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.

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.

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.


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?