TRAINS LOADED WITH ORPHANS

A 1910 Victorian dollhouse is on display at the Heritage Village in Seguin. It belonged to five-year-old Alice O’Brien who arrived in Texas on an orphan train from New York City. She lived only nine months with her new family before the mother died and German immigrants

Dietz Doll House

Dietz and his sister, Miss Mollie, asked the parish priest to allow them to raise Alice in their home. Louis Dietz, a local cabinetmaker, immediately built the ornate child-size playhouse complete with a handmade wardrobe and dresser for Alice and her new playmates.

Alice grew up in the Dietz home and her little house eventually became the property of the Seguin Conservation Society where it is displayed as a reminder of approximately 200,000 unwanted, abandoned, neglected, and orphaned children from the slums of New York City who were shipped to small towns and farms in forty-seven states between 1854 and 1929.

Destination sites of orphans.

The program began when Charles Loring Brace, a Congregationalist minister from Hartford, Connecticut, moved in 1848 to New York to study theology and was horrified to discover thousands of vagrant children on the streets—begging, selling flowers, boot blacking, stealing, joining gangs, and prostituting themselves to survive.  Civil authorities, overcome by the shear numbers, treated the children like criminals placing them in adult prisons and almshouses. Brace believed the children were not criminals, but victims of terrible financial and social conditions.

Although poverty had always existed, the economic recession in the mid-nineteenth century, the onset of the industrial revolution that resulted in many job losses, and the arrival of European immigrant families without the skills to find work, created intolerable big city slums. Many of the children were orphans, some were on the street to help support their families, and others were abandoned because parents could no longer care for them.

In March 1853, Brace organized the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) with plans to give the children religious, vocational, and academic instructions. His group soon established the Newsboys’ Lodging House, the nation’s first runaway shelter where boys found inexpensive room, board, and some education. Brace and his organization tried to find jobs and homes for the children, but they were soon overwhelmed with more children than they could handle and not enough money to expand their services. That’s when Brace hit on the idea of sending groups of children to small towns and farms. His plan called for families to raise the children as their own—feeding, clothing, educating, and giving each child $100 upon his or her twenty-first birthday. Brace and his colleagues believed that offering the children as “helpers” on the farms and in the homes would be an incentive for families to open their doors.

The first trainload of forty-five children arrived in Dowagiac, Michigan, at three in the morning on October 1, 1854. They waited on the station platform until dawn and then moved to a meetinghouse that served that Sunday as the Presbyterian church.  Notices placed in the newspapers and posted at the general store, a tavern, and at the railroad station, advised residents that homeless children would be available for them to take and rear as their own. The plan called for each family to be recommended by their local pastor, a doctor, or

Newspaper Ad for Orphan Train Children

another worthy public servant. However, beginning with the first trip, children were handed out along the route simply because the society’s agent accompanying the group believed the prospective “parent” looked worthy.

After the crowd examined the children—some actually felt their muscles or looked into their mouths—the selections began the next morning. By the following Friday, eight children—mostly those too young to work—had not been selected. They were placed on another train for Chicago, where the society’s agent left them and headed back to New York. The group continued another day and a half to Iowa City where a pastor who ran an orphanage tried to place the children with local families.

Although the plan called for representatives of the CAS to check on the welfare of the children, most of the letters of inquiry were ignored and the fate of the children remained in the hands of the families who took them. Some thrived in their new surroundings. For instance, on August 2, 1859, twenty-seven children left New York on a weeklong train ride bound for Indiana. Two boys about ten years old sat next to each other —John Green Brady, who later claimed he had been rescued off the streets of New York by Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., father of the future president and Andrew H. Burke.  Brady became a Presbyterian minister, moved to Alaska and served as governor of the territory from 1897 to 1906. Burke became a drummer boy during the Civil War, finished his education, and moved to North Dakota where he served as governor from 1891 to 1892. A listing in 1917 of “Noteworthy Careers” of CAS children named 180 who served in impressive positions such as U.S. congressmen, clergymen, bankers, physicians, and teachers.

Critics of the program, which was copied by up to 100 private “child welfare” charities in the large eastern cities, say that these groups actually “bound out” children into indentured servitude to western states. Many of the children told stories of being

Dressed to meet prospective “parents.”

taken by farm families who had lost their slaves after the Civil War and saw an opportunity to acquire a free labor force. Some of the farmers sent the children to other farmers or tried to send them back to New York, complaining that the children were awkward and did not know the first thing about farm work. Many of the children ran away from their new homes.

Galveston became the end of the train line for many of the children who were taken in by the Island City Protestant Orphans Home that had moved into a grand Gothic Revival building.

1895 home of Island City Protestant Orphans Home

During the 1900 storm that killed over 6,000 people, the orphans survived huddled in the massive, crumbling building. After two years in Dallas, the children returned to a rebuilt facility, which continued to operate until 1984.

Crumbled remains of Orphans home where all survived.

Today, the old Galveston Orphans Home has been reborn as the Bryan Museum, a renowned collection of Southwest art and artifacts. The building restoration uncovered a few toys on the children’s ground floor play area and names carved on the wall of a hideaway under the stairs.

Children’s hideaway under the stairs. Display at Bryan Museum.

Although some children continued to be “placed out,” the last official shipment of orphans left New York headed to Sulphur Springs, Texas, on May 31, 1929.

Stephen O’Connor’s Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed offers a detailed account of the program.

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Galveston Refused to Die

The 1900 storm that struck Galveston still carries the designation, as the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. Periodically, storms flooded the marshy bayou-creased island on the Gulf of Mexico, but experts believed that the lay of the land somehow protected the thriving seaport from the vicious storms that had already destroyed the port city of Indianola on down the southern coast and that often ravaged Louisiana to the east.

Galveston had grown into Texas’ most prosperous city with a population of 38,000. Known as the Wall Street of the Southwest, it served forcefully as the business capital of Texas where all the state’s major insurance companies, banks, cotton brokers, and mercantile businesses maintained headquarters.

And then on the morning of September 8 heavy winds and rain began and by 4:00 P.M. the city lay under four feet of water. At 8:00 P.M. the wind reached an estimated 120 miles an hour, driving a four-to-six-foot tidal wave across the island. Houses splintered into debris that moved across the city like a battering ram destroying everything in its path. Finally, it crashed against the massive Gresham mansion and created a breakwater that protected the remainder of the city. At midnight the wind ceased and then the water rushing back out to sea sucked away many unsuspecting victims. As dawn came on September 9, the shattered city stared in horror at the devastation––over 6,000 dead and $40 million in property damage.

But Galveston refused to die. An esprit de corps developed among the populace, especially the business community that literally worked miracles to bring Galveston back to life. A board of three engineers headed by retired Brigadier General Henry M. Robert (author of Robert’s Rules of Order) recommended building a seawall and raising the level of the city behind the wall.

The Galveston Seawall was built in 60-foot sections.

The Galveston seawall is one of the great engineering feats of its time. The solid concrete wall rises seventeen feet, spreads sixteen to twenty feet at the base, and is three to five feet wide at the top. In July 1904 at the completion of the first phase, the wall protected 3.3 miles of waterfront. Over the years it has stretched further along the coast.

To raise the level of the city, dikes of sand were built to enclose quarter-mile-square sections of town. Dredges scooped up the sand from the ship channel and moved along canals dug from the port side of the island. Owners paid to have their houses within each cordoned-off section raised on stilts, making it possible for huge pipes to funnel the sand under the raised buildings and in this fashion to lift streets, streetcar lines, alleys, gas and water lines, and even the privies.

The three-ton St. Patrick’s Church was the heaviest structure raised. Workers placed 700 jackscrews under the building. The crew sang songs to synchronize the operation and on designated words, they cranked the jacks one-quarter turn. In this fashion, they lifted the massive structure five feet without causing a single crack, even in the bell tower. Church services continued without interruption. Other structures of almost equal weight were also lifted.

St. Patricks Church was raised five feet.

Because of frequent flooding, many structures already sat on piers or were built with a first level used only for a carriage house and storage. Those buildings simply had the first level filled as the area around them grew higher. The first floor of some two-story buildings disappeared under the sand and the second floor became ground level.

Catwalks crisscrossed the city to allow residents to get about above the stinking, muddy silt hauled in from the bottom of the ship channel. A drawbridge across one of the canals allowed movement about the city. Tourists came to see the activity. When two dredges collided and had to be pulled from the canal, residents brought picnic baskets and watched the operation. It became fashionable for ladies to carry their nice slippers in a little bag and upon arrival at an event, they simply changed out of their muddy shoes.

Houses were raised on stilt. The sand and slush was pumped in under them.

By the time the grade raising was complete in 1910, over 2,300 buildings, large and small, had been lifted from five to eight feet.

Before the storm, Galveston reigned as the business center of the Southwest, but with the completion of the seawall and grade raising, and the construction of a new causeway that handled five railroads, an electric Interurban, and a highway for automobile traffic the business community asked: Why not have a first class beachfront hotel and add holiday destination to Galveston’s allure? In 1911 the Galvez, a $1million hotel of the finest order opened overlooking the Gulf. Galveston was ready for its next chapter.

Rabbi Henry Cohen

Rabbi Henry Cohen

Rabbi Henry Cohen

In 1888, Rabbi Henry Cohen, a wiry little man, barely five feet tall, with a booming British accent, arrived in Galveston to serve Temple B’nai Israel where he remained for the next sixty-four years. He wore black, tuxedo-type suits, white bow ties, and starched white shirts with stiff cuffs on which he wrote his appointments and sermon notes. Dressed in this formal getup, he rode about Galveston on a bicycle from jail cell to hospital bed to Galveston’s red-light district, ministering to and helping every person in need regardless of his or her faith or lack thereof. He was known for saying “there is no such thing as Episcopalian scarlet fever, Catholic arthritis, or Jewish mumps.”

Born in London in 1863, Dr. Cohen was educated in England and lived in South Africa, Jamaica, and Mississippi before coming to Galveston. He spoke eleven languages, well, and was a charismatic speaker. Despite his small frame, he displayed a giant’s determination and a flair for the dramatic as he went about his duties.

Upon hearing of a girl being kept in prostitution against her will, he tore across town on his bicycle, barged into a whorehouse, and found the girl half-naked. Wrapping her in a blanket and walking with one arm around her and the other guiding his bike, he led her to a clothing store where he told the merchant to “fit her out from head to foot.” Then, he took her home to his wife and found her a job. Words of his fearlessness quickly spread through the back streets of Galveston. When a prostitute on her deathbed asked to be given a “proper Christian burial,” Rabbi Cohen was called. He went to the cemetery and led her service reading scripture from the New Testament.

Early in his ministry according to Natalie Ornish in Pioneer Jewish Texans, “Roman Catholic Cardinal Satolli visited Galveston. At a public dinner in the Cardinal’s honor, he asked Dr. Cohen to say grace, and the rabbi said it in Latin—after which the Cardinal responded with a blessing in Hebrew.”

Rabbi Cohen played a major role in providing jobs and homes for Jewish immigrants in what was called “The Galveston Movement.” Beginning in the 1880s millions of European Jews arrived on the East Coast without the means to survive—no English, no job, and no where to live. They settled with fellow immigrants in the slums of New York’s lower East side where several families often crowded into a tiny room, even sleeping in hallways. The congested, impoverished conditions led to child labor and to crime. American Jewish philanthropists were embarrassed, and set about organizing a program that diverted ships away from the port of New York and on to the port of Galveston. Rabbi Cohen, through the Galveston Movement worked from 1907 to 1914 with cities and towns, mainly west of the Mississippi River that kept him informed of their employment needs such as trunk, harness, and saddle makers or spinners and weavers or cobblers and hat makers. Rabbi Cohen met most of the ships and directed over 10,000 immigrants to homes and occupations throughout the South and Midwest.

Dr. Cohen headed the Central Relief Committee after the 1900 storm and he and his friend Father James Kirwin were the primary force that kept the Ku Klux Klan from moving into Galveston in the 1920s. As a member of the Texas Prison Board, the rabbi initiated reforms that separated hardened criminals from first offenders and improved prison medical facilities. Many young men were paroled to his care, and he found them jobs, remaining in touch with them as they got their lives back together.

When he heard that a Russian immigrant had arrived illegally and was about to be returned to certain death, Rabbi Cohen boarded a train bound for Washington, secured an appointment with President William Howard Taft, and made it clear that the man faced a firing squad if he were sent back. President Taft expressed his sympathy and claimed to have no influence on immigration. As the rabbi rose to leave, the President added that he admired Dr. Cohen for coming “all this way for a member of your faith.”

“Member of my faith!” Rabbi Cohen roared, “This man is Greek Catholic. A human life is at stake.”

Immediately, President Taft picked up the phone and arranged for the immigrant to be released to the custody of the fiery little man standing before him.

POWER BY DESIGN

In the last half of the nineteenth century, the most powerful men in Texas called Galveston home.  The Strand, a street stretching five blocks along the docks, wore the moniker of Wall Street of the Southwest.  Two-dozen millionaires officed along the route, controlling Texas’ shipping, banks, insurance companies, and the vast cotton export business.

One man, by the power of his designs, left a heritage for Galveston and Texas that all the power brokers combined could not equal.  Nicholas J. Clayton (click on this link for terrific photos) arrived in Galveston in 1872, and changed the face of the booming cultural and business metropolis of Texas.  Although he arrived without friends or business contacts, his position as supervising architect for a Cincinnati firm constructing the First Presbyterian Church and the Tremont Hotel served as sufficient prestige to catch the eye of Galveston notables.

A faithful Catholic, who attended mass most every day, Clayton began his connection with Galveston’s movers and shakers by walking as soon as he arrived in the city to St. Mary’s Church (now St. Mary’s Cathedral) and discussing with the bishop improvements to Galveston’s oldest church built in 1846. Clayton soon designed the central tower and later a new bell and statue of Mary, Star of the Sea.

The bishop may have been influential in 1873 in Clayton receiving his first independent design of Saint Mary’s Church (now Saint Mary’s Cathedral) in Austin, which, at that time, was part of the Galveston Diocese.

Clayton’s residential, commercial, and church designs won respect for the exuberance of shape, color, texture, and detail.  He loved his work, apparently sketched church buildings, windows, altars, and steeples, even while carrying on conversations.  He worked every day except Sunday and Christmas and expected near perfection from employees.  A gentle man, his family claimed his most abusive term was “muttonhead” for those who did not meet his standards.

He designed, built, added to, or remodeled eleven churches in Galveston and other churches all over Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and Mexico.  In a time of slower communication, Clayton traveled extensively and made use of the telephone, telegraph, and letters.

Many of his designs have never been duplicated such as the intricate brickwork on Old Red (1891), the first building for the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston; and the carpentry has never been matched in the Beach Hotel (1883-1898) and the Electric Pavilion (1881-1883) both destroyed in the 1900 storm.  The flamboyant octagonal Garten Verein (1876- ), an inspired work in wood, served as a social center for the German community.

Clayton, filled with enthusiasm, worked quickly and new ideas appeared to come easily.  Mrs. Clayton claimed the idea for the Garten Verein design came to Clayton instantly and he finished the plans in a single night.

His most spectacular residential design, the Walter Gresham House (1887-1892) (known today as Bishop’s Palace) rises three stories over a raised basement and boasts fourteen-foot ceilings.  Among the grand details is a forty-foot tall octagonal mahogany stairwell with stained glass on five sides lit by a large octagonal skylight.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Gresham House is one of the most significant Victorian residences in the U.S.

Despite his prolific production and vigorous work ethic, Clayton’s son acknowledged that his father wasn’t a very good businessman.  His insistence on perfection at times led him to go over budget for projects and to continue the work at his own expense.  He mostly left financial arrangements to others.  His concern centered on creating outstanding buildings. Eventually his relaxed business practices and dependence on a partner to follow through on a contract while Clayton was out of town, caused him to forfeit a bond and become involved in a long legal battle that resulted in bankruptcy.  As his legal battle dragged on for ten years, many clients turned their backs on him and refused to pay.  Devastated by the loss of his integrity and prestige, the final blow came when the 1900 storm severely damaged or destroyed many of his finest designs.

He continued to get small projects such as the design and reconstruction of the main building of St. Edward’s University in Austin after a fire damaged the structure, and he built the new Incarnate Word Academy in Houston, but he failed to get a bond for a large contract.

In November 1916, as he repaired a crack in his chimney, the candle he held caught his undershirt on fire.  Severely burned, he developed pneumonia and died on December 9, 1916.

Mrs. Clayton grieved to Rabbi Henry Cohen, one of their friends about having no money for a proper monument for her husband.  Rabbi Cohen replied, “Oh, you don’t need one, my dear Mary Lorena.  He’s got them all over town.  Just go around and read some cornerstones.”

Today, eight buildings of Nicholas J. Clayton design survive on the Strand, thirty-four remain, and eight-six have been razed.  His legacy continues in the beauty and style he brought to his beloved Galveston, known as Texas’ Victorian Oasis.

GALVESTON GRADE RAISING

The 1900 storm that struck Galveston still carries the designation, as the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.  Periodically, storms flooded the marshy bayou- creased island on the Gulf of Mexico, but experts believed that the lay of the land somehow protected the thriving seaport from the vicious storms that had already destroyed the port city of Indianola on down the southern coast and that often ravaged Louisiana to the east.

Galveston had grown into Texas’ most prosperous city with a population of 38,000.  Known as the Wall Street of the Southwest, it served forcefully as the business capital of Texas where all the state’s major insurance companies, banks, cotton brokers, and mercantile businesses maintained headquarters.

And then on the morning of September 8 heavy winds and rain began and by 4:00 P.M. the city lay under four feet of water.  At 8:00 P.M. the wind reached an estimated 120 miles an hour, driving a four-to-six-foot tidal wave across the island.  Houses splintered into debris that moved across the city like a battering ram destroying everything in its path.  Finally, it crashed against the massive Gresham mansion and created a breakwater that protected the remainder of the city. At midnight the wind ceased and then the water rushing back out to sea sucked away many unsuspecting victims.  As dawn came on September 9, the shattered city stared in horror at the devastation–over 6,000 dead and $40 million in property damage.

But Galveston refused to die.  An esprit de corps developed among the populace, especially the business community that literally worked miracles to bring Galveston back to life.  A board of three engineers headed by retired Brigadier General Henry M. Robert (author of Robert’s Rules of Order) recommended building a seawall and raising the level of the city behind the wall.

The Galveston seawall is one of the great engineering feats of its time.  The solid concrete wall rises seventeen feet, spreads sixteen to twenty feet at the base, and is three to five feet wide at the top.  In July 1904 at the completion of the first phase, the wall protected 3.3 miles of waterfront.  Over the years it has stretched further along the coast.

To raise the level of the city, dikes of sand were built to enclose quarter-mile square sections of town.  Dredges scooped up the sand from the ship channel and moved along canals dug from the port side of the island. Owners paid to have their houses within each cordoned-off section raised on stilts, making it possible for the huge pipes to funnel the sand under the raised buildings and in this fashion to lift streets, streetcar lines, alleys, gas and water lines, and even the privies.

The three-ton St. Patrick’s Church was the heaviest structure raised.  Workers placed 700 jackscrews under the building.  The workmen sang songs to synchronize the operation and on designated words, they cranked the jacks one-quarter turn.  In this fashion, they lifted the massive structure five feet without causing a single crack, even in the bell tower.  Church services continued without interruption.  Other structures of almost equal weight were also lifted.

Because of frequent flooding, many homes already sat on piers or were built with a first level used only for a carriage house and storage.  Those buildings simply had the first level filled as the area around them grew higher.  The first floor of some two-story buildings disappeared under the sand and the second floor became ground level.

Catwalks crisscrossed the city to allow residents to get about above the stinking, muddy silt hauled in from the bottom of the ship channel.  A drawbridge across one of the canals allowed movement about the city.  Tourists came to see the activity.  When two dredges collided and had to be pulled from the canal, residents brought picnic baskets and watched the operation.  It became fashionable for ladies to carry their nice slippers in a little bag and upon arrival at an event, they simply changed their shoes.

By the time the grade raising was complete in 1910, over 2,300 buildings, large and small, had been lifted from five to eight feet.

Before the storm, Galveston reigned as the business center of the Southwest, but with the completion of the seawall and grade raising, and the construction of a new causeway that handled five railroads, an electric Interurban, and a highway for automobile traffic business leaders asked:  Why not have a first class beachfront hotel and add holiday destination to Galveston’s allure?  In 1911 the Galvez, a $1million hotel of the finest order opened overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.  Galveston was ready for its next chapter.

THE POMPEIIAN VILLA

The Pompeiian Villa, built in 1900 in Port Arthur is a replica of a first century Roman villa complete with the deep pink exterior, Doric columns, and ten rooms circling a grand peristyle. Although it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and bears a Texas Historical Marker, its heyday symbolizes an era of surprising twists and turns.

The tale begins with Arthur Stilwell, an eccentric industrialist who, even as a child showed signs of unusual intuition.  As a powerful businessman, he often raised eyebrows when he insisted on following a “hunch” when making decisions.  Stilwell claimed a “hunch” convinced him to construct a railroad from the agricultural heartland of Kansas straight south for 600 miles to a protected inland harbor on the Texas coast.  The problem with Stilwell’s port site was that there was no port there.

Stilwell “believed” his landlocked harbor would be spared the damaging Gulf storms and be a much more profitable locale for Midwestern farmers to ship their grain exports than shipping 1,400 miles to the East Coast.

A “hunch” also kept him from constructing his railroad to the already thriving seaport of Galveston.  Instead, the Kansas City Southern Railroad reached Sabine Lake in 1898 where Stilwell’s Townsite Company had already laid out the village, built a hotel, a pleasure pier, grain elevators, and loading docks.  Ocean-going vessels could reach the town that Stilwell modestly named Port Arthur through a freshly dug canal that connected with the Gulf of Mexico.

Three wealthy investors John W. Gates, who made his first fortune promoting barbed wire to skeptical Texas ranchers, Isaac Elwood an early developer of barbed wire, and James Hopkins, president of the Diamond Match Company joined the railroad project and real estate development of Port Arthur. Tragically, Gates managed to shove Stilwell out of the Kansas City Southern Railroad just before it reached the terminus.  Apparently Stilwell didn’t get a “hunch” in time to stop Gate’s takeover.

The ambitious businessmen decided the view overlooking Sabine Lake offered the ideal locale for summer cottages.  Gates built a $50,000 Colonial-style mansion.  Ellwood built the Pompeiian Villa for $50,000 and then sold it to Hopkins, who wanted the lavish villa for his wife and daughters.

Unfortunately, when Hopkins’ wife and daughters arrived, they were greeted by the typical heat, humidity, and mosquito infestations of Southeast Texas summers.  They refused to step from their carriage.

Meantime, Stilwell’s “hunch” about the best location for his railroad terminus proved accurate when the September 1900 hurricane struck Galveston only 60 miles down the coast, killing over 6,000 and devastating the thriving seaport known as the Wall Street of the Southwest.

On January 10, 1901, Sprindletop the oil gusher, which ushered in the petroleum age, blew in a few miles north of Port Arthur.  The little town sat perfectly positioned for the first oil pipeline in the world to deliver Sprindletop crude oil to its dock facilities.

The oil boom brought vast wealth to the area and housing, especially handsome accommodations such as the The Pompeiian Villa, were in high demand.  James Hopkins rented his beautiful Villa to executives of Guffey Petroleum Company, present Gulf Oil.  Then, in 1903 George M. Craig a local banker offered to purchase the Villa for 10 percent of the stock in one of the new oil operations called the Texas Company.  Today, that stock in Texaco is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Craig family lived in the Villa for the next 43 years.  When asked why he tossed away Texaco stock for the Villa, Craig explained that oil companies during the Spindletop oil boom were a dime-a-dozen.  Oil companies started up and went broke overnight.  Perhaps Craig had not developed his “hunches” as well as Stilwell.