BELLAIRE – OUR TOWN
By Lynn McBee © March 6, 2008
Early residents of Westmoreland Farms and Bellaire were laborers, farmers, merchants and professionals. They came from the North and East and from the Houston area to form a new community. During their first decade here there was some electric service and a few telephones serviced by Southwestern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Co. Gas service began later, in 1925.
Edward Teas family moved into their new house on ten acres on Bellaire Blvd. at Newcastle in 1910, but operated Teas Nursery and initiated landscaping along Bellaire Blvd. as early as 1908. A deep freeze in 1912 destroyed all of his citrus trees, so Teas focused on a nursery business. A second house was built in 1916. It is said that he unwittingly planted trees, now landmarks in Bellaire, when he set out a fence with catalpa wood posts. The posts were cut too green and sprouted, becoming mature trees along Mulberry. An early advertising booklet promoted “Teas’ New Westmoreland Orange.”
A.J. Condit and his wife bought the first house in Bellaire on the southeast corner of First Street and Bellaire Blvd. He was the agent for thedeveloper, South End Land Company (SELC), riding the trolley to his office in Houston. His interest in the people of Bellaire was unlimited. The Condits were much beloved and integral to the development of Bellaire in many ways. Mrs. Condit sang and often directed choirs. He sometimes served as an arbiter when needed, represented the tiny community in securing its first elementary school provided by the County, later becoming a trustee of the Bellaire School Board.
John Martin was first to buy acreage in Westmoreland Farms in 1908, building a house while living in a tent. There were only a ranch house and several barns in the area. For five years he and his son, F.A. Martin, worked digging ditches and building roads. John Martin went into the teaming business (harnessed animals, mules and horses, to pull a vehicle). When F.A. Martin married in 1919, he and his wife moved to the dairy his father ran. Their children took over the dairy business, called Westmoreland Farms Dairy, on Rice Ave. and the SAP railroad tracks (then at Westpark). Door to door delivery of milk, butter and eggs began in 1919.
Edwin Bullard Kelly, wife Myrtie, and their family of five children arrived in Texas in 1908, from Illinois, Kelly was one of the “Home Seekers” group marketed by W.W. Baldwin to northern residents touting Texas opportunities. Ed Kelly brought his family to join him, settling in several Houston area locations before purchasing a five-acre tract in Westmoreland Farms for $250. A carpenter, Kelly built his first Bellaire home on north Avenue A (Newcastle) about halfway between Old Richmond Road (Bissonnet) and Bellaire Blvd. The two-room, two-story house, on stacks of bricks with a “lean-to-room” at the back for the kitchen and dining area, a barn for horses, cow and buggy was constructed by Ed Kelly and eldest Tommy for about $500.
A.A. Buxton and wife Eva came to Bellaire in 1910, moving into their new home at 4302 Bellaire Blvd., just west of the entry marker. Two daughters were born and reared there, Eva Mae and Alice. Mr. Buxton was an agent for SELC.
Lute and Clarence Anderson built the first light plant in 1911 for the SELC. Water wells for Bellaire were located at 4811 Richmond Road (Bissonnet). Electricity was furnished to Bellaire residents at no charge by the Gem Electric Co. They had built a wet battery system to light their mother’s house. It was housed in a 6’x8’ shed filled with wet batteries. Lute sold out his interest to Clarence in 1921. A power plant for the City was erected at the railroad between First and Second Streets, where artesian wells had previously been drilled, a huge holding tank installed, and power driven pumps for water. for the City.
Iver (aka Ivan) Storland and wife Annie came from hard winters in North Dakota and in 1902 chose Texas, believing Florida had too many hurricanes. They bought land in Missouri City, Stafford and Rosenberg but lived on a farm in Missouri City, rearing eight children. In 1910 they bought an acre in Bellaire at Rice and Pine from A.J. Condit for their oldest daughter, enrolled in Sam Houston High School in Houston, and two younger daughters who attended the Bellaire School. Their older brothers visited the sisters most weekends to participate in the area’s social life. They would buggy past Reamer’s farm on the bayou. The few houses then were a mile or more apart.
C.R. Munger came from Kansas in 1873. He was the proprietor and of the big wood frame two-story building at Rice and Cedar that housed the general store. It provided seed grain for chickens and livestock, and housed the post office. Munger was the first postmaster. A rural route carrier delivered mail from the railroad train siding on horseback to the general store. In 1913 he was secretary of the Progressive League, which met in his store at Rice and Cedar. Munger was the second mayor of Bellaire and the first president of the Lions Club.
Morgan Jolly and wife came to Bellaire in 1911, residing on a farm on Old Richmond Road (at about 5600 Bissonnet today). There were no near neighbors. He was a telegrapher and she had a greenhouse. Mrs. Jolly’s great-niece, Mrs. Robert N. (“Moppy”) Gay, Jr., a later resident of Bellaire, was the co-editor of “Bellaire’s Own Historical Cookbook” (1968) and an active participant in Bellaire civic life.
Louis Rosner and his sons, Leon and Bryant, bought the general store in 1919.
Ralph Reamer married Luna Mathony in 1917, their first home was a farmhouse at Fondren and Bissonnet. Reamer provided the first home delivery ice service to homes in Bellaire by his Bellaire Power and Ice Company. Later he ran a filling station at Rice and Bissonnet. The Reamers daughter and son-in-law owned the Bellaire Motor Inn.
The Dunwoody family, daughter Mary and son Neal, came from Indiana through the Home Seekers Club to Bellaire. They operated a small truck farm on Avenue A (Newcastle) south of Bellaire Blvd. before it became Westmoreland Farms.
Mr. Condit led the effort with the County School Board to establish the first one-room brown frame building (with raised platform for the teacher and a cloak room). It opened in fall 1911 with room for 36 desks at 4922 Cedar (another report has it at Third and Spruce) an initial 20 students, seven grades and one teacher (Mrs. Van Loo).. It became the center for the community and was fondly referred to as “The Little Brown.”
With no money for a janitor, the children did most of the work on Saturday afternoons. These work sessions became party times. The children devised ball games, using two balls donated by Mr. Condit. When one ball was lost, it was replaced by a beanbag, ultimately lodging on the roof. Mrs. Condit had her own piano moved to the school to serve various singing groups during the first Christmas season.
A larger Bellaire school was soon needed. In 1914 a two-story brick school was built at 5005 Laurel, site of Condit School today. (It was later renamed when A.J. Condit died in 1927.) The Bellaire School graduated its first class the year it opened. S.L. Reamer was one of the contractors. The new building had steps which led to the second floor. However, cows would enter the open basement to escape heat and rain.
A junior high school opened in Houston in 1914 as the South End Junior High School. It became a four-year high school and its name changed to San Jacinto High School.
In 1919 Bellaire parents organized a PTA and one of its projects was to improve the basement. There was frequently a foot of mud there so the PTA first obtained wooden planks to place there and later persuaded the county to concrete the floor. By 1920 Mr. O.W. Wilcox was appointed principal and there were five teachers. By 1928 the school joined the Houston Independent School District system.
Shortly after The Little Brown opened in 1911, the community met at the Condit’s home to discuss having some sort of religious service. They agreed that a Sunday School for the youngsters was their first priority. Most of those attending the meeting had an affiliation with some church group. They represented Methodist, Baptist, Christian, Lutheran and other well established churches. All were willing to lay aside their individual preferences in the interest of the majority and there was no talk about creed, doctrine, ritual or dogma.
Two youth groups were formed. The older class became the “Christian Endeavor Society” (“CES”), affiliated with a national organization Sunday School that used the Union Sunday School Publication, with weekly lesson text. They met Sunday evenings at the Pavilion or at The Little Brown.
The younger group was called “Character Builders” (“CBs”), taught by Mrs. Helen Foote. Mrs. Foote was a deep student of the Bible, but who did not regard denominational theology as being of prime importance. She stressed the most important task was to teach how to live together in that isolated society in peace and harmony. She used the class as a means of building strong Christian character, law abiding citizens, parliamentary procedure and rules. The CBs organized, elected officers, wrote its own constitution and bylaws, chose armbands of green and gold. Meetings were held under Robert’s Rules of Order. Meetings were initially held at the home of the Condits and later held at the new Bellaire School.
Volunteer ministers or associate pastors came to hold a church service one Sunday each month at The Little Brown. Services were well attended. In 1913 for two years, a Methodist minister on a sabbatical, Dr. Pennock, offered religious service for regular monthly meetings. A home was built for them as a community “house raising”. Food was brought and served to all. Thereafter, Dr. Hirum B. Harris, an ordained Congregational minister from Houston, conducted Sunday evening non-denominational services in the auditorium of the new school building, in about 1916.
Hurricanes and Flooding
On August 16, 1915 a major hurricane hit Galveston and surrounding areas; 275 people died from high water and strong winds. Texas City’s Camp Hood was wiped out. In Bellaire the early settlers suffered greatly from the storm. Power was down with poles asunder along Bellaire Blvd. cutting off the trolley and trapping the conductor and two passengers overnight. The prairie was covered with several feet of water. The wind carried enough salt water from the Gulf to coat and kill cotton two hundred miles inland. Of the existing 30 houses, most were crippled by damage from high winds, unroofed, lifted from foundations, or totally disintegrated. The community brought food and spent the night in Condit School, the only brick building in Bellaire. Many people in Bellaire deserted their property.
In October that year, W.T. (Tommy) Kelly, while attempting to install wires on new power poles, was killed by electrocution when the trolley passed under him. He was newly married. The Kelly family and the entire community was devastated at the loss.
In 1919 a very large and violent storm (Category 4) hit Corpus Christi on September 15. Tides were 16 feet above normal, flooded the business district to a depth of six feet and 600 people lost their lives. In the Houston area and in Bellaire, ten inches of rain fell and left massive flooding. Photographs depict the Teas property navigable only by canoe and Bellaire Blvd. with half-sunk automobiles.
Social Life in Bellaire
Close knit and hard-working families from diverse origins found companionship with one another. Siblings played and looked after one another and performed home tasks. They clothed, fed, and provided home maintenance and care of younger children.
Simple pleasures included long walks after Sunday School, Saturday night sleepovers, watermelon parties and seed-spitting contests, hay rides to nearby farms with music provided by harmonica, banjo and singing. There were camping trips and excursions to places like the Brazos River near Richmond, San Jacinto Battleground and relatives’ homes and farms.
A community club was organized by a mail order house up north. Hostesses were given credit on their own purchases and women met to place and later pick up their orders. Refreshments were served. The get-togethers were both a convenient opportunity to shop and a means for women to have social time with one another.
Fairs were held at the (Trolley) Pavilion with judging of animals – chickens, hogs, pet kittens, dogs and a rare squirrel (for so few trees available). Women brought their handwork, quilts and laces. Others brought cakes, pies, fruits, jams and jellies.
Local boys obtained boxing gloves and punching bag for a gym in the unused part of the power plant. They were known as “The Bellaire Boys Athletic Club. Someone had a player piano and a stock of piano rolls; the Victrola was also owned by one family. The music was both classical and rag-time. Sing-alongs were popular entertainment and to celebrate special occasions. “Get-togethers” were opportunities for home dancing but some felt that religious convictions would not permit dancing.
In the spring of 1914 Houston businessmen built and a carnival company that furnished an amusement park. It was located in the area of Hermann Park with the entrance facing Fannin Street, site of the Sam Houston statue. Tall Corinthian columns supported an artistic sign with its name, “Colonial Park”. The Park had a roller coaster, aerial swing and a merry-go-round, some animal cages containing monkeys, an ape and a few exotic birds. There was also a midway, concession stands surrounding a roller skating rink and a landscaped concrete walk. It was a very popular success and on weekends and evenings was filled to capacity. Bellaire residents also found their way to this unique commercial entertainment site.
Breakout Box #1 – Statehood dates
1845-Texas became the 28th state
1907-Oklahoma became the 46th state, formed from the Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory
1912-New Mexico and Arizona became the 47th and 48th states, until 1959 when Alaska and Hawaii became states, then and now at 50
Breakout Box #2 – West University Place (WUP) and Other planned communities
Ben Hooper, an attorney from Newport, TN, and a group of investors purchased 436 acres for $174,300 and formed the West End Realty Company to develop a community of “country homes” with access to Houston. The new development differed from Westmoreland Farms in that it offered smaller lots and catered to urbanites. It was named West University Place to associate it with Rice Institute as an attraction to instructors for homesites. In 1918 WUP offered lot sales to middle class home buyers
1917-1923- Shadyside opened with more expensive lots (24) targeted to the membership of Congregation EmanuEl; Southampton opened in 1922; River Oaks opened to attract wealthier residents in 1923.
© Lynn McBee Feb. 2008
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