BELLAIRE – OUR TOWN
By Lynn McBee – © March 20, 2008
Details of Life in Early Bellaire
Several authors have written in graphic detail about how life was lived before 1918 in Bellaire and nearby areas.
Homebuilding was described by author Elnora Kelly Pelton (“As the Meadowlarks Sang,” 1983) according to her father’s carpentry skills of the day. Ed Kelly partnered with Sam Hatfield and over the years built over 50 homes in Bellaire, Westmoreland Farms and Park Place. Kelly drew plans to scale, using lengths of lumber as cut from the mill to scale dimensions of each room. Construction began with a porch, then the kitchen as the most important room. The rest of a house was governed by cost. Though such houses had simple lines, the builders were craftsmen and they produced attractive houses with little touches added to make them functional and beautiful. From foundation to roof, papered and painted, cabinets, all inside trim and finished with a traditional white paint outside, such simple houses made beauty spots on the wide prairie.
A Scattering of Early Fine Two-Story Homes were constructed along Bellaire Blvd.: On the North side of the Blvd. were three such homes built between First and Second Streets by the South End Land Company, owned by A.J. Condit, Mr. & Mrs. Patillo and Fred T. Wilson. A very large stucco home was built at the corner of Third by the Smith family. One block north of Bellaire Blvd, on Spruce, John and Ruth Talley built, and the Gillets, son, Paul, and daughter, Lucille, located on the second lot on the next block. Their neighbors were Mr. and Mrs. T. W. Carr. Further north, on Cedar, two homes were built at First and Second Streets, one built by Ed Kelly. Further west on Cedar the Selco Company built four little stucco houses, smaller than most, and the unusual style of each was referred to as a doll house. At First Street two houses were built by Russell Munger facing west.
On the south side of Bellaire were three houses owned by: J.R. Johnston, a retired opera singer and his wife; Mr. and Mrs. R.L. Blakewood and son who owned the local garage; and Mrs. Ferguson.
The Ed Kelly family sold their Newcastle property to build and live in a new house, facing south on Cedar, from 1912 to 1917. It was cedar shingled, stained dark green, with a brick porch the full length of the house with eight concrete steps leading up to the entrance. The house contained a living room, dining room, kitchen, three large bedrooms and a barn/garage. There was only one other house the same block. A picture of the Kelly house can be found in Elnora Pelton’s book. The Reamers and daughter Ruth bought the house next door.
One Early Resident’s View of Bellaire
Madge Hardin Walters wrote in her journal “Early Days and Indian Ways” (Westernlore Press, Los Angeles, 1956) about her experience in leaving Milwaukee with her two-year old son, Jack, to live in Bellaire from 1914-1921. She supported herself and son by baking “beaten biscuits” and selling them to railroad dining cars and hotels, earning $150 to $200 a month for her 18-hour days of labor in her kitchen with no help in the terrific Texas heat.
“I bought a ticket to San Diego, took two-year-old Jack in hand, and set out to make our living, by way of Houston, Texas… that was a good railway center—twenty-one roads. I took a bare, sunny house in the suburb of Bellaire… “
“Bellaire lots had been sold and built up in the subdivision fashion and had every convenience in utilities and a scattering of fine homes.”
“…my selection of a house five miles from town, but I was charmed with its large, light rooms and uninterrupted view of unlimited miles of waving grass, and the undeflected wind from the Gulf, fifty miles away. That wind never changed direction or velocity except during a ‘norther’ and that was all that made the terrific heat bearable.”
“….the deep, wide drainage ditches that surrounded all land and bordered all roads were filled by the almost incessant rains. The gumbo soil clung to one’s feet in rapidly-added lumps, and every vicious insect and reptile that could bite or sting inhabited the earth…”
“The land is completely flat—I used to think that if there were only a small stone I could stand on it and see twenty-five miles more. It made one feel exposed, to glance five or ten miles and see people around their houses. These Texas homes looked like packing boxes on stilts, scattered over the prairie, for they had to be well above the saturated ground. Along every road were wide ditches, for the only drainage possible, and access to houses or other roads was by bridges. One had to keep strictly to the improved roads, covered with shell, sullen putty-gray in the rain, a glittering blinding white in sun…”
After the infamous storm of August 1915 Ms. Walters wrote:
“In Bellaire, everything was for sale, but as there were no buyers, many people deserted their property. The newspapers urged residents to not write accounts of the storm to friends, lest it deter settlers.”
Clothing for the women was usually hand made, one pattern for dresses – a simple, plain shirtwaist with long sleeves, skirts gathered at the waist and ankle length. Aprons were full length with bib tops, tied in back with a small bow and trimmed with ruffles or rick-rack braid. Mrs. Ed Kelly chose blue most often, sometimes with small flowers printed on the cloth. Her daughter, Elnora, wrote that Mrs. Kelly had three house dresses and one Sunday dress.
Elnora Kelly no doubt typified other children of her day. She preferred bright colors, plaid gingham trimmed in braid or buttons with varied patterns. Three new dresses were made for the school year at the beginning of the fall term. Two Sunday dresses often made from white eyelit embroidery with pink or blue underskirt and satin ribbon sash to match. Shoes were either patent leather pumps, “Baby Dolls”, or high-top button shoes for winter.
Police during Bellaire’s first days consisted of Leroy Coats, the town’s first constable, who rode a horse with his faithful dog, Caesar, following him. “Bellaire’s Own Historical Cookbook” describes him as a bachelor whose main job as constable was to keep the stray cattle out of Bellaire. He patrolled fence lines for strays that escaped through a fence. Elnora Pelton mentions that he delivered the newspapers while watching for stray cattle and horses, and reported to ranchers if he noticed a break in fences where animals could escape.
Machines of the Day
The electric interurban railway in Texas totaled nearly 500 miles, second largest mileage west of the Mississippi, most of which was in place by 1913. The Galveston-Houston Electric Railway Company ran its “Interurban“ 50 miles between Galveston and Houston from 1911 to 1926. Bellairites frequently used it for excursions to the beach or just to visit Galveston.
Ed Kelly bought his first automobile in 1915, a Ford, for $600 cash. His second son, Ralph Emerson, who was interested in airplanes, automobiles and motors, taught him to drive it
Flying School in Houston
Ralph Kelly worked at Blakewood’s garage in Houston but dreamt of becoming an aviator. August Bering, one of a large clan of Berings from Germany (predecessor of the Bering’s Hardware chain) then owned an auto parts store, hired Ralph and encouraged him to specialize in magnetos and generators. He sent Ralph to a three-week training course at a Chicago factory where men from many parts of the country came to learn about motorized machines.
On his return trip home from Chicago, Ralph stopped off to watch the Indy 500 auto races and there met Barney O’Field, who held the U.S. Championship in auto racing. O’Field, in turn, introduced him to two Army officers, Captain Eddy Stinson and Lt. Bob Shanks. Eddy Stinson owned his family-operated Stinson School of Flying in San Antonio and Bob Shanks was one of its instructors. Shanks was a licensed pilot, noted for being one of the first pilots to fly the U.S. mail on an experimental basis. Ralph Kelly was persuasive in convincing Stinson to open a second flying school in Houston.
In early 1917 the site of Bellaire Blvd. and Main Street was chosen for a hangar and runway with plans to build a bi-plane, named the Hirondel (for the French swallow). Elnora Pelton’s book describes in detail the construction of the silk covered light wood framed Hirondel.
When the airplane was completed, Ralph began taking his flying lessons. When ready, he took over the pilot’s seat, with an instructor behind, and the plane took off across the rough, bumpy prairie. After two weeks, Ralph was believed ready for his solo flight.
President Wilson declared war on Germany on April 12, 1917; papers were sent almost immediately to certify Ralph’s ability as a pilot. He would be assigned to border patrol of the coast of Texas and Mexico. The country was stirred to fever pitch.
Five minutes into his solo flight on April 16, 1917, the airplane crashed, 19-year old Ralph was severely injured and died two hours later. It was a devastating tragedy observed by the whole of Bellaire and many others. In commemoration of this young life, volunteer Army men from Camp Logan marched along Main Street at Leeland provided military honors.
1912 – British RMS Titanic ocean liner struck an iceberg on April 14th and sank next morning; approximately 1,520 people died.
1913 – Texas suffered both drought and floods that damaged cotton crops
- Depression was felt in Texas and the nation.
- Pancho Villa was loose along the Mexico border
- Houston Ship Channel was constructed following course of Buffalo Bayou
1915 – British RMS Lusitania, luxurious ocean liner, was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sunk May 7th 14 miles off coast of Ireland, 1,198 of 1,958 persons aboard died.
- Jim “Pa” Ferguson elected Governor of Texas in 1914, was impeached in 1917 for illegal spending of state funds; his wife Miriam “Ma” Ferguson was elected Governor in 1924
- April 12-World War I declared against Germany by President Wilson; 198,000 Texans served
- August 23-Houston’s Army Camp Logan suffered an incident of racism that led to riot; “In the ensuing riot, 16 whites, including five policemen, were killed, and another 11 wounded. Four Black soldiers died in the shooting. … 110 Black Infantry Batallion members were court martialed for participating in the riot; 19 were hanged; 63 got life sentences in federal prison; 2 white officers facing court-martials were released.”
1918 – Influenza Pandemic outbreak worldwide; estimated 20 to 40 million people lose their lives.
© Lynn McBee Feb. 2008
All Chapters are listed under Bellaire History on the main menu.