The geography of a small island.


Galveston is really a very small island and in 1900 there were only about 40,000 people living on what was essentially a sandbar with an elevation of 6.6 feet at the city center. Perigean spring tides could, and often did, cause flooding and it was the poor home that was not elevated against the risk. Even the original Seawall only ran 3.3 miles or to about 33rd Street which encompassed the Medical School and East End, the central business district and the expanding western neighborhoods which were where the immigrants were settling. From the beach to Pier 19 was less than 2 miles so the City of Galveston in 1900 was essentially 5 square miles.

In addition to being relatively small Galveston really is an island. The first causeway was not opened until 1912. Before that access to and from the mainland was by ferry or by launch. Today when we can leave Houston and 45 minutes later be at Miller’s Landing for lunch or dinner it is hard to comprehend that 100 years ago this would not have been possible. It is even harder to comprehend that there were very few automobiles on the island, my great grandfather bought his first Cadillac in 1907 for $750.00 NEW! It is almost impossible to comprehend that most of the old buildings that we so love were built with stone and steel and wood that was landed at the wharves and hauled by horses to the site.

Annie Young

It was not their first residence but I know that as early as 1891 the family was living at 3428 Winnie [Avenue G] which was the northwest corner of G and 35th Street. It was six blocks to Harborside Drive so John Young could get back and forth to the ships conveniently. The house was located in Ward 7 and more importantly, to the family, in St. Patrick’s parish which was the “Irish” parish which was three and one half blocks away.  This was the house where John William, Margaret Edythe and Laureene Anna were born. It was also the house where Annie died.

The newspapers were full of the Spanish American War which had started in April and would not end until August. The issue had by no means been decided and there was still too much fighting and dying to be done and, as William Randolph Hearst had anticipated, the newspapers were full of the war. Briefly noted on page eight, of eight, of the Galveston Daily News of June 3, 1898 was the death of the Young’s eldest daughter Annie. According to the article two servants were using the pump on the gas generator to fuel the kitchen stove when it exploded setting them on fire. Annie made a “noble but vain” effort to save one of the servants and inhaled flames [smoke?] and after lingering for twenty four hours died. The lot where the house stood is vacant. There are no pictures of the house and none are sought.

Salvaging what household goods they could – and some of them are still in use today – the family moved south of Broadway and built a new home just in time for the 1900 Storm.

The Richardson Boys

Florence & TR Richardson

Among the items salvaged from the fire was the dining room table. It has 10 leaves and when it is fully extended is over fourteen feet long. Not only was dining a major part of the social life of the era but for a man with four daughters and only one son it was a virtual necessity to have someplace to bring the young men from the firm home to see if they were suitable husband material. While the new house was building the family moved in with their eldest daughter who was married – to the chief clerk for John Young – and had three sons of her own. They lived at 3509 Avenue J [Broadway]which was one half block from St. Patrick’s and one mile from the Ursuline Academy where Margaret Edythe and her sister Laureene Anna were in school.  After the 1915 storm the Richardson’s would return to find that the facade of their house was perfect – but there was nothing left behind it. Such are the vagaries of wind and water.

John William

In 1891 John Young had still been working for someone else. He was a stevedoring foreman for Sweeney & Company.  By 1892 he had gone into business for himself, had an office at 212 21st Street – the corners of 21st and the Strand – still only a mile and a third from home. Even with the tragedy of 1898 he still had a son and two daughters to educate and start in life. His new home would be built at 3324 Avenue L something less than three blocks from St. Patrick’s, about three quarters of a mile from the Ursuline Academy and just over a mile and a half to his office – all within an easy walk but now the family had a coach and a coachman. The years and the miles add up and it is good to have a little comfort.

Laureene Anna

This is the house that he would live in for the remainder of his life – some 40 years – and when his son got married they lived at 2127 O 1/2 Street about a mile and a half away. While Margaret Edythe did not marry the boy next door she did marry the boy across the street, Anthony Bettencourt, whose family lived at 3319 Avenue L. Pictures of the children at this house show a pair of self confident young people who have no question of their place in the world and no fear of the future.

Their world was one circumscribed by family, church, school and friends and each of those groups was big enough to be a world itself.  While it may sound very provincal and cramped remember that guests often included people from the four corners of the earth – and reciprocal visits were made. Also consider that the children of the family married people from Scotland, France and Portugal – they may have been lily white but they were by no means uptight or outta sight. Their time has passed and would be as strange to us as ours would be to them. The main difference might be that they might make room for us but I am not sure we would for them.

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