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History in Oil - Bassett & Bassett Banking House- Brenham, Texas

Updated: May 2, 2021

The Banking House of Bassett & Bassett historical marker reads as follows; "Benjamin H. and Thomas J. Bassett opened their newly-created bank and located their law office in this building soon after its completion in 1876. Built with bricks manufactured by the local Wild & Co. Brickyard, the Italianate structure housed the bank until it closed in 1884. An important Brenham landmark, the building features round arches and stucco hood moldings at door and window openings. The third story was added in the early 1900s."

In the late 1960s when then owners Don and Celia LaRoe were residents of the building I was told by their daughter that city inspectors would come by often trying to condemn the building as it was set for demolition when they moved in, and after almost a year with many "inspections" in an attempt to deem the structure unsafe, Mr. LaRoe kindly told them to buzz off because it was his building and he could do as he wished, so they did.

Thanks to the LaRoe family this building is standing today. I can only imagine being in their shoes living in this place during that time and standing your ground on something that was probably a financial burden and what most likely seemed a money pit, but they did it, and as they renovated the Bassett House they lived upstairs on the second floor so Celia had the Bassett painted and opened a little shop on Main Street called "The Treasure House" located on the bottom floor, according to their daughter Lesley who remembers her stay in the Bassett House fondly.

She told me about how she loved rollerskating in the bright open spaces of the third-floor ballroom, (which was an addition to the original building), to be a resident within the square boundaries which at that time was probably few and far between. I bet she spent plenty of time watching movies at The Simon Theatre which is a few blocks down from the courthouse, I wonder what stores were open then? Perry's? Toubin? Navratil's? Living on the multiple levels with the broken birdcage elevator and, of course, the still existing fireproof vault built around a burglar-proof safe, so that the safe could not be removed without injury to the vault, and in 2019 it is a feature to the building used as a selling point. I know that was a lot of fun and seems like a great memory to have. Thank you Leslie for sharing a moment in time with me about this place that I have taken a left at a million times while traveling through town and can't imagine if it had been demolished.

The building has been saved from destruction several times over the years and in the 1980's it was added to the list of historical places and renovated back to its original state with the hardwood floors and bead-board ceilings with the guidance of the Boettcher family over the course of decades seeing to it that the building remain a cornerstone to our downtown, and proudly it sits.

Who are the Bassett? Benjamin Harrison Bassett was born the year 1831 at a home in St. Mary's Parish, Louisiana and his brother Thomas Jefferson Bassett also be his lifelong business partner, came along two years later in life. Both of these men would fight against adversity coming from a very poor family they both persevered and pushed to be more than steamboat operators, Ben had dreams of more and began college. Attending St. Charles, New Haven, and Yale with a degree in law. His younger brother was right on his heels and together traveling to Brenham, Texas so they could open a law practice and they did so until the war called which then paused their business plans.

They both served in the military during the Civil War and it is written that as the war ended, Ben, who was a Captain in rank at the time and who had barely escaped death and great injury, would drop his uniform and put on his civilian clothes entering back into society a changed person. I found this quote about him and linked it "When the dark clouds of civil strife had finally passed away and the glorious beams of peace and goodwill began to light up the pathway of humanity, then it was that Capt. Bassett doffed the insignia of war, substituting the plain dress of the citizen, and returned to his quiet and peaceful home at Brenham."

At the end of the war, the men would come back to continue with their law practice and with a partner would write many law books that are used today. The two brothers splitting their efforts opened a banking house together at the same location and in 1870 it was erected where it stands, first a wooden structure then in 1876 they built the two-story brick building. The bank was fitted with counters, railings and a vault for the downstairs banking use, and the upstairs was made into the law offices of Sayles & Bassett. The bank remained until 1886 when Jefferson passed away.

I was reading a Supreme Court decision about this building at the time of his death where the plaintiffs were trying to take the building and gladly they were not successful. Another close call.

The third floor being added some years later in 1907 as a cotton grading room for a cotton brokerage firm adding the skylight to help aid in seeing the strands in the cotton fibers with the light of the sun. This building was built on top of one of the cisterns installed after the burning of Brenham in 1869. Still boasts about being there today.

Another fact that is not very well known about the two brothers is that they donated lots of land in Brenham where St. Mary's Catholic Church was built and I am looking for the link again and will post when I find it I will update the blog because I found on another place where they were nowhere mentioned having donated the property. I lose track of all the sites I am scouring through.

After the death of Jefferson Bassett who died at home after suffering from insomnia for 6 months, the bank went under and his brother Ben went on to another practice with his family moving to Dallas where he began the law firm Bassett, Muse & Muse and then on to Austin having been appointed to one of the chairs of law at the University of Texas and this is written on the Bassett family page "He went at once to Austin, to begin his duties, but upon his arrival fell and broke an arm on the hotel stairs. He was out-of-doors again in a few days, but blood-poisoning set in, and his death followed on July 16, in his 63d year."

The two seemed to be better lawyers than bankers in the end and both fought to stay alive through the war, but will be remembered by the little spot of downtown they purchased so many years ago and a little research.

#vintage #birdcageelevator #Bassett

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