“¡Pobre Galveston! ¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Houston!”


Yes, I know the actual expression is, “¡Pobre México! ¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!”, and yes, I know it translates to, “Poor Mexico!, So far away from God and so close to the United States.” I also know it was said by Porfirio Diaz, a Mexican president, whose proximity to Mexico may have been far more harmful than Mexico’s proximity to the United States. Knowing all of that – and even having a certain sympathy with the original sentiment – I can think of no more apt way of expressing the relationship of Galveston and Houston.

St. Mary's Cathedral

I can think of no better place to start on this theme that at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston. Once the primary cathedral of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and the mother church of the Catholic Church in Texas, as well as a basilica church it is now locked and possibly awaiting the demolition ball. For many years the Rev. James Martin Kirwin was the rector of the Cathedral and the exemplar of what a priest should be. Whether it was his work during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1897, his virtually taking command of the relief efforts after the 1900 Storm, his fighting the great fire of 1901, his lobbying for the seawall, his service as chaplain to Galveston’s soldiers or his final efforts as rector of the seminary to bring forth a new generation of service his thirty years in Galveston constituted a career to be marvelled at – unfortunately it is no longer aspired to. Nicholas Aloysius Gallagher is dead, Christopher Edward Byrne is dead, James Martin Kirwin is dead and we now have the “new” cathedral in Houston with an androgynous looking Christ in stained glass peering out or in on some of the ugliest architecture in Christendom. Meanwhile a Clayton treasure that survived the 1900 Storm is shuttered because it isn’t needed, isn’t wanted, isn’t relevant – choose one and the clergy of the diocese, who seem a little embarrassed by the likes of Gallagher, Byrne and Kirwin, will explain how they had no other choice.

In fairness when we asked the diocese for information we got the following response, “Thanks for your interest in my project. Back in November of 2009, the Cardinal put me in charge of the restoration of the Basilica. 

  • So far, the major items accomplished are replacing the roof on the Church and rectory, painting with elastomeric coating, caulking all windows, and injecting a chemical damp course product to eliminate moisture from the groundwater table.  Currently, the contractors are working on a structural steel reinforcement cage inside of the two front towers.
  • Pending projects include structural roof support repairs, support column base encapsulation, and replacing the failing brick pier/two by twelve floor supports with a poured concrete slab.  I hope to be able to obtain a building code variance to install below grade ductwork to better distribute the air conditioning.
  • We will then be able to address plaster repair and interior decorative painting including a mural behind the altar similar to what was there prior to the seventies.  I also hope to be able to return the rectory back to living condition as well.  A completely new sound system will be installed in the Church.
  • The pews have been completely taken apart, reglued and refinished, as well as the Stations, confessionals, and other woodwork.

I anticipate the pending work to cost around $1.6 million, which we hope to obtain from the Gertrude Guyton Trust which currently supports parish maintenance.  This would have to be approved by the Moody bank which has not yet taken place.  Once it is approved, I would like about a year and a half to complete the work.

Long answer to a short question. Hope it helps. God bless. Father Joe Limanni Office of Special Projects Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston” The Hurricane struck on September 13, 2008 and we would remind them of the motto inscribed in mosaic across the sanctuary, “Domum Dei decet sanctitudo Sponsum ejus Christum adoremus in ea.”

Our Post Card view of the cathedral bears a note from cousin Marshall and was sent to Edythe while she was on a European tour in August 1909. It is addressed simply to Miss Edythe Young, London, England, % Thomas Cook & Son and it bears two 1 cent stamps. We know it got to London because it has a British post mark and we know it got to her because we have it. The message is just a warm famial news from home sort of thing, “Did you find John on that card? We are going to give a fine parade on Wednesday, wish you were here.” The parade was the GREAT CIVIC PARADE which took place August 4 and was described by the Galveston Daily News as, “longer than any civil line of march ever formed in Texas.” It was preceded by an automobile parade – these still being very much rara avis – and followed by three divisions containing everyone from Col. W. P. Manning in full Confederate uniform, the Lt. Governor, the mayor, Rev. J. M. Kirwin in a carriage, the E. S. Levy & Co. float and the Ryan & Molloy decorated buggy [well you could hardly expect funeral directors to have a float.] Every fraternal organization imaginable from the Knights of Columbus to the Woodmen of the World were represented as was the farmer’s union. Edythe’s brother John was an “active” marshal resplendent in a uniform of white shoes, pantaloons, blouse and cap.

Breaker's Bathing Pavillion

From the front steps of the cathedral you can look due south and see the Gulf of Mexico which is less than two miles away. Today you see the back-end of the Hotel Galvez but in 1909 it had not been built. Nor was the old Clayton designed Beach Hotel there – it had been shut down by health inspectors for flushing its waste directly into the Gulf of Mexico and mysteriously, before it could be connected to the city’s sewerage system, it burned to the ground in 25 minutes. There must have been a lot of very dry timber in that wood framed, four-story, 200 room, gingerbread extravagance with its 18 foot wide porches that had hosted high-wire walkers, firework displays and every band of consequence from across the south. You might have had a glimpse of Murdoch’s Bathhouse or the Breaker’s Bathing Pavilion which was just west of Murdochs. Our Post Card from July 15, 1909 lets us know that Edythe had already left for Europe and was anticipated to be in Rome although we suspect it caught up with her in London. It is from her sister Florence and is another affectionate vignette of family life on a summer’s day, “Doesn’t this look familiar. I took the children, the three of them, by myself. I had a happy time I can tell you. You won’t know old John when you come home. The cards you sent are pretty. Wish Love, Florence” Ironically the card is dated July 15 which means it was sent six days before the July 21 category two storm that made landfall near Freeport but had enough residual punch to wreck both bath houses. Even when she escapes a direct hit any storm that makes landfall between the Brazos Santiago Pass and Southwest Pass is likely to mean trouble for the island city.

Just west of the Breaker’s was Galveston’s City Park. It was between 27th and 28th streets on the beach – later on the Seawall where it would have been when our Post Card was

Galveston City Park

sent. This one was date August 27, 1909 and even though there had been a near miss storm her uncle Thomas makes no mention of it. He writes, “I am almost well and hope you are feeling good and seeing all the arrivals to tell me about. John [age 2] is getting to be a bad boy – he fights me all the time.”  This is another example of a “painted” post card since apparently the building in the right read never existed and while there probably were oleanders and palm trees the possibilities of having a lush green lawn immediately on the beach were unlikely. The park still exists although it is now Menard Park renamed in honor of the man – and the family – who might be thought of as the founders of modern Galveston. It is no longer the sylvan scene presented in the post card but houses a multimillion dollar recreation center built after hurricane Ike  that is the only building on the Island with LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. If you want to get a glimpse of what City Park must have looked like then a few blocks away, at 27th and Avenue O,  is Kempner Park with the 1880 Garten Verein and its Pavillion that survived the 1900 and subsequent storms. Here, sheltered from the Gulf, are the old oaks, palms and oleanders in a clean and quiet neighborhood where you can pause and enjoy a moment’s quiet in surrounding not too much changed from 1909.

The second half of our post is about Houston. Before the 1900 Storm Galveston had a population of close to 38,000 people. Ten years later the number would be down by 1,000 and the decline would continue. In 1900 Houston had 44,000 people – spread over an area at least five times the size of Galveston in what was still, largely, a rural community – but by 1910 there were 78,000 people, by 1930 it was the largest city in Texas and it never looked back. Many of the same attributes and values that make it the city it is today were present then and while the geography hasn’t changed – it is a swamp at the end of a ditch – the topography is considerably different. Today the commute between the cities is about an hour on Interstate 45 courthouse to courthouse – the old way of measuring statute miles. In those days you most likely would have taken the train and, unless you caught an express, it might have taken two to three hours to cover the distance. By car, buggy or wagon, if the road was passable – and it would have been a combination of dirt (your choice of dried mud or wet mud depending on weather conditions) or at its best oyster shell over mud (a much more stable surface but VERY hard on tires), you would have followed Texas Highway 3, the old Galveston road.

Either way you would have passed through Virginia Point which is what we now think of as the north end of the causeway bridge but which was – from before the Civil War until after WWII – a community of as many as 1,000 people who served as a gateway between Galveston and the mainland. Going north you come to La Marque which was literally part of the milk run having originally been called Buttermilk Station because the civil war soldiers used to stop there to buy buttermilk. Civilization resumed once you got to Dickinson which was a mainland retreat for Galvestonians many of whom had homes there but others who just came to enjoy the 40 acre picnic grounds or to lay down a wager at the horse race track. Your next stop, League City, puts you at an equal distance between Galveston and Houston. At the north-eastern end of Galveston County it was the home of both the convict farm and the poor farm all of which probably spoke volumes to the people of Galveston about what happened as you went further north from the island.

Crossing Clear Creek you enter Harris county and your first stop is Webster which was settled by English colonists in the 1880’s as “Gardentown” but failed to live up to that name until  a colony of seventy Japanese farmers settled nearby to experiment in growing oranges and rice under the leadership of Seito and Kiyoaki Saibara. Just north of where Beltway 8 crosses Highway 3 today, along Fuqua street, you come to Genoa which in 1892 had a post office, five houses, a hotel, a store, and a railroad depot for the Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad. It had been named Genoa by its founder, J. H. Burnett, on the unlikely presupposition that it reminded him of Genoa, Italy. Your next stop would have been Dumont whose name was changed to South Houston when it was incorporated in 1913. A farming community it was all but wiped out by the 1915 Galveston storm but its one claim to fame – which came many years later – is that its mayor, George Christy, owned a circus and his elephants helped build Spencer Highway in 1960.

So far we have been following a track roughly parallel to the current Interstate 45 corridor but here is where we go north and east while the interstate goes north and west. Given the importance of the ship channel and train lines we can only surmise that the real estate along the freeway must have belonged to local politicians. Old Galveston Road ends at what would have been the outskirts of Harrisburg and later Houston and becomes Broadway which becomes Navigation which runs along the south side of the ship channel to downtown. The train tracks run about a mile further west to near Harrisburg Blvd and the old station was located at the end of East Magnolia Street just west of Glendale Cemetery which is a fitting terminus for the ghost cars of sweet used to be.

For those of you who know your Houston geography you will recognize that this was about 7 miles east of Union Station and downtown and you would have had to take a buggy to Constitution Bend and board the Houston, Oaklawn & Magnolia Railway to get to Fannin and Commerce and then take another buggy for the six or eight blocks to Grand Central Depot at Texas and Crawford.

Long Reach on Buffalo Bayou

Our first Houston Post Card commemorates an entirely different mode of travel. It is a painted scene of Long Reach, also known as Constitution Bend, which is where the Houston Ship Channel turns back into Buffalo Bayou. Although for speed and certainty the greatest efforts had been placed on rail links between the two cities there had always been waterborne commerce as well. In 1837 Sam Houston had his capitol in Houston which was less than a year old and was trying to supplant the older Harrisburg which had been put to the torch by Santa Anna – before he was captured there trying to sneak away from his defeat at San Jacinto disguised as a private.

The Allen Brothers, the 19th century land speculators who put a city in a swamp at the end of a ditch and thus became the patron saints of local realtors, paid the captain of the CONSTITUTION $1,000  to bring his barge [150 x 24 x 8] to Allen’s Landing [the foot of Main Street at Buffalo Bayou] with a load of supplies. With no mast and no motive power the barge had to be “towed” by running ropes to trees and pulling it forward with the windlass and she was grounded at least twice and had to “back down” the 8 plus miles from Allen’s Landing to this bend where the bayou was finally wide enough for her to be turned. In addition to her cargo she had 150 passengers on board, 35 of whom elected to memorialize the captain and the voyage, and there is now a historical marker here along with the landing for the M/V Sam Houston which is the tour boat for the Houston Ship Channel.

Constitution Bend Today

The card is from Edythe’s baby sister [The youngest member of the family in the South is always the “baby”. You can meet people in their 80’s and be told they are the “baby”. We realize “those people” do not appreciate this distinction but then again WE are civilized!] and is addressed to Edythe at the Fairfield Inn at Mineral Wells which was one of the newest spas where Texans went for hot baths and noxious “cocktails” of water so high in sulphur and other health giving minerals that you could smell them a block away. Palo Pinto water, also called Crazy Water, came from the Crazy Well dug in 1885 and was marketed to cure – among other things – hysteria until the 1950’s. Our Post Card has a note on the front that Rene [Laureene] is in Houston at the horse races with Papa [John Young].

Horse racing in Texas was then on  a circuit along the Gulf Coast. Velasco, Houston, and Galveston all had first-rate tracks where legal betting flourished.  As more  affluent Texans had imported and raised thoroughbred horses increased state taxes on the animals made the costs prohibitive and Texans turned their attention to the popular frontier-style match races, on which regulation had little impact. These short two-horse road races were the norm and if they were less formal than their Kentucky cousins they were no less spirited. Based on the logic that no horse had ever gone broke betting on a human being in 1937 the legislature outlawed all betting on horse racing in Texas, thus completely shutting down the remaining tracks, but not the breeding of fine horses. Assault, a King Ranch horse, won the Triple Crown in 1946. The tracks have since reopened with fancier betting parlors so that those on public assistance may bet on races run anywhere in the nation – if not the world.

The Post Card is the first we have come across from Tuck’s Post. Raphael Tuck & Sons were art publishers to their majesties the king and queen and the card carries the royal warrant. We do not know the artist but the card was photochromed in Saxony as indeed a number of these cards – including the one of St. Mary’s Cathedral and the one of the City Park – had been made in Germany. As we have seen in previous posts sometimes the architectural details are a little off, sometimes there are things in the picture that were never really there. This card may have had a fairly accurate portrayal of the banks of the bayou however the scene is not quite this sylvan in reality as this stretch of water is between the original bitumen dock and Jacob Stern’s terminal which did – and does – handle hides, molasses and tallow and both of these places were in business when this card was mailed. From personal experience we can assure you that the souls in the rowboats either had no olfactory senses whatsoever or they are merely figments of the painter’s imagination. Either way I doubt Rene was closer to this scene than the card kiosk at the station.

Grand Central Depot Houston

If they took the train all the way downtown, or if they were going north, east or west, their point of arrival or departure might have the Grand Central Depot of Houston, Texas. Our Post Card dated October 22, 1908 carries this grand sounding title without a hint of a blush. Galveston had a four-story brick station with a concourse to rival any and sheds to handle seven simultaneous arrivals or departures. Houston had a four track shed and a two-story ticket office with a chain link fence – apparently it wasn’t yet location, location, location but was description, description, description.  Ironically the firm of  Warren and Wetmore, the architects  who had designed Grand Central Station in New York, were responsible for the current Union Station – now a facade for the stadium that houses the worst team in professional baseball – which opened in 1911 after 12 blocks of the finest homes in the city had been razed to make way for the passenger trains.

Going back to our narrative we find the note if from a friend, Irma, and reads, “Dear Edith, Please excuse me for not writing to you but I did not have time. I have had so much to do. I just got home from the country. I stayed a week. I had some fun. How are the students? My boys are just fine. Regards to all, Irma.” There is an address of 1312 Pease Avenue which would have been a little over a mile south and west of the station but more interestingly the phone number, “114”, is noted.

Commerce Street Today

Commerce Street Houston

Of course the reason for the trip was probably John Young’s business interests and just north of the Grand Central Depot was Commerce Street which was produce row and an elongated merchant’s alley that stretched all the way from Buffalo Bayou at Milam on its western end to Lockwood at its eastern terminus – a distance of about three miles. The note is again from Irma and reads, “Hope you will be down [up?] for the Carnival. I know that you and I will have a time. How are the students? Regards to all, Irma”. The carnival she was talking about was called NO-TSU-OH [Houston spelled backwards for those of you who can’t decode Chamber of Commerce wit  (sic)] and was Houston’s Bible Belt answer to Mardi Gras as celebrated in Galveston and New Orleans. On the positive side it was the origin of what became the Thanksgiving classic football game between the Agricultural & Mechanical College of Texas and the University of Texas and on the negative side it was segregated with the black community celebrating De-Ro-Loc. Galveston had the Cotton Carnival in August and Mardi Gras [a moveable feast but generally in February] so Houston, which did not have the now world renowned Fat Stock Show and Rodeo until 1932, was anxious to catch up.

Carter's Folly Houston

A few blocks south of the start of Commerce Street on Main is Carter’s Folly – the first “skyscraper” erected in Houston, planned at the dizzying [and proclaimed as UNSAFE] height of 16 stories, which was completed at 10 stories in 1911 with the extra 6 stories added in 1923. Our Post Card must be based on the architects drawings because it shows all 16 stories even though it is dated September 3, 1912.  Other than that it is remarkably accurate. Postage was still a penny but the stamp had Washington looking to the left which may have been a harbinger of Wilson’s election in November.

Lt. Dick Dowling Monument

Going west a few blocks you would have come to Market Square, a donation of the Allen Brothers, and then home to the Houston City Hall – one of three on Market Square, all burned down at various times, as was the fire department located there – and was also the location of the Dowling Monument, the FIRST public monument in Houston [standards have declined remarkably since]. The Post Card, dated October 4, 1907,  is from Rene again and is another Tuck’s Post creation with a note, “We are just returning from Willow [near Tomball today], had a fine time, Rene”

Because Edythe’s brother John would follow Dowling’s tradition of service in the artillery and because of his importance to not only Houston but Galveston as well – and because the memorial to a brave man has been shunted off to the back corner of a park by the indigent hospital in order, we suppose, not to give offense to the delicate sensibilities of today’s voters – we are going to interject a few words about this hero of Texas.

As a 26-year-old Lieutenant in charge of a band of 40+ Irishmen at Fort Griffin guarding the approach to Sabine Pass in 1863 his batteries laid down such withering fire that the yankee invasion force of 27 ships – including two ironclads – and nearly 6,000 men surrendered after only 45 minutes. Although Sabine Pass is 90 miles east of Houston the invasion fleet would have landed troops that would have swept westward to capture Galveston, where they had failed the previous year, and Houston closing the second largest port in the Confederacy [the largest at war’s end] and interrupting a rail head to the west. Dowling survived the war only to fall victim of a yellow fever outbreak in 1867 and is buried just east of downtown in the old St. Vincent’s cemetery on Navigation street.

Clock and Bell Tower

Carter’s Folly when it was built was faced with polished Texas granite, Bedford stone columns, terra-cotta and brick. The lobby was lined with Italian and Norwegian marble, as were all office floors. Every office had electric fans, base plugs, electric lights, illuminating gas and a wash basin. With an artesian well in the basement yielding 300 gallons a day, the building had icy water flowing from its drinking fountains.  Four elevators sped from floor to floor at a rate of 600 feet a minute. In 1969 an insurance company purchased the building. Their attempt at “modernizing” the 1910 structure was to cover it in marble and glass and so it remains today, making Samuel Fain Carter’s building unrecognizable. The city hall in the picture was abandoned after the city fathers sold their votes to FDR in exchange for a WPA structure opened in 1939 that still sits as a monument to the marriage of Gargantua and Pantagruel. The clock out of the 1904 structure was stored from whence it was lost or stolen only to be “rediscovered” in an East Texas theme park in 1988. The new tower, completed in 1996 is a fine example of later perpendicular [proving that Houston is a fine place to have the time but not the inclination] and the reworked clock was supposed to start working at 11:00am May 9, 1996. Because of too many long speeches by politicians, the 11 chimes didn’t sound until five minutes past the hour. This is another sterling example of how Houston’s politicians in their search for personal prominence leave the city behind – first they lose, or sell, the city’s history and then, when they replace a dollar with a dime, they go on ad nauseam about their accomplishments.

We will close this week by returning to the Island. Our train will drop off Edythe, her family and her friends at the station on 25th Street at The Strand. They will be picked up in her father’s 1907 Model H Cadillac which had a four-cylinder engine that displaced 300 cubic inches [111 mm bore x 127 mm stroke] and developed a maximum of 30 horse power – and was one of the finest cars on the road with a price of $3,600. They will head south on 25th [now Rosenberg] to Avenue J [now Broadway] and thus come to the Monument – almost all directions in Galveston used to be given with reference to the Monument, “go to the Monument and turn left then go six blocks etc.” – and it has been a constant landmark for over 100 years.

Its proper name is the Texas Heroes Monument and this permanent tribute was dedicated in April 1900, about 4 months before the 1900 Storm.  The monument was a gift to the State of Texas by Galveston philanthropist Henry Rosenberg and the Sidney Sherman chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas supervised its construction. Much of the stonework on the Memorial  was turned cut by Charles Sebastian Ott, who also worked on the Moody Mansion, the Bishop’s Palace, and University of Texas Medical Branch main building designed by Nicholas Clayton.

At  the top of the column is  a 22-foot bronze figure of “Victory” holding a laurel crown. She is gesturing in the direction of the San Jacinto Battlefield and the San Jacinto Monument, to honor those who fought and died in the Battle of San Jacinto to win Texas Independence from Mexico.

Inscribed below Victory are Defiance and Peace, facing east and west and Patriotism and Honor, facing north and south. At the base facing north and south are the heroes of Texas independence, Sam Houston and Steven F. Austin. Much more than its recognition of the value of Victory, and the impossibility of freedom without it, or of four great civic virtues it stands as a tribute to a city that may be wracked by storms but still values public art and preserves all of her heritage that she can. Our Post Card to Edythe is from her cousin Marshall and it may not be a mere affectation that he signed it Martial.

The Monument in Galveston

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