11 November 1908: Dick Dowling was a Confederate Soldier, born in Tuam, Ireland in 1838, whose family immigrated to New Orleans to escape the potato famine. Many of his family died of Yellow Fever after arriving in America, and as young man Dick came to Houston and ran a popular saloon and imported liquor through Galveston. He was a hero of the Civil War Battle of Sabine Pass in which a Union amphibious invasion was thwarted on September 8, 1863. The strategic importance for the Union was to prevent supply lines from Mexico, then under control of Maximilian and French interests, from bringing war supplies into Texas and the Confederacy. The strategic value of Sabine Pass was largely symbolic, however, since the Mississippi River was under Union control after New Orleans was taken in 1862 and Vicksburg in July 1863. Nevertheless, Dowling returned to Houston a bona fide hero. He died in 1867 of Yellow Fever at the age of 29, but long after the Civil War, he continued to be held in great esteem. Dowling Street and Tuam Street are named in his honor.
In 1909 Dowling was commemorated with the first publicly financed sculpture in Houston, placed in front of the Market House, the city’s first de facto City Hall. Many other Confederate monuments were situated in public squares throughout the South in this era, some controversially removed in the early 21st century. The work was by Frank A. Teich, a German-born sculptor trained in Nuremberg who also worked on the stone arch that supports the Sam Houston Monument in Herman Park and the nearby Pioneer Obelisk at the far end of the reflecting pool, as well as courthouses in Chicago and Fort Worth and the State Capitol in Austin.
10 June 2009: Market Square lost much of its vitality after City Hall was moved to a new building at the Civic Center on Bagby in 1939. During WWII the building was turned into a bus station and a USO for soldiers, but a fire in 1960 forced its demolition in 1962. The Dowling statue had remained until in Market Square until 1958, when it was moved to the entrance of Herman Park at Cambridge Avenue, where it remains.
23 May 2014: After the demolition of the market building, the square languished for decades and became a harborage for vagrants. Some efforts at reclaiming the park were attempted in the 1990’s as the area sought to become a public square for downtown workers and residents, and a sculpture by James Surls, Points of View, was dedicated in 1992. More extensive renovations to the square began in 2007, and the public space re-opened in 2010 with parts of the old structure memorialized in the pavement and new businesses and high rise tenants began to draw new visitors. Contemporary visitors can enjoy a beer and a gyro at a popular Greek restaurant, rent a bicycle for a hour, take their leisure on the grass near a bubbling pool, or watch dogs frolic in a fenced park. The Surls sculpture fills the spot where the south tower once rose, and the Dowling Statue can be imagined where it once stood just in front.
Postmarked: Elena, Texas; November 11, 1908Stamp: 1c Blue Green Ben Franklin #300
To: Mrs. S. O. N. Pleasants
The Carnival is on in Houston don’t you wish you were there?
Mrs. S. O. N. Pleasants was Sarah “Sallie” O’Neil Pleasants, widow of Samuel E. Pleasants of Vevay, IN. Mary Jane was her granddaughter, child of Sarah O. Pleasants and William R. J. Stratford. “The Carnival” was a typical cotton carnival similar to those held in many Southern cities of the day. In Houston it was held every November from 1899 until 1915 as an opening ceremony for The Gulf Coast Industrial Exposition highlighting agricultural and horticultural products manufactured in Texas. The week-long event was similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, with activities centered on the fantasy that King Nottoc [cotton spelled backwards] emerged from Buffalo Bayou to rule over the Court of Mirth in the city of No-Tsu-Oh [Houston spelled backwards], the capitol city of Tekram [Market spelled backwards]. The festival was highly anticipated, especially by young people, whose quiet small-town lives were interrupted by parades down Main Street and various balls, dinners, and church events designed to safely bring youths together.
Mary Jane writes from Elena, a community near the confluence of Buffalo Bayou and San Jacinto River near Lynchburg in east Harris County, TX. She was 13 years old at the time and under the care of her extended Stratford relations. The were from Switzerland County, IN, where her grandmother remained, but new opportunities in Texas oil fields were creating new jobs for people willing to work. As a petroleum engineer, Mary Jane’s father, William Russell Johnston (his grandmother was Lucinda Johnston McKay) Stratford, went to Shreveport about 1907 but three years later joined his brother Frank Bonner Stratford on to the gulf coast where he had rented a farm and try his hand at rice farming, a crop rather new to the area. Mary Jane lived in a family compound with her 45-year-old father, 39-year-old Uncle Frank, her younger brother William Malcolm (11), Aunt Anna Stratford (46), Great Aunts Martha (63), sister to her grandmother Mary Jane McKay (her namesake), as well as Uncle Isaac Mayhugh (39), husband to Martha “Mattie” McKay (her father’s sister) and young cousins Alice (3) and Miles Mayhugh (1).
Her mother Sarah soon by 1911 had found a job as the stenographer to Edgar Odell Lovett, the first president of Rice Institute, which would open its doors in 1912. The family lived at 2019 Caroline at Pierce, but within a few years Sarah established a home at 1108 Dennis between Fannin and San Jacinto in the part of town where many of the leading citizens lived. A block away lived Fannie Wolf and her son Jules, a subject of this study [LINK], and a bit further on McGowen Joseph Presley Carter’s mansion would be built [LINK], and Jesse Jones, soon to become Houston’s leading downtown builder, was a little further down Main Street [LINK]. Sarah Stratford and Mary Jane’s father seemed to have begun a rather distant relationship;
although they remained married they often lived apart. An independent woman, Sarah listed herself as widow in 1915, even though her husband lived in another part of town.
Mary Jane, and in due course, her brother Malcolm became students at Rice Institute as her mother became Dean of Women. Mary Jane graduated in 1918, and that fall married a fresh Lieutanant of the Cavalry, William Bradshaw Torrens, who began service in World War I, as did her brother Malcolm, who interrupted his studies of chemical engineering to serve as a pilot. Torrens was born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1889, son of James and Matilda Torrens, but the family appears not to have stayed long in the Southern Hemisphere, and by 1901 they were back in their homeland of Ireland, living in Down County near Belfast in the suburb of Ballymullen.
After the War, Mary Jane and her war hero husband bought a house at 620 Branard and William began a career in the import-export of spices and other commodities. Her brother Malcolm graduated Rice University in 1920 and began work at Texaco corporation as a petroleum engineer, patenting a number of hydrocarbon processes in the 1930’s. Their mother lived with them until she died in 1931, a revered member of the Rice Institute staff. Her brother moved to New York, where in Brooklyn in 1933 he married Olive Johnston. He worked as a patent attorney and they lived a mid-century New York City life. In 1928 the Torrens’ built a home at 2001 Sunset at Hazard, and lived there until retirement in 1951. They traveled to Belfast and eventually bought a house on the Irish Sea at Ballywilliam near Donoghaden, Ards Peninsula. They divided their senior years between the Plaza Hotel at 5020 Montrose Blvd. in Houston, Belfast, and Colorado Springs. Her brother moved to San Diego, CA
Much of the family is buried in Glenwood Cemetery on Washington Avenue in Houston: Mary Jane Stratford Torrens (1895-1970); her husband William Bradshaw Torrens (1889-1966); her father William Russell Johnston Stratford (1863-1941); her mother Sarah Pleasant Stratford (1868-1931); Great Aunt Martha McKay (1845-1926 unmarked grave); Great Aunt Elizabeth McKay (1847-1920 unmarked grave); Aunt Anna Stratford (1862-1922 unmarked grave). Her brother William Malcolm Stratford (1897-1977) is buried in El Camino Memorial Park in San Diego, CA.
Her Uncle Dr. Isaac Mayhugh (1869-1934), husband of Martha Stratford, moved to San Antonio before 1920 and his buried in Kerrville, TX. Her Uncle Frank Bonner Stratford (1869-1945) is buried in Forest Park Cemetery in Houston. Mary Jane’s grandmother Sarah O’Neal Pleasants (1842-1925) is buried in Vevay Cemetery, Switzerland County, IN.