Monthly Archives: December 2006

Donnellan Crypt

[From Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings]

Just out of view of the thousands who drive daily over Franklin Avenue bridge at Louisiana Street is an intriguing artefact of Houston’s early history. While now empty, the Donnellan crypt was the initial resting place of certain members of the Donnellan family starting in 1849, and continuing until at least 1867. The large red brick outer wall is still visible, as is the single entrance at the bottom right-hand corner of the vault.

Among those members of the Donnellan family buried in the crypt were two boys (sometimes reported to be brothers) who were killed, in 1866, exploring the wreckage of an 1863 Confederate shipwreck at the foot of Travis street. The boys were killed by a bomb that they found among the remains of the ship.

The remains were removed from the crypt in December 1901.  Houston Daily Post articles list those whose remains were removed as Tim Donnellan (who died in 1849), his son Henry Donnellan (who died in the 1866 explosion), Emily Donnellan Dwyer (who died in 1867), and Charles Ritchey (who also died in the 1866 explosion – his relationship to the Donnellan family is unclear). They were reburied in a valut in Glenwood Cemetery.  The Daily Post reported:

Old timers will remember the death of . . . Donnellan and Ritchey. The two young men met a tragic and sudden death being literally blown to fragments by the explosion ot an old bomb that they had picked up in the bayou. Not knowing what it contained, or whether it contained anything at all, they were anxious to ascertain and to this end they carried the bomb to their shop and began operations on it with a large hammer. An explosion followed and the two young men were killed. The news of the tragic death of the young men quickly spread and thousands visited the scene. There was nothing left of the bodies when exhumed but the skulls and principal heavy bones.

For more information:
Louis F. Aulbach, “The Downtown Crypt,” Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (2004)
Galveston Daily News, May 30, 1900, at 5 (referencing Donnellan request to remove remains, which may have been desecrated in building of bridge)

Texas City Disaster

One of the worst disasters in United States history occurred at the docks in Texas City on April 16 and 17, 1947. The Texas City Disaster was caused by two explosions. The first occurred the morning of April 16, when a French ship loaded with ammonium nitrate exploded. The second occurred not long after midnight, when a second ship – also loaded wih ammonium nitrate – exploded as a result of the fire from the first explosion. Over 600 people died, and over 1,000 buildings were destroyed.

A 1.5-ton anchor was torn from from the French ship when it exploded. It landed landed 2 miles from the explosion site. [Moore Memorial Public Library, Texas City]

This five-story building next to the Texas City docks was destroyed. [Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries]

More information:
The Texas City Disaster – April 16, 1947
Wikipedia, “Texas City Disaster
Archives of Moore Memorial Public Library
TIME Magazine, “Pluperfect Hell”, Apr. 28, 1947

City Hall and Market House

[1872 – First or Second City Hall and Market House (drawing is dated 1872, before the construction of the second building, but the building looks like the second building)]

[1873 – Second City Hall and Market House – Notes accompanying the 1873 Bird’s-Eye Map of Houston suggest this was the second building]

[1873 – Second City Hall and Market House – Notes accompanying the 1873 Bird’s-Eye Map of Houston suggest this was the second building]

[Second City Hall and Market House]

[Third City Hall and Market House]

[Third City Hall and Market House – 1891 Panoramic Map of Houston]

[Fourth City Hall and Market House]

[Fourth City Hall and Market House]

[Fourth City Hall and Market House (1907) –]

[Fourth City Hall and Market House (1908) –]

[Fourth City Hall and Market House (1917) –]

[Fourth City Hall and Market House – U.T. Center for American History]

[Fourth City Hall and Market House]

[Fourth City Hall and Market House –]

[Fourth City Hall and Market House – George Fuermann Texas and Houston Collection, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries]

[Fourth City Hall and Market House –]

[Fourth City Hall and Market House serving as bus station – WPA Writers’ Program, Houston, a History and Guide]

Market Square is bounded by Travis, Milam, Congress and Preston streets. The block, which is now a park, was the site of four different successive buildings known as City Hall and Market House. The first was built there in 1841, the second in 1873, and the third in 1876. The Houston Daily Post reported in November 1897 that:

A force of carpenters, plasterers, etc., were at work yesterday in putting the market house in shape for the industrial exhibit that is to be made there during the Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Festival, December 6 to 11. This will be a very much needed improvement, and it is fortunate that something has occurred to bring it about, as the city hall has for a long time been in a most unsightly and dilapidated condition.

The fourth City Hall and Market House on Market Square stood the longest – from 1904 to 1960. However, when City Hall moved to its present location in 1939, the building was converted to a bus station. The fire bell from the third City Hall and Market House (which was destroyed by fire in 1903), and the clock from the fourth (built in 1904), have been incorporated into the Market Square Clock.


[Copyright © 2000, University of Houston Libraries]

From 1899 to 1915, Houstonians hosted an annual carnival called No-Tsu-Oh. Black Houstonians held the De-Ro-Loc carnival. King Nottoc presided over the No-Tsu-Oh parade until replaced by King Retaw (in honor of the completion of the Houston Ship Channel in 1914). Notable kings included John Henry Kirby, Jesse H. Jones, and William T. Carter; a notable queen was Frankie Carter.


[Alvin Romansky Papers, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries]

No-Tsu-Oh replaced the annual Fruit, Flower, and Vegetable Festival that Houstonians attended in the mid-1880’s. The annual week-long No-Tsu-Oh carnival seems to have generally been held in November, to coincide with the footbal game between the University of Texas and Texas A&M (then the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas). But it may have been held in December in 1899. In 1907, the carnival featured a large electric light display on the Benz Building. In 1910, King Nottoc XII was honored at a No-Tsu-Oh Carnival Ball at the Houston Auditorium. The carnival’s demise was likely connected to the beginning of World War I, but may have been hastened by a November 18, 1915 editorial in the Houston Chronicle denouncing the annual event.

More information:, “Tek Ram Calls You!
The Handbook of Texas Online, “No-Tsu-Oh
Charles Orson Cook, ed., “John Milsaps’s Houston: 1910,” Houston Review 1 (Spring 1979).

Shamrock Hotel

[Postcard of Shamrock Hotel]

TIME Magazine, “Luck of the Irish”, Mar. 21, 1949

Camp Logan


Camp Logan was a World War I training center in what is now Memorial Park. The camp encompassed 9,560 acres, though only 3,002 acres were developed. There were 1,329 bulidings on the site and tents sufficient to house 44,899 men. Camp Logan operated from 1917-20. Part of its historical signifance is the role it played in the 1917 Riot, which occurred while the camp was still under construction. The 1917 Riot occurred in part because of rumors that a Houston policeman had killed an MP who was part of a military battalion guarding the construction site.

More information:
Aulbach, L.F., “Camp Logan – a World War I Training Base on Buffalo Bayou,” Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (2002).
James V. Gill’s “Pictures of Camp Logan” site.
Historic map of Camp Logan.
HAIF Camp Logan discussion.

1917 Riot


The 1917 Riot was a mutiny by 150 black soldiers from the Third Battalion of the Twenty-Fourth United States Infantry. It lasted one afternoon, and resulted in the deaths of four soldiers and 15 civilians. The rioters were tried at three courts-martial. Ninteen were executed, and 51 were given life sentences.

A September 17, 1923 TIME Magazine article noted that part of the NAACP’s “Message to the People of the United States” at its 14th annual convention read: “We ask that the American people demand the release of the 54 members of the 24th Infantry now incarcerated at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary for their connection with the Houston, Texas [race] riots of 1917.”

The battalion of black soldiers was stationed in Houston to guard the construction of Camp Logan.

More information:
Wikipedia, “Houston Riot (1917)“.
Tyer, B. “Their First 100 Years”, Houston Press, Aug. 30, 2001.
Chapter One of Robert V. Haynes’ A Night of Violence – The Houston Riot of 1917 (1976).
1917 riot documentary (“Mutiny on the Bayou“) website.

Houston Municipal Airport

[Postcard from 1940 Air Terminal Museum]

[1940 Air Terminal Museum]

Construction on the art-deco Houston Municipal Airport terminal building was completed in 1940. The building was designed by Joseph Finger, who also designed Houston’s City Hall. It served as the primary terminal building into the 1950’s, when a more modern terminal was constructed. The airport itself was known as Houston Municipal Airport until 1954, when it was renamed Houston International Airport. The airport was named William P. Hobby Airport in 1967, in honor of the Texas governor, a Houstonian.

Fortunately for Houstonians, the original terminal building is still standing, and now serves as the 1940 Air Terminal Museum. It features a variety of permanent and rotating exhibits, and a viewing area from which visitors can watch the air traffic at Hobby Airport.

More information:
1940 Air Museum website
The Handbook of Texas Online, “William P. Hobby Airport

Olivewood Cemetery

[Photo by Houstorian Kate]

Olivewood Cemetery is a near-abandoned cemetery hidden behind Party Boy and the grocery supply warehouse on Studemont, just south of I-10 and White Oak Bayou. (Hence, one suspects, Party’s Boy’s claim that the haunted house it hosts each October – Nightmare on the Bayou – is “Houston’s only haunted house that is really haunted.”) The cemetery was the first black cemetery in Houston. Burials continued there into the 1960’s, but the cemetery became overgrown and neglected in the decades that followed. While various community service organizations have sponsored clean-up activities at the cemetery, much work remains to be done.

[Photo by Houstorian Kate]

One of the more interesting gravestone inscriptions reads: “Think what a wife should be. She was that.” Another reads: “Murdered at Dallas, Tex. Dec. 12, 1889.” A partial registry of those buried at Olivewood Cemetery is available online.

(Please note the additional comments below from Ms. Margott Williams, President of Descendents of Olivewood, Inc. Also, the book referenced in Ms. Rhonda McDonald’s comment below, Out of the Ditch, A True Story of an Ex-Slave, is available online here.)

More information:
Aulbach, L.F., “Ghosts of Houston’s Past Haunt the Cemeteries on Buffalo Bayou,” Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (2001).
Perry, J., “Houston Heritage – Grave undertaking: efforts to preserve earliest black cemetery,” City Savvy (Online Ed. 2005).
Preservation Update,” Greater Houston Preservation Alliance