18 February 1906: The Knights of Pythias is a secret fraternal organization promoting loyalty, honor, and friendship among its members. Founded in 1864, it was the first fraternal organization to receive a charter under an act of the US Congress. Orders built meetings halls all across America in a crenelated architectural style, and these fortresses came to be called Pythian Castles. Houston’s Pythian Castle was chartered in 1892 and built soon after on the corner of McKee and Liberty in the 5th Ward. The Electric Trolley Route #11 had a stop at the corner, giving membership access to most parts of town as early as 1901.
11 November 2019: McKee Street now extends south to cross Buffalo Bayou at a bridge first built as a swing bridge in operation 1908-1928, rebuilt in 1932 as the longest unreinforced concrete girder bridge built up to then anywhere in the world. The Pythian Castle was three blocks north of the bayou, and came close to destruction in the disastrous fire on 21 February 1912 when a fire started at a house at Hardy and Opelousas, a mere 4 blocks away. The building apparently escaped the conflagration, but seems to have disappeared from that site about 1916, after which Pythians met at 415 ½ Main Street near Prairie. The 5th Ward increasingly industrialized through the succeeding decades, and when Interstate-10 was built, the demolition gouged a ravine into the middle of the neighborhood. Liberty became a feeder road for the freeway, re-named Rothman Street, and now traffic on the eastbound feeder crosses McKee where the Pythian Castle once rose three stories. The intersection is a Metro-Transit bus stop, otherwise few would gather there at this now rather derelict corner.
Postmarked: 18 February 1906; Houston, Tex.
Stamp: 1c Blue Green Ben Franklin #300
To: Mrs W. Champney
3218 West 24th Ave
Many thanks for pretty card.
Mrs. M. V. Tajan 1717 Lubbock St
Marie Tajan was a postcard exchange participant, member of clubs in which members would access a vetted list of correspondents with whom they could exchange pictorial cards and build a collection. These cards of exotic locations exposed participants to locations and cultures they would not otherwise have access to. It was in many respects a precursor of pen pal clubs which seem to have reached a peak of activity in the 1930’s. Postcard exchanges were often terse, since the correspondents had little knowledge of each other. Phrases such as “many thanks for your very nice card received,” and ironically, “Come again” to recipients who actually never personally visited each other.
The recipient of the postcard, Mrs. W. Champney of Denver, CO was probably Effie Ovren Champney, daughter of Edward Ovren (1844-<1900) an immigrant from Norway and Augusta Maria Manson (1848-1934) from Sweden. The Ovren’s settled in Iowa, moved to Wyoming Territory then finally settling in Leadville, Lake County, CO. Effie married William Champney in 1899, and seemed to have stayed there in Leadville, not moving to Denver until after 1910. Why Marie Tajan’s 1906 postcard was addressed to Denver is not certain, perhaps the Champney’s maintained a mailbox in Denver where William, a commission fruit sales dealer, maintained connections.
The sender of the postcard, Marie Tajan was born in 1853 in Mâcon, Rhône-Alpes, France, near Lyon and immigrated to America in 1857 with her father Louis Varenne (1827-1892) and mother Marie Lavole´ (1822-1906). The Varenne family settled in Liberty east of Houston, and came to east of Houston about 1887. Her husband Francois Tajan was born in France in 1839 and immigrated to America some time between 1857-1869. He married Marie Varenne about 1871 and they remained closely allied to her family in Liberty through 1880. The Tajan’s lived in Galveston where Francois operated a saloon at the 20th Street Brick Wharf 1874-1878, but moved to Houston by 1887 where the Varenne’s joined them. The Tajan and Varenne families established their homes in the 6th Ward neighborhood near St. Joseph Catholic Church west of downtown, Francois at 37 Lubbock Street (later renumbered 1717) and Louis nearby at 29 State Street one block south [See Harriet Lane for details about the neighborhood]. Louis and Marie Varenne visited France in 1891 with their grandson Louis Tajan, but 3 months after their return Louis died. His body was taken to Galveston where his son Eugene A. L. Varenne (1858-1862) had been laid to rest. Marie lived with her daughter until she died in 1906 and she joined her family in the Old City Cemetery. Also buried in City Cemetery were Francois P. Tajan (1885-1886) and Henri F. Tajan (1891-1893), children of Marie Varenne and Francois Tajan.
The Tajan children were: Joseph (1874 Galveston, TX), Marie L. (1877 in Sour Lake northeast of Liberty), Eugene Henry (1880 in Liberty, TX), Francois P. (1885 northeast of Liberty), Henri F. (1891), Louise J. (1898 in Houston). The pattern of delivering her babies near Liberty suggests that Marie returned to her mother’s for their births, even though a 70 mile trip would be pretty arduous for a pregnant woman, even if the Houston Interurban was used. Marie Varenne Tajan died 10 February 1918 of Spanish Flu at the age of 64. She was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery on North Main Street, Houston and when Francois died in 1922 he was buried beside his wife.
Their son Joseph Tajan died in 1928 at age 40 of a lung abscess and was buried in Washington Cemetery in Houston. Marie Tajan married Matthias Darton Railey (1878-1959) and died in 1931 at age 52 of heart problems and was buried in Holy Cross near her parents. Eugene Henry Tajan of heart disease in 1959 and was buried in Garden of Gethsemani in Houston. Louise J. Tajan married married William A. Horne (1898-1980) and died in 1977 of cancer of the stomach and was interred in Memorial Mission Mausoleum at Forest Park Westheimer in Houston.