Friday, May 6, 2011

Texas Railroad History

James Pierce Converse played a pivotal role in the growth and success of Texas railroads.


When George Werner was assigned to write an article on Thomas Wentworth Pierce, he interviewed Pierce’s grandson. Pierce’s son had died young. It was that grandson’s daughter-in-law who held the Silver Spike. Pierce took possession of it immediately. George doesn’t know what became of it. The great-granddaughter-in-law did not continue correspondence with George; he believes she lived in the New England area. He got much of his information from contemporary articles in the San Antonio Express.

Houston and Brazos Rail Road. “The Houston and Brazos Rail Road Company was one of four railroads chartered by the Republic of Texas. The charter was granted on January 26, 1839, and the company had the right to build railroads and turnpikes from Houston to the Brazos River. Subscription books were opened in Houston, Galveston, and Harrisburg. On December 20, 1839, the stockholders met in Houston and elected Michel B. Menard, Augustus C. Allen, James Love, Moseley Baker, William A. Pettus, and Henry R. Allen as directors. By July 1840 Charles L. Clark had been awarded a contract to build the first nine miles of the railroad. The ceremony marking the beginning of construction was set to coincide with the fourth anniversary observance of the Odd Fellows in Texas. On the morning of July 25, the celebration began at the Presbyterian church, where an address commemorative of the Odd Fellows anniversary was given. From the church a procession of volunteer companies, members of the bar, medical faculty, army and naval officers, citizens, county officers, mayor and aldermen, Odd Fellows, Masons, the president and directors of the railroad company, the committee of arrangements, orator, and officiating clergyman formed and marched to the terminus of the railroad. Mayor Charles Bigelow broke ground with a spade, Holland Lodge No. 1 laid ‘a neat slab with fitting inscriptions,’ and the Milam Guards fired a salute. The procession then proceeded to Corri's Theater for more speeches. An additional contract was awarded to James S. McGahey to get out timber for the ten miles of the railroad closest to the Brazos River. Despite these beginnings the company was unable to construct its railroad and soon lost its charter privileges.”

Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado Railway Company. Junior League book, pp. 7-11.

Railroad History. Junior League book, pp. 24, 46, 321, 295, 131, 305, 42, 129, 43, 48.

Houston-Area Model Railroad Clubs. “The metal barn tucked away at the end of the snaking drive is no shed, workman's shop, warehouse or mechanic's station, only a place where boys never have to grow up."We call it the seniors day care club," said Barry Cottrell, a member of the All Points North Model Railroad Club, which boasts an array of age groups among its membership. The 2,500-square-foot building sits on a two-acre, wooded patch at the end of Magnolia Drive in Conroe. Since 2001, it has been the home of the club, where members from all over the area are kept busy tinkering on a mammoth, five-year model railroad project. The project is possible in part because of the building, a permanent home for the club made necessary after members got tired of shuttling from rented place to place since the club's 1981 founding. The Woodlands' Steve Hashagen, the club's president for eight years and an avid model railroad buff, said All Points North is one of only a handful of such clubs nationwide with its own building, and he's justifiably proud." As the economy got better, we got kicked out of a lot of places because they could get more money for rent than we could afford. We just made a decision at that point to try to come up with our own building and land," Hashagen said. The move was made possible when a core membership of 20 people put up the bulk of the money, which allowed the club to operate without creditors."We have no outside financing. It's all done internally. We have some internal debt, which we'll pay off in the next 15 years strictly with dues. We're $20 a month. We also access a certain amount to build a railroad," Hashagen said. That railroad is a large-scale model project that includes interwoven elements of carpentry, electronics, computer technology and good old-fashioned arts-and-crafts type finish work. The labyrinth model train layout indeed comes with needs for a range of skills, complete to detail work such as cutting and glossing just the right pieces of twig to mimic the logs of cut timber carried on actual freight trains."That's the power of a model railroad club. You don't have to have all of those skills," Hashagen said. "We have people who are electricians. We have people who can do the scenery. We have someone who is a carpenter. Any one of us from the beginning couldn't complete the task from beginning to end. It would be virtually impossible."An affection for model railroads, though, is the only true prerequisite for joining."Theoretically, someone could join the club and never really have to buy anything, or build anything, if that's what they wanted to do,"Hashagen said. Train lovers – from places such as Walden, Spring, Conroe, The Woodlands and Huntsville – come to congregate, build and indulge their passion for the hobby. A place to congregate, after all, is the point of the building and almost necessary for such a large-scale project. "I don't know of any wife nice enough that's going to give you 2,500square feet of her house and say, 'Go have fun,' " Hashagen said. Camaraderie alone though isn't enough for some members. The $50,000model train project was started in February 2004 with a large vision. "It's been just over a year, so we've managed to accomplish some things from bare floor," Hashagen said. Hashagen said the length of track and scenery is designed to mirror a thematic route across the Western United States. "What we're trying to do, is this will run somewhere around Arizona and it will kind of move out toward the West Coast," Hashagen said. The project has an estimated completion date of 2009, although, like train schedules, Hashagen said that schedule might run late. "It very well may. This is a big project," he said. The time frame, even if met, is only the first of many deadlines that will be spread out over the years. "It'll never be finished. When it's done, we'll probably knock out a wall and keep going," Cottrell said. The maze of track threaded throughout the building includes 600 feet of mainline track – this doesn't count all the areas where rows of track are laid side by side – sitting atop a waist-level woodworked foundation. The layout comes complete with a depot of sorts, where repairs and tweaks can be made. The small-scale depot sits along a long shelf of track where trains from the main room enter through tunnelsc arved into a dividing wall. The dozens of model trains, purchased online and at hobby shops for anywhere from $1 to about $100, are the easy part of the scheme. The scenery, track accessories and faux townscapes are either built from scratch with materials purchased at hardware stores or trade catalogs. The plan for the railroad itself was from no kit or magazine, but designed by one of the club members and copied onto a blueprinted scroll that is followed as an engineer might follow an architect's rendering. "It's quite a project by the time you put it all together," Hashagen said. The work for particular sections is overseen by "mayors," or "track foremen," as Hashagen calls the team leaders of each patch of track real estate. "Obviously, we had a bare canvas with nothing in here, so we built itfrom a plan. The plan has been about 98 percent executed with no changes at all," Hashagen said. Hashagen said most members take part in track construction in some way, but there's other types of fun for train aficionados at the club. A railroad library, neatly arranged and cataloged on one large wall, features videos, literature, train log books and half-century-old magazines. "We have about 400 or 500 videos, other types of media. Model Railroader, Model Craftsman. It's basically a reference library,"Hashagen said. In the club also are plush chairs for leafing through the magazines and a color TV mounted in the ceiling corner for videos. The building is also outfitted with a full-service kitchen and a bathroom and shower for yardworking clubbers tending the two acres. "It's very nice to be able to get out, get away as well. I think that's one of the things about belonging to a club. If you're at home, you're just sitting there and running a train, staring at it by yourself. Down here, you have all the rest of the people," Hashagen said. The club has about 28 members. Member Cottrell, from Walden, said he likes the boys club perks enjoyed in the lounge of All Points North. The building is available to members24 hours a day, seven days a week. "This is where we'll relax when we're not in the train room," Cottrell said. Most of the hobbyists' interest springs from memories of a bygone era when trains were a major mode of transportation. "A lot of the members here have been model railroaders for 30 or 40years," Hashagen said. Member Duane Darling from Spring said he's been fascinated with model trains since childhood. "I started as a child. My brother had an American Flyer, just an oval, and then about 25 years ago built a layout, then got out of the hobby for a period of time," Darling said. Cool technology sucked him back in. "The latest thing in the hobby is what we call digital command control, which is an electronic minicomputer of which the signal is set over the track. So we can now control the trains with a hand-held (control). Before, it was all DC, or direct current, and you had blocks that you lined up. Basically, there you ran the track, you didn't run the train. Now, you run the train," Darling said. Darling said part of the fun is re-creating real-life procedures in a controlled setting and on a smaller scale. The club has a dispatcher, who operates from a tiny room outfitted with a computerized command station. "The railroad communicates to a computer down here. All the main line turnouts can be actuated from here," he said, pointing to a computer screen studded with a schedule log layout. The camaraderie, creative outlets and other club fun is after all secondary to the love of model trains. Club member Jerry Williams from Conroe said enthusiasm for the hobby originates with a fascination with not only trains but the way they're powered. Digital and other technological advances have also made the pursuit more realistic than ever. "Your engines now have sound. You can run them independently on the same track, which you couldn't do under direct current. You get a lot more realistic operations," Williams said. The vicarious fun can advance beyond toots and whistles. "Personally, I'm an operations guy and moving the railroad around like they do in the real world, shipping product from A to B to C to D, in a cost-efficient manner, is a lot of fun. If you're an artistic person, doing the scenery, building the structures, anything you want to do, you can do it within the hobby. It's a real creative outlet for people. We've got years of work here," Williams said. Cottrell, pointing to a section designed to mimic a train track carved into a mountainside, said the cosmetic touches on scenery is time intensive. "The work that's been put on this is about three months of effort, and it's far from finished. If you get up close, you'll see the detail in the rock. It's something you can work on an hour every day, or eight hours a day, and get as much enjoyment out of it as you want," Cottrell said. Also time intensive is accounting for the club's assets, financial structure and equipment. "We're in the process now of working a database where all of the things owned by the club – trains, rolling stock, everything – we're going to start inventorying, keeping track of. That's our next phase," Hashagen said. Cottrell said many people participate in the hobby for nostalgia. "I think that's why many people are in the hobby. They remember their childhood and the glory of the steam days and the glory of trains. If you went any distance, you went by train. We've lost a lot of that now as far as passenger trains," Cottrell said. Hashagen said he sometimes wonders if the hobby will go the way of the actual trains, a trend All Points North is trying to do its own little part to reverse. "Kids don't play with model trains any more. They play with video games. So there aren't new people coming up. Model railroading as a hobby is beginning to shrink, but at least our club is growing." To contact or join the All Points North Model Railroad Club, 611 S. Magnolia Drive, Conroe, access the club's Web site at MODEL RAILROAD TERMS: Duckunder: An area on a layout where you must bend down and go under the bench-work to gain access to another part of the layout. Hardshell: A scenery base made by dipping paper towels in plaster or using plaster-impregnated gauze. Kitbashing: Taking one or more model railroad kits and combining parts to make a unique model. Scratch-building: Making a model from raw materials and parts, not using kits. Source: Model Railroader Magazine”

Timeline of Early Houston Railroad History

1848 - Galveston and Red River chartered

1850- Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway chartered

1851 - BBB&C starts construction in Harrisburg

1853- Galveston, Houston, and Henderson chartered

1853 - Galveston and Red River starts construction

1853 - BBB&C opens to Stafford

1854- GH&H starts construction near Galveston

1856 - Sabine and Galveston Bay Railroad and Lumber Company chartered

1856 - BBB&C opens to Richmond

1856 - Galveston and Red River starts laying tracks, open to Cypress City in July, renamed Houston and Texas Central.

1856 - Houston Tap chartered to connect Houston to BBB&C; construction starts in April, complete in October

1857- GH&H lays first section of track

1857- S&GB breaks ground

1858- City of Houston sells Houston Tap (the Houston Tap was later extended to Columbia and became known as the Columbia Tap)

On October 30, 1858, the New York Times published a list of railroad schedules.

1859- GH&H reached Houston.

1861- S&GB (by now called Texas and New Orleans) complete from Houston to Beaumont

Those were the four railroads connected to Houston by the Civil War. A lot happened in not a lot of time. The Galveston and Red River was the first railroad chartered in Texas that would go on to lay track (a few had been chartered earlier but went out of business before doing anything), but the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado was the first to lay track and the first to open. The Galveston and Red River was the first track to connect to what were then the city limits of Houston (though I'm not sure what the exact city limits were -- it may have been across the bayou from the city proper), though it preceded the Houston Tap only by a few months) but the BBB&C was the first inside the current city limits.

The construction of the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway marked the beginning of the railroad age in Texas. It was the first railroad to begin operating in the state, the first component of the present Southern Pacific to open for service, and the second railroad west of the Mississippi River. On February 11, 1850, a group that included Gen. Sidney Sherman received a charter for the BBB&C. Construction began from Buffalo Bayou at Harrisburg in 1851; the first locomotive, which was named for Sherman, arrived in late 1852; and the first twenty miles of track, from Harrisburg to Stafford's Point, opened in August 1853. By January 1, 1856, the BBB&C or Harrisburg Railroad, as it was commonly called, had been extended an additional 12 miles to East Richmond on the bank of the Brazos River across from Richmond.

Houston Tap Railroad, which was begun earlier in 1856 by the City of Houston to connect the municipality with the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway Company. Construction of the city's railroad began on April 7, 1856, and the 6½-mile line opened on October 21, 1856. In June 1858 the Houston Tap and Brazoria bought the city-owned road for $130,000 in stock and a loan of $42,000 to be made once the railroad received its loan from the Special School Fund. The City of Houston was responsible for the interest and repayment of the principal on the $42,000.

The charter for the Galveston and Red River Railway was obtained by Ebenezer Allen of Galveston on March 11, 1848. However, the company did not become active until 1852, when, after a series of meetings at Chappell Hill and Houston, the charter was made available for the proposed railroad from Houston to the Brazos River and the interior of Texas. On January 1, 1853, Paul Bremond and Thomas William House broke ground for the G&RR at Houston. Although early progress was slow, considerable grading had been completed by the end of 1855. Track laying began in early 1856, and the rails reached Cypress City, the twenty-five-mile point, on July 26, 1856. On September 1, 1856, the company was renamed Houston and Texas Central Railway Company.

The Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad Company was chartered on February 7, 1853, to build from Galveston through Houston to Henderson. Construction of the "Old Reliable Short Line," as the road was later called, began at Virginia Point on the mainland opposite Galveston Island in 1854. However, the first rail was not laid until 1857 and in 1859 the company finally reached Houston, where it terminated at the corner of Main and McKinney.

In September 1870, the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad was formed out of the BBB&C and the Columbia (Houston) Tap. In August 1905, it added the GWT&P, the NYT&M, and the San Antonio & Galveston railroads. A month later, in September 1905, it acquired the GH&N and the GB. By June 1934, it had become the Texas & New Orleans Railroad.

A French Web site carries a chart of this history. It became part of the Texas Central in ??? and was known as the Sunset Route. The Texas Central became part of the Southern Pacific System. The Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum includes an article by Erle Heath entitled, “Seventy-Five Years of Progress: An Historical Sketch of the Southern Pacific.” In 19??, the Southern Pacific System became the Union Pacific System.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Converse, Texas

Little did I suspect how much history was to be found in Converse, Texas.


When the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio (GH&SA) railroad arrived in 1877, the area’s economic hub shifted from Historic Converse -- the intersection of Schaefer, FM 1516, and Upper Seguin -- to today’s Downtown Converse, where Gibbs Sprawl and Seguin roads intersect.

In 1877, James Converse, Chief Superintendent and Engineer for the GH&SA, purchased about 400 acres along the Salitrillo creek from Samuel Allen, whose brothers Augustus and John Allen had founded Houston, Texas, in 1836. Martha Eliza Warner Allen Converse, the only surviving child of Augustus Allen and his wife Charlotte Marie Baldwin Allen, married James Converse in 1859. Together, they established a homestead on the creek near the railroad track and what is now FM 78. From this location, James not only helped to establish the city of Converse, he also expanded rail lines west of San Antonio to El Paso and designed the Pecos River Bridge, which is still famous in engineering history.

The GH&SA also led to the establishment of Converse’s neighboring communities: Marion, Cibolo, Schertz, and Kirby. From 1877 until after World War II, farmers in greater Converse grew cotton, corn and other local produce that was shipped by rail to eastern markets.

Military Resources. In 1930 the opening of Randolph Army Air Field (The Pride of the Air Force) in Converse, as well as the city’s proximity to the Lackland, Kelly and Brooks City air force bases and San Antonio (Hometown of the Air Force), permanently marked Converse as a military community. Converse is home to active duty and retired men and women from all branches of the service, creating a genuinely global community. Fort Sam Houston and Brook Army Medical Center (Home of Army Medicine), and the newly developed San Antonio Military Medical Center are also close neighbors, whose large number of medical professionals choose to call Converse home.

Operation Paperclip. Converse residents, considered some of the greatest scientific minds of the last century, played a key role in the earliest U.S. space medicine and space biology programs. In 1947, Converse became home to several of the scientists brought to this country as part of Operation Paperclip, to help the U.S. efforts to develop an aviation medicine program. Other scientists and specialists from the program settled in nearby Universal City, Schertz, Selma, Bracken, and the surrounding area. They regularly visited this little German farm town where they discussed the possibility of manned space flight with colleagues, visited local establishments, and enjoyed the German food, singing, music and dialect.

The scientists included:

Wernher von Braun, the first Director of the Marshall Space Center and chief architect of the V2 rocket for Germany and later the Saturn V launch vehicle for the US

Hubertus Strughold, who resided in nearby Schertz for many years and coined the term “space medicine”

H. G. Clamann, whose unparalleled research and experimentation quickly answered the question initially posed by NASA: What was the likelihood of a human functioning at optimum levels while performing as a pilot, engineer, and experimenter in weightless flight?

By the time the first American astronauts, the Mercury Seven, the only astronaut group whose members flew on all classes of NASA manned spacecraft in the 20th century, were being introduced to America in 1959, Clamann and those assigned to the School of Aviation Medicine (SAM) had been diligently working at Randolph Field for over a decade in the departments of physiology, research, rapid decompression, and later oxygen supply and its danger to pilots.

By 1960, SAM was moved to Brooks AFB, where it became the School of Aerospace Medicine. There, testing equipment on astronauts was developed and large chambers to simulate space were designed and built. During the five-year life of the program, six manned flights were completed, proving that space flight was in fact possible, paving the way for the Gemini and Apollo programs, as well as for all future space flight.

Texas 4-H Program. Converse was home to the first 4-H in the State of Texas in 1927, with a focus on teaching life skills to area youth.

The Allen Family: Founders of Houston

James Pierce Converse married into the family of Augustus and Charlotte Baldwin Allen, who, along with Augustus's younger brother, John Kirby Allen, founded the Town of Houston in August 1836.


In 1832, Augustus Chapman Allen and his younger brother, John Kirby Allen, came to Texas and settled at San Augustine, then at Nacogdoches. Augustus’s wife, Charlotte Marie Baldwin Allen (1805-1895) probably arrived in Texas in 1834, and her inheritance helped the brothers to speculate in land. On April 24, 1832, Charlotte requested that Isaac Brewster, her Trustee for the land her father had willed to her, “execute and deliver to Augustus C. Allen” a power of attorney for the land. In March 1831, the land was valued at $2,310.00 with interest.

In August 1836 the Allen brothers purchased a half league of land on Buffalo Bayou for $5,000. Four days later they advertised the establishment of a prosperous new city called Houston, which may have been so named at Charlotte's suggestion. According Hugo Neuhaus, Jr., architect and great-great-nephew of Charlotte Marie, the Augustus Allens invited Sam Houston, hero of San Jacinto, to a formal dinner at their home in Nacogdoches, and in the course of the evening, young Mrs. Allen said, “General, will you do us the honor of naming our city?” General Houston, always gallant, bowed and said, “But, Madame, that privilege must be yours.” “Then,” said Mrs. Allen, “We ask your permission to name it after you.” The dinner with the Allens and Sam Houston may have taken place in Frost Town, as the Allens lived there briefly before moving to Houston. In any event, the name apparently attracted settlement to the area and influenced the decision to make Houston the capital of the Republic of Texas, a role it held from 1837 to 1839.

Mrs. Allen was the first woman to arrive in the new city of Houston (July 1837). The Allen brothers built the first capitol building at the corner of Texas and Main Street near Charlotte and A. C. Allen's home at Prairie and Caroline streets. The Allens built the Capitol at their own expense and retained title to it. After the capital moved to Austin, the buildings on the site reverted to the Allens.

John Kirby Allen (1810-1838), founder of Houston, legislator, and backer of the Texas Revolution, fourth son of Roland and Sarah (Chapman) Allen, was born at Orrville, near Syracuse, New York, in 1810. He took his first job – as a callboy in a hotel at Orrville – when he was seven [1817]. Three years later [1820, age 10] he became a clerk in a store. At sixteen [1826] he went into partnership with a young friend named Kittredge in a hat store at Chittenango, New York, where his brother, Augustus C. Allen, was professor of mathematics until 1827. John Allen sold his interest in the hat store and followed his brother to New York City, where they were stockholders in H. and H. Canfield Company until 1832, when they moved to Texas.

In 1837, not long after Houston celebrated the first anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, John Kirby Allen announced that he wished to dissolve his partnership with his brother Augustus. John wanted to pursue interests in Nacogdoches and start an import-export venture between Texas and England with James P. Henderson. In November 1837, in anticipation of the dissolution, all Houston land the brothers had not previously sold was inventoried. On December 11, 1837, Angus McNeill purchased this land – 303 lots, a tract of 885 acres, and a timber reserve of 1,000 acres. On June 16, 1838, the brothers formally dissolved their partnership.

On July 11, 1838, James Collinsworth, a hero of the Republic and its first Chief Justice, either committed suicide or accidentally drowned by falling or leaping overboard from a steamer in Galveston Bay.

Not long after, John Kirby Allen traveled in the summer heat with his friend’s body to its burial site in the City Cemetery, now Founders Park Cemetery, on West Dallas Street. Arriving at his home, which was located near the 200 block of Travis Street, he complained of headache and fatigue, then developed a “congestive” fever – probably malaria or yellow fever. On August 15, at the age of 28, John died in Charlotte’s home, where she had nursed him while caring for her baby daughter, Eliza, who had been born on July 18, 1838.

Because John had died without a will, his youngest brother, Henry, was appointed administrator of the estate and posted bond. But Augustus either would not or could not pay the probate court costs and fees, which amounted to $4,073.31, one-half percent of the appraised value of John’s estate. So, probate court judge William R. Baker, the Allen brothers’ former clerk, issued seven arrest orders for Augustus Allen between 1839 and 1840.

Finally, Augustus was jailed without bail in September 1840 and forced to report on the succession of the partnership. In a 1994 article in the Houston Review, James Glass reported that “With slashing strokes, Augustus angrily wrote what he called a clarification of the matter of succession, but it only managed to muddy the waters even more.”

At a family conference, John’s brothers waived their rights to share in his estate in favor of their father and mother, but by 1841 both parents were dead. The four other brothers demanded their shares from Augustus but various interests made the business so complex that the only way to settle such an estate was by assignment.

In the midst of all this confusion, Augustus volunteered for duty in the Texian army that drove General Adrian Woll and his 1,200 Mexican troops from San Antonio. He also did business with Benito Juárez in Mexico and the two men became friends.

Returning to Houston in 1843, Augustus began the tedious process of winding up his real estate business, which was complicated by the fact that much of the money the brothers had used in their early enterprises had come from Charlotte Marie Baldwin Allen’s inheritance.

In 1848, on the advice of his physician, Augustus moved south to Brownsville in hopes of improving his failing health. While there, he was appointed deputy collector of customs.

When Augustus returned to Houston in 1850, his wife announced that she was so dissatisfied with the methods being employed in the settlement of the business that she wanted a separation, without divorce, from her husband. Both husband and wife pledged to keep the details of their troubles secret.

In failing health, Augustus left Houston, signing over to his wife the bulk of what remained of his many enterprises, and went to Mexico to seek health and a new start in life, which seems to have been a lonely one.

He sailed on a vessel loaded with trading goods and formed a partnership with an Englishman named Welsh. Drawing on his friendship with now-President Benito Juarez, Augustus secured valuable timber concessions and, with his partner, did a huge business transporting timber to the northern United States and Europe. Before long, Augustus had amassed another fortune.

In 1852, the United States appointed Augustus consul for the port of Tehuantepec on the Pacific Ocean. He was appointed to a similar post for the port of Minotitl├ín in 1858. These offices gave him control of the consular affairs of the United States for the entire Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a commercially important position since a trade route – probably a canal – through that region was being contemplated.

Allen was never able to recover his health, however, and realized in 1864 that he was critically ill. He closed his private business and went to Washington to resign his consulships. Soon after arriving there he contracted pneumonia. He died on June 11, 1864. With the Civil War raging, the Union blockade of Galveston prevented the Allen family from getting Augustus’s body back to Houston. Thus, on August 29, 1864, 28 years after founding Houston, Augustus was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Market Square Park. Remnants of Houston's past are featured along the walkways leading to James Surls’ sculpture Points of View (1991) located in the center of the Square. Originally known as Congress Square, this was one of two land parcels that Houston founders Augustus and John Allen donated to the city. The other was Courthouse Square. And it was here in March 1845 that a canon was fired alerting Houstonians that the United States had offered Texas statehood.

The block was deeded by the Allen Brothers to the city as long as it served as a public market. Because the goods and produce sold in Houston’s first open market on this square had to be weighed and measured by city officials, it made sense that the square would also became the site of city government. The first of four City Halls located here was a two-story wood-frame structure completed in 1841. Prior to 1841, city officials made law at various council members’ homes on Saturday evenings, beginning at 5:00 p.m.

In 1872, the second City Hall was erected at a cost of $400,000. With its 1,000-seat amphitheater, fluted columns and crystal chandeliers, this was probably the most beautiful building to stand on the site. Unfortunately, four years later, a tax department employee working late discovered a small fire. He rushed to ring the fire bell located in one of the building’s two towers, only to find that the rope was missing, and the beautiful building went up in smoke. The third City Hall also burned down, and the last City Hall on this site, a Victorian Romanesque structure designed by architect George Dickey, was demolished in the 1960s.

Today the fire bell is housed across the street in the Friedman Clock Tower, just below the four-faced clock from the fourth, and last, City Hall on this site. Delivered in 1904, the Seth Thomas clock was placed in the south tower of the two-spired Market House in Market Square that served as Houston’s seat of government until 1939, when the current City Hall at 900 Bagby Street was built. The fire alarm bell was in the north tower. In 1948, the clock was moved to the City Hall Annex. Finally in 1988, after many adventures, the old clock returned home to Houston, which has spent $25,000 on its current restoration.

After her separation from Augustus, Charlotte Allen moved to a two-story home at the corner of Main and Rusk; she lived there until her death in 1895. There is a plaque on the exterior of the JPMorgan Chase Building identifying the site as Charlotte’s home. Charlotte remained in Houston for the next forty-five years and became one of the city's best-known citizens.

In 1857 she sold the capitol site, which had become the location of the Capitol Hotel, for $12,000. The following year the hotel was the scene of Anson Jones's suicide; the land eventually became the site of the Rice Hotel.

Because the original deed for Market Square had been lost, Charlotte deeded the land to the city a second time, in 1895, shortly before her death on August 3, at the age of 90. Charlotte is buried in Glenwood Cemetery.

Charlotte Allen had four children, only one of whom, Martha Elizabeth (“Eliza”) Warner Allen (b. July 18, 1838, Houston; d. San Antonio, April 14, 1886, age 48) survived to maturity. Eliza married Frank B. Chase on April 19, 1859. Mr. Chase was a conductor on the Houston and Texas Central Railway, in which her mother’s family had a financial interest. He died seven months later, on November 20, 1859. Eliza was married a second time to Colonel James Converse (b. September 20, 1828, Aurora, Ohio) at Houston on September 21, 1863 (she was 21; he was 31). Eliza died in San Antonio in 1886, nine years before her mother died, leaving one son, Thomas Pierce Converse (d. 1943), who later lived at 8 Super Street in Pasadena.

In 1940, Thomas Pierce Converse filed suit to recover the old City Hall. After his death in 1943, Thomas’s widow, Myrtle, and W. F. Watts, whom she later married, took Converse’s place as plaintiffs to the suit. Their suit was based on the fact that the city was no longer using the property for the purposes set forth in the deed – a city market place. In fact, City Hall had relocated to its present spot in 1939 and there was a bus depot located inside the old fourth city hall. The city won the suit.

Thomas was murdered on July 18, 1943, exactly 105 years after his mother’s birth, by his wife Myrtle’s son from a previous marriage. Following a family fight in which Myrtle discovered Thomas writing a letter to another woman, her son Jack, a 31-year-old cab driver, shot Thomas as he was attacking Myrtle with a 10-inch wood chisel. Thomas Converse is buried in South Park Cemetery in Pearland, next to Myrtle. Eliza and her two husbands share Charlotte Allen’s burial site at Glenwood Cemetery with the grave of Converse’s second wife, Maria.

James Pierce Converse

A few years ago, I visited my daughter for New Year's.  She was living in San Antonio then.  On my way back to Houston, I stopped in a town east of San Antonio -- Converse, Texas.  As I suspected, it was named after the second husband of the only surviving child of Charlotte and Augustus Allen, founders of Houston in 1836.  Since then, when time permitted, I have researched the life of James Pierce Converse.  Here is his story.


James Pierce Converse, b. September 21, 1828, in Aurora, Ohio; d. December 10, 1900. His father was James Willard Converse (b. July 1, 1808); his mother was Emily Eggleston (b. April 14, 1808; d. April 3, 1848, in Ohio. His mother’s father was from New York.

James married Martha Elizabeth Warner Allen Chase (b. July 18, 1838; d. April 14, 1886 in San Antonio) on September 21, 1863. Her first husband was Frank B. Chase, b. August 23, 1830, in New Hampshire; d. November 20, 1859. They were married in 1859.

James and Eliza had one son – Thomas Pierce Converse.

Sometime after Eliza’s death in San Antonio, James married Maria H. Davis (b. January 4, 1833; d. August 30, 1909). James and Maria are buried with Charlotte and Eliza at Glenwood Cemetery.

“Major James Converse. The subject of this sketch, though he would perhaps resent the insinuation of age, is, nevertheless, one of the veteran railroad men of Texas, having witnessed the development of the entire railroad system of the State from its infancy up, in which development he has, without making any special claims of the kind, occupied a somewhat prominent position. Major Converse was born in the town of Aurora, Portage [C]ounty, Ohio, September [20] 21, 1828. Educated for a civil engineer, he began his railroad career in 1850 as division engineer on the Lake Erie & Mad River Railroad, one of the pioneer lines in Ohio. After a service of eight months on this road, something less than two years in the same capacity on the Toledo, Norwalk & Cleveland Railroad, and the Cleveland & Medina Railway, and as engineer on location with the Tennessee Southwestern, he came to Texas in 1854 as chief engineer of the Galveston, Houston & Henderson road. He was in the employ of this road, the Mississippi Central, and the Houston, Trinity & Tyler roads until after the war, when, in the summer of 1865, he became chief engineer of the Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad, a position which he held for a period of eighteen years. During this time he built 600 miles of the last named road, including the main line and branches, and 154 miles of the Mexican International in old Mexico. Those familiar with railway development in Texas can thus see that it is true, as stated, that Major Converse has witnessed the growth of the railway interest of Texas, and that he has perhaps done as much in the way of actual field work in extending the dominions of the iron horse as any other man in the State. When he accepted the position of chief engineer of the Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad forty years ago, there were less than 100 miles of railroad in active operation in all Texas, and the value of the rolling stock and equipments of all the roads then in the State probably did not exceed $1,000,000. Now the State is covered with a network of steel rails, and the value of the railway properties in the State, exclusive of roadbeds, is put down at several million dollars. There is a pregnant suggestion in this simple statement of facts, a theme for the orator, a splendid illustration of the rapid material development of this great commonwealth. In his forty years’ residence in Texas, Major Converse has become as thoroughly Texan as it is possible for a man to become, being bound to the State by all those ties of personal interest, business association, friendship and family connection that go to fix one’s attachments and give his feelings a local habitation and name. He is a large real-estate holder, having invested his means from time to time at different places as opportunities were offered for good investments, and holds some stock in local enterprises. He had never held any public offices and has taken only a nominal interest in politics, his chief attention having been directed to his official duties in connection with the railroads and to his private interests. He married Mrs. M. E. W. [Allen] Chase of Houston, on the 21st of September, 1863, this lady being a native of the city of Houston, and a daughter of one of the founders of the town, Augustus C. Allen. Her mother, Mrs. Charlotte M. Allen, now in her ninetieth year, is the oldest settler of Houston as well as the old living representative of the large and historic family of Allens, mention of whom will be found in many places in this volume. Mrs. Converse died at San Antonio, April 14, 1886, leaving one son, Thomas Pierce Converse [b. 1877; d. July 18, 1943]. Major Converse’s residence is now at Houston, though he lived for a number of years – up to the death of his wife, -- at San Antonio.”  Source:  “Major James Converse,” History of Texas Together with a Biographical History of the Cities of Houston and Galveston. 1895, pp. 396-397.