Houstonians know the title however not the person behind

On a sloping bluff overlooking the noisy and perpetually busy Houston Ship Channel, lower off from a close-by working-class neighborhood by railroad tracks, a machine store, and different work channel companies, lies a verdant inexperienced oasis known as Glendale Cemetery. Most Houstonians, I think, do not even know the cemetery exists – I did not do it till a couple of years in the past – and in the event that they do, they may not know easy methods to entry it. (except the hearse).

Parking subsequent to the machine store on a sunny morning final week and crossing the tracks, I discovered the iron gates secured with a number of rusty locks, so I climbed up. (Straddling the iron bars, I could not determine which Chronicle title could be worse: “Native Columnist Arrested for Trespassing” or “Native Columnist Impaled on Cemetery Barricade.”)

Glendale Cemetery, to not be confused with the well-known Glenwood Cemetery a dozen kilometers from the bayou, is Houston’s oldest cemetery. On a compact 6-acre lot two blocks east of Broadway, below dwelling oaks and mature magnolias, it was established in 1826 as Harris Household Cemetery (renamed Glendale in 1893). A full decade earlier than there was a Houston, the cemetery was a peaceable ultimate resting place overlooking the bayou.

Within the nook closest to the navigation channel is the oldest marker within the cemetery. As a blue and white barge floated slowly previous me, I stood on the grave of John Birdsall, a New York politician and constituency decide who moved to Texas in 1837. That very same yr, President Sam Houston appointed Birdsall Legal professional Basic of the Republic of Texas. The next yr, Houston appointed him professional tempore chief justice of the Texas Supreme Courtroom. He died in 1839 on the age of 37.

Birdsall was the sufferer of a yellow fever epidemic, as have been the primary 31 individuals buried on the Pioneer Cemetery. They have been rapidly buried in a mass grave with no markers to recollect them.

Close to Birdsall’s grave is a marker commemorating a step-parent who, at 39, additionally died throughout a yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans. His title was John Richardson Harris and, in at the moment’s parlance, he was a go-getter.

Born in New York Metropolis in 1790, Harris married Jane Birdsall in 1813 and the couple settled in a small city in upstate New York earlier than migrating to Ste. Geneviève, Mo. It was there that they met Texan empresario Moses Austin, who persuaded them to hitch his fledgling colony. Crusing his personal sloop from New Orleans in 1823, Harris explored a number of websites alongside the Texas coast earlier than diving into Buffalo Bayou. He took possession of some 4,428 acres of land on the confluence of the Bray and Buffalo Bayous, the place navigation ended. The Harris grant at the moment would prolong from Buffalo Bayou within the north to Airport Blvd. South.

Along with his spouse and kids nonetheless in Missouri, the younger New Yorker instantly started to develop a city which he named Harrisburg, most likely after himself and probably after Harrisburg, Pa., Which was named after his great-grandfather. Inside months, the brand new Harrisburg boasted a common retailer and Texas’ first steam-powered sawmill. Fashioning lumber from majestic primitive pines ripped straight from the shores of the bayou, Harris’s Mill quickly turned a worthwhile enterprise. He and his three brothers additionally commanded a fleet of sloops and schooners that plied the Gulf Coast from Harrisburg to New Orleans and south to Tampico. Two of their schooners, the Human Rights and the Mauchana, would later be used within the Texas Revolution.

In December 1835, the provisional authorities about to separate from Mexico named Harrisburg the capital of the “free, sovereign and impartial” republic of Texas. 4 months later, Mexican Basic Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna burned the city down. Rebuilt in 1839, some 1,400 individuals retreated.

By then, the younger man who bequeathed his title to the town had been gone for about ten years. A granddaughter, Adele Briscoe Looscan, erected a cenotaph in his honor within the Nineteen Thirties, however he’s really buried in New Orleans, the town of his loss of life.

“On the loss of life of Mr. John R. Harris,” the Texas Gazette famous on the time, “the colony misplaced an enterprising citizen and his pals have been mourned by one whose loss won’t be simply changed.”

“He appears to have been the one certainly one of this primary interval to foresee the way forward for Buffalo Bayou, on which now float massive ships from international and nationwide ports”, wrote Looscan, the granddaughter, in 1928 within the “Southwestern Historic Quarterly”. “

Three years after arriving, Harris’ widow Jane Birdsall Harris welcomed the Texas Provisional Authorities cupboard to determined males on the run from the Mexican army. “Though ill-equipped to accommodate this grand accession to her residence, she greeted them cheerfully and sacrificed her personal consolation for his or her comfort,” Looscan wrote.

After the cupboard members fled to Galveston, the Harris’ residence, sawmill, and different valuables caught fireplace together with the remainder of Harrisburg. The household was not compensated, though Looscan wrote that the person who really “lit the flame” had returned to rebuild the house for Widow Harris and her kids. He used logs hewn from Mexican prisoners captured at San Jacinto.

The First Congress of the Republic of Texas fashioned Harrisburg County in 1836 and altered the title to Harris County three years later. Houston annexed Harrisburg in 1928.

Thus, the county recognized to the entire world is known as after a person that few individuals know, regardless of his achievements. Why did I ask native historian Dan Worrall. Why is his title – and the title of his exceptional spouse – hardly price mentioning within the historical past books?

“[Harris] died too quickly, and so missed his time within the limelight, ”Worrall mentioned, noting that the city he was creating was a a lot better web site for a city than the one the Allen brothers based over a decade in the past. late.

With deep waters and a naturally broad bayou, with the timber being shipped to Mexico from the Harris Sawmill, Harrisburg was already a working port by the point Santa Anna’s troopers set it ablaze. Worrall famous that Harrisburg was additionally the unique terminus of the San Felipe Path, “that means cotton from the inside of the colony might go there, probably the most environment friendly transport path to worldwide commerce.” (As I discussed in final week’s column, Worrall is the creator of a guide on the historic significance of the San Felipe Path.)

By slowly ascending Buffalo Bayou in 1836, the Allen brothers instantly acknowledged the prevalence of the Harrisburg web site. They tried to purchase the stays of the city from John Harris’ heirs, however the household was embroiled in a probate battle and the land was not on the market.

Younger New Yorkers appeared inland. Though it took the steamboats three days to barter the 12 miles to touchdown, with passengers and crew clearing out overhanging branches and submerged particles, the Allens have been capable of construct a city. And a viable port. In Worrall’s phrases, “the remaining is historical past”.

Sitting on an previous wood bench inside Glendale Cemetery, I spotted I cherished this a part of Houston. I like the tranquility of the cemetery but in addition the noise, the bustle, the incessant enterprise of the adjoining channel simply outdoors its gates. All of it is a reflection of the bold younger man who began out. And we hardly know his title.

**

If you wish to go to the cemetery, don’t climb the fence. Name the Glendale Cemetery Affiliation for extra data (281-288-7888).

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