27 September 1911: 1. Levy Brothers Dry Goods store, founded by Abraham Levy (1859-1924), 3 floors and a basement, once the home of 400 employees (including Jules Wolf, See LINK Paul Building, another in this series) considered to be the largest mercantile establishment in the South, 1904, 309-319 Main; 2. The Fox Building, with Rouse Drugs on the first floor, professional on upper floors: dentists, physicians, attorneys, real estate agents, surveyors and a blue print company; 2b. The iconic Sweeney Clock in front of J. J. Sweeney & Co. jewelry store at 414 Main corner of Prairie; 3. The Scanlan Building, 1909, 11 floors, built in memory for their father, T. H. Scanlan, by his daughters, designed by iconic Chicago architect, Daniel H. Burnham: offices of professionals, including medical practitioners on the 5th and 6th floors, Houston Home Telephone Company on the 7th floor, the estate of T. H. Scanlan and Gulf Pipeline company and Gulf Refining Company on the 8thfloor, Dow, Albrecht & Scanlan, attorneys for the estate of T. W. House, onetime mayor of Houston and the richest man in 19th century Houston, and the William M. Rice Institute for the advancement of Literature, Science and Art, a prototype organization formed in 1891 by Rice and others to initiate a first-class educational enterprise for Houston; 4. The Binz Building, the most desired commercial building in Houston of the era, 6 floors, 1895; 5. Rice Hotel, 1883 (demolished in 1911); 6.a rooftop billboard; 7. Jerry L. Mitchell, jeweler and Hutchinson & Mitchell, clothing store at 402 Main; 8. Kiam Building, a clothing and shoe store at 312-320 Main, 5 floors, 1893; Sweeney Loan Company at 310 Main with YWCA central rooms on upper floors, and Sakowitz Brothers at 308 Main. [For a view in the opposite direction see Main Preston – Kunc]
10 July 2004: The Sweeney Clock sat in front of the J. J. Sweeney & Co. Jewelry Store until 1928, then to the Farmer’s Market before being placed in storage; from 1968 it has greeted motorists on the downtown end of Memorial Drive where Capitol and Rusk converge near Little Tranquility Park. 1. Harris County Administration Building, 10 floors, 1978; 2. Scanlan Building, 1909, 11 floors; 3. The Binz Building, 13 floors, 1982; 4. Houston Metro Preston northbound train stop; 5. Gulf Building (712 Main), 36 floors, 1929 6. Rice Hotel (The Rice), 17 floors (18th added in 1951), 1912; 7.State National Bank Building (Moxy Hotel), 12 floors, 1924; 8. Citizens National Bank Building (Public National Bank Building, 402 Main), 9 floors, 1925; 9. Kiam Building 5 floors, 1893.
Postmarked: 27 September 1911; Houston, Tex.
To: Mr. Walter D. Root
R. F. D. 6,
Birmingham, Ala. Box 77
Message: Dear Walter:-
Here I am way away from where I was three weeks ago. You would not have known us if you had been in New Orleans when we got there. We were so black and dirty. Have been cleaning house ever since we came home. Well give your mother and father my love. Lots for you
Lovingly your cousin Laura.
The surname Root was not unknown in East Texas, and at least two prominent families named Root unrelated to the recipient of this postcard are to this day celebrated in Houston. Root Square is a park opposite Toyota Center, named in memory of the family of Alexander Porter Root (1849-1908) and Laura Shepherd (1844-1912). Laura was the daughter of Benjamin Armistead Shepherd (1814-1891), an early banker and confident of Sam Houston and William Marsh Rice, namesake of Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. In 1867 Shepherd bought out Thomas M. Bagby to join with his private bank to comprise the First National Bank, probably the leading charter bank in Houston in the last half of the 19th century. Alexander Porter Root succeeded his father-in-law at the helm of the bank and built a fine house in 1893 occupying an entire block bordered by Clay, Austin, Bell, and LaBranch [See Houston’s Forgotten Heritage, p. 131]. A. P. Root died in 1908, his widow Laura in 1912 and in 1922 the heirs gave the block to the city of Houston for a park. The house was demolished in 1925, leaving a park space with a few oaks that still stand across the street from Toyota Center, home of the Houston Rockets basketball team.
The other notable Root Family connection to Houston is Brown & Root, now KBR (formerly Kellogg, Brown and Root) whose headquarters have long been in Houston. Herman Brown (1892-1962), his brother George Rufus Brown (1898-1983), and their brother-in-law, Daniel Easley Root (1890-1929), businessmen from East Texas were the company’s founders. Daniel’s mother was South Carolina Easley from an east Texas family, and his father James Leper Root from Missouri, a family with no known connection to the Root family from Birmingham. Dan had attended Southwestern University in Georgetown in 1909-1910, and turned his attention to cotton farming. His sister Margaret married Herman Brown and in 1919 Dan advanced the capital for the construction firm. Herman and George R. Brown were the primary operators of the firm as Dan was not have in the best of health. In 1918 on his draft registration Root listed himself as a “cripple” without specifying the nature of that disability. In 1929 he died in St. Joseph Infirmary in Houston of cancer of the colon and intestinal obstruction, and is buried in Odd Fellow’s Cemetery in Georgetown, Williamson County, TX. He was a single man without children but his legacy continues to live on in Brown & Root and KBR.
Laura was 18 years old when she sent this postcard to her younger cousin Walter, then not quite 12. She was born in Birmingham in 1893, but before she was three, her father John W. Bray moved to Houston. Laura Alabama’s mother, Irma Virginia Root, and her brother, Charles Harris Root, Walter’s father, kept in touch, and the Houston branch of the family would return to Birmingham to visit relations, especially the grandparents, William Duane Root and Laura Alabama Tatum.
Within barely three years Laura was dead, just three days shy of her 22nd birthday (27 January 1893). She had been working in a clerical position at the Sunset Central Railroad auditing office with a number of young women of the same age, who were stunned by her sudden death. At her funeral several served as honorary pallbearers: Misses Norma Ruddock, Catherine Abraham, Ida Hayslip [sister of Bernard Roy Hayslip who married Laura’s sister Lela Virginia Bray in 1913], Nellie Taylor, Helen Lee, Nellie Daly, Clair Paschal, May Greenwood, Richardine Billow, Lucile Ray, Belle Berner, Jamie Sellingsloh, Fannie Cunningham, and Mrs. M. Greer.
She was buried at Glenwood Cemetery, joined there by her brother Frank Hugh Bray when he died at Verdun on 12 October 1918, then her father John William Davis Bray on July 27, 1933. Her mother had been a widow for nearly 27 years when she died May 17, 1960 and was buried in Forest Park, as was Laura’s sister, Lela Bray Hayslip (1890-1957). Her brother Captain George William Bray died 12 February 1957 and is buried at Seabrook Cemetery in Seabrook, TX.
Laura had deep roots in the South back to Virginia in the Civil War years and before. Her grandfather was Michael Cawthorn Bray (1825-1866), an immigrant from Ireland who came to America in 1847 at the height of the Irish Potato Famine, settling in the South unlike most Irish immigrants who went to Northern states. Her grandmother was Lucy Ann Chappell from Richmond, VA daughter of William Chappell and Jane Boze. Lucy and Michael Bray were parents of three sons: her father, John William Davis Bray (1861-1933), Cornelius Hartford Bray (1859-1933), and David Lee Bray (1863-1955). These sons were born in Richmond, VA at one of the most tumultuous times in America, the start of the Civil War. In inference from the census of 1869, Michael Bray was apparently a clerk for William Henry Fitzhugh Lee (1837-1891), son of Robert E. Lee, at White House Plantation on the banks of the Pamunkey River in New Kent County, VA was one of America’s great houses of the pre-Civil War period. About 25 miles east of Richmond, this plantation house was where George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, and although historic, it would not survive the war. All structures at the plantation were burned to the ground on 28 June 1862 as the Yankees fled the area after the Peninsular Campaign, a revenge on the family of the top general of the Confederacy.
Michael Bray married Lucy Chappell in 1857, and she seems to have stayed in Richmond while her husband remained on the Plantation frequently commuting to Richmond on business. Bray owned 2 slaves in 1860, a female black 48 years old and a 36 year old mulatto man, most likely related to some of Lee’s 153 slaves. Lucy Chappell, daughter of William Chappell (1808-1853), a tanner in Richmond, may have remained in Richmond to support her widowed mother, Jane Boze (1810-1895), after her father’s death from cholera. Richmond in the Civil War was firmly in the hands of the Confederate forces until nearly the end of the conflict, although this control was sometimes tenuous. Union forces finally entered the city on 3 April 1865 after a quarter of the city was burned to the ground. By this time, Michael Bray had left the area for Kentucky, leaving Lucy and her 3 boys in Richmond to fend for themselves. He met his demise in Louisville on 23 October 1866, dead of dropsy. On lists of fatalities he is listed as single, and there is no evidence Lucy was with him then, and there are few official records of them ever together.
Lucy’s sons grew up in Richmond in the post-war years, and John William Davis Bray joined the US Navy as a painter at the age of 19. Family lore suggests that he served at Norfolk on the USS Constitution but deserted his post in 1881 after just a year and 6 months of his 3-year enlistment. He made his way to Alabama, where on 15 November 1887 in Birmingham he married Irma Virginia Root, a minor child not even 16, which required her mother to sign for the marriage. They had three children born in Birmingham: George W. (b. 1889), Lela Virginia (1891), Laura Alabama (1893), and Frank Harris (1895) born after they moved to Houston. In the midst of a seemingly never-ending building boom, John Bray continued his work as a contracting painter.
Laura details how “black and dirty” the family got on the 350 mile trip from Birmingham to New Orleans, which rather suggests they traveled by automobile. Train travel would have been an option, but travelers would not likely arrive at their destination dirtied by the trip. Automobiles, on the other hand, were open to the elements, and often delivered occupants exhausted and covered in road dirt. By 1910 the Model T had been available for a couple of years, and Houstonians were taking to automobile travel in a big way. John Bray owned his own home at 2711 McKinney on the east side of downtown, and may have thought himself successful enough to be a car owner.
Walter Duane Root remained in Birmingham for most of his adult life, working as an electrician, and never married. He died 27 March 1973 at the age of 73 and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, AL as are his father, Charles H. Root (1877-1949), mother Eva Jeffries Root (1879-1973), Uncle Henry Pearce Root (1869-1928), brother Herbert Norman Root (1901-1961) and his wife Maude Underwood Root (1906-1980).