By Lynn McBee © February 6, 2008
Introduction – Founding in 1908
This is my first foray into telling stories in print — the mystery of history. I hope readers will enjoy this effort to unfold Bellaire’s major and minor events and its early citizens from Our Town throughout its 2008 Centennial celebration.
“History is the study of the past, focused on human activity and leading up to the present day.” (Wikipedia) And the famous historian, Howard Zinn, said, “…a historian (or a journalist, or anyone telling a story) was forced to choose, out of an infinite number of facts, what to present, what to omit…” Further, Zinn said, “But there is no such thing as a pure fact, innocent of interpretation. Behind every fact presented to the world—by a teacher, a writer, anyone—is a judgment. The judgment that has been made is that the fact is important and that other facts, omitted, are not important.” (A People’s History of the United States, pp 683-4, © 2003.)
The Land was the beginning. Bellaire began 100 years ago by William Wright Baldwin, from Iowa, a lawyer and Vice-President of the Burlington Railroad. He was a land developer and President of the South End Land Company he formed. On December 1, 1908, he purchased the 9,449 acre Rice Ranch open prairie land once owned by William Marsh Rice.
In 1909 he laid out 1,000 acres on the extreme eastern portion of the Ranch and platted Westmoreland Farms. It comprised less than two square miles, bounded by First, Palmetto, Sixth (now Ferris) and Jessamine Streets, and was approximately five miles southwest of and across a barren prairie from Houston. Old Richmond Road (now Bissonnet) was then the only existing roadway, which cut diagonally across the town.
Early on, Bellaire could be reached by train, the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad (the “SAP”), 1.5 miles north of Bellaire at the now Westpark and the Southwest Freeway. A siding from it was used as a mail drop-off point at Rice, known as the Rice Station (later, Bellaire Station). On the east was a rail line now known as the Southern Pacific which still serves as Bellaire’s eastern boundary.
In 1909, W.W. Baldwin connected Westmoreland Farms to Houston downtown by constructing Bellaire Boulevard, a double shelled road 120 feet wide running from Richmond Road (west of Rice) to the foot of Main Street. Its 50 foot wide landscaped esplanade (“Paseo”) within Bellaire’s limits was landscaped with crape myrtle, and jasmine, an oasis in the brown prairie. Edward Teas and his family had moved from Carthage, Missouri, to Bellaire in 1908 and Teas Nursery began landscaping Our Town.
Baldwin also founded the Westmoreland Railroad Company to construct and operate an electric trolley line down the esplanade of Bellaire Boulevard from Rice Avenue to Main Street in Houston. The trolley linked the suburban/rural Bellaire townsite to Houston. It was essential to marketing the new town. It made its first run on December 24, 1910, and lasted until September 26, 1927.
Residents of the sparsely populated townsite as well as those living in outlying areas used the trolley daily to reach school and jobs both in Bellaire and in Houston. It was especially important during wet weather when the few shelled roads and the prairie land rapidly flooded.
The Trolley Pavilion on Bellaire Boulevard at the west end of the trolley line at its turnaround served not only as a station, but was used by the small community for gatherings. The Pavilion was central to Our Town in its early and subsequent days, particularly to a population of some 38 citizens at the Trolley’s 1910 inauguration. There were picnics and church meetings, town elections and meetings of the Lions Club and Boy Scouts. It was the Town Square of its time.
These columns reflect my research of the writing of others, most particularly the scholarly and meticulous writings of the early history of Bellaire by Jeff Dunn, former President of the Bellaire Historical Society and its archives, Jack Gurwell, journalist and publisher of the Bellaire Texan, City Council Minutes from 1918 forward, two books about Bellaire (Bellaire’s Own Historical Cookbook, Gay and Hawks, eds, Bellaire Women’s Civic Club ©1969, and As the Meadow Larks Sang by Elnora Kelly Pelton, © 1983) newspaper articles and my own observations and involvement over the past 42 years of living in Bellaire. I hope I can encourage your communications as well—reacting, expanding on, disagreeing with, or correcting what I write. Let’s get to know one another for this is Bellaire — Our Town.
© Lynn McBee Feb. 2008
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