History, by H. Neal Parker 

In the Beginning there was John Austin

 

The first, largest, and best known of the land grants in Harris County is the John Austin league.  In 1824 the Mexican government granted 2 leagues of land to John Austin (B/129).  The starting point for the survey of this tract is a point in Buffalo Bayou 1000 varas downstream from where White Oak Bayou flows into Buffalo Bayou, thence south 1000 varas to the southeast corner of the tract, thence west 7080 varas, thence north 7080 varas, thence east 7080 varas, thence south 6080 varas to the point of beginning.  A vara is 33 1/3 inches.  The amount of land in a league varies from time to time and place to place, but in Texas in the nineteenth century is was the area of a square 5000 varas on a side, or in modern terms, 4428 acres or almost 7 square miles.  John Austin owned 2 leagues in the form of a square, the confluence of White Oak and Buffalo Bayous being near the southeast corner inside the square.  In modern terms the boundaries are West Dallas on the south, Reinerman Street on the west, the North Loop on the north, and Maury Street (a small street one block east of Elysian) on the east.

 

John Austin was one of the original 300 settlers who came to Texas with Stephen F. Austin.  They both came from Connecticut but were not related, or if related only very distantly related.  John Austin was a prominent member of the colony and lived in Brazoria.  He died in the cholera epidemic of 1833, as did his 2 children.  His widow survived and remarried in January 1834.  She gave the upper league of her husband’s land grant to his father, who came to Texas from Connecticut to manage it, but he died of cholera in 1834.  In August, 1836 the Allen brothers Augustus C. Allen and John K. Allen purchased the lower league from Mrs. Austin and her husband for $5000, and in a separate transaction they purchased the upper league from John Austin’s brother, William Tarrant Austin, for $1 per acre.  They now owned all of John Austin’s 2 league survey, and they chose a point in the southeast corner where White Oak Bayou flows into Buffalo Bayou as the location of their new town.  See 287/301, 414/196, 420/32, Houston: the Bayou City by David G. McComb (UT Press, Austin, 1969; revised as Houston: a History, 1981), and Moses Austin: His Life by David B. Gracy II (SA Trinity U. Press, 1987).

 

On June 22, 1838 the Allen brothers sold to John T. Huntington of Galveston and George William Adams an 800 acre tract in the southwest corner of the John Austin survey for $12000 (C/49).  It was a long, narrow tract, being 70 chains wide in the east-west direction, running from Patterson Street on the east to Reinerman Street on the west and 457 chains long in the north-south direction, running from West Dallas on the south to 16th Street on the north.  A link in a surveyor’s chain was 7.92 inches, and generally a chain had 100 links for a length of 66 feet.  Here, however, a chain is 50 links or 33 feet.  Adams and Huntington built a mill on Buffalo Bayou, and this tract was subsequently known as the Mill Tract.  It was purchased by James Reilly on December 1, 1840 (G/98).  On December 4, 1853 he sold the portion south of the bayou (50 to 60 acres) to Thomas Bailey (I/135), and on December 14, 1857 Christian L. Bethje purchased the remaining 750 acres north of the bayou for $3375 (T/441 and T/447).  See also C/452, G/98-99, 261/522, 259/402 concerning disputed ownership.

 

Then Came John Reinerman

 

Let us now turn our attention to the land west of Reinerman Street.  In 1834 John Reinerman, along with his wife and two sons, Henry and John, Jr., sailed from Oldenburg, Germany for New Orleans, where they boarded the schooner Sabine to join a group of German families which had already settled in Harris County.  The schooner was wrecked off Galveston Island on December 22, 1834, but the settlers managed to save their farming implements and livestock.  John Reinerman settled along Buffalo Bayou in what is now Memorial Park.  He died in 1835, but his widow applied for and was granted a league of land by the Republic of Texas.  (Actually a league and a labor, but the labor = 177 acres was not contiguous with the league = 4428 acres)  The boundaries of the John Reinerman league are Buffalo Bayou on the south, the west line of the John Austin league on the east, i.e., Reinerman Street, Post Oak Blvd. on the west, and, roughly speaking, a westward extension of 15th Street on the north.   Henry Reinerman was granted one third of a league immediately to the north of his father’s league.  Its northern boundary is 26th Street, just south of the North Loop, and its western boundary is Mangum Road.  Loosely speaking, the 2 Reinerman surveys contain all the land inside the Loop west of the John Austin survey.  Henry Reinerman died in 1844.  His widow then married Joseph Sandman, and then C. L. Bethje.  As a consequence of his wife’s inheritance C. L. Bethje owned at least 1000 acres in the Reinerman surveys, in addition to the Mill Tract.  He lived just west of the Mill Tract, perhaps on a 36 ½ acre tract, which he purchased December 3, 1857 for $438, just 11 days before he purchased the Mill Tract (T/430).  See Memorial Park by Sarah H. Emmott and 256/548.

 

Anton Brunner and the Brunner Addition

 

C. L. Bethje operated a substantial farm which included a portion of the Mill Tract.  When he died in 1876, he had 2 daughters Eliza and Bertha, and his wife had a daughter by a previous marriage.  In the partition of the estate, Bertha received among other things the Mill Tract.  She was married to Anton Brunner, who in effect became the owner of it.  Anton Brunner was born in Bavaria and came to America with his parents, both of whom died within a year of arrival.  The 4 children were reared separately.  After working on farms, Anton learned the shoemaker’s trade, and later established a successful business making and repairing shoes.  He invested his spare money in real estate and of course married advantageously.  See 17/726, 17/728, 17/791, and an affidavit of Anton Brunner recorded October 11, 1910 when he was 69 years old (256/548).

 

In 1888 he subdivided a tract of about 240 acres in the southern part of the Mill Tract.  It was named Brunner and it ran from Pine Street (now Dickson Street) on the south to Kolb Street on the north (just north of IH10) and encompassed the full width of the Mill Tract from Reinerman Street on the west to Patterson Street on the east.  The layout is very regular.  The streets form a rectilinear grid; each street goes all the way from one boundary to the opposite boundary.  Every lot is 50’ x 100’.  Each block has a 15’ strip or alleyway down the middle which belongs to the city and is used today for utilities and possibly access.  All the blocks east of Bethje Street (now Durham) have 12 lots, and all the blocks west of Bethje have 10.  All the streets have a 50’ right-of-way, except Brunner (now Shepherd), Roy, and Washington, which were 60’.  There are two exceptions to the regularity.  The railroad is at an angle to the east-west streets, and the lots next to it have irregular shapes.  North of the railroad, a very thin strip (150’) west of Patterson was not included in the subdivision.  Initially Brunner was not part of Houston; it was a separate town with its own post office.  In the Houston City Directory for 1913 and in prior years Brunner is listed separately.  In 1915 it is not separate.  Maps in the public library suggest that it became part of Houston between 1913 and 1917.  The main east-west street was Washington Avenue.  Note that Washington Avenue bends at Patterson to become truly east-west and then bends again at Reinerman to resume a generally northwesterly direction.  The main north-south street was Brunner Street (now Shepherd).  Bethje Street one block to the west was an ordinary street like all the rest.

 

Prior to March, 1890 Anton Brunner sold 187 lots, mostly along the eastern edge of the subdivision and along Washington Avenue.  Mostly he sold whole blocks or half blocks.  On March 21, 1890 he sold all of his remaining interest in the Mill Tract to John P. Irvin and Benjamin Kiam (48/313, 18/318).  They sold a few lots, and then on June 16, 1892 they sold  everything in the Mill Tract not already sold to the Magnolia Loan and Building Co., of which Benjamin Kiam was president (49/184, 49/300, 60/171, 60/621, 78/247).  Magnolia sold many lots from 1892 to 1896.  Sales seemed to taper off in 1897, but there was a sale as late as 1903.  On August 5, 1893, Magnolia sold 470 lots to A. M. Darling (69/296).  Besides this big purchase Darling had made numerous other purchases of multiple lots.  (Brunner subdivision had 119 blocks and about 1300 lots.)  He sold many lots from 1893 to 1896.  His sales also seemed to drop off in 1897.  The last occurred in December 1899.  He was a major promoter of Brunner, and he lived there.  His homestead was 4 lots on the south side of Gibson between Shepherd and Durham, how occupied by a commercial building.  On April 17, 1894 he sold many of his lots to Home Building Co., of which he was Secretary (72/518).  An individual who wanted to live in Brunner could have bought a lot or several lots either from

 

  1. Anton Brunner before March 21, 1890

  2. John P. Irvin and Benjamin Kiam before June 16, 1892

  3. Magnolia Loan and Building Co.

  4. A. M. Darling

  5. Home Building Co.

 

The original street names in the southern part of Brunner were Pine (now Dickson), Oak (now Feagan), Cedar (now Gibson), Maple (now Blossom), and Wood (now Floyd).  The names were changed about 1923, presumably to eliminate confusion between these streets and others in Houston with the same name.  Center Street was originally called Louis.  Anton Brunner had 4 children:  Nett, Louis, Lillian, and Rose.  Maple was an important street.  In 1920 the street car line ran along Washington Avenue to Bethje, then south to Maple, and then west along Maple (called Ariel in Rice Military) to just west of Cohn Road (now Wescott).  The new name for Pine Street is clearly related to the Dickson family, which lived on the southwest corner of Roy and Pine.  In the 1895-96 city directory Daniel C. Dickson is listed as a wood dealer.  His wife is a teacher in the Brunner public schools, and two sons live at home with them: David and John L., who is also a wood dealer.

 

Reinerman is a narrow street, 40 feet wide.  The Mill Tract is 2310 feet wide (70 chains x 33 feet/chain).  I can account for 2270 feet in the blocks and streets between Patterson and Reinerman.  This suggests that Reinermann Street is in the Brunner subdivision, i.e., the west line of the John Austin League is the west side of the street and that Patterson, a wider street, is outside of the Mill Tract.  The 20 foot jog in Reinerman at Dickson, the southern boundary of the Brunner Addition, is consistent with this observation.  However in a 1914 sale of a lot by George Parker to Frank Montalbano the description of the property strongly suggests that Reinerman is half in the Mill Tract and half in the Caffey tract (329/464).  That would mean that 20 feet of Patterson is in the Mill Tract.  The 20 foot jog in Reinerman is also consistent with this second interpretation.

 

John Reinerman League and the Caffey Tract

 

I previously mentioned briefly the early history of the Reinerman leagues in order to show that C. L. Bethje not only owned the Mill Tract but that he was also a major land owner west of it.  I now want to look at the John Reinerman league in more detail.  Headright certificate # 309 was issued February 20, 1838 to the heirs of John Reinerman for a league and a labor (16/190).  On April 28, 1847 Governor J. Pinckney Henderson granted them a league north of Buffalo Bayou with specific boundaries (O/145).  However, on March 17, 1838, Anna Reinerman, the widow, and Henry Reinerman, the son, sold to McHenry Winborn for $10,000 the southern half of the league (A/303).  On January 4, 1851 the widow of McHenry Winborn sold 125 acres adjoining the John Austin league to George Bringhurst, who was the county surveyor and was active in real estate transactions (O/390).  Soon thereafter, on August 10, 1850, he sold this 125 tract for $125 to Henry Caffey and his wife Isabella (N/579).  In modern terms their tract went from Reinerman Street on the east to Detering Street on the west, and from Buffalo Bayou on the south to just north of IH10.  (I believe that the northern boundary of the southern half of the league is the northern boundary of Memorial Park just north of IH10 in the NE corner of the park.)  The Caffey tract was a narrow strip --- narrow east-west, long north-south.  On February 27, 1854 they sold 36 ½ acres in the form of a rectangle 54 rods east-west by 108 rods north-south to James Bailey for $182.50 (P/402).  This 36 ½ acre tract was purchased by C. L. Bethje on December 3, 1857 (11 days before he purchased the Mill Tract) for $438 (T/430).  One rod equals 16 ½ feet, and 54 rods equals 891 feet.  This is the width of the Caffey tract.  Why would major players like Bailey and Bethje be interested in 36 ½ acres.  One suspects that their interest was intimately related to railroad construction.  The SE corner of this tract is where the railroad intersects the east line of the John Reinerman league.  On February 11, 1856 C. L. Bethje and his wife, a Reinerman heir, had sold to the Galveston and Red River Railroad a 150 foot strip for $150, which is described as the value of the timber cut (S/282).  Then on November 10, 1856 after a short dissertation on his belief in the value of progress Bethje sells for $1, that is, gives, to the same railroad company a 200 foot wide strip anywhere on his property to be used for railway construction (W/434).  Descriptions of property near the railroad often mention it; based on these descriptions it appears that it had been built by 1860, and it is invariably referred to as the Houston and Texas Central Railroad. 

 

On April 9, 1864 Isabella Caffey, now a widow, sold 20 acres just south of Bethje’s 36 ½ acres for $200  to M. C. Adams (13/90), and on March 16, 1870, she sold to R. H. Roco for $253 a 12 ½ acre tract just south of the Adams tract (8/462).  The Roco tract is partly to the north of Washington Avenue but mostly to the south and later became the Settegast and Dodge subdivision (1A/84, 330/338, 192/7).  The way in which the Caffeys sold off the remainder of their tract is very interesting, and we will return to that later.

 

Rice Military and the Dupree Tract

 

Remember that McHenry Winborn owned the southern half of the John Reinerman league and that the Caffeys came to own a narrow 125 acre strip on the far eastern side after his death.  On June 8, 1852 the executor of his estate Joseph R Robison, who had by then married the widow, sold for $413.50 a tract of 413 ½ acres immediately to the west of the Caffey tract to Cyrene B. H. Dupree (Mrs. John N. Dupree) (Q/102, see also N/357).  Shortly thereafter on September 14, the Duprees sold a strip 55 rods wide to James Willie on the west side of their recent purchase (Q/201, Q/345) and on the same day they sold a strip 65 rods (= 1072 1/2 feet) wide containing 178 acres in the middle of their recent purchase to George H. Kelsey of New York City (Q/200).  They kept a narrow strip 540 feet wide on the east side of the 413 ½ acres, which adjoined the Caffey tract.  This will be subsequently referred to as the Dupree tract.  In modern terms it runs from Detering Street on the east to 100 feet east of Asbury on the west, and from Buffalo Bayou to just north of IH10.  On February 6, 1871 the 178 acre Kelsey tract was purchased for 2000 gold dollars by F. A. Rice and M. G. Howe (9B/205).  It was divided between the Rice heirs and the Howe heirs by splitting it down the middle (158/440), each part becoming even narrower than it was, but on May 23, 1910 Bankers Trust Co. put it back together by purchasing 79.2 acres from J. F. Rice and W. M. Rice for $27,720 (251/312) and on the same day 76.3 acres from Jesse B. Howe and J. Milton Howe for $26,705 (251/313) and then on August 29, 1910 by subdividing their newly acquired 155.5 acre tract as the Rice Military subdivision (3/41, Map Records).  It extended from Buffalo Bayou to the Houston and Texas Central RR and from Cohn Street (now Wescott) on the west to 100 feet east of Asbury on the east.  The lots east of Asbury are in Rice Military.  The streets form a rectilinear grid, and the blocks are long in the north-south direction.    Almost all the lots are 50 feet by 100 feet.  There are no alleyways.  South of Washington Avenue, Cohn Road wasn’t quite parallel to the other streets and therefore towards the south instead of 2 lots between Cohn Road and Knox Street, one facing Knox and the other facing Cohn, there was just one long lot between the 2 streets, and these long lots became smaller as one went further south.  Another irregularity is the Conklin Addition.  On June 12, 1873 F. A. Rice and M. G. Howe sold 10 acres on the far west side of their 178 acre tract and on both sides of the Washington Road to G. B. Kent (12/132).  By May 3, 1881 this 10 acre tract had come into the possession of M. D. Conklin (13/383, 16/510, 16/531, 22/516).  After his death it was subdivided --- before the creation of Rice Military and in a way not consistent with Rice Military (1/11, Map Records).  If you drive over there you will note that Knox jogs at Lillian (originally Frances) and then back at Schuler.  Between these 2 streets it was Conklin Avenue.  All in all though, Rice Military is a regular, well laid out, reasonably large subdivision.

 

Note that the Rice and Howe tract, just like the Dupree tract and the Coffey tract, extended as far north as the northern boundary of the southern half of the John Reinerman league --- just north of IH10.  Bankers Trust, however, bought only that part south of the railroad, and the railroad is the northern boundary of Rice Military.  The “Rice” in Rice Military obviously refers to the previous owners.  The Rice family was wealthy and very prominent.  W. M. Rice is William Marsh Rice, the founder of Rice University.  But why “Military”?  One might be tempted to say that that was due to Camp Logan.  However Camp Logan was established in the summer of 1917 to train soldiers for combat in Europe.  It was never intended to be permanent, and it was in operation for only 20 months.  The land was leased, not bought.  But the name of the subdivision in the August 29, 1910 plat map (3/41, Map Records) is already "Rice Military Addition".  See A Night of Violence by Robert V. Haynes, 1976, Louisiana State University Press.

 

The Caffey Tract

 

Let us now return to the Caffey tract.  Unlike many of the other people we have encountered so far, they were not involved in real estate speculation.  They were probably farmers who supplemented their income with other work.  Henry and Isabella Caffey had 2 daughters and one son.  The eldest daughter was blind.  They were white.  None could write his own name (instead of signing a deed, they made a mark).  They lived on their land, probably on what is now Reinerman Street.  By March 1870, the Caffeys had sold 69 acres (36 ½ + 20 + 12 ½ = 69) off the north end of their 125 tract.  They then began to sell much smaller tracts.  Between 1870 and 1895 they sold the remainder of their land in more than 30 tracts in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.  Most of the purchasers were black.  In the appendix is a scale drawing showing these sales.  Each tract is numbered and on the following page you will find the reference(s) in the deed records to that tract.  Note how Buffalo Bayou runs north-south for about 800 feet close to the west line of the John Austin league.  The irregular line that runs into this north-south segment of the bayou is described in the deed records as a deep gully.  As it has now been largely filled it is difficult to know just where it was.  The construction of Memorial Drive and the development of condominiums along it have greatly altered property boundaries.  Further to the north, however, there is a significant correlation between modern boundaries and those in the drawing.

 

The people who bought the smaller tracts in the southern part of the Caffey tract were mostly black.  They lived on the land they had purchased.  The white purchasers did not live on their land.  The white purchasers were

 

  1. Heli F. Hurd, blacksmith.  He had a Carriage, Wagon, and Plow manufacturing shop on Commerce between San Jacinto and Caroline.  He lived at the corner of Franklin and Chenevert.  On February 3, 1881 he purchased 4 ½ acres from the Caffeys on the east side of their tract.  He also purchased a small lot near where the Caffeys lived in what is called in the Deed Records the Caffey Home Reserve.  The CHR was divided into 4 small lots.

  2. Henry F. Ring, the City Attorney.  He lived on Crawford between Bell and Leland.  On September 12, 1890, the Caffeys gave him 1 acre just south of the Hurd tract in payment for legal services.

  3. William J. Coulter, druggist and news dealer.  His drug store was at 200 Washington Ave., and he lived at 96 Center Street, between Henderson and Hemphill.  On February 4, 1890 he bought 2 discontiguous tracts of 1.77 acres and 2.47 acres.  Then on January 7, 1892 he bought a 1.74 acre tract joining the other two.

  4. Benjamin A. Riesner, blacksmith.  His shop was on Commerce between Travis and Milam.  He manufactured wagons and carriages and did general building and bridge work.  On September 13, 1892 he bought Coulter’s 3 tracts.  In 1893 he purchased 2 lots in the Caffey Home Reserve from the Caffeys.  In the same year he purchased the lot that H. F. Hurd had previously purchased there, and then on July 17, 1895, he purchased the remaining lot in the CHR from the Caffeys, who now owned no more of the tract their parents had bought 45 years earlier.  He had consolidated 7 parcels into one tract of about 6.9 acres.

  5. William Warnicke.  On July 27, 1888 he bought 3 ½ acres from the Caffey’s in the southeast corner of their tract between the north-south portion of Buffalo Bayou and the deep gully for $120.

 

On December 28, 1910 William Fuchs bought B. A. Riesner’s 6.9 acres for $3000 (261/339), and on February 28, 1912 he bought the Warnicke tract for $425 (285/138).  He now owned about 10 ½ acres.  We will say more about William Fuchs later.  We will also say more about the 5 ½ acres originally owned by H. F. Hurd and H. F. Ring, which to this day is largely undeveloped.

 

But now let us return to the roughly 30 black families who purchased a place to live from the Caffeys.  The first of these purchasers were Tony and Rachael Press, who on December 12, 1870 bought 1 acre in the northwest corner of the Caffey’s remaining land (9B/99).  The dimensions are unspecified.  In the deed it is said that the Caffeys own 80 acres, but out of the original 125 they had already sold 36 ½ + 20 + 12 ½ = 69 acres.  125 – 69 = 56.  St. Luke's Missionary Baptist Church founded in 1926 and located at 714 Detering is in part of the Press tract.  The Press’s were not, however, the first black family to live on the Caffey’s land.  On April 12, 1880 Phillis Neal received a deed for 2 acres, the dimensions of which are also unspecified (20/464).  The deed states that Mary Caroline Caffey “sold” the property to her 15 years earlier.  There are other examples where purchasers were already living on the land they purchased.  Phillis Neal’s tract is said to be bounded on the north by Beachy’s land and on the south and east by Caffey land.  I believe Beachy refers to John Booker.  Otherwise the ownership of the piece between John Booker and Jerry Smith is unaccounted for.  On February 3, 1873 the Caffeys sold 2 acres to Cornelius and Compey Goode for 20 silver dollars and the cutting of 20 cords of wood (11/713).  There is no indication whatever of where their land was, and there is no further mention of them.  I have no idea where the tract was or for how long they may have occupied it.  On July 18, 1871 Zack Bryan, fmc (free man of color), bought 3 acres north of the Washington Road and south of the Central Railroad to be surveyed later according to an agreement between the parties (10/78).  It is clear where his 3 acres wound up being located, but it was entirely south of the Washington Road.

 

The above cases are anomalies.  Generally the deeds from the Caffeys describe the dimensions of the property being conveyed and relate it all adjoining properties.  There is considerable redundancy.  A given property may be mentioned as an adjoining property in several different deeds, and later deeds often contain a recitation of the previous history of the property being conveyed.  It is therefore possible to construct a map like the one in the appendix with reasonable accuracy.  The deeds are entirely verbal; they never contain maps.  There are maps in the tax books in the office of the Tax Assessor-Collector, which appear to be about 80 years old and which may contain some historical information.  They are quite helpful.  They are not entirely consistent with the deed records.  For example, the deed from the Caffeys to Anthony Gomer for 1.3 acre (49/173) makes it clear that it adjoins George Parker’s property on the north side;  however, the tax maps indicate that it is somewhat south of there and that a small lot lies between the Parker tract and the Gomer tract.  I didn’t try to unravel that.  On November 7, 1881 Edward Rosco bought .92 acres intended to be used as a graveyard (24/231).  On March 18, 1886 the trustees of the M. E. Church bought ½ acre south of Rosco’s 1 acre and adjoining the large gully (39/192).  I was never able to figure out just where the church property was.  The gully was filled many years ago.  Vestiges of historical ownership vanished in that area when the Park Memorial Condos consolidated 4.8575 acres in 1981 (according to tax maps).  The irregular boundary between these condos and the smaller Hillside Condos to the east (1.406 acres, 1973) obviously follows the the old gully, now largely filled.  The head of the gully was just to the west of the bend in Chandler Street.  Rosco’s land was used as a cemetery.  By the 1940’s it was heavily overgrown with brush, and in a state of abandonment.  It is now under the Park Memorial Condos.  Are the bones still there?