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Saturday, February 22, 2014

A History of Sugarland Industries - Part 1

Jackie James (SLHS '57) sent me a note recently saying she's enjoyed recent photos relating to the Sugarland Industries.  Her father was President of the Industries, as it was known to most old timers, so she has a natural interest in its role in the story of Sugar Land.  Imperial Sugar was the town's show piece, so many people, especially new residents, are unaware of the important role the Industries played in Sugar Land's history. A walk through the history of the Industries may be helpful to readers of this blog.

Part 1 starts with early corporate history and the inter-relationship of the Industries and Imperial.  Part 2 will cover subsequent developments through the 1970s when the Industries ceased to exist. Part 3 will describe the various businesses operated as subsidiaries under the Industries umbrella over the years.  

Most of my information comes from Bob Armstrong's book, "Sugar Land, Texas and The Imperial Sugar Company."  If you have an avid interest in our local history, his book is well worth reading. Copies are available at the Sugar Land Museum.

We'll start at the beginning of the last century.  The Cunningham Plantation and the adjoining estate known as the Ellis Plantation, or Sartartia, were in dire financial trouble.  Both were bankrupt and run by boards of receivers by 1905.  The primary debt holder for both properties was Lincoln Trust & Title Company of St. Louis, Missouri.  Its President was A. A. B. Woerheide, who took a very active interest in troubled loans Lincoln had made in our part of Texas.  As primary debt holder he led the search for suitable candidates to take over the Ellis and Cunningham Plantations and enable him to remove them from Lincoln's bad loan list.

Woerheide first met W. T. Eldridge roughly a decade earlier in Eagle Lake, when he helped Eldridge and his partner W. E. Dunovant organize the Cane Belt Railroad and their extensive (and very profitable) farming and ranching enterprise at Bonus.  Eventually, Woerheide met I. H. Kempner, who had expanded the family empire by purchasing properties in Brazoria and Fort Bend Counties.  Both Kempner and Eldridge were interested in acquiring troubled properties in central Fort Bend County, so Woerheide invited both men to serve on the board of Cunningham Sugar Company. 

W. T. Eldridge, Sr.
I. H. Kempner, Sr.
In 1905 Eldridge approached I. H. Kempner and his brother Dan about forming a partnership to acquire the Ellis and Cunningham properties.  The Kempners would supply capital and Eldridge would supply proven, hands-on management.  The Kempner brothers agreed, and Sugar Land was born -- or almost.  The Kempner & Eldridge partnership had no formal, legal standing and owned no property, but time would take care of those issues.
(This is a very general and approximate diagram of the Ellis (Sartartia) and Cunningham Plantations.  It provides a rough idea of the locations for the old properties and current subdivisions.)
When the Kempner and Eldridge acquired the Ellis Plantation in 1907, they incorporated their partnership as the Imperial Sugar Company with Dan Kempner as president. When they took over the Cunningham Plantation and the Cunningham Sugar Company months later, they continued running that business under the Cunningham name, rather than Imperial.  

In 1908 they sold the Ellis Plantation to the State of Texas for use as a prison farm.  The sale brought Kempner & Eldridge much needed working capital, but it didn't change the corporate name or structure of their partnership in any formal way. 
The Cunningham Refinery and the General Offices for the Sugarland Industries and Imperial Sugar Company.
However, in 1918 they formally reorganized their corporate structure by merging the Cunningham Sugar Company into the Imperial Sugar Company, leaving just one sugar business and line of products.  In early 1919 they incorporated the Sugarland Industries, a holding company which covered several subsidiaries, including Imperial Sugar.  It is the holding company's largest and most profitable subsidiary, but is still one among several that included commerical, manufacturing, farming, ranching, and other businesses.  Kempner and Eldridge owned all outstanding Industries stock.

Now for the big issue: Why was it named Sugarland Industries rather than Sugar Land Industries?  The answer to that question goes back to the town's original name.  Apparently, Sugar Land (as two words) was how the Terry and Kyle families referred to their plantation when they acquired it from Nathaniel Williams in 1852/3.  Williams had called it Oakland, but the new owners wanted to start afresh with a new name.  Imperial Sugar's archives contain a letter written in 1857, whose return address is "Sugar Land."  Over time, there appears to have been some confusion about how Sugar Land was spelled, but we have strong evidence of how the founders spelled it.

In 1919 the incorporation papers were drawn up and filed in Delaware.  There's good reason to think the Delaware-based lawyer simply made a mistake, because the legal documents show the company name as one word. It has been Sugarland Industries and Sugar Land, Texas ever since.

Dulles Class of 1969

This week's spotlight is on the Class of '69 at Dulles High School.  If my arithmetic is correct, they will celebrate their 45th year of decrepitude in 2014.  All these photos come from the 1969 Viking yearbook.  I hope they bring back fond memories.

Dulles was the first high school in FBISD.  I have lots of Dulles memorabilia, but Clements and Willowridge are creeping into the category of ancient history.  If anyone has items from those schools for me to post, I'll be happy to oblige.

More Images of Old Sugar Land - Dredging Oyster Creek in the 1920s

I've mentioned several times before that the Sugarland Industries dredged Oyster Creek and adjoining lakes in the 1920s.  Actually, they launched multiple dredging projects in the next 60 or 70 years.  The first project was extensive and lasted several years, as you'll see from the following photos.  

I want to thank Terrell Smith for providing them.  They come from A. H. Weth's project files. He was chief engineer for Imperial Sugar for many years.

(Note the location of the dredge is approximately where it's shown in the first photo.)

(The caption highlights the Char House construction, but note the bank-side preparations where the dredge will deposit silt from dug from Oyster Creek.)

(Note the pecan orchard in the background.)

Updates to Recent Posts

I received a note from Ron Miller (SLHS '51) after last week's item about the dairy.  You'll recall his maternal grandfather ran it, and Ron (aged 3) appeared in the last photo.  I appreciate his additions to the story.  I especially like his comment about listening to the St. Louis Cardinals on the radio.  Here's what he had to say:

Perhaps I can add a little something to your information regarding the Imperial Dairy.  Of course, Mr. Scarborough was my grandfather, and as I grew from the three year old over-coated toddler in the last picture.  I spent a fair amount of time at the dairy, having gone out with grandpa to round up the cows at milking time on more than one occasion. Now that was a joke because by the time it was afternoon milking time, the cows were lined up in the pasture to walk down the trail to the barn where they knew they were going to unload the days product while they ate wonderful silage that came from the silos you mentioned in the photograph. 
Grandpa's full name was William Lawrence Scarborough, and everyone knew him as Bill.  He and the family moved to Sugar Land from Mullin, Texas during a crippling drought.  My mother, Nan Scarborough (Miller) was just a girl at the time, but she remembered the train trip to Richmond with much fondness.  Her dad, Bill Scarborough, had been a cotton gin operator before the drought.  He also had served as a sheriff who enforced the law with an ax handle.  Yes he had a six shooter, but he never did have to use it to enforce the law. 
Regarding the Imperial Dairy, he had some pretty significant clientele in that some folk would drive all the way from Houston to purchase butter.  And the herd of Jersey cattle provided some of the best tasting milk that I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.  Sometimes we would pour the cream off of the quart size bottles to set aside for our cereal.  Yummy, yummy.
The dairy had to close about the time I was a junior or senior in high school because pasteurization became the law of the land.  Of course there was no way that Sugar Land Industries would establish a plant to meet the law's requirements.  So, my grandpa was forced into retirement.  We moved into a bigger house and grandma and grandpa moved in with us.  In someways that was a blessing because grandpa loved baseball and we shared time listening to the Cardinals and Phillies games.  He was a big fan of Satchel Paige.  I treasure memories of those days when we would hang out under the shade trees with the radio hooked up to an extension cord that ran from the garage to the tree branches, just low enough for the radio plug to reach it.  Good times with a man that I revered!
I had helped with the milk route delivering bottled milk to the door steps of people in Sugar Land when I was a boy.  Yep you got it.  That was from a horse drawn cart that grandpa loaded with bottles of milk that clanked together as the horse trotted along the route. 
Best regards to you as you continue to be the historical scholar of Sugar Land. 
Ron Miller

Sugarland Industries published a dairy newsletter for a short time.  I don't have exact dates, but I think they published it in the late '30s and early '40s.  I presume WWII put a stop to it.

T. C. Rozelle saved a few copies in his archive.  Here's the issue from January 1940.

Finally, I want to thank Frank Lampson (DHS '68) for searching the official records and informing me that Sugar Land had 4.4" of snow on February 12, 1960.

Presidential Visits to Houston

The Houston Business Journal ran this short article about US presidential visits to Houston.  Nowadays, presidential visits are pretty common, but that wasn't always the case.  Benjamin Harrison was the first sitting US President to visit when he made a brief stop on a trip to Galveston in 1891.   William McKinley visited just a few months before he was assassinated in Buffalo, New York in 1901.

Monday, February 17, 2014

More Images of Old Sugar Land

This installment of 'Images of Old Sugar Land' focuses on the dairy located in Sugar Land's west end.  The dairy itself (barns, sheds, bottling plant) was located behind today's Nalco complex, just off Ulrich St.  

If you're familiar with the new Imperial development, the dairy was located approximately where the new bridge across Oyster Creek is sited.  The first aerial photo below will help orient you.  The second aerial photo was taken around 1923 and provides another view.  The land where Constellation Park and the new Imperial development is in progress served as pasture land for the dairy cows.  (See the lower right of the 1923 photo.)

Here are photos of the dairy itself.  Those of you with sharp eyes may notice a 'variation' in the photos.  I think the first photo is the earliest one of the series.  It's dated 1910.  Note that the silo is detached from the barn. The other photos, including the 1923 aerial, show two silos attached to the ends of the barn.  Maybe these are two different locations, but I think they renovated the set up between 1910 and 1923.  

I don't have dates for many of the these photos.  Many were probably taken in the mid 1930s.  The two photos of Mr. Scarborough at the butter machine and the milk-bottling plant were probably taken in the 1920s.
Mr. Scarborough (I've forgotten his first name), managed the dairy, which included a milk bottling plant.  He was Nan Miller's father.  Ron Miller (SLHS '51) is the toddler who appears in the final photo.
Another ground view of the barn with silos attached.

A view of the calf pen looking east, I think.

Mr. Scarborough in the calf pen.

A view of the cattle yard looking north.  Mayfield Park is on the right bank of Oyster Creek.

A view of the calf pen looking east toward the refinery.

Mr. Scarborough at the butter or cheese packaging machine(?).

The milk-bottling plant with delivery wagon.
Ron Miller in the calf pen.
I'll have a follow-up article on the dairy next week.

The Rich History of Stafford, Texas

My brother first showed me this video a few years ago, then Frank Lampson had a VHS version, which I converted for him.  I enjoyed watching it and contacted the City of Stafford to see if copies were still available, or if they could put me in contact with the production company.  I haven't heard anything, so I can't provide any help if you're interested in a copy.  You might try contacting the City of Stafford directly.

The video was produced in 1997 and is about 45-minutes long.  I clipped a few scenes to make a 6.5-minute sample.  You'll see Sonny Ruffino, Joe Scarpinato, Tony Ruffino, Doris Durdin, and Leonard Scarcella in this excerpt.  There are several others in the full video, which also includes old still photos and home movies.

1969 Dulles Ring Returned To Owner

Roger Howard (DHS '63) sent me this interesting story, which occurred last month.  A friend read about it, and knowing Roger is a Dulles alum, sent it to him.

The background goes like this.  A fellow whose hobby is metal detecting, took his device to the Willowridge High School campus to scan old athletic fields.  He's had success at other schools searching similar locales.  He found Robert Vela's (DHS '69) senior ring which was lost long ago.  As Roger said, it's a very touching story.