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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cunningham's Grit

I found this lengthy article in the December 31, 1888 edition of The Fort Worth Daily Gazette.  (It was in fact a reprint of an account that appeared a two days earlier in The San Antonio Express.) The report details Edward H. Cunningham's adoption of new (actually experimental) diffusion technology in his sugar operation here in Sugar Land.  The article is well-rounded, giving a good account of the man, his approach to business, the state of sugar technology at the time, and the ground-breaking nature of what Cunningham was attempting.

Kempner and Eldridge deserve credit for their innovation and business acumen, but Cunningham was their equal as a visionary and risk taker.  He made some mistakes and suffered some bad breaks that weren't his fault (like floods, fires, and crop disease), but he was adaptable and alert to future business opportunities.  For example, he recognized the demand for refined sugar and the potential of foreign imports before most other businessmen.  His experiment with sorghum (mentioned in the article) didn't pay off, but he didn't let one set back put him off his course.

In the end, his age, lack of a successor, and depleted working capital, among other things, drove him into bankruptcy, but that shouldn't erase his achievements.

Here's an excerpt that profiles Cunningham the man.

Here's an excerpt giving a brief description of Sugar Land back in 1888.

Click here to view the complete article.  I think I'll have a little more on it next week.


I wanted to find a good account of the original event, when General Gordon Granger read the proclamation on the balcony of  Ashton Villa in Galveston on June 19, 1865.  I was hoping for a contemporaneous account in a Galveston newspaper, but I couldn't find one.  The best I could do was this entry in Wikipedia.  

Although it probably didn't happen on the exact date (although it may have), here's a brief account of emancipation in Sugar Land back in June 1865.  It comes from A. J. Sowell's History of Fort Bend County, which the Fort Bend County Historical Commission is reprinting.  It will be available later this summer.

The author visited Cunningham's plantation in the late 1890s and talked with Aunt Sarah Chase, a former slave on the Terry Plantation.  Here's a little background on how she got to Sugar Land and her brief recollection of her first day of freedom.

I've tried to determine who Judge Buckner was, but I haven't had any success.  I'm fairly certain he was not a Fort Bend County judge.

Construction of Highway 90A in 1927

I've collected photos of the construction of Highway 90A from several sources, but most of these I received from Terrell Smith.  (Thank you.)  

The Highway was paved in 1927 as a two-lane road.  Those of you who remember it was a four-land road will understand when I say it was the westbound (or northern) lanes that were first paved.  Bridges and other support structures were built before the paving was done.

Sugar Land was still isolated after the road was improved, but it wasn't quite as isolated as it was before.

The annotations say these were taken east of town between Sugar Land and Stafford.  I've taken a close look at the horizon in all the photos, and the annotations seem to be correct.

More People of Old Sugar Land

I got a note from Betty Sue Douglas Lubajosky (SLHS '49) recently.  She told me that Harry McBride (SLHS '49) is struggling with memory loss now, and old photos help his recollection.  I'm glad they have a therapeutic effect for him.  Here are a few more to help him remember the old days.

Harry McBride about 1932/33. (From the Buddy Blair Family Scrapbook)
Harry McBride as a high school sophomore in 1947.
Harry McBride's parents in the mid 1960s. (From the Buddy Blair Family Scrapbook)

Harry's mother, Coco McBride, in the 1960s. (From the Buddy Blair Family Scrapbook)

Here are three photos of Mrs. Boyer's kindergarten class from 1957/58.  My brother Bruce and other members of the 1970 Class at Dulles are in these photos.    Let's see if they recognize themselves.

Bruce's report card was in his scrapbook.  We have mine, but it wasn't in my scrapbook.  (I may have had a few red stars on mine.)

I want to thank Terrell Smith for relaying this wedding photo to me from Betty Kellis Urbanek.  It shows the wedding party at the marriage of Bonnie Draemer & Frank James on June 3, 1961. (I'm not sure of the location.)  

We've identified Al Nulisch on the far left.  That's Tom Acord on the far right.  Jon & BJ Pitts (DHS '61) provided a little more help - starting from Tom on the right and working toward the middle are Joe Scanlin, Darryl Couvillion, Robert Johnson, and the groom, Frank James.  From the left inward are Al Nulisch, Tim Husbands, & Leslie Martin.  (They can't see enough to be sure, but they think Barbara Daniels is standing in front of Al.) If anyone has some additional ids, please pass them on.

A Failed Attempt At Prison Farm Centralization in 1929

While researching old newspapers, I found this short, front-page article in the Breckenridge  (Tex.) Gazette published on November 6, 1929.  It mentions an effort (which eventually failed) to centralize, and modernize the Texas prison system.  As the article explains, there were three competing proposals, one of which nominated Sugar Land as the location for the new centralized prison.

An article at the Texas State Library and Archives explains what happened.  The Legislature passed a funding bill, which Governor Dan Moody refused to sign.  It provided enough funds to upgrade existing facilities, but not a penny to build a modern, centralized prison.  Click here to read the article.   (Click here to read more on that era of the Texas prison system's history.)

Central Units 1 & 2 were constructed as a result of the Legislature's 1930 appropriation for upgrades.  I'll have to research the exact dates, but I'm pretty certain they were built in 1930 & 1933.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

More People of Old Sugar Land

John Frierson (DHS '68) and I (DHS '68) met some friends for a happy hour last week.  During our conversation, Diane Park Bailey (DHS '67) asked how far back John and I go - how long have we known each other.  I said we've known each other since we were 5-years old in Mrs. Boyer's Kindergarten.

I've got pictures to prove it.  All of her students kept scrapbooks through the year.  I have mine.  My brother Bruce has his.  Here are a few scans from mine.

Some kids I can't identify.  I remember one name that I can't place with a face.   I think enrollment changed fairly often.  One thing that really surprises me is there seems to be at least one little girl in our class as late as December.  I always thought two girls showed up the first day and left before the week was out.  Thirteen little boys was too much -- we scared them off and ran riot for the rest of the year.  I guess that's not true.

Remember Mr. Etherage?  I posted his photo with the Class of '47 at SLHS when they were 6th graders.  I also posted a newspaper article about his experience in WWII.  Well, my aunt, Mayme Rachuig Hause (SLHS '48) sent me this photo of him.
She also sent me this photo of her class with Miss Manning, a long-time teacher and administrator at SLISD.  I recognize Tuggie Laperouse Krehmeier and Marjorie Wappler Buchanan, but no one else.
This last photo she sent shows girls from the Class of '48 as freshmen in 1944.  If you can't tell, it's Tacky Day.  The man in the photo is the band director, Mr. Nelson.  I think that's Tuggie Laperouse Krehmeier and my aunt on the left, but I can't tell who the girls are on the right.

Follow Up

I found another photo of Dorothy Trout Mason (SLHS '31) later in her life.  (She was the Sugar Land woman who joined the US Navy during WWII, and worked in Washington, D. C., maybe as a secretary to James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy.)
I wish I could remember the name of the woman on the left, but that is Dorothy in the middle with Mrs. Martha Pirtle on the right.  I don't have a date, but it was probably taken in the 1970s.

We've had some discussion about a woman who appears in the 1947 Awards Banquet photo.  Several of us think it is Etna Schindler.  Any other suggestions?
Belinda Jenkins Faison (DHS '69) identified her father in the same photo.  I don't know how I missed him.

Roy Lemke (DHS '74) has identified Joe Ruzicka, Maintenance Supervisor of the Packing Department, as one of the men in the most recent photo of Imperial employees.

Joe Ruzicka

And finally, Jon Pitts (DHS '61) helped me out with the Jester brick manufacturing plant.  (Thanks for the great info, Jon.)  Here's what he said:
Chuck, the Jester Brick Plant shut down in the summer of 1979. I know this because I was the one who shut it down. I worked there from January 1975 till I shut it down and was the last state employee to be classified, "Brick Plant Manager". It operated at the Jester 1 site from 1934 till 1979. I don't know the exact location prior to 1934, but I'm sure it was not very far away from the final location, because of the clay deposit location pattern. I possess the last brick that was manufactured at the plant.

A History of Sugarland Industries - Part 11: The Paper Mill

In the early decades of the 20th century Sugarland Industries operated a paper mill in a building at the intersection of Main and Kempner Streets.  I think it's more accurate to say the Sugar Land Manufacturing Company (a subsidiary of the Industries) ran the enterprise.

An undated photo of the Sugarland Industries paper mill.
I've found these early newspaper articles which indicate the operation actually began under E. H. Cunningham's ownership of Sugar Land.  You'll also notice that the operation was the first of it's kind in the US; i.e., it was the first to make paper out of refuse from milling sugar cane.  Eventually, W. T. Eldridge, Sr. added a printing function, which produced books, bags, and a weekly newspaper, among other items.
The following newspaper articles come from The Portal to Texas History Web site at the University of North Texas.  I've clipped the images to make them easier to find and read, but I've also included links in case you want to see the complete pages.

The Brownsville Daily Herald, May 13, 1897.  ('Trail' should read 'trial,' I think.)  Link to full page.

The Houston Daily Post, May 16, 1897.  Link to full page.
The Houston Daily Post, May 23, 1897.  Link to full page.
The McKinney Democrat, April 22, 1897.  (The date makes this seem a little fishy.)  Link to full page.

The Imperial Mill Burns in 1914

While doing some research in old newspapers I found a few contemporaneous articles about the Imperial Mill, which burned 100 years ago last January.  I've posted article in the past about the sugar mill that sat on the bank of Oyster Creek about a mile west of the Imperial refinery.  It was on the south bank just across from the right field wall in Constellation Field.   The sugar mill appears in the distance and has a tall smoke stack on it.
It was built in 1883 on what was then Ellis Plantation property.  Eventually, Kempner & Eldridge sold the Ellis Plantation (including this acreage) to the State of Texas, which turned it into the prison farm.  However, Kempner & Eldridge retained ownership of the sugar mill.  At the time of the fire, Kempner & Eldridge were in a dispute with the State about the latter's fulfillment of the sales contract.  That's why there was some controversy about the fire.

The railroad tracks in the photo are not the tracks paralleling Highway 90A.  These tracks were taken up sometime in the 1930s.  The camera is facing eastward and positioned on land that is now the Municipal Airport.  

I've zoomed the left-hand and right-hand margins of the photo, so you can see some details.  The right-hand margin shows what might be the old Ellis Plantation home that served as W. T. Eldridge, Sr.'s home until 1928.  It sat next to the red-brick Char House and was demolished in 1963.  Click here to see a photoClick here to read an article about its demolition.

Left margin of Imperial Mill photo.

Right margin of Imperial Mill photo.

The following newspaper article comes from The Portal to Texas History Web site at the University of North Texas.  I've clipped the image to make it easier to find and read, but I've also included a link in case you want to see the complete page.  Click here to view the whole page.  Notice that they got the headline wrong.  The refinery didn't burn; it was the sugar mill.

The Bryan Daily Eagle and Pilot, January 30, 1914.

The Galveston - Bolivar Ferry

I received the photo below from a friend, but I'm not sure where he got it.  It's not dated, but someone has suggested the 1940s.  Could be, but I that's exactly the way I remember the ferry in the 1950s.
The ferry is the Cone Johnson, and we see it as it docks at Bolivar.  This Wikipedia article says the three original ferries were the Cone Johnson, the R. S. Sterling, and the E. H. Thornton, each a namesake of a Director of the Texas Department of Transportation.  (Of course, Sterling was also a governor.) 

Another article I've read said the State charged $.25 a car to travel on the ferry until 1949, when it became free of charge.

Monday, June 16, 2014

2014 Turn Back The Clock Night at Constellation Park

June 13th saw the second annual Turn Back The Clock Night at Constellation Park, as the Skeeters honored the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation.  Lou Payton (SLHS '46) threw out the ceremonial first pitch, which was a called strike low on the inside corner.
Three of Lou's friends and team mates joined him on the field.  They were:

Jim Shamblin, who played 2nd base for the first National Championship team at the University of Texas in 1949.  He held the hitting record of 5 hits in one game at the College World Series that stood for over 50 years. He played for Weimar in the Houston Post Semi-Pro Tournament in 1949 and Victoria in 1950 when both teams won the tournament.
Roland Walton, a 4-year letterman at short stop and MVP in 1951 at the University of Houston when U of H won the Missouri Valley Conference Championship. He played on the Houston Post Tournament Championship teams from Victoria, and coached the Cougar baseball team from '74 to '86.
Felix Fraga, a 4-year letterman at first base for the Cougars. He played on the '51 Championship team and captained the '52 Cougars. He has been involved with the youth program at Ripley House for over 60 years. He served on the HISD school board  for 4 years and was a City of Houston Councilman for 6 years. 
And, of course, Lou who played center field for the '51 and '52 Cougars.  He was captain and MVP in '52. He played for the Ft. Bend Jaybirds and other local semi-pro teams for several years.  He won the batting title of the Houston Post Tournament in 1950 with a .500 average and played on the Jaybird team that won the tournament in '52.

It was a great night at the ball park. Click on the image below to view a selection of photos from that evening.

More People of Old Sugar Land

Paul Martin during football practice at Kempner Field in November 1950.
Some of you may have heard that Paul John Martin (SLHS '52) died recently.  Click here to view an obituary.  Our best goes to the extended Martin family.

T. C. Rozelle, Jr. in 1916. (Photo from Jean Babineaux)

T. C. Rozelle, Jr. in 1969.

Undated photo.  See next image for identifications. (Photo from Jean Babineaux)

Girls in the previous image.

These next two images also come from Jean Babineaux.  They show a V-Mail message W. W. 'Dubbo' Jenkins sent to her parents, Mr. & Mrs. John McCord, while overseas in 1943.  It's dated November 28th; it's been censored; Dubbo is a SeaBee.  V-Mail was microfilmed before air shipment back to the US, where it was printed and forwarded to recipients.  The idea was to reduce the bulk of paper letters.  The US military was very eager for service personnel to exchange letters with people on the home front, so they did whatever they could to make it work.  (I think we have one my father sent to my grandparents.)

Mr. & Mrs. Herbert Haas in front of their cafe (later the Red Barn) in 1948. (Photo from Jean Babineaux)

An undated photo of Sugar Land's own Huck Finn, better known as Bud Jenkins. (Photo from Jean Babineaux)

I like his retro tennis shoes.

"Peas! Beans! Okra! Squash! Can We Beat 'Em?! Yes by Gosh!"  (My mother tells me that was an old Sugar Land High football yell back in the dark ages, about the time when the next photo was taken.)

My mother, Sally Rachuig Kelly, on Freshman Tacky Day at SLHS in 1945.  She hasn't seen this yet.  (Photo from Mayme Rachuig Hause)