1912 was the beginning of a new age in America. Woodrow Wilson was elected president and while no one could foresee the long-term implications of his variety of progressive populism what was apparent in the South was that a Democrat was back in office, patronage for federal offices was back in the hands of the machine that controlled the city, county and state and a burgeoning government would mean that there was a bigger pie to share. Most of this was good news for the economy of Galveston and in a peacetime prosperity a rising tide lifts all boats.
On the 21st of July in 1909 a hurricane with a 10 ft storm surge and 110 mph winds from the ESE had struck and 41 people were killed in Texas but the new seawall held which meant that Galveston held and almost as an act of defiance built up to the water’s edge for its tourist attractions.
Henry Toujouse had arrived from France in 1872 and found work at the Opera House Saloon situated in the basement of The Tremont Opera House at Tremont and Market. From behind a beautiful rosewood bar, Toujouse observed Galveston of the gilded age and those who regularly met at the opera house saloon. When the original proprietor died, Toujouse took over the saloon business and managed it until the opera house was sold in 1894. He then moved across Tremont Street opening First Henry’s Café in the Stag Hotel taking the elaborately ornamented bar with him. Not wanting to miss out on the beachfront bonanza Henry also invested in the Beach Hotel which was a large frame building built for the tourist traffic that arrived by train and took the street car from the depot to the beach. These hotels were basically one step up from the bath house adding only a bed to sleep in that their guests would be sorely in need of after too much sun, too much sand and too much seafood at the other beachfront attractions.
Just a few blocks east of that modest hotel – but a world away – was the brand new Galvez Hotel. John Elias Pearce who would become mayor of Galveston started his career as a telegraph operator. He had moved to Galveston in 1896 and subsequently served as chief cotton clerk for the Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad, where he became a vice president. He started a stevedore business in 1901 and with the backing of the of the Southern Pacific line organized the Hotel Galvez Operating Company of which he was president and general manager.
Where the old Beach Hotel had been a Victorian Gingerbread fantasy by Nicholas Clayton executed entirely in wood – which may explain why it burned to the ground in 20 minutes in 1898 – the Galvez was eight storeys of concrete, brick and steel with over two hundred rooms and two floors of luxury suites. It was the destination in Galveston and when complemented by the Bucanner and Jean Lafitte it put the Tremont and other hotels in the business district into a long decline that would not see them revived for nearly fifty years. One of my favorite stories of the hotel was that when the Rockefeller’s visited Mrs. Rockefeller lost her very valuable stole and when it was found and returned by a porter she gave him a dime as a tip – the rich are different than you and I and apparently a good deal cheaper!
Galveston and the Galvez may have been able to claim that they rivaled Atlantic City, Florida and Southern California as year round resorts with a special emphasis on warm winters but the truth of the matter is that without plenty of cool beverages Galveston before air conditioning must have been a sauna 300 days out of 365. While there were saloons for the men who needed to cut the dust of the docks from their lungs – as well as saloons where their managers could partake and the clergy could imbibe in medicinal dosages – none of these establishments served ladies. In addition to this there was a strong temperance movement in the state and on the island and the sale of colas, tonics and carbonated beverages probably rivaled the sales of beer – at least in volume.
1912 was the first instance we found of an advertisement for the Coca-Cola bottling works in Galveston and we notice the decline in advertising home-brew carbonation kits for those wanting seltzers, tonics and whatever other concoctions they may have devised or had prescribed for them. Although there was a brewery in Galveston there was always the problem of the water – the stuff that came from the islands wells had a taste of sulphur and iodine that made it taste like cheap scotch without the more pleasant aspects of the later beverage. Mr. Rossi – who cautiously kept a foot in both camps (and was thus unable to qualify for the Coca-Cola distributorship) was the agent for the Magnolia Brewery in Houston and had a carbonated beverage and ice-cream business operated by his son.
Not everything going on in Galveston had to do with hotels and soda water. Galveston was the Wall Street of the South and had the banks to prove it.
The banking business of Adoue & Lobit was founded in 1865 by Bertrand Adoue and Joseph Lobit, immigrants from France. Both were prominent in the affairs of Galveston including charitable causes. Adoue helped establish the Seamen’s Bethel in Galveston, which was sort of seaman’s center, as well as being consul for Sweden and Norway, while his partner, Joseph Lobit, was the French Vice-Consul for the city. Upon Adoue’s death this bank was permanently closed in accordance with his will and, ironically, is the only one of the five original banks on the Strand that does not continue to thrive in some form in Galveston today.
As commercial bankers they were not in the business that we think of as consumer banking today but were involved in things like the Cotton Concentration Company which became the largest feeder of cotton to the wharves and brought much-needed uniformity in handling this important commodity. It did most of the cotton compressing and exporting until the compress industry moved inland. The original shareholders in the $50,000 capital were Hutchings, Sealy and Company ($15,000), D. W. Kempner (7,500), Adoue and Lobit (7,500), W. L. Moody (7,500), Robert Waverly Smith (7,500), and C. H. Moore (5,000). The fact that they were on an equal basis as the Moody’s gives some indication of their importance – although the fact that Robert Waverly Smith was married to the daughter of John Sealy shows that the Sealy family actually controlled 45% of what would become the Moody Compress.
Their bank building was constructed on the Strand in 1890 designed by Nicholas J. Clayton in the Neo-Renaissance style, and was originally three stories in height and one of the most beautiful buildings on the Strand. In 1919 the J. H. W. Steele Company, steamship agents, purchased the building, re-arranged the three-story building into four floors, and in doing this stripped off the original lavish details of the exterior except for the ground floor cast iron columns. The site had a history that went all the way back to the modern founding of Galveston having first been occupied by a two-story frame store and counting house erected in 1839-40 for Michel B. Menard. In 1868, that building was purchased by George C. Rains who since the early 1840’s had operated a saloon on pilings at Twenty-first and the wharf, known as “The First and Last Chance”, which provided sailors their first drink upon arriving and their last drink before sailing. The saloon continued at its new location until Mr. Rains was retired from his business by an irate sailor in the late 1880’s and his heirs were foreclosed on to make way for progress.
While McCarthy came much closer to our idea of a modern bank you must remember that the great majority of people never saw the inside of a bank because they simply did not have, nor were they likely to earn, enough money to open or maintain an account. Banks existed primarily to serve as counting houses for businesses and investment conduits for the well to do. John Young commonly bought or built houses for his stevedoring supervisors or tug boat captains but the mortgages were either sold to or serviced by the banks and the companies that he provided services to cabled funds to him to pay for those services – if he deeded to travel he had a letter of credit from his bank and withdrew cash as needed from correspondent banks wherever he happened to be.
The Mistrot story is one that touches so many aspects of Galveston. Originally the trading company of the Blum brothers, wholesalers of staple and fancy dry goods, served the Southwest, Indian Territory, and Mexico from headquarters in Galveston and offices in New York, Boston, and Paris, France had started with two brothers acting as peddlers out of a store in Richmond, Texas before the Civil War. After growing first to Houston and then consolidating in Galveston they relocated during the war first to Brownsville and began the business of exchanging goods for cotton, which they sold to buyers for export to Europe through Matamoros, Tamaulipas eventually moving there before union troops advanced on Brownsville. After the war it became the first major wholesale dry-goods business in the state and Blum purchased directly from the manufacturer, imported staple goods, and shifted from retail to wholesale business seeking “quick sales and small profits.”
By 1870 earnings reached over $1 million but several family employees en route to New York to buy goods died when their steamer foundered, and in 1877 the store was destroyed by a fire. The new Blum Building, built in 1879, occupied 90,000 square feet in the Strand, had two hydraulic elevators, offices finished with cypress, and light entering the building unobstructed on three sides. The company employed 125 clerks and thirty traveling salesmen before 1887 but they failed during the nationwide depression of the 1890s, as did subsequent efforts to reorganize the business. After assets were distributed the company stock was sold to the Mistrot brothers in 1896. John W. Young [Margaret Edythe Young’s brother] married one of the Mistrot daughters and so the two families were related. Ironically it was the neo-Renaissance-style Blum Building that was remodeled and became the “new” Tremont Hotel in the 1980’s. In Galveston everything changes but nothing changes.
Margaret Edythe Young’s brother, John, had gone to work for his father in the stevedoring business and was in charge of the banana boats. This was long before refrigerated container ships and the small and fast ships used in the service carried no more than could be brought without ripening before delivery on each trip. This meant several things. These ships had priority berthing, were worked 24 hours a day until unloaded and you never saw SHEXC [Sundays and holidays excluded] in a charter-party.
The other interesting thing about this service is that these ships were the main source of goods from Asia entering Galveston. Ever since the days of the California Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century there had been a Panama Railroad that served as the first great transportation link between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. As marvelous as it was it was insufficient to handle the building of the Panama Canal and the original railroad was replaced between 1907 and 1912 with a line that is still in service today.
In addition to the Panama Railroad there was the Tehuantepec Railroad which crossed the isthmus north of the Yucatan Peninsula and ran between Coatzacoalcos on the Gulf side and Salina Cruz and the Pacific side. This route might have well been an alternative to the isthmian canal and had been under serious study since the mid-nineteenth century. The main thing that killed it was the intransigence of the various Mexican governments and the fact that the Panama route – even though it was two days sail further away – offered different but fewer engineering problems. While the Tehuantepec Railroad offered an alternative that helped take stress off the Panamanian line while it was busy with the construction of the Canal – and to keep prices in check through competition – the final price of the intransigence was that almost as soon as the Canal opened the Tehuantepec Railroad began to fail and, now, even the tracks are gone.
One of the busiest industries in Galveston was the ice business. Both the tons of fish and the rail cars full of bananas had to be packed in ice before they could be put on fast trains as far away as Kansas City and Clovis, New Mexico. While his neighbor, Manuel Francisco Bettencourt, had a job as a yard foreman at a cotton compress courtesy of John Young [MEY’s father] Manuel’s son, Toni Luis [later Anglicized to Anthony Lewis] Bettencourt, had a job as a cashier at Texas Ice and Cold Storage courtesy of John Young. Since the Bettencourt’s lived across the street from the Young’s [they were in fact renting a house that belonged to John Young] they were frequent guests and constant companions. Whether it was proximity or familiarity or the good looks of a young man from Portugal we have a few conspiratorial notes from Laureene Young to her sister Margaret asking if she was going to see her “beau” and we know that she must have since he became her husband. Mrs. Rockefeller may have had ermine and sable, Minnie may have had her Mick, Lombard may have had her Gable, but the ice man had his pick!
John Young may have been chiefly involved in the shipping business but like other successful businessmen he branched out into other areas. Real estate was probably principal among them since he was constantly sponsoring fellow immigrants and many of those who went to work for him ended up living in houses that he had built and rented to them or helped them eventually get mortgages for. Nor were families so very different then since all of his children wound up moving into houses that he owned when they were first married – Galveston is a small island and none of them were more the six blocks away! One of the non-residential investments that he made was the land on which the Model Dairy was located. Amazing as it seems you can get off the causeway at 61st street, turn right and head for the beach. As soon as you pass Calvary Cemetery on your right there is a development with restaurants, shops and a large motel and condominium – this is just west of where Fort Crockett used to end – and this is where the dairy farm that served most of Galveston for many years was located.
Galveston had recovered from the 1900 Storm. It had weathered the 1909 Storm behind its new seawall with very little damage. It was in the middle of a grade raising project that was an engineering marvel in an age of marvels and was publicly looking forward to a new century of prosperity. Less than 60 miles north the son of a civil war gun runner, Edward Mandell House, who had been a speculator and political operative since the 1890’s had hitched his wagon to Woodrow Wilson in 1911 and after the 1912 victory helped set up his administration. Offered a cabinet position he declined, choosing instead to serve wherever and whenever possible, which then – as now – was a license to steal.
The citizens of Harris County had voted a bond issue in 1909 to create the Port of Houston – never mind that the funds appropriate wouldn’t have covered the cost of a fishing pier – and thus created a public entity that could receive federal funds. Galveston Wharfs being privately held were judged not entitled to these funds. The race to build the Port of Houston was underway – with most of the Galveston shipping community was privately right in the middle of it – and in 1914 Woodrow Wilson would press a button on his desk in the White House and declare the Port of Houston open.
Thomas Brady, the elder, had impeccable Texas credentials. lawyer, legislator, newspaperman, and Houston city promoter he had moved here in 1856 and established a law practice at Houston while living at Harrisburg. In the Civil War Brady served the Confederacy on Gen. John B. Magruder’s staff and was a volunteer aide to Commodore Leon Smith on the steamer Bayou City in the capture of the Harriet Lane and the defeat of the federal fleet at Galveston Harbor on January 1, 1863 where he received special mention for his courage.
Brady was one of a group of businessmen who established the Texas Transportation Company, which became part of the Southern Pacific Railroad and built a line from Houston to Clinton on Buffalo Bayou. In the 1880s he helped to organize the Houston Belt and Magnolia Park Railway Company, later part of the Missouri Pacific. He was also interested in deepening the Houston ship channel and had the bayou dredged in what became Houston’s first turning basin about where Brady’s Island is today.
Married to Lennie Sherman, the daughter of Texas hero Sidney Sherman, he died after suffering a stroke on an inspection of the port of Houston on June 26, 1890.
His son – also Thomas Brady – immediately laid out a 1,374 acre site from his father’s property on Harrisburg Road across Bray’s Bayou from Harrisburg and seven miles downstream from Houston and called it Magnolia Park for the 3,750 magnolias that were planted there as part of developing the site. The development essentially covered the entire south side of what became the Port of Houston and was originally designed to house all of “white-collar” workers that would be needed by the new port. John Young bought a block in the new subdivision and dispatched one of his grandsons to open his first Houston office. While there are no Young descendents that we know of in Magnolia Park – or Galveston – there are some still in Houston so lament it as you may Colonel House apparently won the day.