January 1914: The Methodist Church was a fairly new church amid the city’s primary residential district at the southern edge of Houston when this scene was photographed. The red house on the right with generous porches was a boarding house operated by Miss Elizabeth Kirby during most of the time this postcard would have been available. She was born in Massachusetts of Irish parents; when she came to Houston and when she left or married and could be found cannot be determined without additional information.
Out of the frame to the right beside Kirby’s Boarding House was the home of the Taub Family, tobacco merchants at this time, including Ben Taub (1889 - 1982), who would become an important Houston bachelor philanthropist, namesake of the city's charity hospital, Ben Taub Hospital [See Taub House for more details on this residence, and alternate views of the block].
2 April 2019: The multistory structure dominating the right is Travis Tower, a 21 story office building filling the north half of the block. When it was built in 1955 by Conoco, a petrochemical company, it was topped with a rotating triangle which changed color to reflect weather conditions. The Methodist Church, once towering over Houston’s primary residential district, has become dwarfed by behemoths of Houston’s diverse economy: [left to right] 1) The former ExxonMobil Building at 800 Bell Street (The Humble Building, Exxon Building) with 44 floors (1963); 2) [barely visible white tower behind cross] Continental Center I at 1600 Smith Street (Continental Airlines Building; Cullen Bank Tower) 53 floors (1984); 3) Five Allen Center at 1500 Louisiana Street (Enron Tower II South) 40 stories (2002); 4) United Bank Plaza at 1415 Louisiana (WEDGE International Tower) 43 stories 1983; 5) Four Allen Center at 1400 Smith Street (Enron Building) 50 stories (1983).
Postmarked: Not posted
To: Mr. Robt. Swanson
2919 Morgan Ave N
Message: Dear Bob. How is everyone up there. Why dont you write and let me know how mother & grandma are getting along. Baby is sick but I me & Ed are about ok. only it is very cold Goodbye Carrie
Carrie writes this postcard from Houston to her husband Ed Wojhan’s half brother, Robert Lincoln Swanson in Minneapolis. The card was not posted, so the date is not completely certain. She mentions a sick baby and no other children, and indicates that the weather is very cold. Her first child, Fern Evelyn was born 18 May 1913, so the postcard must have been written in late 1913 or more probably in early 1914 since statistically the coldest month in Houston occurs in January.
Carrie was a life-long Houstonian, born in Houston 24 March 1882, the daughter of John Kay, immigrant from England and Cornelia Emma Schade, daughter of German immigrants. Carrie’s father died when she was 13, leaving her mother to care for Carrie and her 15 year old brother, Wilford Earl Kay. Carrie was married at 16 with her mother's permission to Lucian Mather Kilburn, and they had one son, Wilfred Lucian Kilburn, Jr. in 1899. They divorced before 1910, but continued to live together off Heights Boulevard, at #123 West 17th. Lucien was an electrician with his own company at 816 Travis and Carrie worked as a bookbinder for J. V. Dealy Company at 211 Fannin. Whether they had a car or used the electric trolley to get downtown cannot be determined from the records at hand.
Carrie’s mother continued to live with her daughter’s family. Her story was in so many ways similar to her daughter’s, an orphan’s tale of child marriages. Cornelia was born 3 September 1848 in Houston, daughter of Dr. James Carl Schade and Emma Augusta Sartman. She and her younger sister, Hester A., were orphaned by the death of their mother 9 June 1851 and father 25 December 1853. Cornelia was taken under the custody of Peter W. Gray, Judge of the Harris County District Court, where she is found as a ten year old on the census of 1860. Judge Gray was an important man in Texas, serving in the Republic of Texas and the Confederate States in various capacities, including Republic legislature, state legislature and senate, Confederate State congress, military aide to General McGruder in the Battle of Galveston, District Attorney and Justice of the Texas Supreme Court in 1874 when he died. He and his wife Jane Avery had no children, and perhaps Cornelia was more than a child boarder and maid. Gray was a founding member of Christ Church and long-time vestryman (1842-1874), master of the Holland Lodge Masons, and namesake for Gray County in Texas and Gray Street in Houston.
Twelve days after her 16th birthday, Cornelia married Gotlieb Walter on September 15, 1864 in Harris County. It is uncertain how this relationship ended, but within seven months while still not yet 17 she was married for a second time to Christopher Hempstedt on March 10, 1865 in Harris County. Christoff Hempstedt was born in 1846 in Texas to Henry and Mary Hempstedt, a tailor and 1860 saloon keeper at the corner of Washington and 9th, immigrants from Hannover. This part of Houston northwest of downtown across Buffalo Bayou was then called “Vinegar Hill” because of vinegar manufacture in the neighborhood and it was among the poorer parts of town, an early red-light and entertainment district catering to gambling, prostitution, violence, and the sale of drugs.
According to the Handbook of Texas, “Vinegar’s Hill’s main business was a saloon located at the corner of Washington Avenue and 9th Street.” That would have been the Hempstedt Saloon. That part of Houston has largely vanished under the overpasses of I-45 and I-10, but 9th Street would have underlain the northernmost extension of Bagby Street beside now-abandoned Tennyson Hotel on Franklin Street. What happened to Christoff Hempstedt is not clear, but in 1879 Cornelia married John Kay, who had a daughter, Mary Ann Kay, from his first marriage in Lancastershire, England to Elizabeth Ann Fenton. Cornelia’s step-daughter married Harvey Priester and they named their daughter Cornelia Jeanette “Nettie” Priester after Cornelia. Nettie is the author of another postcard in this series, Sam Houston Park [See this narrative for information about the sixth ward neighborhood and the various Priester connections].
Harvey E. Priester was born in Blue Earth City, Faribault Conty, MN of unknown parents. He first appears in the records in Houston in 1880, when he was a 16 year old orphan living alone at 223 Washington while working as a grocery clerk. How he met Mary Ann Kay, Cornelia’s step-daughter, is not clear, but on August 26, 1886 in Harris County, they were married. The family connections between the Priester Family and Cornelia Kay and her daughter Carrie would continue through the rest of Cornelia’s life.
The stories of Carrie and her mother Cornelia must have struck a cord with Edward Wojhan. Like Harvey Priester, he too was from Minnesota, though from Minneapolis, an urban enclave of 300,000, nearly four times the size of Houston in 1910. His mother was Johanna “Annie” Bohlig, who at 16 had become enamored of Henry Reitz, an older man but still only in his mid 20’s. Henry Reitz found work on one of the passenger steamers from the Lake Minnetonka Navigation Company plying the Great Lakes waterways between Duluth and Buffalo. Sadly he contracted a brain fever and died in Buffalo, NY on 22 November 1888. Annie Bohlig’s son Edward was born 10 September 1884 (or 1887). No official marriage between Annie and Henry Reitz can be found, but the family legend that links them tells that Annie’s mother Catharina, widow of Frank Bohlig, was so angry at her daughter’s rush to pregnancy that she took young Edward and kept him as her own, never letting him return to his mother’s custody. He took the name of his step-father, Johann Wojhan, but always acknowledged that Henry Reitz was his true father.
By 1892 Annie had married Frank John Swanson, and in 1910 their family of 7 children included 20-year-old Edward Wojhan and eldest son Robert Lincoln Swanson, 17. Perhaps feeling more rootless than the other Swanson family members he felt free to travel to Texas to find himself. He married Carrie Kay in Houston in 1912, but her ex-husband, Lucien Kilburn was still in town, and their son, Wilford Kilburn, about 12, lived with Edward Wojhan’s family as did Carrie’s mother Cornelia. Carrie seems to have led an independent life, and early in their marriage is sometimes listed with Edward, and sometimes at different addresses. Her son Wilfred died in 1922 in Port Arthur at 20 years of age as a result of a burn sustained while working at the Texas Company. He left a widow, Marilee Ingram Kilburn, and a 9-month old son, Wilfried, Jr., who himself would die a young death at 23 in Pharr, Texas, while under the care of his mother and step-father, Ralph Grasso, in 1942.
Carrie and Edward Wojhan would have three children: Fern Evelyn (1913), Vernon Duval (1915), and Neva Eunice (1919). They lived on Hempstead Road in Houston Heights in 1920 before moving to #348 West 29th (now covered over by Loop 610) where Edward worked as a foreman in construction 1930-1940. Carrie’s mother Cornelia died in 1930 and is buried in an unmarked grave in the Priester Plot in Glenwood cemetery near her step-daughter, Mary Ann Kay Priester. Carrie and Edward moved to 933 West 22nd Street in the Heights after 1940 where Carrie died in 1957 and Edward died in 1963; they are buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.