Category Archives: Downtown

Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery

[Detail of Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery from 1895 Map, showing location near intersection of Bagby and Lamar]

Newspaper articles about neglected and abandoned Houston cemeteries are not that uncommon.  What may surprise some, though, is that a newspaper article on the subject appeared over a hundred years ago, when the city of Houston was relatively new. Because of the length of the article, only the first part of the article (which concerns the old Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery) is reprinted below.  The other two parts of the article, which concern two other early Houston cemeteries, will be featured here on later dates.

A number of the words in the discussion of the Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery are difficult to read in the copy of the article that Houstorian viewed.  Bracketed words below are best guesses – bracketed question marks indicate a word is missing, and no guess was made.

The article is titled “Houston’s Oldest Cemeteries: Cities of the Dead of Past Generations Neglected and Some of Them Almost Obliterated,” and it appeared in the Houston Daily Post on February 15, 1903:

Within a dozen squares of the business [district] of Houston, almost hidden from [view] with a matted growth of rank vegetation, that at this season is sere and dead, [sits] the city’s oldest cemetery.

[It is] unkempt and forlorn and presents [an] appearance that is too often characteristic of old age.  In the hallowed spot [sleep] many of those who helped to hew [?] of Houston’s greatness.  Their [bodies] have long since changed to ashes [and] time has corroded the slabs that [marked] their resting places until the [?] letters on the perishable marble [are] no longer legible.

The younger generations and later residents of Houston, perhaps, do not even [know] of the presence of this sacred old [burial] ground.  But the old-timer who has [helped] to fashion the destinies of the city [in] the last half century is aware of its [presence] and not unlikely has dropped [?] within its inclosure.

Adjoining the Sam Houston city park on [the] north side is a narrow strip of ground [embracing] some six or seven acres.  It approaches within 100 feet of Bagby street, [?] a view of it is obstructed by houses [that] have long been built between it and the thoroughfare.  A high board fence [separates] it from the city park, like the [?] partition between the realms of life and death.

Many gay people as they have strolled through the park have paused and wondered what lay beyond the high fence.  At [one] point a stone structure, bereft of roof, [?] its scarred walls, like the ruins of [some] miniature monastery, above the [?].  A half century ago it was a vault [?] within it were coffined forms.  Now it is a mere shell.  A later generation has [removed] the bodies and placed them in [?] graves.

The burial ground is known as the old Episcopal cemetery.  No records are obtainable as to when it was laid out, but [?] common consent it is accredited the [?] of the most venerable cemetery in the city.

Years ago the city sought to condemn it, and similar steps have been taken at various times since.  The right of the city to do so was always questioned and with sufficient force to prevent the action being carried out.  Some two years ago the city [?] attempted to purchase the grounds.  If the deal had been consummated it was the [?] to remove the bodies and add the [?] to the city park.

Burials have practically ceased there and [?] one is recorded during the past two years.  In fact, from time to time bodies have been removed and placed in more modern cemeteries, until now the little [city] of the dead has not half its former inhabitants.  A number of family lots in which reposed all that was mortal of whole [?] of two generations ago have been [?] depopulated.

[?] slabs still lie scattered about and their simple graven announcements give [thoughts] to conjure by.  With but few exceptions the graves are entirely overgrown and the mattes mass of vegetation is so dense that parts of the grounds can not be penetrated at all.  In many lots [?] which are fragments of iron fences [?] have grown from the seed and the [?] reproduction of weeds and briers have flourished and withered, obliterating [?] traces of graves.

A few rambling notes gathered from old [?] and vault slabs may be of interest and may recall faces that smiled generations ago and hands that performed their [?] in the ceaseless struggle of human

“Sacred to the memory of R. Wallace, [died] September 8, 1858.  Age 25 years.”

“[In] memory of Dr. B.C. Dewey. Formerly a resident of Coldwater, Mich.; died in Houston, October 13, 1858.  Age 35 years.”

“Abraham Payne, died January 11, 1840.”

“Catherine Cartright Payne. Died 1841. Age 22 years.”

“Mrs. Hannah Payne, native of England. Died November 10, 1870.”

[One] vault bears the following inscription:

“Here lies the remains of Remi Miville De [?], born Quebec, Canada, May [20, 17??]. Died 1860.”

“[?] J.B. Anderson, born New York, October 15, 1807.  Died September 1, 1858.”

“James B., W.P. and Hellen Massie.  Died October 8, 1859.  Age 5.”  In the [same] lot is a shaft on which is carved the [square] and the compass, with the inscription, “William P. Massie, died March 7, [?], age 50.”

“In memory of Sarah E. J., wife of Dr. [?] Earl Hartridge, who departed this life [?], 1855.  Age 28.” Also “Luzetta, [?] 2 years, died 1858.”

“[?] A. Harris –” the rest illegible, the [?] being shattered and very old.

“Anna Marie, only daughter of U. and S. [?], born February 6, 1851; died January [?], 1856.”

“[?] loving memory of Kate, daughter of [?] and H.T. Rottenstein.  Died November [?], 1850.  Aged 4 years.”

“[?] M. Duval, born December [?], 1779.  Died April 30, 1860.” The inscription is [?] a massive vault, now partially uncovered.

“Sacred to the memory of Dr. John S. [Duval], born October 19, 1829.  Died November 14, 1858.”  This record is likewise [?] a large vault slab, but it is in a fair state of preservation.

“[In] memory of W.D. Smith, died February 13, 1858, in the fifty-second year of his [life].”

“Sacred to the memory of John Dawson, native of Northumberland, England.  Died [October] 1849, aged 27 years.”

“In memory of Daniel M. Cutter, born October 21, 1790.  Died April 26, 1866, aged 75 years.”

“James W. Oats, born 1797, in Sampson county, North Carolina.  Died in Houston March 5, 1870.”

“George Morgan, infant of G.A. Jones.  Died 1850.”

“Sacred to the memory of S.H. Skiff.  Died October, 1859.”

“Alberta Foster, died 1857.”

“Agness, daughter of L.S. and H.B. Perkins, died August 6, 1846.”

“This mortal must put on immortality.  In memory of Leonard S. Perkins, aged 49.  Died October 22, 1858.”

“Sarah M. Perkins, wife of Rev. J.W. Tays, died at Oxford, N.Y., September 24, 1870. Eunice, daughter of A.S. and F. Perkins, died November 13, 1859. They rest in hope.”

An old iron fence bears the inscription, “J.N. Dupree, 1857.”

On what is perhaps the largest shaft in the grounds is the following: “Sacred to the memory of Captain D.C. Farmer. Called from labor to reward August 4, 1870.”

. . . .

“Mason, Holland lodge No. 1, A.F. and A.M.
Who wears the square upon his breast does in the
Sight of God attest and in the face of man
That all his actions will compare with the
Divine, the unerring square, that square
Great nature’s plan.

Over the River company Fifth Texas regiment, Hood’s brigade.
On Fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.”

Near the entrance of the cemetery is a shattered shaft bearing the following:

“Henry Benchley, died February 24, 1867, age 46 years.  Erected by the Houston and Texas Central Railway company as a tribute of respect to an upright man and a faithful officer.”

“Enter rest eternal, the kindest husband and most indulgent father, the truest friend and the most generous man.”

The reference to the graves of Abraham Payne (died January 11, 1840), Catherine Cartright Payne (died 1841, at the age of 22), and Mrs. Hannah Payne, “native of England” (died November 10, 1870) is interesting.  These appear to be the father, older sister, and step-mother of Kezia Payne DePelchin, the founder of the DePelchin Faith Home (which now operates as the DePelchin Children’s Center).  DePelchin herself died in 1893, and some sites mention that she and her “parents” were relocated to Forest Park Cemetery on Lawndale.

The Masonic references in the article suggest that the author was exploring not just the grounds of the old Episcopal Cemetery, but also those of the adjacent Masonic Cemetery.  The two are often referred to as the “Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery”, and it’s quite possible that the boundary between the two wasn’t clearly marked, especially in later years.

William P. Massie, whose year of death is not legible, appears to have been a Mason.  He may be the William Massie who fought at the Battle of San Jancinto in 1836.  (The gravestone of a William P. “Massey” is mentioned in a 1960 Houston Chronicle article as one of a handful of gravestones still visible in the Masonic Cemetery next to the Episcopal Cemetery.)

The poem excerpted above was written in honor of Captain D.C. Farmer (died 1870), a captain in Hood’s Brigade in the Confederate States Army.

Leonard S. Perkins (died 1858) once owned a 10-acre parcel of land on Buffalo Bayou, near Frost Town.

S.H. Skiff (died 1859) appears to have been a charter member of the Houston Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 (a predecessor of the fire department), which was formed in 1858.  Dick Dowling was another of the handful of charter members.

Finally, Henry Benchley (died 1867) was the namesake of the town of Benchley, Texas.  Early in his life, he served as a state senator and lieutenant governor in Massachusetts and, in the 1850’s, he helped found the Republican party.  He is said to have moved to Texas to operate a station on the Underground Railroad, helping escaped slaves, and to have been arrested and jailed in Texas for having done so.  His grandson, Robert Benchley, was a famous humorist and contributor to the New Yorker.

As noted in the Louis F. Aulbach article on the Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery, some remains were moved from the cemetery in the 1870’s, to Glenwood Cemetery.  Additional remains were moved to Brookside Cemetery in 1938, when City Hall was constructed.  Then, in 1959, 80 additional bodies were moved to Glenwood Cemetery.  However, in light of the information the Daily Post article gives about the neglected state of the Episcopal-Masonic Cemetery as early as 1903, it is unlikely that all remains in the cemetery were located, much less relocated.


Audubon’s 1837 Visit to Houston

[Audubon print of Mockingbirds]

The great naturalist John James Audubon visited the Republic of Texas, including Houston, in 1837.  The Texas State Historical Association reports that “important parts of John James Audubon’s journal, including information on his 1837 Texas trip, were lost.”  Some portions of his journal writings on Houston appear to have survived, however, as they have been reproduced in various sources.  In 1875, the Galveston newspaper, excerpting from a piece in the San Marcos newspaper, reproduced Audubon’s account of his visit to Houston as follows:

May 15. We landed at Houston, the capital of Texas, drenched to the skin, and were kindly received on board the steamer Yellow Stone, Captain West, who gave us his state-room to change our clothes, and furnished us refreshments and dinner.  The Buffalo bayou had risen about six feet, and the neighboring prairies were partly covered with water; there was a wild and desolate look cast on the surrounding scenery. We had already passed two little girls encamped on the bank of the bayou, under the cover of a few clapboards, cooking a scanty meal; shanties, cargoes of hogsheads, barrels, etc., were spread about the landing; and Indians drunk and hallooing were stumbling about in the mud in every direction. These poor beings had come here to enter into a treaty proposed by the whites; many of them were young and well looking, and with far less decorations than I have seen before on such occasions. The chief of the tribe is an old and corpulent man.

We walked towards the President’s house, accompanied by the Secretary of the Navy, and as soon as we rose above the bank we saw before us a level of far-extending prairie, destitute of timber and of rather poor soil. Houses, half finished, and most of them without roofs, tents and a liberty pole, with the capitol, were all exhibited to our view at once.  We approached the President’s mansion, however, wading through water above our ankles. This abode of President Houston is a small log house, consisting of two rooms, and a passage through after, the Southern fashion. The moment we stepped over the threshold, on the right hand of the passage we found ourselves ushered into what in other countries would be called the ante-chamber; the ground floor, however, was muddy and filthy, a large fire was burning, a small table covered with paper and writing materials was in the center, camp-beds, trunks and different materials were strewed around the room. We were at once presented to several members of the Cabinet, some of whom bore the stamp of men of intellectual ability, simple though bold, in their general appearance.  Here we were presented to Mr. Crawford, an agent of the British Minister to Mexico, who has come here on some secret mission.

The President was engaged in the opposite room on national business, and we could not see him for some time. Meanwhile we amused ourselves by walking to the capitol, which was yet without a roof, arid the floors, benches, and tables of both houses of Congress were as well saturated with water as our clothes had been in the morning. Being invited by one of the great men of the place to enter a booth to take a drink of grog with whim, we did so; but I was rather surprised that he offered his name, instead of the cash to the bar-keeper.

We first caught sight of President Houston as he walked from one of the grog-shops, where he had been to prevent the sale of ardent spirits. He was on his way to his house, and wore a large coarse gray hat; and the bulk of his figure reminded me of the appearance of Gen. Hopkins, of Virginia, for, like him, he is upward of six feet high, and strong in proportion. But I observed a scowl in the expression of his eyes that was forbidding and disagreeable.  We reached his abode before him, but he soon came, and we were presented to his Excellency. He was dressed in a fancy velvetcoat, and trowsers trimmed with broad gold lace; around his neck was tied a cravat somewhat in the style of seventy-six. He received us kindly, was desirous of retaining us for a while, and offered us every facility within his power. He at once removed us from the ante-room to his private chamber, which, by the way was not much cleaner than the former. We were severally introduced by him to the different members of his cabinet and staff, and at once asked to drink grog with him, which we did, wishing success to his new republic. Our talk was short, but the impression which was made on my mind at the time by himself, his officers, and his place of abode, can never be forgotten.

We returned to our boat through a melee of Indians and blackguards of all sorts. In giving a last glance back we once more noticed a number of horses rambling about the grounds, or tied beneath the few trees that have been spared by the axe. We also saw a liberty pole, erected on the anniversary of the battle of San Jacinto, on the 21st of last April, and were informed that a brave tar, who rigged the Texan flag on that occasion, had been personally rewarded by President Houston with a town lot, a doubloon and the privilege of keeping a ferry across the Buffalo bayou at the town, where the bayou forks diverge in opposite directions.

More information:

TSHA, Handbook of Texas Online, “Audubon, John James”

Original Mexican Restaurant

Robb Walsh, the food critic at the Houston Press noted in a 2000 article that:

At the turn of the century, tamale vendors, chili stands and other such street sellers supplied the Mexican food in Houston. But in 1907 a public crusade for better sanitation began to force them out of business. The civic reforms of the Progressive era brought about the first health inspections and rules for safe food handling. William McDuffie Brumby, Houston’s crusading health officer, led these reforms and then went on to become president of the Texas Board of Health, where he wrote a statewide sanitation code. While some tamale vendors and chili stands remained in business after 1910, their numbers dwindled as permanent Mexican restaurants with more hygienic facilities began to take their place.

In the same year that restrictions were placed on Mexican street food in Houston, what history suggests was Houston’s first Mexican restaurant – the “Original Mexcian Restaurant” – opened. Walsh states:

The first Mexican restaurant listed in Houston’s city directory was the Original Mexican Restaurant at 807 Fannin. It was opened in 1907 by George Caldwell, an Anglo from San Antonio. Caldwell was no doubt inspired by the Original Mexican Restaurant in his hometown, which opened in 1900. Caldwell’s place was quite popular and a favorite of mayor Oscar Holcombe’s. Caldwell’s slogan was “Genuine Mexican food, properly prepared.”

A book on Houston published soon after the opening of the Original Mexican Restaurant (Pen and Sunlight Sketches of Greater Houston, an electronic version of which has been made publicly available by Rice University through a Creative Commons attribution license) included the following description of the restaurant:

Of all the first class restaurants of Houston none is better known nor more widely patronized than the Original Mexican Restaurant, which is located at 807 Fannin street, an ideal location for a business of this kind. The place is handsomely furnished throughout in true Mexican style, and the very best of Mexican dishes cooked by native Mexican cooks, are served. While the business has been established only about five years, it has during that time gained fame throughout the state, and is one of the most popular resorts in Houston, being patronized by a large circle of its best citizens. Mr. G. E. Caldwell, the proprietor of the restaurant, is a native of Texas and a former citizen of San Antonio, where he spent the larger part of his life, and where he also learned the ways of the Mexicans and gained his experience in preparing the delicious Mexican dishes. Regular meals are served at 35 cents, all of Mexican dishes, while short orders are to be had at any time between noon and midnight. Mr. Caldwell makes a specialty of catering to parties, and does a big business in this line.

Walsh also notes that Felix Tijerina, the founder of Felix Mexican Restaurant, took a busboy job at the Original Mexican Restaurant in 1918, at the age of 13, and that Caldwell encouraged Tijerina to open his first restaurant in 1929.

In 1922, the Original Mexican Restaurant moved from 807 Fannin to 1109 Main, and is presumed to have closed sometime thereafter.

William L. Foley Building and House


The building now called the Foley Building or Kennedy-Foley Building was built by John Kennedy, an early Houston merchant and Indian trader, in 1860. It served as a Confederate armory during the Civil War and was half-destroyed by fire in 1888.

Kennedy later gave the building to his son-in-law, William L. Foley, who has been referred to as the “dean of Houston dry goods merchants.” He was the “rich uncle” who, in 1900, gave Foley brothers Pat and James Foley the money to open the “Foley Brothers” store that would grow into the Foley’s department store chain.

Foley operated the W.L. Foley Dry Goods Co. in the building from 1896 until his death, in 1925. His children managed the business at that location until 1948. An advertisement in the November 20, 1897 edition of the Houston Daily Post announced a “Special Sale of Gloves and Hosiery” at “William L. Foley – 214, 216, 218 Travis Street”. The gloves listed are priced from 47 cents to $1.50, and the hosiery – “Quantity Limited. Only four pairs to each customer.” – is priced from 19 cents to 43 cents. The following day’s paper – a Sunday paper – contained a near full-page ad for the store, and competing ads from companies such as the Levy Brothers Dry Goods Company, Mistrot Bros. & Co., and Kiam Clothiers.

The Foley Building has more recently been home to the “12 Spot” bar, which closed in 2006, but is rumored to be re-opening in 2007.

[Parasol Project at Foley House]

The William L. Foley House was built in 1904. The house was moved from its original location (704 Chenevert) to its present location on the 700 block of Avenida de las Americas. It sits next door to the Arthur B. Cohen house, built in 1905. Located between the George R. Brown Convention Center and Minute Maid Park, an area that has undergone considerable changes in recent years, the houses were at one time scheduled for demolition. In early 2007, however, the mayor announced plans to convert the two structures into a regional heritage tourism center.

The Foley House is pictured above during a 2006-2007 sculpture installation called the “Parasol Project”.

More information:
Texas Historical Commission entry for Foley Building
HAIF thread mentioning the Foley Building
HAIF thread discussing 12 Spot

Sam Houston Hall & 1928 Democratic National Convention


[U.T. Center for American History]




Before there was a Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, and before there was a Sam Houston Coliseum or Music Hall, there was Sam Houston Hall. Sam Houston Hall stood on the same ground later occupied by the Coliseum, Music Hall, and (now) Hobby Center, but stood for less than a decade. The 20,000-person hall was built in a hurry for the 1928 Democratic National Convention – it took only 64 days to complete. (The Democratic presidential candidate in 1928 was Alfred Smith, who lost to Herbert Hoover.) The “official photograph” of the 1928 Democratic National Convention shows thousands of attendees. At the time, the plot of land on which Sam Houston Hall was built was directly adjacent to Houston’s Fire Station Number 2, as shown in some of the photos above. The hall was razed in 1936.

A marker outside the Hobby Center commemorates the building that once stood there.

Sadly, a lynching occurred in Houston during the convention – an event that TIME Magazine referred to as “Houston’s Shame”.

More information:

TIME Magazine, “To Houston”, Jan. 23, 1928
TIME Magazine, “The Democracy”, July 2, 1928
TIME Magazine, “Conventionale”, July 9, 1928

Market Square Clock


The Market Square Clock stands in Market Square, at the corner of Travis and Congress. It incorporates the very same clock faces that looked out over the city, from 1904 to 1960, from the top of the fourth (and last) building in Market Square to have served as Houston’s city hall. After the building was destroyed, the clock was placed in storage, and ultimately ended up in a junkyard. The man who purchased the clock from the junkyard displayed it in an historical park in Woodville, Texas, but later returned it to Houston. In 1996, the clock was again displayed in Market Square, in a new modern clock tower. The clock must be wound every eight days. Each of its faces is seven and a half feet across. The new clock tower also houses a 2800-pound fire bell that survived the 1903 fire that destroyed the third city hall building in Market Square.

More information:

Old Courthouse Oak Tree

[Houston Chronicle]

[Yan Lee pen and ink portrait – limited prints for sale]

If you look at the footprint of downtown’s Bayou Place from above, it features a noticeable zig-zag in its northwest end. The zig-zag accommodates the Old Courthouse Oak Tree, which majestically occupies the corner of Bagby and Capitol. The oak tree stood next to an early county courthouse, and is estimated to be 400 years old – possibly the oldest tree in Harris County. When the Albert Thomas Convention Center (which previously occupied the building now known as Bayou Place) was constructed in 1966, it was built around the oak tree, as shown below.

[Houston Chronicle]

American Brewing Association

[1910’s – American Brewing Association building – Houston History]

Adolphus Busch founded a brewery in Houston in 1893, as part of his American Brewing Association business. (The American Brewing Association is sometimes reported to be connected with, and sometimes reported to be independent of, the Anheuser-Busch Companies – however, an October 28, 1892 article in the Houston Daily Post refers to the planned brewery as the “Anheuser-Busch brewery”.) In 1894, the brewery held an opening ceremony at the brewery, to introduce its product to the public, and 10,000 people reportedly attended. The brewery covered an entire city block at Railroad and 2nd Streets, and remnants of the brewery and a related building have been uncovered during construction at the University of Houston’s downtown campus. Also discovered was a tunnel leading from the site to Buffalo Bayou.

An 1897 American Brewing Association advertisement featured two brands of beer – “Dixie Pale” and “Hackerbrau”. The cost – $1.00 for 12 pint bottles, $1.50 for 12 quart bottles – included delivery “at your residence.” The ad also listed the brewery’s “Houston ‘Phone” number… 73.

More Information:
Gorski, L.C. and Aulbach, L.F., “Oktoberfest in Houston? Breweries on the Bayou,” Buffalo Bayou – An Echo of Houston’s Wilderness Beginnings (2003).

Elysian Viaduct

[David Bush, Greater Houston Preservation Alliance]

[Houston Chronicle]

The elegant-sounding Elysian Viaduct is actually just a 1.5-mile-long overpass connecting downtown Houston with the Near Northside. The downtown-side entrance to the overpass is just north of Minute Maid Park. The overpass was built in 1955, over what had been Elysian Street, without taking any adjacent properties. As shown in the photos above, the overpass was thus built almost on top of homes in the historic neighborhoods it crossed, contributing to the decline of those neighborhoods. A proposed expansion and extension of the viaduct poses a new threat to the Near Northside, which features one of the city’s largest concentrations of late Victorian architecture.

More information:
Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, “Elysian Viaduct Update
Davis, R. and Walton, R., Editorial, “Let’s not remake the same mistake with Elysian Viaduct,” Houston Chronicle, Dec. 6, 2004.
Houston Architecture Info Forum, Elysian Street Viaduct discussion

Kirby House