The First Grand Mansion on the Texas Coast

Today Fulton Mansion would be called the empty-nest home of George W. Fulton and Harriet Gillette Smith since at the time of its construction the Fulton’s six children were already grown. In 1877 when the 3 ½-story, nineteen-room Second Empire style mansion rose along

Fulton Mansion

Fulton Mansion

the shore of Aransas Bay, it was the grandest house on the Texas coast, and the Fultons, with the help of seven servants, entertained lavishly in their elegant new home.

Fulton, like his cousin Robert Fulton of steamboat fame, was a brilliant engineer and used his skills to design a house with features that were rare for that time—hot and cold running water, gas lights, a refrigeration system, central heat, and flush toilets. Despite sitting only yards from Aransas Bay, the Fulton Mansion withstood massive storms, including the 1919 hurricane and ten-foot tidal wave that destroyed most structures in the area. Fulton designed a shellcrete (a form of concrete made from the plentiful local shell) foundation. Walls, both inside and out, were made of one-by-ten-inch pine boards stacked side-by-side to form a solid ten-inch-thick frame. Shellcrete filled in between every fourth or fifth board in the floors creating a structure as stable as a grain elevator.

Fulton could afford to construct the house, which cost about $l00,000, because of his wife’s inherited land and his own entrepreneurial spirit. Fulton, born in 1810, had worked in Indiana as a schoolteacher, watchmaker, and creator of mathematical instruments until he organized a company to fight in the Texas Revolution. He arrived too late for the action, but Fulton joined the Army of the Republic of Texas in 1837 and for his service received 1,280 acres. Fulton worked for the General Land Office, which introduced him to the legal maneuvering necessary to acquire land. In 1840 he married Harriet who was the daughter of Henry Smith, governor of Texas for a short time in 1835 before the war for independence from Mexico. After Smith failed to win the presidency of the new Republic of Texas, he continued to serve in several government positions, to purchase land along the coast, and to promote the development of his property.

Meantime, George Fulton and Harriet left Texas and spent the next twenty years in Ohio and in Baltimore where they raised and educated their children. After Harriet’s father died and the Fultons returned to Texas and cleared the titles on Smith’s coastal land. Using his knowledge of land titles, Fulton purchased acreage and combined with the land Harriet inherited from her father, Fulton owned 25,000 acres. After joining with partners in the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company, the holdings peaked at 265,000 acres, creating one of the largest cattle companies in Texas. The lavish lifestyle that ensued from the business allowed the partners to live like cattle barons and the Fultons to build their grand mansion.

Much of the partners’ wealth came from the hide and tallow factories lining the shore of Aransas Bay near the Fulton’s home. Hundreds of thousands of cattle and mustangs were slaughtered and their carcasses reduced to tallow in great boilers. The hides were cured and shipped along with the tallow, bones, and horns on waiting steamers headed for the U.S. east coast.

Ever the inventor, Fulton received a U.S. patent for shipping beef using artificial cooling and for a steam engine modification. He introduced new livestock breeds that are still prevalent in Texas. Before barbed wire became available, the company used smooth wire to fence some of the ranges. A wooden plank fence enclosed one 2,000-acre pasture near present Rockport. Fulton gave land for the railroad, and towns—Sinton, Gregory, Portland, and Taft—were laid out on the company’s vast holdings.

Parlor, Fulton Mansion

Parlor, Fulton Mansion

The most elegant of Fulton’s achievements, which survives today, is the Fulton Mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and operated as a house museum by the Texas Historical Commission.

Imagining a Cathedral

wesley_brethren_church_2013The first Protestant Czech-Moravian congregation in North America built its one-room church of hand-hewn logs in 1866. The tiny community, originally called Veseli meaning “joyous,” had already opened the first Czech school in Texas in 1859, soon after they settled on farmland eight miles south of Brenham. Their pastor was expected to do double-duty as teacher in the little church building.

Reverend Bohuslav Emil Laciak, serving as teacher and pastor in 1888, began painting the interior of the wood building using an art technique called trompe l’ oeil, a method of creating realistic imagery in three dimensions to give the impression of a basilica-style cathedral. He painted rustic-appearing brick walls that rise to the top of the windows. He produced an area above the pulpit that appears to be an apse hosting a gold chalice. The walls are circled by images of columns and arches. The ceiling is colored blue and edged with a geometric chain pattern.

Unfortunately, Reverend Laciak was killed in an 1891 hunting accident before he explained the meaning of his work, although he clearly had not completed his creation because the outlines of more designs are still visible. The congregation believes the bricks, individually highlighted in black, depict the strength of the walls of Jerusalem. The Star of David atop white pillars casting dark shadows remind congregants of the pillars of Solomon’s Temple. The chalice symbolizes the blood of Christ and the continuous chain design around the edge of the ceiling represents the unbroken link of brotherhood. The word “Busnami,” above the pulpit area translates as “God with Us.”wesley_pic3

Czech immigrants, searching for cheap land and more opportunities, began arriving in Texas in the 1850s. Although most of them were Roman Catholics, ten to fifteen percent were Protestant and most of those were United Brethren who came to Texas after generations of persecution in their homeland. They held worship services in homes until they built this little one-room chapel. The building was enlarged and the steeple added in 1883. One hundred years later, the congregation built a new church next door, which serves a community of about sixty. The “log church cathedral,” listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is open as a museum reminding all Czech-Moravians of their rich heritage.

The Grandest House on the Texas Coast

Today Fulton Mansion would be called the empty-nest home of George W. Fulton and Harriet Gillette Smith since at the time of its construction the Fulton’s six children were already grown.

Fulton Mansion

Fulton Mansion

In 1877 when the 3 ½-story, nineteen-room Second Empire style mansion rose along the shore of Aransas Bay, it was grandest house on the Texas coast, and the Fultons, with the help of seven servants, entertained lavishly in their elegant new home.

Fulton, like his cousin Robert Fulton of steamboat fame, was a brilliant engineer and used his skills to design a house with features that were rare for that time—hot and cold running water, gas lights, a refrigeration system, central heat, and flush toilets. Despite sitting only yards from Aransas Bay, the Fulton Mansion withstood massive storms, including the 1919 hurricane and ten-foot tidal wave that destroyed most structures in the area. Fulton designed a shellcrete (a form of concrete made from the plentiful local shell) foundation. Walls, both inside and out, were made of one-by-ten-inch pine boards stacked side-by-side to form a solid ten-inch thick frame. Shellcrete filled in between every fourth or fifth board in the floors creating a structure as stable as a grain elevator.

Parlor, Fulton Mansion

Parlor, Fulton Mansion

Fulton could afford to construct the house, which cost about $l00,000, because of his wife’s inherited land and his own entrepreneurial spirit. Fulton, born in 1810, had worked in Indiana as a schoolteacher, watchmaker, and creator of mathematical instruments until he organized a company to fight in the Texas Revolution. They arrived too late for the action, but Fulton joined the Army of the Republic of Texas in 1837 and for his service received 1,280 acres. Fulton worked for the General Land Office, which introduced him to the legal maneuvering necessary to acquire land. In 1840 he married Harriet who was the daughter of Henry Smith, governor of Texas for a short time in 1835 before the war for independence from Mexico. After Smith failed to win the presidency of the new Republic of Texas, he continued to serve in several government positions, to purchase land along the coast, and to promote the development of his property.

Meantime, George Fulton and Harriet left Texas and spent the next twenty years in Ohio and in Baltimore where they raised and educated their children. After Harriet’s father died and the Fulton’s cleared the titles on Smith’s coastal land, they returned to Texas. Using his knowledge of land titles, Fulton purchased acreage, and combined with the land Harriet inherited from her father, Fulton acquired 25,000 acres. After joining with partners in the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company, the holdings peaked at 265,000 acres, creating one of the largest cattle companies in Texas. The lavish lifestyle that ensued from the business allowed the partners to live like cattle barons and the Fultons to build their grand mansion.

Much of the partners’ wealth came from the hide and tallow factories lining the shore of Aransas Bay near the Fulton’s home. Hundreds of thousands of cattle and mustangs were slaughtered and their carcasses reduced to tallow in great boilers. The hides were cured and shipped along with the tallow, bones, and horns on waiting steamers headed for the U.S. east coast.

Ever the inventor, Fulton received a U.S. patent for shipping beef using artificial cooling and for a steam engine modification. He introduced new livestock breeds that are still prevalent in Texas. Before barbed wire became available, the company used smooth wire to fence some of the ranges. A wooden plank fence enclosed one 2,000-acre pasture near present Rockport. Fulton gave land for the railroad, and towns—Sinton, Gregory, Portland, and Taft—were laid out on the company’s vast holdings.

The most elegant of Fulton’s achievements, which survives today, is the Fulton Mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and operated as a house museum by the Texas Historical Commission. A project is currently underway to raise $3.4 million to strengthen and preserve the grand old mansion.

Rosenwald Schools

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington

Black children in the South attended segregated schools that were dilapidated. They used books castoff  from white schools. At times they attended

Julius Rosenwald, Sears Archives,  c. 1920s

Julius Rosenwald, Sears Archives, c. 1920s

classes in churches and lodge halls because the local school board did not provide buildings for black students. Two men worked to change all that. Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute and Julius Rosenwald, a Chicago philanthropist, instituted a program that eventually built 464 schools in Texas and almost 5,000 across the South.

Julius Rosenwald, son of German-Jewish immigrants, became part owner in Sears, Roebuck & Company in 1895, and from 1908 until 1925 he served as the Sears president. As his wealth grew he increased his contributions, especially to educational and religious institutions. His friendship and work with other philanthropists such as Paul J. Sachs of Goldman Sachs, led to Rosenwald meeting Booker T. Washington.

In 1911, Rosenwald wrote: “The horrors that are due to race prejudice come home to the Jew more forcefully than to others of the white race, on account of the centuries of persecution which we have suffered and still suffer.” After Rosenwald gave Tuskegee Institute $25,000 for a black teacher-training program in 1912, Booker T. Washington, the school’s founder, convinced Rosenwald to allow part of the money for a pilot program to build six schools in rural Alabama. Impressed with the results, two years later Rosenwald donated $30,000 for construction of 100 rural schools and then he gave additional money for building another 200 schools. By 1920 the Julius Rosenwald Fund began a rural school building program for black children that continued for the next twelve years in fifteen states, including Texas.

To qualify for the grants, which ranged from $500 for a one-teacher facility to $2,100 for a school large enough for ten teachers, the local black community had to raise matching money in the form of cash, in-kind donations of materials, and labor. Many of the schools were in freedmen communities where the residents were eager to offer education for their children. Black men often cut the lumber, hauled the material, and served as carpenters. The land and building had to be deeded to local authorities, and the property had to be maintained as part of the school district. The district was required to furnish new desks and blackboards for all classrooms as well as two hygienic privies for each building. Classes had to be held for more than five months of the year.

One-teacher design

One-teacher design

Floor plans were specific as well. The designs, which offered the latest in modern construction for the time, included large windows on the east side of the building to allow for maximum natural lighting and small high windows on the west side to insure cross ventilation while keeping out the hot afternoon sun. Many white schools adopted the Rosenwald designs because they were free and were found to be so efficient.

During the twelve-year program in Texas over 57,000 black students were served by almost 1,300 teachers. Black citizens contributed $392,000; white citizens gave $60,000; tax funds totaled $1.6 million; and the Rosenwald Fund contributed $420,000.

Julius Rosenwald, who died in 1932, said it was easier to make a million dollars honestly than to give it away wisely. With that in mind and in light of changing social and economic conditions, he directed that all the Rosenwald Fund be spent within twenty-five years of his death. By 1948 when the fund ended, Rosenwald and his fund had given over $70 million to schools, colleges, museums, Jewish charities, and black institutions.

Ten to fifteen Rosenwald schools survive in Texas, and some are being restored as museums and

Pleasant Hill School

Pleasant Hill School

community centers. In keeping with the original funding efforts, citizens are raising the money to bring back the historic buildings. Women in the Pleasant Hill area are selling quilts to restore their Rosenwald School; a Baptist Church near Seguin is using the Sweet Home Vocational and Agricultural High School as their fellowship hall and nutritional center; and this youtube video tells the story of the Columbia Rosenwald School. The Texas Historical Commission began in the mid-1990s to inventory the history of the Rosenwald School building project and to apply for listings on the National Register of

Sweet Home School

Sweet Home School

Historic Places.

Rosenwald School, Columbia

Rosenwald School, Columbia

Niles City: “Richest Little City in Texas”

Three miles north of Fort Worth’s business center, Niles City, a tiny strip of land spreading over a little more than one-half square mile and boasting a population of 508, incorporated in 1911.  Within its bounds sat the Fort Worth Stock Yards, Swift & Company, Armour & Company, two grain elevators, and a cotton-oil company, which placed the city’s property value at $12 million.  Six railroads came through the town with the Belt Railway owning and operating a roundhouse.  Niles City had a town council and enjoyed complete utility service, good roads, and fine schools.

The town was named for Louville Veranus Niles, a successful Boston businessman who reorganized the Fort Worth Packing Company in 1899 and was instrumental in convincing Armour and Swift to locate in Niles City in 1902.

There were no fine homes in the town, just the houses belonging to the plant workers and about seventy rental houses erected by the Fort Worth Stock Yards for its employees.  Niles City claimed other important venues including the Live Stock Exchange Building,

Live Stock Exchange Building, 1902

Live Stock Exchange Building, 1902

the horse and mule barns, and the Cowtown Coliseum, where the Fat Stock Show offered the first indoor rodeo in the United States.

Cowtown Coliseum, first indoor rodeo in the US

Cowtown Coliseum, first indoor rodeo in the US

Many big name entertainers performed at the Coliseum including Enrico Caruso who drew a crowd of about 8,000 in 1920.  The Swift and Armour packing plants added significantly to the economy, employing about 4,000 workers from Fort Worth and the surrounding area.

All of the wealth packed into such a small piece of real estate proved too tempting for Niles City’s neighbors.  In 1921 the Texas legislature passed a bill allowing a city of more than 50,000 to incorporate adjacent territory that did not have a population greater than 2,000.  To protect itself from annexation, Niles City quickly took in another square mile of extraterritorial industries including the Gulf Oil Company refinery and its pipeline plant, and two school districts attended by the children of Niles City. The move increased the town’s population to about 2,500 and its taxable property to $30 million.  The legislature passed a second bill raising the population needed to halt annexation to 5,000.  In July 1922 Fort Worth held a special election in which voters passed amendments to the city charter allowing Fort Worth to incorporate Niles City, which occurred on August 1, 1923.

Today the Stockyards, the Cowtown Coliseum, and Billy Bob’s the world famous honky tonk are located on the grounds of the town once known as “the richest little city in the state of Texas.”

Billy Bob's "World's Largest Honky Tonk" at 127,000 sq. ft.

Billy Bob’s “World’s Largest Honky Tonk” at 127,000 sq. ft.

Log Church Cathedral

A one-room log church sits on a lane leading off a country road in Wesley a farming community between Houston and Austin. Wesley boasts the first Czech school in Texas that started here in 1859 when the town was called Veseli meaning “joyous.” The church building, erected in 1866, housed the community school and the place of worship for the first Czech-Moravian congregation in Texas.

photo credit: Alan Oaks, C.S.P.

photo credit: Alan Oaks, C.S.P.

Rev. Bohuslav Emil Lacjak, serving as teacher and pastor in 1888, began painting the interior of the wood building using an art technique called trompe l’ oeil, a method of creating realistic imagery in three dimensions to give the impression of a basilica-style cathedral, which resulted in rustic-appearing brick walls, columns, and geometric decorative patterns.

photo credit: Alan Oaks, C.S.P.

photo credit: Alan Oaks, C.S.P.

Unfortunately, Rev. Lacjak was killed in 1891 in a hunting accident before he could explain the meaning of his work, although he clearly had not completed his creation because the outlines of more designs are still visible.  The congregation believes the gray bricks highlighted in black that stretch to the top of the windows depict the strength of the walls of Jerusalem.  The Star of David atop white pillars casting dark shadows remind congregants of the pillars of Solomon’s Temple.  The continuous chain design around the edge of the ceiling represents the unbroken link of brotherhood and the word “Busnami,” above the pulpit area translates as “God with Us.”

Photo credit: Alan Oaks, C.S.P.

Photo credit: Alan Oaks, C.S.P.

Czech immigrants, searching for cheap land, began arriving in Texas in the 1850s. Although most of them were Roman Catholics, ten to fifteen percent were Protestant and most of those were United Brethren who came to Texas after generations of persecution by the Catholic Church in their homeland. They held worship services in homes until they built this little one-room chapel.  The building was enlarged and the steeple added in 1883.  One hundred years later, the congregation built a new church next door, which serves a community of about sixty.  The “log church cathedral,” listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is open as a museum reminding all Czech-Moravians of their rich heritage.

Texas Capitol Paid For in Land

The Texas Constitution of 1876 set aside three million acres in the Panhandle to fund construction of the state’s fourth capitol.  Big land giveaways in Texas started in 1749 when the Spanish Colonial government began establishing villas along the Rio Grande.  Mexico continued the practice of granting empresarial contracts to establish colonies in Texas.  The Republic of Texas issued land grants to pay its debts, including payment to the army and volunteers for their service in the war for independence from Mexico.  After Texas joined the Union and negotiated to keep its public land, the state offered land to encourage development of farms and ranches, to attract new industry, to fund its public schools, and to entice railroad construction.  So, it makes sense to use land in payment for the state’s fourth capitol.

Texas State Capitol

The third capitol burned on November 9, 1881, increasing the urgency to name a contractor for construction of the new building.  By 1882 the State of Texas initiated one of the largest barter transactions in history to pay wealthy Chicago brothers, John V. and Senator C. B. Farwell, three million acres of Panhandle land in exchange for building the $3 million State Capitol at Austin.

Owners of Granite Mountain, a solid rock dome about fifty miles northeast of Austin, donated enough “sunset red” granite to construct a Renaissance Revival design modeled after the national Capitol in Washington.  Convict labor hauled the huge blocks of granite to a newly built narrow-gauge railroad that carried 15,700 carloads of granite from the quarry to the building site in Austin. Upon completion of the 360,000 square foot capitol in 1888 and the placing of the statue of the Goddess of Liberty atop its dome, the building reached a height of 311 feet—almost fifteen feet taller that the National Capitol.

Goddess of Liberty Intended for the Capitol Dome

Since the land used to pay for the capitol stretched across the unsettled Texas Panhandle from present Lubbock to forty miles north of Dalhart, the capitol syndicate decided to establish a ranch until the land could be sold.  Representatives went to England in 1884 to secure $5 million from British investors to finance the purchase of cattle, fencing, and the entire infrastructure for the huge enterprise.

Trail boss Abner Blocker drove the first herd to the ranch in 1885 only to discover that a brand had not been selected.  Trying to create a design that could not be easily changed, Blocker drew “XIT” in the corral dust with the heel of his boot, and it stuck as the brand and ranch name.  In later years the story spread that the brand stood for “ten (counties) in Texas” because the ranch spread into ten counties.  Other folks speculated that it meant “biggest in Texas.”

The vastness of the operation required dividing the ranch into eight divisions with a manager over each.  A 6,000-mile single-strand wire fence eventually enclosed the ranch, the largest in the world at that time.  By 1890 the XIT herd averaged 150,000 head, and the cowboys branded 35,000 calves a year.  Fences divided the ranch into ninety-four pastures; 325 windmills and 100 dams dotted the landscape. Cowhands received pay of twenty-five to thirty dollars a month.  XIT men and their “hired guns” sometimes formed vigilante groups to combat problems of fence cutting and cattle rustling.  Wolves and other wild animals took a heavy toll, especially during calving season.  Lack of ample water, droughts, blizzards, prairie fires, and a declining market resulted in the XIT operating without a profit for most of it years.

The schoolteacher wife of one of the managers, Cordia Sloan Duke, kept a diary, writing notes on a pad she carried in her apron pocket while she “looked after” her own family and the 150 cowboys who worked the ranch.  She successfully encouraged eighty-one cowboys and their families to keep diaries.  Eventually, she and Dr. Joe B. Frantz published a book, 6,000 Miles of Fence: Life on the XIT Ranch of Texas.  Through Mrs. Duke’s efforts, an authentic account of the work and lifestyle of that early phase of American life has been preserved in the cowboys’ own language.

With British creditors demanding a positive return, the syndicate began selling the land for small farms and ranches.  Although the cattle had been sold by 1912, the last parcel of land was not sold until 1963.  One hundred years after the land exchange, the tax value on the property reached almost $7 billion.

The XIT Ranch, built on land that served as payment for building the largest state capitol in North America, is remembered at the annual Dalhart XIT Reunion where a horse with an empty saddle honors the range riders of the past.

Horse With an Empty Saddle, Dalhart Reunion