South Texas National Bank
13 October 1917: The parked automobile may be a REO model from the R. E. Olds Motor Company, an offshoot of the Oldsmobile Company founded by Ransom Olds in 1905. The tires are white, as were most early tires due to the Zinc Oxide in the rubber, but this changed in 1910 when carbon black was added to increase durability. The tires are generally bigger than those used now, with 27” rims. The South Texas National Bank was built on this site in 1910 with two floors and a lobby with a mezzanine.
6 February 2017: The parked automobile may be a Mercedes sedan with sporty 19” wheel rims. Much of the block behind is now occupied by the Franklin Lofts Garage, 5 stories of parking for the Franklin Lofts at the north end of the block to the left. Street level holds shops and restaurants, including Edible Arrangements, Wolfe’s Cleaners and Roma’s Pizza.
Postmarked: [Houston, Texas] Logan Branch; 13 October 1917
Stamp: 1c Green George Washington #405
To: Miss Iva Ott
Message: Hello Iva.
How are you I am fine and dandy we are in Huston texas arve [arrived] here Friday morning. My address is.
Co K. 130 US. N. G.
answer soon H. Gaskill
The southern third of Illinois has long been called “Little Egypt.” Early settlers were devoted Bible readers, and far away biblical landscapes were as real to them as the plains and valleys where they began farming. The low river plains and great watercourses suggested the Nile delta delta to them, so the town at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers became Cairo. The relic mounds and pyramids from extinct indigenous peoples suggested Egyptian tombs, and as towns were settled, names were drawn from a middle-eastern gazetteer: Karnak, Metropolis, Lebanon, Sparta, Thebes, Dongola, and further south in Tennessee, Memphis. Original agricultural settlers were drawn from Ohio River communities further upstream, and southern values tended to prevail, even to a certain recognizable southern twang in speech. A degree of slavery was permitted before Illinois was made a state, and after statehood was viewed less unfavorably than in further north, and exemptions allowed a small number of slaves to be maintained up to the time of the civil war.
Henry Harold Gaskill was 24 years old when he sent this postcard back home to Iva Ott, herself not quite 26. He had been working as a farm laborer in Pulaski County some 120 miles south near the Ohio River as recently as 4 months before, and prior to that time his family situation had been somewhat unstable for most of his life. He was born 15 August 1893 in Orchardville, just 7 miles west of Johnsonville where Iva lived in Wayne County, IL. His parents were Henderson Gaskill and Eliza Jane Barnard, but when he was 16 months old his mother died, and his father was challenged to take care of an infant and two older children from an earlier marriage to Elizabeth Sering, who died in 1889. Henry Harold Gaskill’s siblings were orphaned twice: John Arthur Gaskill at 5, then again at 10; Bess at 4, then again at 8.
By 1900 when Henry Harold Gaskill was 5 years old, he was under the care of his grandparents, John and Elizabeth Barnard in Arrington township in Wayne County, IL. John died in 1901, and Elizabeth died in 1906, and Henry’s whereabouts for the next ten years are not known. He had an uncle Horace Gaskill in Orel township, Wayne County, and he may have found harbor there.
When her mother died in 1889, Henry’s half-sister Bess Gaskill came under the care of her mother’s sister, Mary Evelyn Jaques in Boone County, IN where her father Henderson Gaskill lived with her mother in 1880. She remained there most of her life, maintaining an alliance with her cousin Jeanette, both remaining single and living together through 1940.
Henry’s half-brother John Arthur Gaskill was 16 in 1900, and his whereabouts at that time are not known, but in 1908 he married Lillian Stahlheber in Pulaski County on the banks of the Ohio River and became a farmer. It is in Pulaski County that Henry is to be found again in 1917, where he was a farm laborer in Grand Chain. By this time his half-brother had become a coal miner in Marion, Williamson County, IL some 40 miles north of the Ohio River.
As his children were scattered, their father Henderson Gaskill in 1900 went to live with his sister Ellen and brother-in-law Joseph W. Simmons in Mt. Vernon, Jefferson County, IL, a community 40 miles further north from Marion, about 25 miles south of Wayne County, IL.
After Henry penned the postcard to Iva, he completed his training at Camp Logan and shipped out to Europe on May 16, 1918. His unit served in the battles of Meuse-Argonne and Somme, returned to the states and was discharged at Camp Grant in Rockford, IL on 31 May 1919. Shortly afterward he married Ina Culbertson, daughter of Isaac Culbertson from Pulaski County where his brother had been living. They moved to West Frankfort in Franklin County, where Henry worked in the coal mines; his brother at this time was in Marion City in Williamson County about 12 miles south. Both worked in Coal Mines, possibly Johnson City Coal Company located between the two towns where John had been an employee in 1917.
Iva Ott was the daughter of Daniel Ott (1859-1941) and Sarah Sellers (1873-1947), sister to her twin Grace, born 17 December 1891) and to younger twins Elmer and Etta (13 October 1894), and singletons James Fred (1907-1966) and Bertha (1910-86). When she received the postcard she was quite likely working as a hired girl for her father’s neighbors, Joseph and Melvina Brown, which she would continue to do until she married Jesse Pearl Young, and moved in with him and his mother. They remained in Johnsonville until their deaths in 1977, having no children. They are buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Orchardville, Wayne County, IL.
Henry and Ina would stay in West Frankfort through about 1935, when they moved to East St. Louis, IL. They had two daughters, Zara Lee, who married George Russell Lane, and Florence Marion, who married Maurice Willard Crocker. His father Henderson Gaskill married a third time to Charity Stockwell, and fathered a child that died in infancy in 1904, followed by the death of Charity in 1913. By 1920 he had moved in with Henry’s half-brother, John Arthur in Marion, IL sharing the household with his five-year old granddaughter, Clara. Henderson Gaskill died in 1925 and was buried in Fairview Cemetery in West Frankfort, Franklin County, IL. John Arthur Gaskill moved to Dubuque, IA by 1930 and found work as a bond salesman. He died in 1936 and his daughter Clara married Gerald Engelcke and moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin with her mother. Henry Harold Gaskill died in 1958 and was buried in Grand Chain Masonic cemetery in Pulaski County, IL near his half-brother John Arthur.
South Texas National Bank
29 October 1922: Built in 1910, the South Texas National Bank was the most classic bank building in town, most of which were at or near the corner of Franklin and Main. The South Texas National Bank was incorporated in 1890, and the building at 213 Main Street was completed in 1910. The president as the building was erected was Charles Dillingham (1837-1917), a Vermont Union veteran of the Civil War who settled in New Orleans, LA, then moved to Houston in 1885 as a receiver for the Texas Central Railway. Other officers in the bank included the most active capitalists in Houston: Colonel Orren Thaddeus Holt (1840-1913), mayor of Houston 1902-1904; James Everett McAshan (1857-1916), also director of the Houston Post and president of the Merchants and Planters Oil Mill, active in the establishment of Rice Institute; Captain Augustine Peter De Zavala (1880-1952); Henry F. MacGregor (1865-1923), railroad and real estate entrepreneur from New Hampshire, namesake for McGregor Park; Henry Brashear (1839-1911), whose eponymous 1882 building at 910 Prairie is one of the last from that era in Houston; Robert Lee Blaffer (1876-1942), one of the founders of Humble Oil Co. whose wife, Sarah Campbell Blaffer, is the namesake for a gallery at the University; John Maynard Dorrance (1852-1935), cotton broker whose building at 114 Main remains intact [see Main at Commerce]; Daniel Ripley (1852-1921), whose legacy is Ripley Settlement house, a philanthropic association on the model of Jane Addams' Hull House in Chicago; Judge Thomas Jones Freeman (1859-1933), from New Orleans, receiver and general manager, International & Great Northern Railway Company; Frederick August Heitmann (1858-1955), president of F. W. Heitmann wholesale hardware company at 113 Main [see Main at Commerce].
6 February 2017: Being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 did not save the historic bank from destruction, and it was taken down under cover of night and quickly turned into a multistory parking lot in 1983 (see below). The Franklin Lofts Garage serves as parking for the Franklin Lofts at the north end of the block (just out of sight to the left, once the first location of the First National Bank).
Postmarked: 29 October 1922; Houston, Tex. Term. R. P. O.
Stamp: 1c Green George Washington #405
To: Miss Lillian Paxton
Dear Aunt Lillian
This is the outside of my Bank of where I keep my account. kisses and Love Your niece
Wilma Elizabeth Huff was only a little more than 12 years old when she wrote this postcard to her Aunt in Southern Missouri. She was apparently already business-minded, the first daughter of Joshua Isaac Huff and Martha Elizabeth Paxton. She had two older brothers, John Paxton, ten years older, Rollin L., two years older, and a little sister, Esther Ellen, 4 years younger. Another brother, Harold Hayden, had died in 1908 as a 2-year old toddler, and four months before his death an infant child died at birth.
The family lived at 303 Willard near Taft in the Fairview Addition, having recently moved from 614 Kipling in the same district. Josiah worked as a railroad conductor for Houston, East & West Texas Railroad, a semi-independent division of Southern Pacific Railroad, and his eldest son, John Paxton worked as a clerk for Republic Production Company, an oil company founded by Emerson Francis Woodward (1879-1943), whose earliest ventures were a part of the Spindletop oil fields.
Joshua Huff had married Martha Eliza Paxton in Pierce City, Lawrence County, MO in 1899. He and “Lida” moved to Houston before 1900 and stayed first at the Brooklyn Hotel at 1200 Nance in the fifth ward not far from the railroad line where Joshua was a conductor. Their first child, John Paxton Huff was born in Pierce City, MO on 11 September 1900, probably on a visit to Lida’s parents, John Paxton and Elizabeth Ann Lingo. The Paxton family included the recipient of the postcard, Clarinda Louise Paxton (“Aunt Louise,” born 1875), and her younger sister by 2 and a half years, the mother of the sender, Martha E. “Lida” Huff. Other siblings were: William Allen (1860), Mary Jane (1870), Elizabeth Ellen (1872), Georgia (1879), and John Garnett (1881). Joshua and Lida returned to Houston after the birth of John Paxton Huff, leaving their Paxton relations in Missouri.
How Joshua Huff came to meet and marry Lida involves some disruptions in his family of origin. He was the oldest son of John W. Huff and Ester Ann Combs who married in 1872 in Mercer County, MO in the northern part of the state. Joshua was born there in 1873, and his brother Claud Edmond in 1876 as well. John and Esther Huff moved to Cherokee County, KS before Ivan Ernest was born in 1882. John and Esther divorced some time before about 1895, and John Huff married Annie M. Strong in 1896 in Coffee County, TN. It is not clear what drew John to the area northwest of Chattanooga, he had worked as a grocer (1885), but was a liveryman when he returned to Missouri after his marriage.
Annie was the daughter of German immigrants Frederick (Friedrich Gottfried) Strong (1817-1876) and Elizabeth Strong (1826-1900). Annie’s brothers were in business in Chattanooga, TN in 1896, principals in two firms: 1) Strong Brothers (Albert Augustus & Franz Sigel, Franz replaced by Luther Melancthon when the former died in 1898), retailers of drugs, paints, and oils, as well as 2) Neese & Strong (George F. Neese & Christian Renatus Strong), selling furniture and stoves. John Huff could have met the Strong brothers while in Chattanooga on some kind of business, met their sister Annie and married her there in Coffee County where they all were from. Huff, himself a divorcee, and Annie, who was about 50 when she married Huff, may have considered themselves fortunate to have found each other.
Esther did not remain single either, and married Joseph Hayes Clawson in 11 September 1901 in Muskogee County, OK. Esther would have known Clawson when he was a teacher in Cherokee County the years she lived in an adjacent township in 1880 and afterwards. Clawson was widowed 8 August 1900 when his wife Marinda Benson Clawson died of Typhoid Fever, leaving 6 boys ranging in age from 25 to 2. Clawson at that time was the editor of The Howe Herald in the small town of Howe, Choctaw Nation (later to become Le Flore County, OK). Clawson moved his publishing enterprise to Holdenville, Hughes County, OK and there published the Hughes County Tribune.
Esther’s own three boys were nearly grown by the time she became Mrs. Clawson: Joshua was nearly 28, Claud was 25, and Ivan was 19. Joshua and Claud found work with the railroad, and although Claud remained in Oklahoma and northern Texas working for the railroad for the rest of his life, Joshua’s work brought him to Houston.
Wilma Elizabeth was apparently guided by her family to the virtues of thrift and industry. She seemed quite proud to boast to her Aunt Lillian of her bank account at South Texas National Bank. The postcard was dispatched with an R. P. O. cancellation (Railroad Post Office) and quite possibly her father posted it for her when he went to work as a conductor at 10AM on the morning of October 29th. Joshua, unlike his brother Claud, would not be content to work for the railroad for the rest of his life. By 1930 he was Vice-President at the Air Port on Telephone Road, and around this time also perhaps had work as an oil operator. Wilma at 19 was a stenographer at a retail store, living with the family at #303 Willard. By 1940 she was a deputy federal marshal in the office run by her sister-in-law, Katheryn Huff, wife of John Paxton, who had moved to their own home. Their father was with the Harris County Tax Assessor’s Office, and Rollin, also married, still lived at home.
Wilma’s Uncle Ivan Ernest Huff seemed to have a special relationship with his niece. His first work was as a traveling salesman, an occupation more transient than his brothers. 1917 found him in Chattanooga, TN, perhaps drawn there by his stepmother Annie Strong family connections. He returned to Texas in 1920, a traveling salesman in Clay County just east of Wichita Falls. About 1935 he had moved in with his Houston brother, living in a separate building at the rear of 1301 Marshall Avenue as a salesman for a stocking company. Two years later he was unemployed, listing as next of kin, Miss Elizabeth Huff.
Soon after 1942 Wilma married James Frank Hammond, a traveling auditor for the Texas Oil Company headquartered in Houston. Hammond’s brother Arthur worked in the city tax office, so Wilma may have met her future husband at one of her father’s social events. They had two children, but learning their names has proved to be difficult.
Wilma died in 2006 at the age of 96, and is buried in Forest Park Westheimer. She was a widow for more than 33 years, her husband died in 1973 and is buried beside her. Her sister Esther Ellen Huff Phillips (1915-1967) is buried in the same cemetery. Her Aunt Lillian Paxton remained single all of her life, a teacher and later the Principal at Pierce City. She died in 1959 and is buried in the Pierce City Cemetery. Most of Wilma’s Houston Huff family members are buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Houston: her father Joshua Isaac Huff (1873-1948), her mother Lida Paxton Huff (1877-1944), her Uncle Ivan Ernest Huff (1882-1955), her brothers Harold Hayden Huff (1906-1908), the infant who died in 1908, John Paxton Huff (1900-1966) and Rollin Huff (1908-1948). It seems in the end, she outlived them all.