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Interview with: Rosa Tod Hamner
Date: February 13, 1975
Archive Number: OH 071
N: 0:00:09 This is an interview with Mrs Rosa Tod Hamner on 13 February, 1975, in Mrs Hamner’s home in River Oaks. Mrs Hamner, would you tell us a little bit about John Grant Tod and your association, your family connections, with the—one of the early figures in the Texas Navy?
RTH: Yes. John Grant Tod, my grandfather, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1808. He came to Texas in 1837, after having served briefly in the navies of Mexico and of the United States and became connected with the navy of the Republic of Texas. First as a naval agent under Samuel May Williams, he supervised the buying and equipping of the vessels in Baltimore, which became the second navy of Texas, and in various other capacities, he served the navy. He was a director and one of the founders of the first railroad in Texas, and it was for that reason that he came to Harrisburg in 1866, to serve as treasurer of the railroad. He had previously been living in Richmond for a few years at the terminus of the railroad there.
N: This was what railroad?
RTH: The Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado Railroad, which had been organized by Sidney Sherman and others. Of them, he was one. What else do I know?
N: Did he have a house in Harrisburg for—?
RTH: Yes. He bought a house on the corner of Broadway and Elm and moved into it shortly after coming to Harrisburg, and there the family lived until 1942 when his daughter, Mrs Milby, died there. My father, his only son, was born while the family was still living in Richmond and came to Harrisburg when he was about three years old. Mrs Milby, his sister, was nine years older than my father, and she had been born in Galveston when they were living there before the war. Let’s see, what else do I want to say?
N: Your father—did your father go to school there in Harrisburg?
RTH: Yes. My father attended the public—the school in Harrisburg. It was first a private school whose principal was Mrs Halsey. Mrs Milby, his sister—of course she was Maggie Tod at that time—also went to school to Mrs Halsey and, at the time she was about eighteen, Mrs Halsey had an accident—broke her leg, I think it was—and Mrs Milby took over the classes, and that is where she started teaching. Later on, when a public school was started—was set up in Harrisburg—she was the first teacher there and taught until the time of her marriage.
N: 0:4:25.6 This private school was in a home? (speaking at same time)
RTH: Yes. The Halsey home. I think it was on Cypress and Broadway. I understood—people have told me this—that Mrs Milby, when the Halsey school had to close for some reason, she had the children come to her house there on Elm and Broadway and was holding classes there. Mrs Churley (??) remembered this, and her daughter told me about it—that they were there having class one day, and—you know—anybody who tries to farther—the parent or relations of John G. Tod know that he was just between here and Baltimore and Washington with all of this traveling. So he had been up there on some mission and had been gone a long time, and they were there in the class that morning, and Ms Maggie looked out and saw the Captain coming up the hill, and she said, “Oh!” She fell down on her knees and thanked God, and then she said, “Class is dismissed!” (laughter)
N: I suppose the children liked that very much! How many pupils did she have? Did—?
RTH: Not very many. Just a few, I’m sure.
N: Any famous names amongst them?
RTH: No, I don’t think so.
N: Somebody that came down? Your father, then after going to the local schools, he—
RTH: He studied on his own, and, well, in the first place, when he finished the highest Harrisburg school and went as far as he could go, he got a job and went to work. I think it was in his brother-in-law’s store. See, in the meantime, Ms Maggie had married Mr Charles Milby, and that must have been—I can’t remember that date. But anyway, Mr Milby had a store in Harrisburg, and Johnny worked in it and studied at night and prepared himself to take the examinations for entrance to Yale Law School, and he did pass the examinations and got his LL.B. degree from Yale in 1885. He came back home to Harrisburg and put out a shingle in Houston and practiced law there for the rest of his life.
N: His office was in the Scanlan Building in 1903—
RTH: That’s right.
N: 0:7:32.7 Was it—? (speaking at same time)
RTH: In the beginning he read law, at least having graduated at Yale. When he came back to Texas, of course, he had to take the Texas bar exams, and he studied and helped in the office of Major Looscan. I think Major Looscan’s office was in the Pillot building; the one we had tried to save.
N: Coincidently enough, you know, this is part of—Your father went to Yale, and this would have been after the Civil War, when other lawyers—for instance, the Stubbs brothers and—well, one of them went to Washington and Lee in Virginia, and there seemed to have been a lot of other Houston and Galveston lawyers—
RTH: Who went to Virginia?
N: Went to Virginia schools (unintelligible; speaking at same time) Can you explain—?
RTH: I can’t, except that he had his heart set on Yale from the very beginning, and he—there was a good deal of family opposition to his going. They thought he could have studied law in Texas and gotten ______ (??). I suppose they thought maybe he could read law with the lawyers.
RTH: But he wanted to go to Yale.
N: This was a growing thing, I know.
RTH: And he—
N: Before the war, many Galveston and Houston boys when to Yale, and I guess he just grew up in that tradition and overcame the—(unintelligible; speaking at same time)
RTH: —his telling that the first night he was in New Haven, they were having a Republican convention or rally of some kind—I think it was near election time or something—and there were bands going down the street playing “Marching Through Georgia,” and he said, “In my mind, I shot (laughter; unintelligible).
N: Right there in the street. (laughter) That is funny. (unintelligible)
RTH: 0:9:32.4 He had a wonderful experience at Yale, and he graduated with various honors in his class and magna cum laude. He practiced privately, and then he became county judge and judge of the district—
N: About 1892, he became county judge. He ran on the Democratic ticket, and he was county judge, 1892 to ‘96, then he went on to become the judge of the 11th judicial district.
RTH: Then do you have it to 1900?
N: Yes, in 1900 he became Secretary of State. This was under Governor Sayers.
RTH: Sayers’ second administration.
N: Did he have good connections with the Democratic Party—?
RTH: Oh, yes.
N: Evidently he was a good politician because this was a political ploy—
(unintelligible; speaking at same time)
RTH: He had managed the campaign here in Harris County proper, I think.
N: Governor Sayers—
RTH: And Mr Hardy—John B. Hardy—was Secretary of State. And I don’t know whether he and the governor fell out or what, but anyway, he didn’t want him for the second term, and he asked my father to take it. It was always under protest from my mother that he did anything political. She didn’t want him in politics.
N: Why is that?
RTH: I don’t know, she just had an aversion, and I think it was a very unfortunate situation, because he had the qualifications. He would’ve done the country some good, I think, if he had stayed in.
N: Well, let’s talk a little bit about your mother. That’s Osceola Morris? And she has old connections back into the Old Three Hundred, right?
RTH: 0:11:40.0 Her mother’s grandfather was Ezekiel Thomas who had the land grant on the north side of the channel. It’s now Galena Park and all that. That’s the family that the Allens come from too. The Sam Allens, not the AC Allen and JK Allen.
N: Yes, the Sam Allen of Harrisburg, the one that had the station, Allen Station, when they got off the railroad.
RTH: Yes. It’s where the Sinclair Refinery is now.
N: Yes, (unintelligible)
RTH: Incidentally, that’s where my mother was born.
N: At Allen station?
RTH: Well it wasn’t called Allen Station. Of course it wasn’t even a railroad, but it was—the Allens lived there.
N: Allen Ranch and cattle—?
RTH: Well now, they were cattle people, and they had thousands of acres. They had, I guess, the largest ranch in Texas at that time. My—her great aunt, no—yes, her great aunt—
N: Your mother’s great aunt.
RTH: Rebecca Jane Thomas married Samuel W. Allen, who was the one who established the Allen Ranch.
RTH: And that’s where—there on their place—my grandmother—my mother’s mother—was there when her baby was born. That was my mother, so we always say mama was born in Harrisburg, but papa was born in Richmond. They were so close.
RTH: It was Harrisburg.
N: Do you know about the Allens? Just briefly, do you know anything about their children? How many they had or their names?
RTH: 0:13:29.6 Yes. I could verify it. I wouldn’t want to use my memory right now, because I might—but I know them quite—you know—very well.
N: Are there any descendents living?
RTH: Oh, yes. Robert Stuart—Robert C. Stuart—who lives on Inwood, I believe it is, and his daughter, Mrs Philip Kelch (??) who lives on the corner of River Oaks and San Felipe. And then there’s some of the—Ms Maroni (??), Ms Elma Maroni (??), ______ (??) that’s over here at the Regency Apartments. That’s quite a number of them left.
N: They all moved from Harrisburg to River Oaks—(laughing; unintelligible) One of the reasons I am interested in the Allens is that one of their daughters married James Stubbs of Galveston.
RTH: That’s right.
N: And we’ve recently been working in the Stubbs—(speaking at same time; unintelligible) And I haven’t been able to trace anything back from there, so that’s—
RTH: That was—
RTH: —Aunt Jane’s daughter, Janie.
RTH: Married Stubbs and it was not a happy marriage.
N: No, they separated in the 1880s and were divorced in the 1890s. She took the children and moved to Washington.
RTH: Now I wonder what about her children. I didn’t— I don’t know a thing about them. Are any of them left?
N: Ah, I don’t— The sons didn’t marry, but the daughter did, and I don’t know if there are any children of that union. I didn’t follow it any farther along, but there could be conceivably, but I think they were in California then.
RTH: What was the name of the Stubbs that she married?
N: James—James B. James Bentock (??).
RTH: 0:15:32.7 Then did he marry again?
N: Yes. He married a widow after the—It would have been his housekeeper. And this was a scandal in Galveston.
RTH: Oh, yes.
N: I heard your aunt (unintelligible)
RTH: —and get divorced.
RTH: That was a dark stage in our family.
N: It was. W.H. Crane (??) comments on this, and Janie Allen was accused of all sorts of things, and W.H. Crane said, “Now Jane, you know you are no better.” So, I suppose it was both of them.
RTH: I guess so. They said she was a beautiful girl—woman. My mother remembered her. But she lived—was living in Washington, I think, and that’s where her mother died—in Janie’s home.
N: Her mother was living in Galveston with Ms Stubbs in the early 1880s—in ’83.
RTH: Jane Allen was?
RTH: Was she? I didn’t know that.
N: The city directory listed her. Yes. She might have just been visiting. She might have been visiting there or— Where was the Allen Ranch house?
RTH: The original home was on Sims Bayou—near the mouth of Sims Bayou—practically on what is now the Houston Ship Channel. Samuel W. Allen had a large house built down nearer what is now the town of Sam Houston, and that was most often called the Allen Ranch. A beautiful colonial house was built near the original home on Sims Bayou by Samuel W. Allen’s son, Flournoy. That must have been built about 1850, and it was one of the loveliest homes of Harris County. Later, Flournoy’s brother, Samuel Ezekiel Allen, bought the house, and that’s where—
N: 0:17:47.0 Flournoy died in the early 1880s.
RTH: Yes, yes. Flournoy’s wife—I’m getting hazy about that—but I think she was from the east.
N: She’s from New York.
RTH: And she probably went back there, didn’t she?
N: Yes, she did.
RTH: And she left Flournoy? Didn’t she?
N: I’m not sure about that.
RTH: I’m not either.
RTH: Anyway, of course she was—
N: She was trying to collect an inheritance, I know, in the 1880s.
RTH: After he died.
N: Yes. And had a daughter—had one daughter.
RTH: Is that so. I wonder what became of her.
(speaking at same time; unintelligible)
RTH: Well that’s interesting. Of course, I can tell you to whom you might talk about the Allens and this Robert Stuart. Now sometimes, I think he doesn’t know— He may not know much more than I do, because he spent his youth away from here. But he has access to all the family papers and letters and everything. But anyway, that house on—which was called the Allen Home, was near where the railroad came through. They had a cattle-loading pen on the Southern Pacific Railroad that went nearby there on what is now the—well, the highways have changed—so now what used to be what we called the La Porte Road, and I’ve forgotten what that’s designated now, 225 maybe. This railroad went along there, and they had a spur and a loading pen for the Allen’s cattle. That was later on that they named—called it Allen. A long many years after that, for some reason I could never understand, they decided to change the name from Allen and call it El Buey—the bull.
N: The bull (laughter; unintelligible). Did the Allens know a road—? Did the Allen part go out to where Allen was?
RTH: 0:20:11.3 Somewhere near that.
(speaking at same time; unintelligible)
RTH: —that you know is on what we always called the Galveston Road. That is now Highway 3. And I think the Allen Road went between those two. Somewhere like that.
N: Let’s talk a little bit about another ranch in the vicinity, Lubbock’s Ranch, south part of Harris County.
RTH: Well, Governor Francis W. Lubbock, who later became—is it W? Francis?—later became governor. He was Harris County clerk here in Houston, and he often, for fees, took pigs and chickens and cows. He bought some property at top adjoining the Allen’s, a little bit south of the Allen property, and established a ranch there. He got his start from his—
N: Fees? (laughter; unintelligible)
RTH: But later on he added to it, and he became one of the big ranches of the—he and the Allens were the large ranches of Harris County, and they were partners in shipping cattle. They shipped cattle from the mouth at Sims Bayou, there on the Allen property, by Morgan steamer. In fact I read somewhere not long ago that they had the whole thing—had the Morgan steamers—what do you call them?
(unintelligible; speaking at same time)
RTH: Charter. To do just that. And it was a big business. Allen—Samuel W. Allen—was in business with a man named Poole—in this cattle business, and in shipping, and also in—
N: That became Poolville at one time. They had a rendering plant and a cattle processing plant.
RTH: Where was that?
N: Poolville. I think I ran it down. It was someplace between League City and—I believe it was probably in Galveston County. League City and something along in there.
N: 0:22:54.9 Thomas McKinney’s nephew, Ephraim McLean, worked at Poolville in the 1870s.
RTH: I see.
N: Some place along there, I think I have read some properties, and that’s where—
RTH: Now Captain Tod had a meat-packing business on Dickinson Bayou.
N: Did he?
RTH: Yes. He had a ranch there on Dickinson. He bought that property from Ms Holley—Mary Austin Holley.
RTH: If you read her letters, you’d read about how beautiful land on Dickinson (speaking at same time; unintelligible). Well she bought that, and then my grandfather bought that from her, and there he had this meat-processing plant for a while. All this—(speaking at same time; unintelligible)
N: Now that very well might have been the Poolville area, certainly. It is quite—(speaking at same time; unintelligible)—because it would be on the bayou at that time, for that kind of a processing plant.
RTH: That’s right.
N: What would be the description of where Frank Lubbock’s ranch was back then? What would you say today, from Telephone Road to—?
RTH: From the Telephone Road— I don’t know what that other boundary would be beyond east of what is Broadway. You know Broadway goes right into the airport. Well, now the airport property is the southern boundary of the Lubbock Ranch. And I think Sims Bayou is the northern boundary. His house was nearer Telephone Road, and he used to ride— He commuted that distance every day.
N: According to his memoirs.
RTH: Yes. Yes, he did.
N: Does anybody remember the house at the time? During the—? (unintelligible)
RTH: No, I don’t think so. There was an old house that—the Drouet’s lived there. You see, I guess maybe Lubbock bought the property from the Harris family through Andrew Briscoe—
RTH: 0:25:09.7 —who was the agent. Then Samuel E. Allen, I think it was—maybe it was Samuel W.—I can’t remember—I’m not sure—bought it from Lubbock—from the Lubbocks, from Governor Lubbock himself. And so that became part of the Allen Ranch. Well, S.E. Allen’s daughter, Clara, married E.N. Drouet (??), and they lived on that property near where Governor Lubbock’s house had been, and they built their own house. I presumed they lived in a white two-story house there. But over in the woods, there was an old house, I’ve been told, that was part of the Lubbock’s. Now actually, his house itself burned. The ranch house burned. That’s when he lost almost everything he had in that fire.
N: I see.
RTH: But it’s interesting to me that Andrew Briscoe, who had been connected with the railroad and the promotion of the lots in Harrisburg, sold out. It really was the Harris’ property. It belonged to Mrs Harris. And Andrew Briscoe was her son-in-law.
N: Right, right.
RTH: He was the agent for Mrs Harris. Well, there seemed to have been some sort of disagreement or—anyway, the property was sold, railroad and all, to Sidney Sherman and his associates. Andrew Briscoe went to Mississippi to establish himself over there. While he was gone, his wife and children—his wife and little girls—stayed with the Lubbocks on the Lubbock Ranch. Evidently the coolness between Mrs Briscoe and Mrs Harris made it uncomfortable for Mrs Briscoe to stay there with her mother, and she stayed with the Lubbocks. The Briscoe’s little girl, Adele, who became Mrs Looscan, was named Mrs Lubbock.
RTH: Ms Lubbock was a Baron, Adele Baron, of New Orleans. She was from a French family. I don’t know what the house looked like. I’ve seen a picture which I think is just probably an imaginative drawing.
N: Let’s see. When you father was Secretary of State of Texas, did you live in Austin at that time?
RTH: 0:28:14.9 Yes. That’s one of my first recollections. I suppose the first real recollection that I have, that I can be sure I remember, is standing in front of the mirror brushing my hair and saying I’m brushing my hair to go to Austin (laughter).
N: That’s a little girl kind of recollection.
RTH: I said that at the time of the 1900 storm—September, 1900. I was present but not voting.
N: That’s a nice way to put it.
RTH: Sometimes I think I remember being snugged or burrowed up under something and out in the weather, but I—my mother had to carry me from the house over to the railroad station in the worst of that storm.
N: Why? Did you—?
RTH: We had to leave the house. We were down at the bay.
N: Oh, you were down at Todville Road?
N: Oh, boy.
RTH: Yes, we were there in that storm. And—
N: You had no advanced warning up there, I don’t guess.
RTH: Well, it was stormy weather, but we didn’t have the—
N: It wasn’t like the little man was going up and down the beach saying you’d better leave now.
RTH: No, nobody could tell us. My father, and the men who lived all along the bay shore, rode the train to town every day. They began seeing how stormy and bad the weather looked. They went to the Southern Pacific and told them they wanted to get a train out and take them down there, not to wait ‘till five o’clock. So, I don’t know what time they started—about noon, I think—but the storm was so terrific, and they had to stop and get trees off the track and the station—railroad station— that had been blown across. So as we got within— Across the prairie, the ladies saw a little light glimmering and that was the train coming from Houston. They had long since lost their headlight, but they had a lantern put on the front of it. The women and children were taken aboard the train and spent the rest of the night there. But, oh, it was a terrible experience. I wished we had had a tape recorder then—
RTH: —while I was little. Before my mother died, she could give the most wonderful description of that storm, about the rising of the wind and the water, and she could describe the weather, “Like millions of demons overhead,” she’d say. Then she had to get out with all these little children. There was only, I think there were two men in the whole party, and they weren’t able-bodied.
N: 0:31:12.8 Had they gotten word to you all to go to the railroad or—?
RTH: No, we just had to get away from the water.
N: You just knew that—(speaking at same time; unintelligible).
RTH: You see the Milby’s house was next to ours, but it’s not as high as ours. Mama, being alone there with just—they persuaded her. Anyway, she went over to the Milby’s, and the next-door neighbors down the road, they all congregated there at the Milby’s. There were young ladies in the Milby family, but we were just— I was only two, and my sister was seven. Then we had a little boy cousin with us, Frank Ives, and his mother was with us. She was pregnant; she had a baby just 2 months later. It was just a horrible thing. And while we were there, they said it seemed as if the house was just going to blow down, and they decided they’ve got to leave the house instead of staying there and being killed. So they got out, and the only thing they could do was walk away from the water.
RTH: They got over on the prairie and walked toward the town of Seabrook, and that’s where they got on the train. We did the same in 1915.
N: Did you? In that storm? You were at the bay then?
RTH: That was a terrible storm too, but we were grown people. I was a young college girl, and I had girls visiting me, and of course, we thought it was a lark. I thought it was the most exciting thing that ever happened.
N: What kind of damage resulted at the bay property there? You were right on the bay and backed up to the Todville Road, as it were. It was bigger than it is now. Is it washing away or—?
RTH: 33:09 We lost a great deal of land in front. You see, my mother’s people settled there in—my mother’s father’s people, that was Ritson Morris.
N: Oh really.
RTH: That was my grandfather.
N: Oh, oh, I didn’t realize that (unintelligible; speaking at same time)
RTH: That’s right. What’s his name? So he—
N: So that’s the original land grant?
RTH: Yes. And we still have that home there. But, of course, acres have gone into the water. Even when I was a little child, I used to hear them tell about how our grandparent’s house—where it used to stand—was really out in the water even then. Because the grandparent's home— Ms Morris built a nice, big, columned house. It must have been shortly before the Civil War. The bay encroached on that until after she had moved out of it. The porch went into the water. Because that was on a bluff, and—you know—erosion is bad. Our particular piece of property, where our house is, has always been a nice slope, and we had no erosion there until maybe it was about the ‘40s. We had a very bad storm that came in, and a barge came in and dug into the bank and that eroded badly there. But of course now we have the subsidence, and we were having it then, but we didn't realize it. Now it's just really very bad. But the storms have never damaged our house.
N: Are you living in the same house now that was there in 1900?
RTH: It was built in 1899.
N: That's fantastic. Do you have pictures and things that you're going to preserve of it? Because that's really historic.
RTH: My father just had some— I suppose he drew the plan and had two colored men build it. It's four rooms with a big hall down the center and a porch all the way around. Oh it was delightful. Of course, now we've added to it. We've closed in the porch and all that. It's more livable. In 1900, the porch roof, across the front and half of each side, was lifted off and just tossed behind the house.
N: Like a can opener.
RTH: Yes. That very same thing happened in 1915. I remember—of course I don't remember in 1900—they said they stepped over it, because that's where my aunt, the Mrs Ives who was pregnant, stepped on a board with a nail in it. My mother had to reach down and get it out of her foot. In 1915, we had to walk over that roof too. After the roof goes off, you're so shaken up. You think the house is gone, so then you decide to leave (laughter). If we had stayed in the house, we would’ve been saved, because nothing else happened.
N: 0:36:54.3 But wet. But you were wet.
RTH: Oh yes, it was raining everywhere. That desk down there was there in 1915, and it was just swimming in water. Everything was.
N: It survived. (laughter) It’s been through a lot. It could tell a story, too, with that.
RTH: That was at Grandfather's. I don’t know. I guess he had it shipped in at Galveston and used it at his place on Dickinson Bayou.
N: Oh, fantastic. That's really old. It's nice to have something of the family. Let's talk about Harrisburg as the town. Seemingly, so little has been written about it, and it was a town, and it wasn't absorbed into Houston until, what, about 1920s? Sometime—
RTH: I think in the ‘20s. About’26, maybe.
N: I'd like to know about the history of Harrisburg and how it developed and the people that lived there. Did it have any problems or whatever—(laughter; speaking at same time)—with its big neighbor to its west?
RTH: The big problem was always trying to get ahead of Houston—(laughter). Of course, that was the railroad—the controversy all the time. The railroad started at Harrisburg, and they were determined to keep Harrisburg—(loud noise and yelling). Now that way, John Richardson Harris—and the town was laid out in 1826. He had received a land grant, and he chose the confluence of Bray’s and Buffalo Bayous, and that's where the town of Harrisburg is. He had a saw mill and a gristmill, and the town had evidence of real growth. But Harris himself died in 1829. He went over to New Orleans to get equipment for his mills, and the yellow fever was raging there, and he succumbed to it and was buried there in New Orleans. Then it was 1833 before his wife came out. In the meantime, his brothers, William P. Harris and David Harris and Sam Harris, had carried on, particularly William P. Harris, who managed the affairs of the estate.
N: Wasn’t there some trouble between the widow and William P. Harris and Bob Wilson?
RTH: That’s right. Bob Wilson and William P. Harris were partners in the deal. I don’t know; there’s a great deal in the law records about it. I haven’t gone into it, but I know there was litigation for a long time. She— They say that that is the reason Houston is not located there—you know—because the Allen brothers liked that location and would have preferred it, but they couldn’t get the title cleared up, and so they came on up and founded Houston. Harrisburg is well known for certain things—incidents. First of all, the fact that it was the temporary capital of Texas in 1836. When the government left Washington-on-the-Brazos and fled before the advancing Mexicans, they set up shop in Harrisburg for less than 3 weeks, and they resided in the home of Mrs Harris.
N: 0:41:37.4 Where was the Harris home? Can you describe it more in detail?
RTH: It was on— It faced Frio Street and is between what is now Erath Street and Elm. That block of Grand was exactly opposite the Milby house and the Tod house. They— The half block that faced on Broadway was an open park—there’s nothing built on that—but the Harris house was on the east half of the block and faced the bayou. I have a picture of that. There are pictures up in the library, and the diorama at the museum at San Jacinto is an imaginary one. Nobody knows exactly what the first house looked like. That implies, or actually states, by its picture that it was a log house and it may have been just simple square logs. However, when they’re— See, the Mexicans came in and burnt the town. Then, when the Harris’ rebuilt it, they bricked siding on, but whether they followed the same architecture scheme, I’m not sure.
Anyway, the fact that that was the seat of government in 1836 makes Harrisburg outstanding. Before that time, an event occurred there that I think is important. The first tri-color Lone Star flag of Texas was made there in 1835. It was made by Sarah Dodson, who lived in Harrisburg. Her husband, Archelaus Dodson, was the first lieutenant of the Harrisburg Volunteers, and she made that flag for him to take into service. Captain Robinson was the captain, and they say, I know, that the flag went on to— Some say it flew over a blacksmith’s shop in Washington-on-the-Brazos at the time. But I’m not sure of that; that hasn’t been verified. But it was taken to Gonzales. Then later on, in 1836, when the government was there in Ms Harris’ home, President Burnet devised the flag for the navy, the Texas Navy flag, which was later adopted by the Congress at Columbia. So in Harrisburg originated two of the flags of Texas. Then it is notable for the fact that it was the beginning of the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado Railroad, the first railroad in Texas. They obtained their charter, I think, in 1850. I have a letter—I think this went in with the Tod papers to Galveston—from DeWitt Clinton Harris to my grandfather when he was in— My grandfather was in Austin working to get the charter through at that time, and, sure enough, it was granted in 1850. Then the first construction was begun in ’51, and it was put into operation in 1852. Of course it was before that railroad was built, Andrew Briscoe had attempted to build a railroad from Harrisburg, but they always—Harrisburg was the objective, was the point of departure, because it was right there at deep water, you see, and went straight from deep water on up to the Brazos River, and that was the way the railroad was constructed. Later on, Harrisburg went into a decline. It’s well known, and I don’t need to tell it, but the Mexican Army came to Harrisburg, trying, in the attempt to capture the Texas government—
(End of audio 46:50)
(Start audio file #2)
RTH: 0:00:02.3 Came to Harrisburg in the attempt to capture the Texas government. See, Santa Anna separated himself from the main army and made that trip to Harrisburg. Of course, he missed them because Lorenzo de Zavala and the rest of them got away. And Burnet and some of the others went to Galveston Island. So the Mexican Army burnt the town. And the telegraph and Texas Register had been set up in the town of Harrisburg and it had published one paper, and they came and that was the end of the Texas newspaper for a while. They threw the press into the bayou. Then, of course, there was nothing left in Harrisburg but one house. After that __(??) and everything was settling down, well, people who wanted to come to Harrisburg, you had to just camp in tents and rebuild. By that time, the Allen brothers had started that city, and a great many people went to Houston instead of coming back to Harrisburg. And Harrisburg limped along most the rest of their existence, I would say. There was a spurt of growth when Harrisburg incorporated for the second time. I haven’t said anything about that first incorporation, but I know that they had a mayor—Mayor Stern. The man who came with the railroad to be the chief engineer of the railroad was mayor of Harrisburg for a while. He also had a saw mill. But when they incorporated in the ‘20s, they had a real ongoing concern and officers and everything.
N: One of the things that kept Harrisburg busy was the shops were there for a while.
RTH: That’s right.
N: But then they moved them to Houston about 1890, something or other, I think.
RTH: No, it was about ’80, I think, 1880.
N: Was it? That pretty well drained off everything.
RTH: Of course, when the railroad office moved from Harrisburg to Galveston—deactivated—BBB&C was sold, it became the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio—GH&SA—which, of course, is part of Southern Pacific. The railroad offices were moved from Harrisburg to Galveston, and then the shops continued in Harrisburg. A great many people who lived—men who lived in Harrisburg—worked in the shops. Then when the shops were moved, the people moved. A lot of people left Harrisburg and moved over on to the—
(Break in audio 0:03:43.7)
RTH: Probably in the newspaper.
N: Yeah. One wonders how they would move houses from Harrisburg. I can see them moving them perhaps down road on the same side of the river, and maybe that’s what happened.
RTH: Well, there was a bridge. And they must have just been small houses. They cut it down to bare bones.
N: It would be interesting to document somebody who did this, just to know.
RTH: And—you know—you always think about all those things you could have found out and didn’t. Now, there isn’t anybody left that used to know many of those people—their children—but I don’t even know any of the decedents of those people who would know anything about that.
N: What kind of schools were there in Harrisburg at the turn of the century? You were living in Harrisburg until when?
RTH: Until I married in 1924.
N: So you have a good picture of what the town was like?
RTH: Yes. Oh, yeah. You see, I went to school—I started school there. Well, in 1905 or so. I started in school there. The school house was on Broadway between—well, the school house faced on Frio Street. It was between Magnolia and Myrtle—Magnolia and Manchester. That school house was built about 1900, I think. Previously the school had been on the corner of Medina and Elm, just behind and to the side of the Milner House. And that had been a building that was used for church and school. I don’t know when it was built. It doesn’t now exist, but they had church and Sunday school there on Sunday and school on week days. And I think that must be where the public school was, when Mrs Milby began teaching. And it was a school until—well, until 1900. On that school—or on the property somewhere—they placed the bell from the second locomotive in Harrisburg—of the BBB&C—the Old Texas. And that was how they used to call the children to school.
N: The school bell.
RTH: 0:07:09.8 When the brick school was built on Frio and Magnolia, they took the bell and put it on a—must have been a telephone pole, right out near the back steps, and the bell was up on top of that and had a string that you pull. They’d call the children with that for all my life.
N: Is that the one at Milby High School?
RTH: Uh-hunh (affirmative). So it was in that brick school house that I started school in the first grade. It was a 2-teacher school at that time. They had the principal—the professor, they called him—and one teacher.
N: What were the names? Do you remember?
RTH: The professor, when I started, was Mr Majors. He had been preceded by Mr L.L. Pugh, who later became county superintendent of Harris County. He was county superintendent for a long time. Then the teacher of the little ones was Ms Minnie Andrews, who remained a teacher off and on for 40 years, I guess. And later on, she did marry, but always remained attached to the school in some way or another and particularly was librarian of Harrisburg High School after she became quite elderly. I continued in that school until I graduated from high school in 1914. In the meantime, they had built another building to the south of the little, old building. We didn’t think it was little then. It had two rooms and two small rooms. One was used for a library and finally another one for little children. They got three teachers. And the second floor was the auditorium, and that’s where all these wonderful entertainments were held—amateur theatricals, chicken suppers.
N: For the entire community?
RTH: Yes, for the entire community. And one of the chief gatherings of the entertainment was the Cemetery Association. They always needed money for the cemetery. So they would have chicken suppers and oyster suppers and that sort of thing. And it was in 1897 that the ladies of the town decided that something had to be done about the old cemetery. It had been in existence as a burial ground probably from about 1831. Mr Zuber, in his recollections, said that the wife of Daniel Perry was the first one who died in a yellow fever epidemic and that William P. Harris was asked where she might be buried and he chose that place. Well, of course, the Harris plot is there, and all the Harris’ are buried there. And the first record we had of any burial was 1839 of John Birdsall. He was buried there. Of course, many people were buried there. There are graves that will never be found and some we don’t know. Twenty-seven strangers died in that yellow fever epidemic, people that were just there on a boat and nobody knew who they were.
N: This is the Glendale Cemetery. Is that on the edge of Buffalo Bayou and endangered by subsiding?
RTH: No, it has lost some from erosion, but they—the property adjoins the chemical plant—Consolidated Chemical. They have filled in—it was a very bad gulley and just washing away terribly because there was a natural drain that went through there. The erosion had made it into quite a gulley. But they had put sewer pipes in and filled it in, so we’re protected on that side. And it’s—we’re in—
N: It ought to be the oldest cemetery in Harris County then, probably.
RTH: I’m not sure whether it is or not.
N: Probably so.
RTH: I think it is. If Zuber is right about Mrs Perry being buried there.
N: That seems reasonable.
RTH: It was before Houston was in existence, you see, so it could be.
N: Harrisburg was being laid out in 1826. There were bound to be people living there who had infants die and things and they had to bury them somewhere, so perhaps—
RTH: 0:12:42.3 I read that Mr Dolby(??)—a Mr Dolby—was buried—from Houston—in Harrisburg at quite an early time. So there’s some reason for taking people away. Of course, there are a great many family burial grounds—private ones—but it may be the oldest designated burial ground.
N: Community type?
RTH: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
N: Let’s talk about the mayors of Harrisburg.
RTH: Well, I do know that Mr Frank Sterns was mayor of the town during its first corporate existence, but that’s about all I know. He came from Massachusetts, I think, and was an engineer for the railroad. He was the man whom they say was at the throttle of the locomotive that first went into—the first trip. I read about a barbecue they had at Thomas Point, and we don’t often hear about that. We hear about the one up at Stafford and at Richmond, but—see, Stafford Point is what we now—I mean—Thomas Point is what we call Stella. There’s a railroad that comes straight from Harrisburg. That really is the old track that went from Harrisburg right on west, going due west, and there was a signal station there—one of those regular Southern Pacific, yellow-painted buildings. And that was called Stella. And that was where, when you were going out—suppose you went out through the park—McGregor Park—and turned and went as if you were going to the town of McCulloch. You would turn left and go down toward—right straight down to Harrisburg, and that was evidently Thomas Point. And that’s the first section of track that was finished. Of course, they were hurrying as fast as they could to get some track laid because when they got a certain number of miles laid, they could get some more money. So they declared that the first section. They had a big celebration. Then later on they went—each along the line, even when they got to Alleyton, which was—they had a barbecue there.
So they said that Frank Sterns came in, in the General Sherman, which was the name of the locomotive—with Frank Sterns at the throttle. And I had come across a letter among my papers to Captain Tod from a man named O.C. Mulligan(?). He was the mechanic of the railroad, and he evidently was in Harrisburg. I’ve forgotten where Tod was, but he was writing to him about how hard they were trying with that activity up there at Thomas Point, how they were hoping that they would sell some more lots. So it wasn’t going so well.
N: 0:17:12.3 They’re all shoestring operations.
RTH: That’s right.
N: Always needed money, every one of them.
RTH: That’s true. But as far as in the next incorporation of the town, the mayor was James S. Deady. Now he was, well, a— He ran the __(??) that was owned by Mr Milby. That was right at the back of the cemetery. It’s really on the property that is now the chemical plant. Evidently there was a brick yard—Mr Milby’s brick yard—and they had discovered this fine clay and it made real good brick. And I remember as a little girl what a thrill it was to—after they got enough brick made, they’d burn them. They’d have the fire going for several days, and it was quite a thrill to go down that night and see the fire. It was just beautiful. And I don’t know how long it took to get them burned, but they produced quite a lot of brick. This house, I have it around the— The walks around my house are from the Milby brick. I got it from Olshan when they were wrecking my house. Some of the bricks were— See, the back part of that Milby house was our grandfather, Tom—the Tod House was part of that, so all the— They had sidewalks all around, and my grandfather—my aunt said in her reminiscences of him—that he built a brick sidewalk from his house over to the railroad office. That was just across Broadway and Elm Street. And some of that old brick is still down there, I expect. That old cistern out there, they covered it up because it was dangerous, but I know that’s where it was, built of brick. And, in the school, on the school grounds, there was a brick building that was called Baraca Hall. It was a small, brick building that Mr Milby built, and so the community has it. He gave it to the—he didn’t give the title to it, I suppose, but he gave it for the youth—the Baraca class of the Methodist Church—a class of young men. It was set up as a nice recreation deal. They could have the meetings upstairs in one big room, and downstairs they had two rooms and a small kitchen facility, I believe. And later on, the school used it for a library, and it was actually on property that belonged to Mr Milby. It was just used by the school, and then later on the family gave it to the school.
0:21:30.4 What’s interesting about the church there is now—there is a Methodist Church there called the Milby Methodist Church—the church, I think, was over on Medina Street. And I don’t know how much of a building they had or whether they met in the school house, probably, but they built this little white building on the corner of Elm and Broadway, which was then the block with my parent’s home. It was, I guess, 2 houses there on the corner. And they had a church and a parsonage, and then our house took up the rest of the block, facing Broadway. Then the back part was the Harris property, where the capital would be now, and it’s still owned by the Harris heirs—Mrs Dorothy Knox Houghton and Milton Howe own it, or maybe their mother still owns it. I don’t know. But it’s really theirs. So that church remained there in that small, white building until after Mr Milby’s death. They built a building on the corner of Magnolia and Medina. My family exchanged lots with them so that we could clear out and get it all in one piece, and we gave them two lots in our block up there, which is Block 53, which was sort of a concession, taking that over there on that block. But anyway, it wall worked out, and then later we bought it back from them when they built the building down on Broadway. In the meantime, when the new building was being built, Mrs Milby made it the Milby Memorial Church and put up a good deal of the money in memory of her husband. The point was that Mr and Mrs Milby, neither of them was a Methodist.
N: 0:24:08.2 Oh, really? I was going ask you about the churches, because they’re always associated with the Methodist Church.
RTH: Uh-hunh (affirmative). That’s right.
N: Your family is associated with the Presbyterian Church.
RTH: That’s right. My grandfather Tod and his wife were members of that church in Galveston.
N: The First Presbyterian.
RTH: The First Presbyterian. It was just called the Presbyterian Church, and he was an elder there. And his daughter joined it. When it came time for her to join the church, she joined that Galveston church, and when she married, she went down there to be married. So she never removed her membership and was always a Presbyterian, but there was no Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg. The Methodist Church was there, and that’s where she worked. She taught the beginner’s class all the rest of her life. She had grandchildren and great-grandchildren that she had taught. And Mr Milby was an Episcopalian, and he helped organize that Holy Cross Church in Harrisburg and was a faithful member of it, but they never got off the ground really. They weren’t able to maintain a pastor. Though, he kept of the tradition of the Episcopalians. He would see that when children in Episcopal families were ready to be church members, he saw about getting them into the Episcopal Church. But in the meantime, he was working in that Methodist Church. And I don’t think he was actually ever superintendent of the Sunday school or had any office, but he was always—he taught the young men. Oh, he was just really the pillar of the church.
N: 0:26:16.7 Was Harrisburg predominantly Protestant then? Was there any Catholic Church?
RTH: There was a Catholic Church which was on Erath Street. It was called Bradley Street(?) then. It was down not far from the cemetery. And it was destroyed in the 1900 storm and never rebuilt. I don’t know how much it amounted to. Of course, I don’t even remember it, but I know where the location was. But there were not many Catholics. I suppose more Methodists than anybody. And, of course, the Baptists, before too long, organized a church. But in my childhood, anybody who had any religion at all went to the Methodist Church and supported it. It was what they call the union church. My mother and father were married there, and their invitations said “Ceremony in the Union ME Church.” They were married there, and then the reception was across the street at the home—at the Milby home—which, of course, was my father’s home, too, until he married.
N: What about the legend that the Twin Sisters were buried in Harrisburg?
RTH: Oh, of course, that’s something we’re all—everybody likes to think about and surmise. I remember, as a little child—not so little—well, I remember it well. My father had a friend who was an oil man. He had one of these witching sticks. What do you call it? But he was one of the first ones I ever heard of. Of course, I’m sure he wasn’t the first. But he thought that he could detect things with his—what do you call that thing? Doodlebug?
N: I think so.
RTH: Well, anyway, he prospected for oil that way, and my father was involved with him in one venture that seems that they really had oil. This was Dr Griffith—Dr J.S. Griffith. He was quite successful. And Dr Griffith came down one time with his doodlebug to try to see if he could find the Twin Sisters. And they went all up and down the bayou, and they didn’t have any success. But I have been asked so many times about that, and of course there are those different theories. People saw them and knew about them, and some of them are so patently false that a great many people have— Some people are certainly down(?) that the twin sisters arrived at Austin on the capital ground. So I really couldn’t say what my opinion is about it. They have asked me about where—you know—this man who claims that he saw them sitting out there by the station, and so they threw them in the bayou, and what bayou it would have been is what they were asking me. There are several names in there that confuse you. Now, the mayor was Harold Scarlett. He was working on that for a while.
N: 0:30:19.2 There was a big spread in the paper some years ago, since 1960, anyway.
RTH: So he asked about the home of a Dr Pilant(?). Now, Dr Pilant, as I recall—at the time that I knew anything—Dr Pilant lived on the corner of Elm and Broadway, just across the street from the Milby House—the Tod House. They were all great friends. Mrs Pilant was, oh, the Milbys and all them called her aunt. They were just very close. And I just vaguely remember—I don’t think I could even see them—but I knew about Dr Pilant being there, and that’s what I always called the Pilant’s house. Now, it was near there. That would be near Buffalo Bayou—the old Buffalo Bayou that was cut off when they made the ship channel. But the railroad station wasn’t. Now, there had been a railroad station on the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado railroad. The station was there, not far from where the railroad office was. It was down right on the bayou. But this was in the—at the end of the Civil War, wasn’t it—he was talking about?
N: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
RTH: So I don’t think the train would have come that way. I think the station, at that time, was near where it later was up on Magnolia and not very far from Bray’s Bayou. So it’s likely that they—if that occurred—that they rolled it down into Bray’s Bayou. And he said they burned the carriages, but I don’t know. It sounds kind of like a wild tale.
N: Yeah, sometimes those wild tales do have some kernel of truth, but people get these confused in their mind and it’s hard to reconstruct.
RTH: And they said that there was a Mr Bailey. I knew a Mr Bailey. And they said that he knew—that he had had a map showing where they were. And his grandson told this reporter that he had seen the map, but he didn’t know what happened to it. (inaudible) I don’t know. I’m thinking about—yeah, that’s right. A man was riding to see about finding the Twin Sisters. He thought he had a way that he could guide them to it, and then he knew it was connected in some way with the little girls who had presented him. And he thought it would be nice to connect that up and get their granddaughters, and that’s where the connection was with that. I have all that in my files. I’m getting a little rusty on them. I have to review it.
N: 0:34:04.2 I don’t guess we’ll ever find the Twin Sisters probably. I just think, like somebody said, they’ve been melted down.
RTH: Well, they say that they had them in Louisiana for a while and then they sent them back. They do know that one of them was at that first celebration of the railroad in __(??). As somebody—you know how people will write—some people don’t know anything about Texas except that Sam Houston—anything was done, Sam Houston did it. So they said Sam Houston let them have the Twin Sisters to go up there and shoot it off. But I don’t know how Sam Houston got it.
N: I don’t either.
N: Well, is there anything else we need to add that we haven’t covered?
RTH: If there’s anything else about the school.
N: You had scrapbooks and things put out by the Cemetery Association that are deposited in the public library—The Texas Room—right?
RTH: No, they’re not yet—not yet.
N: Well, we would like copies of them and/or the Texas Room, because we will work together.
RTH: Marion Brown(?) has asked me if I would give her any type script that I have, and I intend to do that. I have a great deal of Mrs Milby’s work. And I think she has some of that, but maybe not all, and I would like to get it straightened out and be sure that everything is there. Then the few things that I have done, like most of— I don’t do anything unless somebody asks me to. This was the Founder’s Day program at the cemetery. And this is the history of the first cemetery.
N: All those things would be nice for the Texas Room. That’s the sort of thing that they ought to have.
RTH: (inaudible; paper shuffling) I’m sure they have that.
N: (inaudible) He had a very peculiar name.
RTH: Yeah, he was— He was a good friend, and you know he was a very brilliant man but had a weakness for drink, and that was his— And he came to the house one day, and grandfather had always had wine on the table. He did then, it was just custom. He had a decanter. We’ve got two of those decanters. Mr. __(??) was—I don’t know if imbibing the wine set him off or what, but anyway he just got intoxicated right there at the table. I guess my father was maybe about 5 years old and Auntie __(??) was 14. She was so indignant, and she said—she told him that if that wine was on the table any more, she wasn’t coming. (Laughs) So the wine dried up in that decanter. My sister scrubbed it out. I wish she’d of left it in. But you can see it just where it had dried up. They never had wine again. And she was just—(laughs).
N: That was the Methodist in her.
RTH: She said that she—her little brother should not be brought up under that—circumstances like that, and she was just not going to come to the table.
N: Well, we would be happy for anything that you’d like to give us or you plan to give to the Texas Room, because historians will certainly appreciate this interview. You can fill in things that no one else knows.
RTH: Well, I feel I was really—
N: That spontaneous thing, that’s what we need more of. We appreciate it very much.
(Break in audio) 0:39:11.0
N: What about your father? He was responsible for getting the first high school?
RTH: Well, he was a member of the school board and was the member who felt it possible and important to have a high school in Harrisburg. Previously, the children, after having finish the eighth grade, went to school in Houston, and my father thought that Harrisburg should have a high school. Some of the other members of the board didn’t see it that way at first, but he was able to prevail. His brother-in-law, Mr Milby, was on the school board and he’d made him see it, and then they really established the high school. I think it was felt that one influence with my father was that I was getting ready for high school, and he wanted me to be there.
N: How did you have to go to go to Houston? I mean, how did you get there?
RTH: Streetcar. But the streetcar didn’t come all the way into the town of Harrisburg. It stopped at Bray’s Bayou.
N: How long did it take to—?
RTH: Oh, about half an hour, and the roughest road there. I was seasick almost every time I road that streetcar, but it was wonderful to have it, because previous to that we had only the train. The men drove to town in a horse and buggy, and my father went in every day. So did Mr Milby and a lot of others. So getting the streetcar was a help, although it was a disappointment that they didn’t bring it over into the town. When they got to the bayou, they counted up the money, I supposed, and realized it would cost so much to build a bridge that they stopped there. Papa and Uncle Charlie and Mr Allen—all the people had offered them—were going to give them a bonus for bringing the streetcar to Harrisburg, and they just didn’t give them the bonus when they wouldn’t come on into the town.
N: 0:41:35.4 It was really that awful. What did you do after going out to the edge? Was there a foot bridge or something across?
RTH: Oh, there was an automobile bridge.
N: An automobile bridge that you could cross over.
RTH: Uh-hunh (affirmative). There was a horse and buggy bridge before the automobile, and it was right where the bridge is now. So we’d have to walk in the afternoon. We lived up on the hill, and you could look down the hill and see the men all walking along, coming home. Often we’d go down and use the horse and buggies to meet Papa, bring him back. Previous that that, they’d go on the train too, because the train came through from Bayshore—from Galveston. But that station was as far from our house as the streetcar, so that was a long way too. And then of course just two or three trains a day, it wasn’t convenient like the streetcar.
N: What was your father’s business?
RTH: He was a lawyer.
N: He was a lawyer? He had an office in Houston?
RTH: Yes. At first his office was down near the courthouse off Congress Avenue, right across from the courthouse. Then he was in the __(??) Building. And then we went to Austin for a few years when he was secretary of state, and when he came back he had an office in the Commercial Bank Building for a while, until the Scanlan Building was built. Then he was in there.
N: 0:43:14.9 It was a skyscraper for its day.
RTH: Yes, it was. Oh, my, we thought it was a wonderful place. It had beautiful, big closets and stationary wash stands where you could wash your hands. He had a nice safe too, where he could keep his—he had many—a wonderful law library. I don’t know how many volumes, but a very fine one.
N: Who did that pass to?
RTH: To the Harris County Law Library. He had no partner. He was in partnership for a few years with Bryan—Lewis R. Bryan—and Charles McRae (??)—Bryan, Tod, and McRae(??). He soon went back into private practice. He worked very, very hard. We always felt that Papa should have lived longer. He died at 54. But he worked dreadfully hard.
N: He died suddenly?
RTH: No, he had kidney trouble. He had angina, and then Bright’s disease actually caused his death. He became very __(??) and didn’t take enough exercise. He’d been a very active man in his youth. And as these added responsibilities came on, he just neglected himself. He had a garden, and we always had a wonderful vegetable garden. He would get out there and work a little bit and enjoy taking fresh vegetables to his friends. He had a market basket, and he’d fill it with mustard greens and roasting ears and take it on the streetcar. They’d come to his office and get it. When I was about 8 years old, my father thought—see, they had just to children. My sister was 5 years my senior and myself. They took into their home, four boys—nephews of my mother—half nephews. They lived in our home, and they raised them. Only one of them went on to college. That was Frank, who became a doctor. And the other three didn’t go very high in school but all turned out to be real fine men. Quite a rewarding experience, but it was long division for all of us.
N: Yeah. Four brothers instantly would be a shock.
RTH: That’s right. It was pretty hard on my mother, with two quiet girls to four rowdy boys.
N: I think we’ve covered nearly everything we had on our lists—our mutual lists.
RTH: Uh-hunh (affirmative). I think so.
N: We certainly thank you for your participation in our oral history program.
RTH: Well, thank you. I’ve enjoyed it.
(End of audio 0:46:52.6)