By 1904 Galveston had by all external signs recovered from the 1900 Storm. It was a presidential election year and despite the latter-day adulation of Theodore Roosevelt by Texas conservatives – who may be a little uncertain of ALL of his positions – Texas and Galveston held with the yellow dog South and voted for Alton B. Parker and Henry G. Davis, the Democratic candidates for president and vice-president whose positions would make current day Republicans look like a bunch of socialists. America – and Galveston with it – was firmly in the grasp of peace and prosperity and if this entry seems a little boring it is the kind of boring that we long for so return with us now to those wonderful days of yesteryear and enjoy a better time in America.
Nicholas Descomps Labadie had in impeccable Texas pedigree having come here in 1831, having fought under Gen. Sidney Sherman and tended the wounded at San Jacinto, having traded his plantation on Lake Charlotte to Michel B. Menard for Galveston wharf rights and built Labadie’s Wharf near the foot of Twenty-sixth Street and having served as examining physician for draftees in 1863 and as surgeon of the First Regiment, Texas Militia, in Galveston during the Southern War for Independence. His descendents remained on the island and continued to play roles in businesses there. E. H. Labadie was a patron of the arts and in addition to framing pictures conducted an “art room” that served as a gallery for many of the island aspiring artists including Margaret Edythe Young it is a little amusing to think she may have ridden one of his bicycles to bring her work to his gallery but then again the art world was far more innocent – and far less effete – in those days.
In the ongoing fight against saloons and drinking it is very likely that Margaret Edythe Young and her friends enjoyed carbonated beverages including those produced by Italian immigrant Charles Casentini. His company would be a soldier in the early cola wars and see its product, Kos-Cola, fall by the wayside as Coca-Cola came to displace almost all of its competitors. But in the early days his products would have been favored by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union who favored prohibition to help prevent the domestic violence that was blamed on husbands who drank. These same women broadened their goals and pressured the legislature for laws authorizing reformatories to keep children from being incarcerated with adult criminals. Then they fought for alcohol education in the public schools, forbidding the sale of cigarettes to minors, and raising the age of consent for girls from ten to twelve in 1891, to fifteen in 1895, and to eighteen in 1918. While it is highly unlikely that she ever drank anything stronger than sarsaparilla as the grand-daughter, daughter and sister of saloon keepers – or former saloon keepers – and as an Irish Catholic it is highly unlikely that she was ever involved with the WCTU.
In early Texas sash mills consisting of a single blade held in a frame and powered by water or animals cut crude lumber, one board at a time, and produced 500 to 1,200 board feet a day. These were supplanted by larger mills featuring circular saws that could cut more than 25,000 board feet of lumber a day which, by the end of the nineteenth century, had been replaced by the big mill – with a daily capacity of 80,000 to 100,000 board feet per day. The importance of Galveston as a business and transportation center as well as its proximity to the forests of East Texas made it a natural location for a lumber company.
The Peach River Pine delivered the cutting from the 14,000 acre reservation of the Walker County School District – the way they supported their public schools – and the red cypress lumber, which is now considered so fine as to be used only for furniture, were considered not only the staple of building timber, dock pilings and railroad ties but also for residential construction. Building construction and comfort were facilitated by mass production of building components, frame houses were given elaborate gingerbread trim made possible by the jigsaw and an organized fire departments reduced the amount of damage caused by fires. All of the houses belonging to the Young family in Galveston were wooden frame structures and although the first burned in 1898 it did not takes its neighbors with it and while its replacement finally succumbed to the Storm of 1947 the house that Anthony Lewis Bettencourt moved into with his new bride – Margaret Edythe Bettencourt [nee Young] in 1912 still stands.
During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, waterworks, sewerage systems, electric-light companies, gas works, ice plants, telephone systems, and rail transportation all improved sanitation and afforded numerous conveniences in many towns. For interior comfort, ventilation devices were introduced, steam heat was developed, and electrical lighting was installed in many buildings. If you look at the architecture of Galveston you will find high ceilings, floor to ceiling windows and interior sash doors that open to allow whatever breezes there were to flow through the houses – the Bettencourt house on Avenue L was built one storey off the ground not only to create a utilizable space for a house with no yard otherwise but also to keep it dry and well ventilated and to that end the central hall ran most of the length of the house and had a skylight that also acted as a ventilator.
Galveston had led the way with public electrification in the state with Nicholas J. Clayton having built Galveston Electric Pavilion in 1881, the first building in Texas with electric lighting but the process of electrification was a slow one depending on coal-fired generation – a hydroelectric plant had been completed on the Colorado River to supply Austin in 1900 and was expected to produce 14,000 horsepower [a little over a million watts] but produced only 900 horsepower [just under 7,000 watts] during the summer when the river was down – so residential electrification was minimal at best powering light fixtures in better homes.
Even the light fixtures may have been gas-powered since Galveston had in 1856 been the first city with public gas lighting. It was the difficulty and expense of connecting residences to this system that led many to manufacture their own gas using the less than safe stems that cost the Young’s a daughter and a home in 1898. Rebuilding after the 1900 Storm meant that the system could be made safer and its products distributed as a domestic utility – mostly for lighting and cooking – but also for heating in that it could be used to fire a boiler for steam heat.
Residential indoor plumbing, gas and electric lighting, cooking and heating were all in their infancy on their way to quickly becoming commonplaces not only in public building and great houses but also in the homes of the burgeoning middle class and – as a market driven necessity – in the properties that they owned and rented to the poor. Anthony Lewis Bettencourt would for a time work with his brother in a partnership that provided electric and gas fittings until his brother, Arlindo [not quite as anglicized as Toni Luis], moved to Paris, Texas to help rebuild the city after it nearly burned to the ground.
Galveston was still THE port in the western Gulf and most of its industry was centered around shipping but there was also the Medical Branch of the University of Texas, the only Jesuit university on the Gulf coast west of New Orleans, banking and insurance companies that had grown with the port but expanded beyond shipping and the army of clerks that kept everything afloat on the sea of paper. While Clarke & Courts were the preeminent printers on the Island, J. Singer was the business book binder – even if he did do double, if not triple, duty by acting as a custom’s house broker/freight forwarder and insurance agent. There is a lesson in the evidence that a man could not make a living in the shipping or book business exclusively if I could only discern it.
One of the oldest shipping agencies in Galveston was Fowler McVitie and it was at this time one of the largest. McVitie was a Scotsman who had sought his fortune in Australia and retired to London and was running a fleet of colliers. Since the steamships of the day were coal-fired – as were the power plants for most industries – there was a market in Galveston for coal. Add to this the fact that the ships that brought coal in could bring cotton – or increasingly grain – back and you had a shipping bonanza. In a true show of genius bring in a relative of Charles Crocker [one of the “Big Four” who controlled the Southern Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroad Company, which built the western end of the original transcontinental railroad]as one of your partners and it is very little wonder that your firm would endure for most of the 20th century as well.
Whether it was a barque of 250 tons arriving in 1841 with passengers John Jones, Michael Wilson, Charles Hayes, William Rice, Richard Thompson, Charles Wells, John Thomas, H Wales, William Walker, A McDowell, William Wright, Peter Donaldson, John Jackson, A Powell, R Newton, J Sharp, Cargo includes 4 tons Whalebone, 74 tons black oil and 13 casks bottled beer, or one of the countless steamers that would deliver 133,000 immigrants to Galveston in the opening years of the 20th century they had to have someplace to stay and hotels like Hoppe’s served the need. It was only a block away from the Union Station, four-stories high and built of red brick that was the pride of Galveston when it opened in 1887. The station boasted seven tracks for passenger trains with rails extending three blocks out to 28th Street where they converged into two main-line tracks, joining other railroads leading to the trestle bridge that connected to the mainland and the object of most immigrants was not to remain in Galveston but to go west, find land and turn it into farms and prosperity – and most did.
The other type of hotel that was prospering was the business / residential hotel like the Washington. It had been built in 1873 by John Parker Davie as the Cosmopolitan Hotel and was located among a number of fashionable hostelries and shops in the Strand district. Davie was a merchant [who left an endowment to provide scholarships for blacksmiths and boilermakers that is now used to funds students in healthcare careers (sic)] who sold the building in 1878 to John Summers, who renamed it the Washington Hotel after an earlier inn by that name which was destroyed in the Galveston fire of 1877. While Davie’s hardware store occupied the first and fourth floors of the east end of the building the ground floor of the west end provided space for the hotel lobby, restaurant and retail shops. For many years there was a plaque in front of the building that had a photograph engraved on it that showed ladies sitting in the second floor windows with both the placers of the plaque and the average tourist blissfully unaware of why they were there – at this point, dear and gentle reader, we shall draw the curtain on this entry.