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Lost, Texas

Vanishing Texas Architectural Heritage

Victoria

Victoria Colored School

 

Martín De León, raised in Spanish Mexico to a wealthy, aristocratic family with ancestral ties to Spain, left his home in Monterrey in his early twenties to embark on a career as a merchant/trader. In the early 1800s, after several trips into Texas, De León began buying land and establishing ranching operations along the Aransas and Guadalupe rivers. In 1824, he established the town of Nuestra Señora Guadalupe de Jesús Victoria and helped 41 Mexican families settle the area around it. Until Texas won independence from Mexico in 1836, De León’s Colony was the only predominantly Mexican colony in the state. The town’s economy, based primarily on agriculture and cattle, prospered and grew as large numbers of immigrants from Germany, Poland, England and Alsace arrived at the nearby port in Indianola between 1840 and 1860. Many of them stopped in Victoria, found it to their liking, and built their new lives there. The town’s population grew to nearly 2,000 by 1860 – nearly one quarter of them slaves who had accompanied settlers from the southern United States.

Following the Civil War, tracks for the San Antonio and Mexican Gulf Railroad were re-laid between Port Lavaca and Victoria by the federal government as part of Reconstruction. That line merged with the financially-more-stable Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway in 1871. Railroads, river navigation and all-weather roads helped the city of Victoria become a regional commercial center for the county’s farmers and ranchers. In 1866, five Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament from Lyon, France established new convent at the home of Father Augustine Gardet, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Victoria, and a year later opened a new school named the Convent School with 55 students. The school was renamed the Academy of Nazareth in 1880 and the Nazareth Academy in 1921.

John Milton Brownson moved to Victoria in 1866 after serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He opened a grocery store that year, going on to open Victoria’s first bank in 1867. Brownson’s Bank went through several name changes before becoming the First National Bank of Victoria in 1889. He remained one of the city’s most prominent citizens until his death in 1906. Brownson’s wife donated land to the Victoria school district and the Brownson School was built in 1910 as a “free public school” according to school board minutes. First occupied in 1911, it was attended by students in grades one, two and three. A brass plaque above the front door cast by sculptor Pompeo Coppini bears Brownson’s likeness.

The Brownson School

At the turn of the twentieth century, the Victoria Independent School District, hired architect Jules Leffland to design a high school for colored students. Leffland immigrated to Texas in 1886 from his native Usserød, Denmark. In 1901, local contractor Bailey Mills built the new, wood-framed building on a lot next to the thirty-three year old Victoria Freedmen’s School. When the new Victoria Colored School (top) was completed, the older building was converted to housing for the school’s teachers. Frederick W. Gross, the school’s first principal managed a faculty of eight teachers and the school was renamed F. W. Gross High School in 1923.

Nazareth Academy

Jules Leffland also designed another notable school building in Victoria – the Nazareth Academy, built in 1904. Leffland combined Spanish and Mission Revival architectural styles with historical references from Europe. The brick and stucco building, its entry topped by a three-tier octagonal lantern, is considered his most unusual and creative design.

REFERENCE: Robert W. Shook, “VICTORIA, TX (VICTORIA COUNTY),” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hdv01), accessed October 29, 2015. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

LOCATION:  Victoria, centrally located in Victoria County at the convergence of U.S. highways 59, 77, and 87.

Edna

Edna Theater

Edna, the county seat of Jackson County, was established in 1882 when the New York, Texas and Mexican Railway line was built from Rosenberg to Victoria and bypassed Texana, then the county seat. Construction of the railroad began in September 1881. Edna was laid out on land owned by Mrs. Lucy Flournoy, who conveyed right-of-way and a half interest in the townsite to the railroad, which was promoted and built by Italian Count Joseph Telfener. The town was named for a daughter of the count. The NYT&M, nicknamed the “Macaroni,” was constructed by Italian laborers, most of whom were brought from Lombardy by Telfener. After completion of the road, the majority of the crew remained in the area and established homes. The first train arrived on July 4, 1882; the first merchant was Gideon Egg, who moved his general merchandise store from Texana in 1882, and the first child born in the new community was Edna Louise Traylor.

In an election of January 22, 1883, residents voted to make Edna the county seat in place of Texana. The contract for a new courthouse was awarded on February 11, 1884. A post office opened in 1886. The first church congregations in Edna were the Methodist and Presbyterian, whose memberships moved from Texana almost intact. The latter brought their 1859 sanctuary with them overland eight miles. It was also used by other denominations for worship services. The oldest public building remaining in the county, the Texana Presbyterian Church, has been restored and serves in Edna as an area cultural center. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a recorded Texas historic landmark. The first newspaper in Edna was the Jackson County Progress. The newspaper plant, along with a large part of the business district, was destroyed in 1906 in the town’s second disastrous fire. Succeeding the Progress was the Edna Herald, first published on November 22, 1906.

When the Edna Theater (above) opened in 1949, it was the flagship property for the Long Theater Company (also LCL Theaters), which owned as many as 70 movie theaters in central and south Texas. The building, designed by Houston architect Ernest L. Shult in the Moderne style, features a neon-lit vertical fin emblazoned with the word “Edna”. A curving, cantilevered canopy is lit beneath by an intricate layout of multi-colored neon. The theater closed in the 1970s. In 2008, the vertical fin and marquee were restored, and the building’s new owners are in the process of restoring and reopening the theater.

Edna is the gateway to 11,000-acre Lake Texana, which covers the site of Texana. The city has a hospital, convalescent home, library, museum, city park with swimming pool, three banks, two savings and loan associations, a country club with a nine-hole golf course, and Oak Creek Village, a retirement community. It is the center of a prosperous agricultural area with petroleum and natural gas production and has an active chamber of commerce, oilfield service industries, and two grain elevators. Edna had a population of 1,000 in 1896. By 1929 residents numbered 2,500 and by 1958, an estimated 6,500. In 1990 the population was 5,343 and in 2000 it was 5,899.

REFERENCE:  Handbook of Texas Online, Brownson Malsch, “Edna, TX,” accessed November 02, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hfe01. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association. National Register of Historic Places registration #11000652, July 2011.

LOCATION:  Edna is located on US-59, approximately 25 miles northeast of Victoria. The Edna Theater is located at 201 W. Main St.

Bartlett

Bartlett National Bank

Though there were settlers in the area as early as 1851, Bartlett was founded when the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway Company began surveying for a right-of-way in 1881. The town is named for John T. Bartlett, who with J. E. Pietzsch donated the land for a townsite. Town lots were offered for sale in 1881, and there were two stores by the time the railroad reached the town in 1882. A post office opened the same year. In 1884 Bartlett had 300 inhabitants, a gin, a hotel, a grocer, a meat market, four churches, and a school; the town shipped wool and cotton. When Bartlett incorporated in 1890, it had a bank, two weekly newspapers (the Democrat and the Tribune), a Masonic lodge, and a waterworks. In 1909 investors chartered the Bartlett-Florence Railway Company (eventually renamed the Bartlett Western), which slowly built a new railway west from Bartlett; the town prospered as the eastern terminus and main depot of the line. Bartlett served as a shipping point for cotton, grain, livestock, and produce in 1914, the same year it reached its peak population of some 2,200 inhabitants and had three banks, electric lighting, and three cotton gins. With the decline of the cotton industry in the 1920s and 1930s, the Bartlett Western experienced financial difficulties and eventually closed in 1935. The town was also heavily dependent on cotton and declined somewhat in this period, though in 1931 it was still a substantial community of 1,873 people and ninety-five businesses.

A two-block area of Bartlett, centered on the intersection of Clark and Evie Streets, was listed as a Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 (ID# 80004076).  The district is described as “…cohesive grouping of early 1900s commercial buildings and reflects the town’s prosperity…as a cotton shipping center…” and “…the structures remain as good examples of Texas vernacular commercial architecture of that period.” The Old Bartlett National Bank Building (above) is constructed of crème-colored brick in the Beaux-Arts Classic style. Plaster eagles are set between paired pilasters on the south and west sides of the building flanking its entrances.

Bartlett continued to shrink during the depression; by 1940 its population was estimated at 1,668, and it had seventy-five businesses. The population was 1,622 in 1970 and 1,567 in 1980. In 1988 the town had 1,556 inhabitants and fifteen businesses. In 1990 the population was 1,439. By 2000 the population was 1,675.

REFERENCE:  Mark Odintz, Handbook of Texas Online, Mark Odintz, “Bartlett, TX,” accessed October 20, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hjb03. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association. Clara Stearns Scarbrough, Land of Good Water: A Williamson County History (Georgetown, Texas: Williamson County Sun Publishers, 1973).

LOCATION:  Bartlett is a station on the Katy Railroad, State Highway 95, and the border between Williamson and Bell counties.

Denison

M.K.T Railroad Depot

The North Texas town of Denison owes its existence to the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (alternately MKT or Katy) and William B. Munson, Sr. Having failed to persuade the city of Sherman to attract the railroad, Munson purchased land on the MKT right-of-way several miles to the northwest of Sherman, with the railroad’s commitment to establish its North Texas hub. There, in 1872, Munson platted a new town, which he named Denison, after MKT vice president George Denison. The railroad’s impact was immediate, creating a boomtown. Many of Denison’s 3,000 inhabitants in 1873 were transients, moving there to work for the railroad facilities or to provide services to the others. Main Street in Denison became the location for legitimate businesses like Waples-Platter Grocery Company, which initially provided provisions to the railroad workers, later becoming one of the largest wholesale grocers in the Southwest. One block south of Main Street lay Skiddy Street, where the town’s gambling halls and brothels were located, segregated in a de facto zoning effort. Francis Skiddy, the MKT railroad official after whom the street was named, was no doubt relieved when the street was renamed Chestnut Street in 1880. This, however, did not change the nature of the street’s businesses.

Fortunately, Denison’s citizens were not all depraved. In February 1873, the state’s first free public school opened in the town while respectable citizens formed fraternal organizations and literary clubs. The fertile land in North Texas supported ranchers as well as cotton, corn and wheat farmers, who in turn became important customers for the railroads. During the 1890s, Denison became the region’s commercial center, as five railway companies laid tracks through the town. Passenger and freight depots were built for the MKT, the Texas and Pacific, and the Missouri, Oklahoma and Gulf railroads within blocks of each other. The MKT building (above) was designed by Henry T. Phelps of San Antonio and opened in 1909. The concourse is expressed as a giant arched portal willed with glass, set between piers defined by paired pilasters, and crowned by an entablature and parapet. This imposing central block is flanked on either side by lower wings, each two stories in height, its service functions are on the main floor and railroad offices are on the upper, acting as a mezzanine overlooking the central concourse. The MTK’s service yards and roundhouse were located several blocks south of the depot.

Ernst Martin Kohl Building

Ernst Martin Kohl, born in Weimar, Germany in 1857, served as a captain in the German Navy before coming to the United States in the 1880s. After arriving in Denison in 1885, the industrious Mr. Kohl opened a grocery store and saloon in 1893 on a corner across the tracks from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad depot. Kohl built his family’s residence above the store around 1910, adding three floors. As railroad passenger traffic increased after the Great Depression, Kohl moved his family out and converted the building to the Traveler’s Hotel . Denison has maintained its economic vitality over the years paired with Sherman, its larger neighbor to the south. The Ernst Martin Kohl Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 (ID# 76002035).

By the mid-1920s Denison had just over 17,000 residents and 400 businesses, including four banks. It also had two high schools, nine grade schools, and numerous churches. In 1936 Denison had 13,850 residents and 460 businesses. By the end of World War II the number of residents was just short of 16,000. The population was 26,000 in 1966, when businesses numbered just under 600. In 1989 Denison had a reported 24,234 residents and 427 businesses. In 1990 the population was 21,505, and in 2000 it was 22,773. Denison was the birthplace of the thirty-fourth president of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower. The home he was born in in 1890 has been returned to its original appearance and sits in the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site, a three-acre area that includes a museum.

REFERENCE:  David Minor, “DENISON, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/HED04), accessed October 19, 2015. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association. L. Tuffly Ellis, “The Revolutionizing of the Texas Cotton Trade,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 73 (April 1970). Graham Landrum and Allen Smith, Grayson County (Fort Worth, 1960; 2d ed., Fort Worth: Historical Publishers, 1967).

LOCATION:  Denison is on U.S. highways 75 and 69 seven miles north of Sherman in northeastern Grayson County.

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