A little more about the Southwestern Insane Asylum

First, another fun tidbit from Google Books, from a 1916 publication called
The Institutional Care of the Insane in the United States and Canada, Volume 3:

It does sound very well-intentioned. A “delightful resting place”! Terrazzo floors!  And notice Dr. MacGregor’s tenure in the list of superintendents.

I hope when I go back through the family files I can find out more about the MacGregors’ and Jamesons’ experiences living on the asylum grounds, especially from the standpoint of the children—if they indeed lived there: other than Amaryllis’s note, which only mentions the adults living there, I have no evidence either way. You’d think that if your earliest childhood memories were of living at an insane asylum, you’d mention it once in a while. Then again, if during its first ten years of operation the facility lived up to the pastoral nineteenth-century philosophies about asylums, maybe the overall experience was just pleasantly unremarkable.

Here’s an interesting Oliver Sacks piece about the early asylums:

These first state hospitals were often palatial buildings, with high ceilings, lofty windows, and spacious grounds, providing abundant light, space, and fresh air, along with exercise and a varied diet. Most asylums were largely self-supporting and grew or raised most of their own food. Patients would work in the fields and dairies, work being considered a central form of therapy for them, as well as supporting the hospital. Community and companionship, too, were central—indeed vital—for patients who would otherwise be isolated in their own mental worlds, driven by their obsessions or hallucinations. Also crucial was the recognition and acceptance of their insanity by the staff and other inmates around them.

There’s also a great photo and blog entry about Southwestern here, and an unusual 1909 photo here.

The asylum eventually became the San Antonio State Hospital, which still operates today at the same location, though the original hospital buildings have been replaced with newer structures. Don’t fall for the claims that it’s now a creepy haunted ruin. The decrepit buildings in those pictures (and on YouTube, and countless message boards) are from the Bexar County Home for the Aged, a poorhouse which opened in 1915 and later included a boys’ home and TB sanitarium. At some point after the property was abandoned there developed an urban myth that the place was the old Southwestern Insane Asylum, because who doesn’t love the idea of a deserted haunted loony bin?  Some write-ups of the site actually borrow facts from the state hospital’s history, but of course they’re bullshit. I will admit to getting just a little excited at the thought that my great-great grandparents’ old stomping ground was a PARANORMAL HOT SPOT BOOoooOOOOOooo but then I figured out the real story.

House Jameson on Dark Shadows

I know I’ve been spending a lot of time hanging around the year 1900 on this blog, but let’s jump up to 1967 for a minute, okay? Because with the Dark Shadows movie coming out this week and the mention of the original series on Mad Men, this seems a good time to put up screen-grabs of my great-great uncle’s stint on that crazy gothic soap opera.

That’s him in the middle, with the white hair.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that House Jameson was the youngest son of Joe Lee Jameson and Amaryllis Routh, and if you’re in my family, you know that House was an actor with a long career in stage, screen, and radio. Here is his IMDB page with all his TV and movie appearances.

He appeared in two episodes of Dark Shadows as a judge who comes to the house to officiate Elizabeth Collins Stoddard’s wedding to some guy who is blackmailing her because she thinks she killed her first husband. Below is House with Elizabeth’s daughter Carolyn, who is packing a pistol in her clutch handbag so she can shoot the groom.

Finally Elizabeth breaks down during the ceremony and confesses to killing her first husband. Sadly the vampire never shows up. House is great, though. The show is on Netflix streaming and you can watch his scenes in Episodes 269 and 270.

Okay, now I’m going to time-travel back to an earlier century to find out more family secrets. (Didn’t they also do that on Dark Shadows?)

Joe Lee Jameson and the adding machine

Fellow descendants! Did you know our ancestor Joe Lee endorsed an adding machine in advertisements that appeared all over the country?

It’s true. Joe Lee loved the Locke Adder so much that he was moved to write an unsolicited letter to the manufacturers in Kensett, Iowa. Or maybe he didn’t love the Locke Adder but he wanted to help out an old friend, or else one of his government buddies helped him land an endorsement deal (I know, as if State Revenue Agent of Texas job was like being Brett Favre). We’ll probably never know what the circumstances were. We know only what he wrote:

When one cannot afford to pay several hundred dollars for an adding machine, the Locke Adder is a most satisfactory substitute.

It is a valuable aid to the busy accountant, and as this useful machine can be had for only $5.00, one should be in every business office.

Very respectfully, JOE LEE JAMESON (State Revenue Agent).

All that and a free descriptive booklet. He couldn’t have known that these would turn out to be his most immortal words. When I searched on Joe Lee’s name in Google Books, I wondered at first why so many of the results were in magazines like Pearson’s and Lippincott’s and Cosmopolitan—it was because they ran the ads that used his name.


According to the online articles I’ve read about the Locke Adder, it was a sort of miniature abscus, and though it was a very stylish-looking device, it wasn’t terribly user-friendly. I am definitely impressed with Joe Lee’s apparent ability to decipher the mind-boggling free descriptive booklet.

By all accounts the Locke Adder owed much of its success to its extensive marketing. I hope Joe Lee got his five dollars’ worth. Certainly it bought him, in the back pages of all these old magazines, a strange kind of afterlife…

Why they moved to Beaumont

Remember when I mentioned my great-great-grandfather Joe Lee’s decision to leave his nice government job to work for the Beaumont Confederated Oil and Pipeline Company in early 1902?  Remember when I wondered why? HA. That’s before I’d Googled “Beaumont” and “oil” and found out that fourteen months before Joe Lee resigned in Austin, the MOTHER GUSHER OF THE TEXAS OIL BOOM had busted out of a hill near Beaumont. No big deal, it was only the birth of the modern oil industry.

Spindletop! (Photo from Wikipedia.)

In January 1901, a team of prospectors, acting only on a hunch, had been drilling through a salt dome known as Spindletop Hill. On January 10th, after they had drilled to a depth of more than a thousand feet, an unknown force shot the drill pipe out of the ground, followed by a geyser of oil like nothing the world had ever seen. It shot over 150 feet into the air and initially produced over 100,000 barrels of oil a day. Previous oil wells drilled in Texas yielded a few hundred barrels a day at most; at the time, the most productive oil fields were in Pennsylvania. Spindletop, though, was producing more oil than all the other wells in the country combined.

Clearly this was huge. The event attracted reporters, excursion trains full of tourists, and, of course, hundreds of prospectors and companies looking to get in on the action. I have to assume Joe Lee Jameson wanted in, too. Beaumont’s population grew fivefold within a year, and by 1902 more than two hundred oil companies were drilling on Spindletop Hill.

I found a list of some of these companies in a 1902 industry journal on Google Books. The company Joe Lee went to work for, Beaumont Confederated Oil and Pipeline, is listed as having two million in capital. Later he would work for the J.M. Guffey Company, which had financed the original drilling and was by far the biggest player on Spindletop Hill. (Eventually it became Gulf Oil). Notice how Guffey has sixteen wells in the list below. I love the names of some of these tiny one-well operations, though: Knickerbocker Oil and Refining Company, Queen of Waco Oil Company, and my favorite, Young Ladies’ Oil Company. I wonder how they made out.

By 1902 Joe Lee had moved the family to Beaumont, where they lived at 1479 Hazel Avenue.

Obviously part of my family history research is devoted to finding out why we didn’t become one of those rich sexy Texas oil families like the ones in Dallas and Written on the Wind.

If you want to see more, there’s a great photo gallery of the Spindletop boom days at the Beaumont Enterprise website.

Dr. and Mrs. MacGregor

Their names came up in the last entry, so it seems like as good a time as any to introduce my other set of great-great grandparents, the MacGregors. So let’s meet these crazy kids!

William Wallace MacGregor was born in 1851, in either New York state or New Jersey.  Anna Jones was born in Texas in 1862. I find myself wanting to double-check these birthdates—there’s quite an age gap between these folks and the Jameson great-greats. Then again, the back of Dr. MacGregor’s photo says it’s from 1886, and he does look like a 35-year-old there. Anna’s photo is probably from the early 1900s.

W. W. MacGregor was a doctor, and, I think, the son of a Scottish or Scotch-Irish immigrant. As for Anna, she seems to have attended college—we found a notebook of hers from Wellesley—and it’s through her that the family line can be traced back to the 1600s.

(Forgive the vague details: we have more information on these folks in some boxes in Albuquerque, and I’ll add/correct things when I get a chance.)

The MacGregors lived in Laredo, Texas, during the early 1900s. They had five daughters. You’ll meet them in a bit.

Fond Memories of the Southwestern Insane Asylum

You’ll remember from the last post that Joe Lee’s resume included a stint as bookkeeper and steward at the Southwestern Insane Asylum in San Antonio in the 1890s. For some of that time he worked under the administration of Dr. William Wallace MacGregor, who took the role of superintendent in 1896. This was nearly twenty years before Joe Lee’s oldest son, Malcolm, would marry one of Dr. MacGregor’s daughters, Mary. In the intervening years, both families moved several times around southern Texas, and I have to wonder if they remained acquainted all that time, but perhaps they really bonded during the time they lived together in the insane asylum.

That’s right, they lived in the insane aslyum. This one here:

I don’t know if any of the family are in this picture. Someone took the time to pencil the name of the place on the back and you’d think he/or she would also mention any known people in the photo. I think it’s possible that Joe Lee is in the group standing off to the left (maybe the guy holding his hat?), and I suppose one of the whiskered gents could be Dr. MacGregor, though I’m less familiar with how he looks to be able to recognize him at this distance.

None of the children shown appear to be quite the right age/sex for the Jameson or MacGregor kids in the 1890s—if this photo is even from that decade. The buildings and grounds look pretty new, which makes me think it was taken not long after the asylum opened in 1892. There are a couple of infants in the picture, and if this was the early 1890s, Malcolm or Vida could be one of those, but who knows; it’s only a guess.

I do find it a little hard to imagine how the children lived there, especially in the case of the MacGregors, because by 1896, when Dr. MacG. became superintendent, there were already four girls in the family. But according to this page about the institution’s history, the asylum “was a self-contained living environment. Crops and livestock were raised on the grounds… A large lake provided fishing and recreational activities for the patients. All staff members lived on the grounds and had to obtain permission to leave.”

So I suppose the children were there, and from the above it doesn’t sound like it was the worst place for a few families to live. It was considered a state-of-the art facility at the time, built in the stately architectural style that reflected 19th-century ideals about asylums.

We found the postcard above wrapped in a note in Amaryllis Jameson’s handwriting:

The center part in picture is the administration building—on second floor to right as you look at it was the apartment of Dr. and Mrs. MacGregor. They had a suite of several rooms. On the third floor on left side front was our suite of two large rooms and bath. The officers dining room was on second floor back where we all ate—the kitchen in basement. On first floor was the large recreation room and Joe Lee and (I) learned to dance there by french harp music—we all had some good times there.

The two wings were patient wards—the females to right—males left.

Whether or not my great-grandparents met as children at the Southwestern Insane Asylum is a Question Worth Investigating. But if there’s one thing we do know, it’s that my great-great grandparents learned to dance there.

The right hand of the right hand: Joe Lee Jameson

Joe Lee Jameson, around 1900. (We have a better copy of this photo but I haven’t scanned it yet.)

I really should call this “Things you can find out about Joe Lee Jameson using the Google Books search feature.” Google Books is pretty handy for identifying books that briefly  mention people. Some of the books allow only a few pages or snippets to be viewed online, but at least it gives me a sense of books that may be worth tracking down at the library. There’s also some full-access content as well, much of it older ephemera, and there’s a fun feature where you can embed selections on a web page (like this blog) that allow you to click back through to Google Books to see the source.

And thus I am able to bring you this informative and somewhat grandiose profile of Joe Lee Jameson, taken from the Year Book For Texas, 1901, a sort of state annual report and Who’s Who of Texas officials:

It’s a helpful overview of his professional career, from deputy county clerk to bookkeeper of Southwestern Insane Asylum, secretary for Joseph Sayer’s gubernatorial campaign and then the Texas Democratic Committee, and then, by 1899, state revenue agent.

(That bit about his ancestry, on the other hand, is pretty hilarious. I’m fairly certain the claim about Jehu Reece Jameson being the lone survivor of the 1835 Dade Massacre is bullshit, since his name doesn’t come up in any historical accounts of the battle and he would have been 41 at the time. But this is for another post.)

What the Year Book profile doesn’t mention is Joe Lee’s relationship to Edward M. House, a wealthy Texas businessman turned political kingmaker who was instrumental in the election of several Texas governors, including Sayers, and who became a diplomat and highly influential advisor to President Wilson. The 2006 book Woodrow Wilson’s Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House, by Godfrey Hodgson, has a couple of brief mentions of Joe Lee as an aide to Colonel House, including this bit in the footnotes:

Jameson worked as an aide for Governors Sayers and Lanham. More completely than the other members of “our crowd” he was a creature of House; in a letter to [former Texas governor] Culberson after Jameson’s death, House wrote: “He was my political right hand. I had him trained for so many years that he knew exactly what I wanted without telling him and he had the political instinct which made him absolutely invaluable.”

It certainly makes sense, then, that when Joe Lee’s youngest son was born in 1902, he named the child House Jameson in honor of his mentor—or, as Hodgson believes, his maker.

The letter referenced above was written in May 1904, shortly after Joe Lee died of typhoid fever at the age of thirty-four. Considering who he knew and how he was regarded (both on and off the record), it’s fascinating to think about what kind of career he could have had, and how the family’s life might have been different if he’d lived.

You’ll notice that the Year Book profile ends with a citation number. Here is the footnote:

Mr. Jameson resigned March 1 1902 to accept the position of general sales agent of the Beaumont Confederated Oil and Pipe Line Company, and was succeeded on that day by Judge J.D. Cunningham, of Kaufman county, appointed by Governor Sayers to fill the vacancy.  Mr.  Jameson’s resignation was tendered a month or more prior to March 1 but at the request of the Governor he continued to discharge the duties of State Revenue Agent until work in hand was completed His headquarters are in Austin.

So, with his “step by step” rise well under way, Joe Lee left his government job to work for an oil company. Interesting, yes? I wonder how his political involvement related to his move to the private sector—was he moving towards politics, or away?

What happened in that house

Amaryllis Routh Jameson kept meticulous scrapbooks full of news items about her family and friends. Since her husband was heavily involved in Texas business and politics, there was no shortage of clippings. And, as it turned out, no shortage of dramatic news:

This ran in the Austin paper (which was then the Democratic Statesman I think?), sometime around May 1899:

This morning little Vida, the 5-year-old daughter of Mr. Joe Lee Jameson, residing at 1108 Colorado street, while leaning over the banister at the head of a stairway, lost her balance and fell about nineteen feet to the floor of the hallway below. She struck head first, but fortunately alighted upon a rug, which to some extent broke the force of the fall…. while the little girl has not recovered from the shock, it is not believed that her injuries are of a serious nature. It was a miraculous escape from death.

When you look at the photo of that house, you can see from the windows how high the ceilings were and visualize those nineteen feet. (Interesting to think that the photo must have been taken not too long after the incident, too.)

A miraculous escape, but then, just below that clipping, others are pasted, with the penciled-in caption “Eighteen months later.”  Eighteen months later, on Thursday, November 15, 1900…

Vida, the 7-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Lee Jameson, died suddenly yesterday at the family home…. Death was due to an attack of meningitis. Vida was apparently well until last Sunday evening, when she became ill. She was the pride of the family circle and by her affectionate and gentle disposition had won the hearts of not only her bereaved parents, but all those with whom she came in contact….

Meningitis is sometimes caused by a traumatic injury to the head or spine. Since it doesn’t sound like Vida’s case was a contagious one, it seems possible she developed the infection as a result of her accident. While going through the family files, we found photos of Vida with annotations by my grandmother saying she had “died from a fall,” so perhaps the family felt the events were linked.

More clippings:

This interesting child was the light of the family circle… her attractive ways and affectionate disposition won many hearts. Everyone deeply sympathizes with the afflicted parents.

I cropped this portrait from the family photos in this post.

An interesting child: Vida Jameson 1893-1900

News items ran in other Texas papers where the Rouths and Jamesons had family. The governor’s wife attended the funeral (and presumably, Governor Sayers as well).

And Vida’s brother Malcolm contributed a few lines as well:

Dear Aunt Ruth: I will be 9 years old next month.

I only had one little sister. Her name was Vida. She was 7. She died last Thursday. I am so sad. Her schoolmates and lots of people sent flowers. Her grave was all covered wtih them. Mrs. Sayers twined ropes of violets around the little white casket.

Good-bye.

Malcolm would name his only daughter Vida. He eventually became a writer. (Was this his first published effort?)

Vida’s death was one of several trials the family would experience in the 1900s. Here is her memorial on Find A Grave.

More about the house

Here’s the letter pasted on the reverse side of that Austin house photo. Dig that letterhead, huh? The letter tells us a lot about who Joe Lee was: State Revenue Agent of Texas, crony of Governor Sayers, family man, and… connoisseur of foliage, apparently.

And yet  it didn’t tell me much that could help me find out what happened to the house. From Ammie’s scrapbooks we figured out that its address was 1108 Colorado Street, which, according to Google maps (see link) is right across from the State Capitol. And we could see on the map’s street view feature that the house was no longer there. But it had been an important house, right? What happened to it? There had to be the history of it somewhere, or at least another picture.

I spent a whole afternoon online trying to follow the clues in the letter, looking up places where Albert Sidney Johnson (ahem, Johnston) had lived, and later, Joseph Sayers. I had no luck, and much later I would figure out that Joe Lee got some of his facts wrong.

One day, though, I was going through an online photo archive on the Austin History Center’s website, and I found this image—a glass-plate stereoscopic photo of the view from the Governor’s Mansion. I knew the house was in the same neighborhood, so I peered in as close as I could. Sure enough, there, off in the distance, was the house.

The photo description said the view was of the “Cook house and quality shop, 1104 Colorado,” which made no sense to me. It wasn’t even the right address. But eventually I figured it all out. You’ll see.