The house in Austin: mystery solved

You may remember that I was a little obsessed with this house in Austin, where the Jameson family lived at the turn of the century:I knew that it wasn’t standing anymore but aside from another old photo which I’d found at the Austin History Center’s website, I couldn’t find out a thing about it. The history center has a number of historic building files and lets you search their archives by street address, but nothing came up for 1108 Colorado Street. There was a file, though, for 1104 Colorado, but the contents weren’t online. I was beginning to suspect that it was the file I was looking for, and when I finally emailed a librarian at the history center and showed him the old photo, he explained that at some point, a few years after my great-great grandparents moved out, the house had been moved down the block on logs.

I ordered photocopies of the house file contents, which included photos and ownership records. Sadly, there are no photos showing the actual house-moving, because how awesome would that have looked? But there was a copy of the photo above, showing the Jamesons, with their names listed on the reverse and everything. And then photos of the house at different angles:

Not sure when the above photo was taken, or whether the house was in its original or moved location (moved, I think). The diagram below seems to indicate that the one-story wing on the back was added later. Does that mean the house originally had just two big rooms on the first floor, and two on the second? What was it like when the Jamesons lived there?

(The little drawings of the bannister finial and the light fixture are a nice touch.)

The house, built in 1852, has come to be known as the Haynie-Cook House. Dr. Samuel Garner Haynie, who had been the mayor of Austin in 1850 and 1851 (and again  in ’63 and ’64), commissioned Abner Cook, a prominent Texas architect who worked on the interior of the 1852-3 state capitol and later built the Texas Governor’s Mansion, to build a residence on some land he owned across from the Capitol grounds.

Prior to that, Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston had lived on the property, in a cottage Haynie had built around 1850. It’s possible he also lived for a short time in this new house Cook was building, as Joe Lee Jameson believed, even though it was being built for Haynie. Confused? I know I am. Suffice it to say Albert Sidney Johnston had at least been around.

The place cost between $7500 and $9000 to build, making it one of the most expensive houses in Austin. It turns out the Haynie family lived in the house for only a short time—if at all—before selling it to Abner Cook due to financial difficulties. So Cook moved into the house that he’d built and lived there with his family the rest of his life, with his widow remaining there until 1885. After that, the house was bought by another former Austin mayor, Leander Brown.

From there the ownership records get a little murky because they refer to lots, not house addresses—all I can tell is that the place passed through the hands of a few more people, described in the historical summary as real estate banker types, who may or may not have lived there. The occupancy record, compiled from old Austin directories, doesn’t list the Jameson family at all, although it shows a window of time from 1897 to 1902 in which “Not Sansom or Nalle” lived there—Sansoms being the residents previous to 1897, and Nalle as the owner in 1903. This corresponds roughly to when the Jamesons lived there. So while my great-great-grandparents appear by name in the oldest photo of the house in the history file, they never owned the place, and for some reason their residency was never reflected in the city directory.

I have a theory as to how the Jamesons wound up living there.  I can’t help but wonder if the house was something of a white elephant throughout its existence, starting with the original owner who couldn’t afford the place. Certainly it was considered an important house, but by the end of the 1800s, nearly fifty years after it had been built, would it have been considered outdated, perhaps difficult to heat, an impressive but impractical showplace? The well-to-do in Austin could build fashionable Victorians with more modern features (like kitchens and servants’ rooms, instead of outbuildings dating back to the slavery era), and the Haynie-Cook house may not have been able to serve the needs of an established wealthy family. But for the small family of a rising young bureaucrat who had been an aide in the newly elected governor’s campaign, and who had recently relocated from staff quarters in an asylum downstate, the house could have been a step up, and no doubt the location across from the Capitol building would have suited them well. Whoever owned the house at the time would have likely had influential connections to Texas politics; giving Joe Lee Jameson and his family the opportunity to live there could have been a reward for service and loyalty to the current administration. Perhaps also the Jamesons, or whoever arranged for them to live there, were doing the owners a favor by keeping the place occupied and maintained. In the letter Joe Lee wrote about the house, he seems to be proud of the history of the place but there’s no indication that any of it belongs to him.

About a decade after the family vacated the house (moving to Beaumont), the house was moved down the block by a new owner, and the owner’s sister, Fanny Andrews (aka “Miss Fanny”) opened a gift store on the first floor called “Ye Qualitye Shoppe” and then eventually moved in upstairs.

Miss Fanny (or is it Miss Fannye?) seemed to be a fixture in Austin—a longtime resident and one of the first women to attend UT.  She even had her own biography, a booklet of interviews she gave to a local historian in the late fifties, and I found a used copy for cheap in hopes that it would have another picture of the house. Sure enough, there was this photo from the 50s:

By this time the house had clearly seen better days. By Miss Fanny’s account, the place wasn’t in such great shape either back around 1910, after her brother had bought the house because “it was too good a house to waste” and moved it down the block to the lot he owned. “The house was terrible,” she was quoted as saying in her biography. “The colors in the house were terrible. One bedroom was red, one green, the west bathroom was red.” Miss Fanny fixed up the place and then opened the shop, which she ran for more than forty years until it closed in 1953. The house was demolished the same year as part of developments to the Capitol area.

Today the Westgate Tower at 1122 Colorado, completed in 1966, stands in its place.

I visited Austin this past April and one of the first things I did was to visit the historical marker for the house that stands in front of the building:

Despite all the development, I could still see the land ridge that ran beneath the whole block. And when I turned around and looked across the street, I could see what the view must have been from the front porch of the house at the time the Jamesons lived there. Except for the trees, it wouldn’t have been much different—the Capitol and the surrounding grounds.

For extra credit web fun:

This has been the deepest historical research I’ve done so far on a family history topic. It started with that one photo, and I suppose that image represents an anchor for me, a point in time that makes me want to find out more about everything that led up to it and everything that came after. That photo was meant to convey that the family had arrived; I have to wonder what it—and the house—meant to them after tragedy struck there not long afterwards. It’s one of those things I guess I’ll never know.

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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.

The first mystery: THAT HOUSE

You know how you when you’re growing up you’d hear things about your family from the older folks and you couldn’t make any sense of it all? There’d be some story about these Great-Grand Whoevers and you had no idea who they were, because of course you were a kid and you had no perspective. I knew Grandpa Mac’s family was from Texas, and if my grandmother’s stories were to be believed—and often they weren’t, because she was crazy and kind of awful— that side of the family once lived in the Texas governor’s mansion. Or something like that.

Grandpa Mac, my maternal grandfather, died in 1997. His wife, who we called Grandma Steve, died in 2002. When we cleaned out their house, reams of letters and photos and family albums were collected in some file boxes and a military footlocker trunk. My parents put the stuff into storage, first at one house and then another, meaning to go through it all eventually.

Years passed. My mother died in 2007. Then, during Christmas 2011, while visiting my dad and my aunt (my mom’s sister) in Albuquerque, we opened up the trunk and the boxes. And among all the old photos and letters, we found this photo:

(You can click to enlarge.) Among the first things we found out about this place is that it was just down the street from the governor’s mansion, and it was built by the same architect. So it wasn’t the governor’s mansion, but indeed “something like that.”

Pasted on the back of the photo is a typed, mimeographed letter, dated June 15, 1899, that tells us so much and not nearly enough. The letter is from my great-great grandfather, Joe Lee Jameson, who tells us who the people (and animals) are in the photo: To the left, “Black Joe” holds the saddle pony, “Duke;” “Bessie” is harnessed to the phaeton. The little boy at the far right, Joe Lee says, is “Master Malcolm Jameson”  “looking pleasant at the photographer.” The girl sitting with the housemaid on the veranda is Malcolm’s little sister, Vida, and to the right stand my great-great grandparents, Joe Lee and Amaryllis Routh Jameson. The letter mentions the servants’ building, the latticed cistern house, the way the elm trunks “are clothed with a rare variety of English Ivy.”

Or course, there’s plenty the letter doesn’t tell us. Is this house still standing? Did the family actually own it? Why don’t we live there now? What happened to us?