fort Worth, TX) and Houston Lighting and Power.

During WWII, COL Roberts served in the Rainbow Division; he commanded an Engineer Construction Battalion in Korea, 1952 – 1953; and was assigned to Oakland Army Base during the Vietnam War.

Other assignments during his 32 years of service included Fourth Army Engineer, Fort Sam Houston, TX (1962 – 1965); Officer in Charge, Peru Project Inter American Geodetic Survey (1959 – 1962), Lima, Peru; Director of Engineering, Fort Sill, OK (1955 – 1959) and Fort Hood, TX (1965 – 1968); and Construction Management Officer, US Army Forces Far East, Camp Zama, Japan (1953 – 1955).  

During these assignments, COL Roberts was active in community and church activities.  Upon retirement in 1968, he worked as faculty at Central Texas College and as a project engineer on the Fort Hood Total Solar Project at the American Technological University, Killeen, TX.  He also did volunteer work for the American Red Cross at Darnall Army Hospital and the VITA tax assistance program.  COL Roberts was a scratch golfer, winning many tournaments, taught himself to sail and then built a 15-foot sailboat, and excelled at bridge, chess, crossword and word jumble puzzles, gardening and enjoying his homebrew.

COL Roberts was a Registered Professional Engineer, Texas, and a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and the Society of American Military Engineers.

Preceded in death by his father, mother, wife and sister, Kathryn Roberts Young, COL Roberts is survived by his children, Jon Brent (Maria), Pocatello, ID, and Robin Anne, El Paso, TX, and granddaughter, Evelyn Roberts Ward, Houston, TX.

The family would like to thank the nursing, support and administrative staff of Monte Vista at Coronado for all the loving care they provided COL Roberts over these many years.  He always said he was “A-Okay” thanks to their professionalism and dedication to his needs.  Additionally, we thank Hospice El Paso and Envision Hospice for their assistance.

Donations in his name to the Former Students Association, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX are welcomed.

Interment will follow a private ceremony to be held at a later date at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio, TX.
I reviewed the '29 Sugar Land telephone directory (which is posted on this blog) and saw a listing for C. F. Roberts, who must have been his father.

The final person I want to mention here is Betty Jenkins.  There's an obituary below.  I will have another post about her in a few weeks, but I wanted to send my deepest sympathy to her daughters Belinda and Betty Ann.  The Jenkins family were our neighbors during the '50s and good friends to the Kelly family to this day.

Betty Jean Stowers Jenkins
    July 27, 1929 - July 21, 2012
    Sugar Land, Texas

Betty Jean Stowers Jenkins passed away in her home, Saturday, July 21st, after a long illness. She went peacefully, surrounded by her loving family and caretaker. Betty was born July 27th, 1929 in Houston and had lived in Sugar Land since the late 1940's. She was preceded in death by her mother, Mary; her husband, C. H. "Bud" Jenkins; her daughter, Darlene and her husband, Alan Scott, and her daughter, Denise Walla. Betty is survived by her daughters, Belinda Faison and husband, Mickey, Betty Ann Williams and husband, Windell; six grandchildren and four, soon to be, five, great-grandchildren.

Betty was a nurse who worked at the old Laura Eldridge Hospital, the Sugar Land Hospital, and for several prominent doctors in the Texas Medical Center. She was compassionate, loving, caring, stubborn, opinionated, resilient, and always willing to give of herself. Betty loved her family, her friends, and traveling. She visited her daughter, Betty Ann, in Germany and England, her daughter, Denise, in Tasmania, and traveled with her friends, Betty Fulton and Roger Guinn all over the world.

There will be a private interment at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Rosenberg on Wednesday. In lieu of flowers the family requests donations to the Rosie Theis-Turner Recovery Fund. Rosie is a FBISD teacher battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma. She is the daughter of Emily Neil Miller, and the grand-daughter of Jack and Jimi Neil. Checks may be sent to Rosie Theis-Turner Recovery Fund care of Jill Cope, 1515 Tillman, Richmond, TX 77476, or for more information http://hope4rose.webs.com. Words of condolence may be left for the Jenkin's family at www.davisgreenlawnfh.com.

Arrangements are under the direction of Davis-Greenlawn Funeral Home, 3900 B.F. Terry Blvd., Rosenberg, Texas, 77471. 281-341-8800.

Fort Bend Jaybirds Defeat Richmond Tigers 11 - 0

Roughly a year ago I saw an old episode of "The Eyes of Texas," Ray Miller's program about Texas on KPRC-TV.  It ran for many years with Ron Stone taking over Miller's role as host after Miller retired.

The episode I saw included a 3 or 4-minute segment filmed in the mid-1960s about a family-owned ballpark in Richmond.  Bill Worrell was the narrator.  As the video showed game action and people in the stands, Worrell talked about pitching in a summer game against a local Richmond team.  (Worrell pitched for U of H at the time.)

I cannot find this episode on the Internet, so I asked Lou Payton if he knew anything about this Richmond team and family-owned park.  He said the team was called the Richmond Tigers, and the owners of the park were the Cuevas family.  He said the Tigers were a predominately Hispanic team, but they had black and white players, too.  He played for them for a few years after playing for the Jaybirds in the early '50s.  

The Cuevas family would bring teams from Mexico to play local teams.  If I recall correctly, Worrell mentioned this fact, too.

Among Lou's Jaybird archive is this account of a Jaybird - Tigers game played in the summer of '50 or '52, I can't pin the date down exactly.

As you can see from the clipping, the Jaybirds and their pitcher, Walter Deakin, were really clicking that day, winning a one-hitter by the score of 11 - 0.  Since the report was filed from Rosenberg, I assume they played the game at the Jaybird's park, which stood near the old County Fair Grounds just off Highway-90A near the current site of the Fiesta supermarket.  Real old-timers will remember the HL&P building stood in the same general vicinity, too.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Muddy Roads Before 1927 When Two Lanes of Hwy-90A Were Paved

I saw a picture recently of a Model T bogged in mud on Houston's South Main St. in 1915, somewhere near what was then called Rice Institute.  It reminded me of a paragraph in Bob Armstrong's book,  "Sugar Land, Texas and The Imperial Sugar Company."  Here's the paragraph printed on page 87.

... an isolated community of 1,200 people in those days of less than reliable transportation, needed to be self-sufficient.  Until 1927 brought at least a semblance of paved roads, Sugar Land was, to a considerable extent, an isolated community.  Citizens could travel the twenty-eight miles to Houston or the seven miles to Richmond in a passenger coach often attached to a freight train; travel by buggy was slow but sure; and the automobiles of the 1920s often had difficulties with the roads available at the time.  Sugar Land was connected to Houston by a narrow, high-centered two-lane road made of crushed shell and it was generally passable if a bit rough by today's standards.  Going the other way to Richmond was seven miles of dirt road, rough but passable in dry weather.  However, during wet weather it could be slick and doubtful or muddy and more doubtful, made passable only by local entrepreneurial farmers who waited by the deep mud holes with mule teams and hand lettered signs quoting the $.25 price for being pulled through.  Many of the Model T drivers would plunge in, get bogged down and signal for help.  It could

Model T bogged down on South Main St. near Rice University in 1915
(Photo from Rice History Corner blog)
happen several times to a driver determined to complete the trip.  In Sugar Land, contemplating a trip to Richmond during the wet weather, a driver could call the telephone operator, who kept posted on such matters, to ask about the condition of the road, often to be told, "You can make it if you've got a pocket full of quarters."

I wish there were a photo of a farmer equipped with mules and hand-lettered sign.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Tragic Story of Minnie Florea

I found the following story in "You Meet Such Interesting People" (1989) by Bess Whitehead Scott, a pioneering Houston newspaper reporter. Scott recounts one of her first newspaper stories written when she was a cub reporter for The Houston Post in 1915. It's unbelievably tragic. Here is her account of it:

…[my] love for my work, a “nose for news,” and circumstances combined to bring to me the most incredible true-life feature story of my long career and one any reporter would consider a bonanza beyond price. It also brought me my first byline.

It was a full-page story of the tragic ordeal of Minnie Florea, a sixteen-year-old girl who saw her mother, father, two sisters, and a brother perish in the great tidal wave disaster that hit Galveston Island on August 15, 1915.

Briefly, John C. Florea, editor and publisher of the Richmond Coaster, and his family and other relatives were vacationing at Surfside on Galveston Bay near Velasco when storm warnings were issued. False reports regarding the force and direction of the storm persuaded some of the group, including the Florea family, to discount the danger and to wait too long to leave the area. They took refuge in a lighthouse, along with others, twenty-three in all, including three lifeguards. Of the twenty-three, only Minnie and the lifeguards survived.

As the lighthouse crumbled under the waves and wind, Minnie saw her father and small sisters' lifeboat capsize, her brother dive into oil-coated water and never rise again, her sister carried out to sea, and her mother turn loose of rafters, saying she wanted to join her husband.

“I held to whatever I could grab,” Minnie told me three weeks afterward, “a life belt, planks from the lighthouse wreck, the lid of a cedar chest, and many times just nothing. I could not give up. All my family had gone to heaven. The Bible says a suicide will not go to heaven, so I could not suicide (sic). I had to pray and hold on.”

Hold on she did, for thirty-three hours, never knowing whether she was being borne out to sea or shoreward, her face almost a solid blister. Finally, she felt flotsam and sand under her feet. But even when she knew she was near the shore, her paralyzed legs would not function. She finally, crawled to a lighted house, far on the east beach. There she was taken in, warmed, and fed, and found that the lifeguards had been carried by the waves to the same refuge.

… Minnie Florea was “adopted” by the Texas Press Association meeting in convention in June, 1916 in El Paso. The resolution, adopted unanimously, preserved in the minutes of the convention, is a classic of the flowery but sincere nomenclature of seventy years ago. The Association helped her enter Rice Institute. In time, she graduated and became a teacher …

Much later, as the sixtieth anniversary of the destructive storm surge of 1915 approached I wrote Minnie, then living in retirement with her husband of many years, asking for an interview by telephone and a letter for a follow-up story on her ordeal. She answered:

Do forgive me when I tell you I could not deliberately open Pandora’s Box and bring back to consciousness my loss of so long ago. An occasional nightmare still throws me into an emotional upset. Aside from that sealed off part of my life, I have been so normal, fortunate and happy, there isn’t any further story. I hope you understand because your interest is really appreciated.

The Oyster Creek Ghost by John Allwright

This story comes from Fort Bend County Ghost Stories II by John Allwright (1990).  The author was a native of Fort Bend County and a published local historian.  He died in 2005. Here’s an obituary.

I haven't changed any of his story, but I'm sure he's referring to Oyster Creek when he says 'lake.'  Oddly enough, I think I have photos of the diving structure.  Here they are.

Note the wooden tower in front of the tree.  I assume the camera is located on Dam #1, or Cook's Dam as some people referred to it.

The tower has been floated out into the Creek.  I believe the camera is looking northwest.  If I'm correct, Constellation Energy Park (where the Skeeters play) is on the land at the right.

The swimming parties in Allwright's story must have looked something like this.
“Oyster Creek Ghost”
When we were in high school, we used to go see some girls in Sugar Land. They took us swimming in a lake back of where Nalco Chemical is located. There was just a dirt trail leading up to the lake. Some evenings when we went to Sugar Land, we would go to the general store and buy everything to make a picnic lunch. The second summer that we went to Sugar Land swimming, someone built a frame structure on the bank of the lake. We would climb up the structure and jump off in the lake.

The swimming lake was on Imperial Sugar property. There was no Highway 6. The dirt trail was the other side of farm foreman Schumann’s house. The Harlem prison buildings and Harlem prison farm land joined the Sugar Land farm land. This was during the period of 1928 through 1932.

A convict escaped from Harlem prison #1. He was making his way through the Sugar Land property. The convict saw the wooden structure and climbed to the top to look toward the prison to see if the guards and dogs were on his trail. He saw no one any place, so he relaxed and rested on the top of the diving structure which was on the very edge of the lake.

The convict slipped and fell in the water. He could not swim so he drowned. The convict’s ghost stayed at the diving structure. Every month on the date he drowned you could see his ghost jumping from the diving structure. Needless to say, this eliminated our swimming and picnicking at the lake.

Sugarland - Colonel Cunningham's Plantation

I found the following excerpt in Jesse A. Ziegler's book, Wave of the Gulf, published in 1938.  I wish I had photos of Cunningham's home, which stood on the north side of Guenther Street adjacent to Oyster Creek.  I have the following undated picture (probably taken around 1908) which shows what must have been the 'backyard' of his home.  It stood out of view on the left.  (Highway-90A crosses the Creek on the right.) There's a large, panoramic picture hanging in the Sugar Land Museum, which shows the area.  Unfortunately, trees hide much of the site.  

Yes, Ziegler misspelled Sugar Land, but he provides a good summary of early Sugar Land history.  Although he published his book in 1938, his account must date from the time Cunningham owned Sugar Land, i.e. before 1908.  I believe Ziegler was a regular visitor at Cunningham's plantation.

“Sugarland – Colonel Cunningham’s Plantation”

This fine plantation and sugar refinery, now owned by Colonel E. H. Cunningham, is a combination of five plantations, namely: Kyle and Terry, Thatcher, Brebard and Borden – twelve thousand five hundred acres, six thousand five hundred of which are in cultivation, cane and corn principally, but also sorghum, alfalfa, and truck gardens. Williams, Brown and Belknap, part of the Alcorn and part of the William Stafford, are the original grants on which this plantation is located. John M. Williams owned the place in 1828, having the league located then. In 1840 S. M. Swinson brought several schooner loads of cane up the Brazos River to plant on his farm, but concluding not to do so, sold the cane to Williams, which he planted on his place, and made sugar with a horse mill, shipping it down the Brazos and finding a market for it at Galveston. Kyle and Terry bought the property in 1853 and put up a sugar house. Kyle died in 1862, and Colonel Frank Terry was killed in the Civil War in 1861. The property was then divided between the Kyle and Terry heirs, and soon after James Freeman bought 1,600 acres from the heirs of Colonel Terry. The entire property then remaining was purchased from the heirs by Colonel Cunningham, who had everything remodeled and added a great amount of machinery, the expenses altogether amounting to about one million and a half dollars. Included in this was a sugar refinery and paper mill, the former being the finest in the south.

Colonel Cunningham is a native of Arkansas, and came to Bexar County, Texas, in 1856, and went into the stock business on Martinas Creek, and was very successful, but the Civil War nearly broke him up. When the clash came between the North and South in 1861, Colonel Cunningham organized and commanded a famous company of western men called “Mustang Greys,” who were incorporated with Hood’s 4th Texas Brigade.

… Besides his plantation of “Sugarland,” Colonel Cunningham has 700 acres leased of the Cartwright place, seven miles below. The Colonel also built a little over fourteen miles of railroad, called the “Sugarland Road,” connecting with the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe at Duke, and the International at Arcola, running down Oyster Creek through all the main sugar lands. At his plantation the Colonel has a store, post office, etc. It is situated in Fort Bend County on the Southern Pacific Railroad, eight miles east of Richmond, and “Sugarland” is one of the stations.

Colonel Cunningham married Miss Narcissa Brahan, daughter of R. W. Brahan of Mississippi. Their children are Edward Brahan, Eva Lock, Susie Dismukes, Thomas Brahan, and Narcissa Haywood, all living, two married. Thomas married in San Antonio, Miss Maxwell, now dead. Edward Brahan married Miss McEachin of Richmond, Texas.

The Red Barn Cafe

I saw a recent conversation on Facebook in which Albert Henry asked if anyone remembered The Red Barn Cafe.  I remember it well.  I also have a few pictures of it.  I've posted very early photos of Sugar Land's commercial district, which show the two separate buildings which were joined to make the cafe.  I don't know the date when this occurred, but I think it was before WWI.  

Maybe someone can help me with this, but I think the cafe was known at various times as Pike's Cafe, the Imperial Coffee Shoppe, the Crown Cafe, and possibly the R&R Cafe.  Some of these may have been informal names, or possibly the names of other establishments.  

Here's an undated photo of the building when it was known as the R&R Cafe.  I presume this was before it was known as The Red Barn Cafe.

Here's a photo of the same building when it was known as The Red Barn Cafe.

(Update) I received the following note from Judy Harrington Diamond (SLHS '59):

Thanks for posting the photo of the Red Barn Cafe. I have such good memories of it. 

In high school, my first "real job" was as part time cashier in the cafe and clerk in Bill (Sweetpea) Gandy's Justice of the Peace office, which was in one end of the building. I ate many wonderful meals and felt very important, meeting all the handsome highway patrolmen and collecting fines from local lawbreakers. Most were ticketed for speeding on Hwy 90. 

The most memorable was when a patrolman brought my Daddy into the office!  He was returning from an afternoon of socializing with some buddies and didn't take kindly to being stopped, so the officer "hauled him in!"  Of course, JUDGE Gandy waived Daddy's fine in lieu of months of ribbing. I was very amused also, but had the good sense, for once, to keep quiet about it.  
Maybe Travis Gandy or one of his siblings can supply some information.  His father ran the cafe for a time.

Court Brothers Store in Missouri City

I rarely find memorabilia from Missouri City, but I received this undated photo of the Court Brothers Store in Missouri City. (My best guess at the date is the late '20s or early '30s.) Unfortunately, the original photo isn't very clear, but you can see the store sold general merchandise (hardware), plus cigars, sandwiches, and other items I can't make out.  Somebody in the store was a notary public.

The Court family (or someone else) lived above the store.  Note the clothes drying on the porch on the 2nd floor.

You can also see the Cangelosi store on the left, which sold groceries, meat, and other items I can't make out.