Exploring Living History On Galveston’s 40th Annual Historic Home Tour
By Dana Goolsby
Galveston Island- There is a lot to love about Galveston Island. The beach, the food, and numerous annual events and attractions all draw large crowds to the island, but last weekend the island was packed with a different type of tourist. Heritage tourists flocked to the island in droves to tour some of the island’s oldest homes and to get a glimpse into the lives of those who built and lived in these grand residences. Although the tour only highlights a small handful of the incredible homes on the island, Galveston is home to one of the largest collections of intact 19th and 20th century buildings in the country, and number one in Texas. History is on tap daily on the island.
This year’s tour was composed of nine spectacular homes spanning from post-Civil War to the finest of the 1920s. Six of the nine homes featured on the tour had not previously been a part of the annual event. Each home has its own unique history, but all are connected by the same threads which make Galveston such a fascinating city. The range of dates and architectural styles gave an excellent overview of the Island’s architectural history, and the exceptional stories of the men and women who built and/or lived in these homes adds to the mystique of Galveston’s historic neighborhoods.
Take a Historical Tour with MYETX
1874 Smith-Hartley House
1121 33rd Street
Dr. William R. Smith moved to Galveston in 1839, where he became one of the first collector’s for the port. During the 1840s and 1850s, Smith partnered with Judge William J. Jones and purchased hundreds of city lots. At the time of his death in 1874, it is estimated Smith’s estate was worth more than $250,000, which was inherited by his son, J. Mayrant Smith. That same year Smith commissioned Sherwin and Overmire to design a house for his private residence, which consisted of a two-bay-wide Italianate house, with deep gardens along the south side of the home. Smith only lived in the house for four years before retiring to his sugar cane plantation north of Richmond, Texas. In 1878, Susan Hartley, widow of early Texas legislator Oliver Cromwell Hartley and residents of Galveston since 1846, purchased the house. Susan and her daughter Jerian lived in the house until Susan’s death in 1908. The house was used as rental property until 1913. In 1930, the property was sold to Frank McCoy, founder of McCoy Roofing Company and later McCoy Building Supply Company, which is still in business today. The McCoys maintained ownership of the property until 1962, after which it went through several different owners and alterations. In 2012, the current owners purchased the property and are in the process of restoring the home to its original grandeur, complete with a cupola which had been removed during the McCoy’s ownership.
1928 William & Marie Helmbrecht House
3815 Bernardo de Galvez (Avenue P)
German immigrant William Helmbrecht, and his wife Maria, moved to Galveston from Waco in 1926, where Helmbrecht and his business partner Heinrich Renfert established a cotton exporting firm. He soon purchased over half of an acre of land and hired architect John Staub to design a French manor house, which was completed in 1928. The lots the Helmbrecht’s constructed their home on wasn’t always vacant. Twenty-eight years prior, the Storm of 1900 swept away the home that once stood there, leaving only the iron fence behind, which is still intact today. The home’s antique over-mantle, marble floors and doors are all from an earlier Galveston building salvaged by the Helmbrechts and repurposed by the builder, John Fanz Staub. In 1945, the Helmbrechts hired Staub to design another home for them in Dallas, Texas. They sold the house to Dr. Emil Klatt, who occupied the home until 1955, when he sold the property to Kenneth Shelton. Shelton maintained ownership of the house for over thirty years. The home changed ownership several times after Shelton and was most recently purchased in 2013.
1867 Poole-Parker Cottage
3419 Avenue L
In 1866, cattle broker Valentine Brookes Poole purchased all of block 34 from the Galveston City Company for $300. He built a house at the southeast corner of Avenue L and 35th street, and sold three adjoining lots. It is believed that William Beopple built the house at 3419 Avenue L, although little information exists regarding Beopple because he died soon after acquiring the property. After his death in 1867, Beopple’s estate was sold to Oscar and Imogene Norwood. The Norwoods lived in the house until 1872, until Arthur Marmaduke Hobby, president of the Galveston Chamber of Commerce, purchase the property and deeded it back to Poole. Poole moved to Galveston and formed a partnership with Samuel Allen. The Allen Poole and Company operated stockyards on the outskirts of town known as “Pooleville, and a butcher’s storefront next to the city market. During the Civil War, Allen Poole and Company supplied beef to Confederate troops station around the island. Over the next half a century, the house changed ownership multiple times until John And Emma Jeanne Parker purchased the house in 1931. The Parker’s maintained ownership of the property for over 60 years. The current owners purchased the home in 2004.
1887 August and Augusta Neumann Cottage
1827 Avenue M 1/2
The August & Augusta Neumann Cottage in Galveston was built in 1887. The Neumanns emigrated to Galveston from Germany in 1884, where August found work as a musician in the Galveston Beach Band, playing both the clarinet and violin. Hailed as the state’s only professional band, the 18 member ensemble performed regularly at the Beach hotel and Garten Verein. The Neumanns survived the Storm of 1900 and lived on the island for another seven years before returning to Germany. August sold all of is property to Henry Tix, a “huckster” (door-to-door salesman) who had emigrated from Germany to Galveston in 1882. Tix and his wife occupied the cottage until their deaths, and at that time the home was passed down to their children. Tix’s son Henry and his wife Louise moved into the cottage sometime in the 1930s, where they remained until their deaths, and the home was again passed down to the owner’s descendants who maintained ownership until the end of the 20th century.
1907-1908 Thomas Lucas Apartments, Lucas Terrace
1407 Broadway (Avenue J)
Thomas Lucas emigrated from England in 1867 and established his career as a brick mason and building contractor. He constructed his first apartment building, Lucas Row, in 1894. Lucas Row was destroyed in the Storm of 1900. Lucas salvaged the bricks and transferred them to the site of his personal residence where he constructed a second apartment building. Lucas erected the building in his spare time between 1901 and 1908. Shortly after construction was complete Lucas fell to his death from a smokestack near Galveston’s harbor. Noted for its unique, shell-shaped stone planters the apartments were advertised as being “superior” to all other Galveston apartments. By 1965, unsympathetic additions and alterations made by previous owners were beginning to compromise the building’s integrity. In 1996, Tom and Susan Hargrove purchased the property. Tom was an agricultural scientist who was kidnapped in Columbia in 1994. The film “Proof of Life,” featuring Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe, is heavily based in Hargrove’s kidnapping. The Hargroves began renovating the apartments, and converted the space into two separate houses. Susan Hargrove died in 2009, and Tom in 2011, leaving the Lucas Terrace vacant for several years. In 2013, the current owners, an extended family from Houston, purchased the property. The family is committed to continuing the restoration of Lucas Terrace.
1893 Augusta Peters Townhouse
1821 Ball (Avenue H)
German immigrate Augusta Mary Lange married drayman Henry B. Peters in Galveston during the fall of 1870. Within eight years the couple had three children. Henry’s exact date of death is not known, but the Census listed Augusta as a widow by 1880. Augusta and her children lived with a woman by the name of Ernestine Schulte until 1893, when she built twin Victorian town houses on Ball Street in Galveston. Augusta and her children moved into 1821 Ball and used 1823 Ball as rental property. In 1899, Augusta’s daughter married and moved to Houston. Following the storm of 1900, Augusta rented out both of the townhouses and moved to Houston with her two sons. In 1910, Augusta had moved in with her daughter and son-in-law where she lived until her the time of her death in 1929. The Peters children maintained ownership of the townhouse at 1821 Ball until 1943, when the property was sold to Julius Bernard Milan. Milan, formerly of New Orleans, had moved to Galveston in the 1930s during which time he established Acme Roofing Company. He and his wife lived at the residence until Milan’s death in 1961. The estate was sold in 1965, to Manuel Mejia who transferred ownership to Mexican immigrants Daniel G. Sanchez and his wife Fraces. The Sanchez family lived at 1821 Ball until 2008, when Hurricane Ike damaged the home. The Sanchez family sold the property to the current owners in 2011. They immediately began a complete restoration, salvaging only the original hardwood floors. Many items from Galveston Historical Foundation’s Architectural Salvage Warehouse were used in the restoration.
1886 Adolph & Lena Nitsche House
1617 Ball (Avenue H)
In 1859, Prussian immigrant Adolph Nitsche landed in Indianola, a gathering place for German immigrants on the south coast of Galveston. In 1861, Nitsche enlisted in the Confederate Army. In 1864, he married German immigrant Mary Magdalena Berleth-Rauser. When the Civil War ended, Nitsche was paroled at Galveston in 1865. In November of 1885, a fire began at the Vulcan Iron Works on Mechanic and 16th Streets which destroyed the Nitsche’s home. In it’s place the couple built a two-story home shortly after. Nitsche died in shorty before the storm of 1900. His wife, Lena, survived the storm, which severely wrecked the home. Lena oversaw repairs to the home and lived there until she died in 1914. At that time the house was sold to Theodore C. Davis, a cotton classer for I.H. Kempner. Davis owned the house until 1937, when he sold the property to John D. and Ann Olsen Winchester. John died in 1979, and Lena stayed in the home until the time of her death in 1988. The current owners purchased the home in 2012.
1905 Charles Suderman Tenant House
1815 Ball (Avenue H)
Charles Theodore Suderman, a Swedish immigrant, left home at the age of 15 as part of the crew on the sailing ship HEADWIG. He sailed around the world for five years and first landed in Galveston’s port in 1879. By 1881 Suderman was living there working as a longshoreman. He soon met Ben Dolson, son of Benjamin Dolson, the owner of Dolson & Nelson, commerical stevedores. Suderman worked for Dolson & Nelson and in 1890, he married Kate Dolson. in 1895, Dolson bought out Dolson & Nelson and renamed the company Suderman & Dolson. Suderman and his wife and children survived the storm of 1900. In 1902, Suderman purchased a home at 1819 Ball Street, which came with four vacant lots. In 1905, the Sudermans built a two-story Queen Anne house to use as rental property. By 1906, several people, including members of the Dolson family were living at tenant house at 1815 Ball. In 1912, Suderman sold his home at 1819 Ball and moved his family to a larger house on Postoffice Street. He maintained ownership of the tenant house at 1815 Ball until his sudden death in 1925. The family leased out the house for five more years until selling the property to Steele Dudley Samuels and his wife El Mar bought the house. They lived there from 1930 until Samuel’s death in 1955. In 1921, El Mar sold the property to school administrator John C. Seabrook and his wife, Wanda who owned the property until 1988. The house changed ownership several times before being vacated after Hurricane Ike in 2008. Investors purchased the property and repaired the damage a few years after the hurricane. The current owners purchased the home in 2013.
1875 Julius & Elizabeth Ruhl House
1426 Sealy (Avenue I)
German immigrant Julius Herman Ruhl arrived in Galveston in 1872, where he began working for the wholesale grocery and cotton exporting firm, Kauffman & Runge. In 1875, he married Swiss Immigrant Elizabeth Stauffacher, and moved into a stately five-bay, center-haul house designed by renowned Texas architect Thomas J. Overmire. In 1882, Ruhl was accused of laundering money from his company by his employer Julius Runge. Runge claimed over $20,000 was unaccounted for on the books. When confronted, Ruhl left his office and committed suicide by drinking strychnine. Julius Runge filed a lawsuit against Elizabeth Ruhl in an effort to claim her house as compensation for the missing funds. In 1883, Elizabeth successfully petitioned the court claiming the house as a homestead for herself and her three children. After the Storm of 1900, repairs were made to the house in 1902 and 1905. Elizabeth passed away in 1932, and the property was inherited by the Mullers. The Mullers and their descendants maintained ownership of the house until 1962. At that time the house was divided into three apartments and used as rental property. The house was vacant for two years until the current owners purchased it in 2007. Many original features of the house were salvaged and other elements were repurposed. Various other reclaimed and salvaged materials from Galveston Historical Foundation’s Architectural Salvage Warehouse and New Orleans were also used in the house’s renovation.
2015 Historic Home Tour
If you missed Galveston’s 2014 Historic Home Tour, start planning ahead for next year! Every year thousands of tourists flock to the island to see some of the Island’s most elaborate and famous homes, so don’t wait until the last minute to book a room.
What to wear and what to bring on the tour:
- Comfortable shoes
- Comfortable casual clothing
- Lightweight/small back pack with sunscreen, water, chapstick and an umbrella. (GHF also hands out complimentary fans, take one. You will be glad you did.)
- Camera (Exterior shots only)
- Lunch (If you plan to see all of the homes on the tour in one day, pack a small cooler for lunch and drinks to keep in your vehicle. There are generally between 8-10 homes on the tour, and sometimes you will be required to wait in lines to tour the property. The tour can be completed in one day if planned in advance and a strict schedule is followed.)
- Study your map of homes listed on the tour in advance.
- Decide which order you will visit the houses, and map out a route. (If more than one house is on a street try to tour those houses closest together before leaving the area.)
- Park somewhere that is easily accessible and close to each property. (Be courteous to the locals. Don’t block driveways, fire hydrants…etc)
- Pack a cooler with your lunch, snacks, and drinks to keep in your car. (If you want to complete the tour in one day packing a lunch will save you a lot of time.)
For more information about Galveston’s Historic Home Tour visit their website at www.galvestonhistory.org. You can also keep up with the Galveston Historic Foundation on Facebook and Instagram- @galvestonhistory. You can also download the Galveston Historical Foundation App on your iPhone or Android.