Texas’ Grand Lady

Elissa is a pricey lady, but Galvestonians claim her as their own and nothing stands in Slide08the way when it comes to preserving this beauty. Built in 1877 in Aberdeen, Scotland, at the beginning of the age of steam, she is one of the last of her kind—a three-masted, square-rigged barque—measuring 205 feet from her stern to the tip of her jibboom.

After years of traveling the world, by 1961 she had been reduced to smuggling cigarettes between Italy and Yugoslavia. Peter Throckmorton, a marine archeologist, was aware that the Galveston Historical Foundation wanted a sailing vessel to display as a visual link between the city’s thriving 19th-century port and its major businesses lining The Strand. Throckmorton spotted the much-altered old barque in a Greek scrapyard.  Once aboard, Throckmorton discovered a plaque identifying the Elissa. More investigation revealed the dilapidated hulk as the oldest ship registered with Lloyds of London and its log showed two visits to Galveston.

She first arrived in Galveston on December 26, 1883, with one passenger and a cargo of bananas. The following January 25 she left port loaded with cotton, bound for Liverpool, England.

Her next visit occurred on September 8, 1886, when she arrived from Paysandú, Uruguay, probably carrying a cargo of hardwood or sugar. She sailed for Pensacola, Florida, on September 26 carrying only her ballast.

Over the years, the Elissa knew at least seven owners and carried names such as Fjeld, while berthed in Norway; Gustaf, while sailing out of Norway; and even Christophoros when purchased by Greeks. Each new name reflected the identity of her owners and brought physical changes such as losing some of her grand sails, acquiring her first engine in 1918, and having her bow snubbed in 1936.

Even after Throckmorton discovered the Elissa, the Galveston Historical Foundation did not purchase her until 1975 for $40,000. Despite the GHF sending a restoration team to Greece to make her seaworthy, and replacing twenty-five percent of the hull and removing tons of rust and rotten wood, the Elissa had to be towed across the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico to Galveston.

As she made the journey across the Atlantic, the Elissa became the first object to be granted placement on the National Register of Historic Places while still outside the bounds of the United States.

No blueprints existed to guide the restoration, but the new owners realized she must be made seaworthy to attract the support needed to complete the enormous task. Experts arrived from Europe, Africa, and all over the United States to direct a corps of volunteers who descended on the fine old ship, varnishing the woodwork and going aloft to “tar” the rigging to keep it from rotting.

On July 4, 1982, with the restoration completed at a cost of $3.6 million, Texas had its “Tall Ship.” The Elissa sailed the Gulf of Mexico and began receiving a long list of awards for its restoration and for its volunteer program. The most prestigious accolade came in 1984 from the National Trust—the Preservation Honor Award.

In 1985 Elissa made her first voyage as a restored sailing ship to Corpus Christi.  The following year she sailed to New York harbor for the Statue of Liberty celebration and tall ship parade where she held the honor of being the oldest of the event’s Class A vessels.

Over the years, the Elissa represented Texas from Brownsville to Pensacola and received designation as a National Historic Landmark.

Anchored at Pier 21, her home is the Texas Seaport Museum where the story of her restoration is displayed alongside accounts of Galveston’s seaborne commerce and immigration. Elissa reigned as one of Galveston’s premier tourist attractions until January 2011, when a trip to dry dock for regular maintenance revealed corrosion penetrating spots in her hull. Apparently, Hurricane Ike in 2008 caused far worse damage than inspectors recognized. After repairs to her hull and replacement of the wood deck, repairs estimated at $3.1 million, Elissa returned to her place in Texas history.

Today, Elissa is being readied for the Tall Ship Challenge, a series of races and festivals hosted by three Gulf ports––Galveston, New Orleans, and Pensacola. The events begin in Galveston on April 5 with a Parade of Sail, which is already sold out. Over the next three days, Galveston Bay Sails and Harbor Twilight Sails will be open to the public. Finally, on Monday, April 9, Elissa will lift her sails to begin the race across the Gulf to New Orleans. The grand lady is a survivor, and she will represent Texas pride.

 

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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.

Waco’s Suspension Bridge

Slide49After the Civil War, Waco was a struggling little town of 1,500 nestled on the west bank of the Brazos River.  No bridges crossed the Brazos, the longest body of water in Texas.  During floods, days and even weeks passed before travelers as well as cattle on the Shawnee and Chisholm trails could safely cross the river.  Although money was scarce and times were hard during recovery from the war, a group of businessmen formed Waco Bridge Company and secured a twenty-five-year contract to construct and operate the only toll bridge for five miles up and down the river.

John A. Roebling and Son of New York designed the 475-foot structure, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world at that time.  Waco’s bridge served as the prototype for Roebling’s much-longer Brooklyn Bridge completed in 1883.

The fledgling Waco company ran into problems from the beginning.  Work started in the fall of 1868 with costs, originally estimated at $40,000, growing to $140,000 as the investors continued to issue new stock offerings.  The nearest railroad stopped at Millican, over 100 miles away, which meant that coils of wire and cable, steel trusses, and custom-made bolts and nuts had to be hauled to Waco by ox wagon over rutted, sandy roads.  The contractor floated cedar trees down the Brazos for shoring up the foundation in the unstable riverbed.  Local businesses made the woodwork and the bricks.

Slide50The bridge opened to traffic in January 1870 with tolls of ten cents for each animal and rider; loose animals and foot passengers crossed for five cents each; and sheep, hogs, or goats crossed for three cents each.  It was not long until residents on the far side of the river began complaining about the tolls.  Businessmen who used the facility joined them in their protests.

Landowners along the river began allowing cattlemen, travelers, and local citizens to cut across their property to reach the fords on the river.  The uproar increased for the next nineteen years, until September 1889, when the Waco Bridge Company sold the structure to McLennan County for $75,000 and the county gave the bridge to the city.

Vehicles continued using the bridge, without paying a toll, until 1971 when it was converted to a pedestrian crossing.  Today lovely, shaded parkland edges both sides of the river and the bridge enjoys a listing on the National Register of Historic Places and designation by a Texas Historical marker.  Slide51