Moving to Texas and Landing in the Houston Heights 1915 #Ancestry #VintagePhotography #AmericanDream
Updated: Oct 18, 2019
Deciding to scour back through the pile of pictures I have and gather the oldest ones as I begin to make sense of what is in front of me and the story it tells of a truly American family growing up over a centuries time in Texas, generation after generation maturing on film before my eyes, I have begun to recognize my long gone ancestors in each phase of their life thanks to my grandmother who stuffed them all in her photo albums with little notes telling me who is who. Thank you Thelma May Smith aka Minnie, it is duly noted.
The Smith Family enjoying the day on the banks of the San Jacinto River. The man pictured is my great great uncle Algie Smith, the brother of my Grandmother Thelma Smith Keatons' father Harold A. Smith, I love this picture and try to put myself there in 1917 sitting by the river having arrived from Kansas with what seemed like an endless amount of ideas and a pocket full of dreams. He was a watch maker and I assume he made pocket watches but I have no knowledge other than that he was a watch maker.
There are a few facts I know at the moment about my Uncle Algie and I expect to hear more as I start this off but what I do know is that he was a corn farmer that lived in Kansas with his brother, my great great grandfather on my fathers' side, and as the railroad came to Kansas they found business in Houston and Galveston so the entire immediate family loaded up "Beverly Hillbillies" style and headed to Allston St. in the Heights of Houston, Texas where they fell in love and began life anew.
Algie Smith fell in love with a Native American Princess and she was given a diamond ring with promise to marry, which I understand the ring is still in our family possession, but the Princess fell ill after eating a batch of honey that was tainted with botulism and did not survive the illness, we all know in the early 1900's it was not uncommon for that day and age for people to die from the simplest illness, as there were no antibiotics for anyone to take so people died from things we absolutely take for granted today. Doesn't make that any less tragic and I can assume the above picture was taken before he encountered this loss.
Another thing I heard the other day when my family was sitting and talking about our past family members is that Algie owned an oil-well in the fields around Houston, Texas and the oil-well exploded after hitting a natural gas pocket and he was on site when it blew, although he survived, he lost his hearing as well as his hopes for striking it rich on oil. Being a watchmaker and not being able to hear had to be a problem for him as you can imagine. Other than those few facts and my father who only knew him as an older man remembered him as being extremely angry and mean.
Seems like life handed him a few hard blows and as he is pictured above, all of that was yet to come. Here he sits at the banks of the San Jacinto River in 1916, where Texas fought for its independence and won, with a head full of hopes and dreams for the future moving from Hiawatha, Kansas to Houston, Texas in order to pursue what he would be a sure win, only to be met time after time with the exact opposite.
Dating this picture by the age of my grandmother who looks about 3 years old here and knowing she was born in 1912 we are looking at 1915 that this was taken. Day tripping with the family to fish on the banks of the river all gussied up and ready for the venture. You will begin to recognize Thelma as she is photographed throughout her entire life and these are just the beginnings of what is an amazing story of a woman that had the ultimate foresight to preserve this rich family history. I feel like she is talking to me through these pictures and I am listening, I am an open book and know that this heritage is to be treasured.
On the way to the oil fields with Uncle Algie and my grandma in tow as a little girl. If you count heads there are nine 9 people in the picture and the one that snapped the photograph itself in that car. I bet that was an uncomfortable ride to wherever they were going and stopping to eat a tray of preprepared sandwiches along the way because the car probably went 20 miles and hour down the road with all the extra weight.
Thelma May pictured here on the far right looking seriously at the lens, barefoot and having to stop to take a picture breaking from enjoying her playtime barefooted along the banks of the San Jacinto River in Houston, Texas in the early 1900's
Once in a lifetime snap of my grandmother as a child by the San Jacinto River fisihing
The above picture could not be more perfect, I am not exactly sure where on the San Jacinto River this was taken but there are a few landmarks and the old boat in the back is perfect. My grandma sure does have a big cane pole for such a little tike.
Mae Smith is the mother to Thelma May Smith, my grandmother. This old car is quite the whip and the little lantern things are crazy. My grandma was a bit hefty for the early 1900's, I'm not sure there was an over abundance of food and everyone else is pretty small as you will see from the other pictures. I think this is who I got the fat gene from. Maybe? Poor thing didn't live very long at all in her life. She had 3 children in quick succession and within weeks of giving birth to my great aunt Dorothy she died from pneumonia at the home, in the Houston Heights, on Allston Street, leaving my great grandfather to raise 3 small children alone.
I do not know much else about her, but I also haven't dug into everything I have found either. Such as, a book that was hers where she has put hand written notes all within the margins about the poetry inside, obviously learning and studying.
Mae would also write back to Kansas to her mother and father, the Gregg family using photographs that she would have made into a postcards. I'm writing a separate post about her writings back to Kansas.
Another fantastic picture taken of Thelma May by who I believe to be Mae, her mother as the photographer. She had a good eye getting part of the car and part of the horse drawn carriage. I wonder if she could have known all the classic beauty she had caught with that lens and then being the perfect snap to capture a place in time. Timeless.
As you follow this photographic journey with me you will recognize this driveway. This is the spot for about 100 years that our family would snap pictures together. Facing away from the house they lived in on Allston Street. The house next door pictured in the background will change a lot as we traverse forward. This is my great grandfather and uncle pictures with my grandmother Thelma sitting on the back grinning sweetly at her mama. I want to know what the camera looked like. Many people have lived in this one house from my family. I have been told as many as 20 people lived in the one bathroom house during the depression. Seems like a lot were in the house from the beginning.
In the early 1900's people dressed up quite a bit just to do nothing really. Seems like a lot of clothes considering how hot Houston is, must be winter. This is another picture taken in the driveway which includes other family members including Winifred Chase, who you will recognize as time goes on during this amazing timeline of a family's life.. She is the dark haired child being held by the man in the middle who I assume is Uncle Fred, her father. People call her Winnie or WooWoo and she was the one who lived in this house seeing all of these folks respectfully into their graves preserving their memory with picture and film alongside my grandmother. She loved knowing about who we were and where we came from.
My great grandmother Mae is holding a crying Harold Templeton Smith, with my grandma Thelma on the foot rail playing with a babydoll tucked between her mom and grandmothers.
Family home in Kansas
Thelma May Smith having her picture taken on Allston St. in the Houston Heights around 1918 the first shot facing the other direction down Allston Street heading towards Milroy Park. I have played hop scotch and jacks on this sidewalk as a child myself when I was about this age. Pretty surreal to see it here, almost haunting.
Thelma May Smith with her dog on the corn farm in Kansas
Thelma May Smith smoking a pipe in her farmer outfit.
Grandmother and Grandfather Gregg, Thelma and Harold T. Smith
Vintage farm equipment used to bail hay I believe.
My family on the San Jacinto River footbridge that is no longer standing
Mae with Thelma May in 1912
Posing with a donkey in 1912 Kansas