SUGAR LAND’S CONVICTS-FOR-LEASE PAST UNEARTHS ITSELF OFF UNIVERSITY BLVD.
Crews at work on the new Sugar Land school building — dubbed The James Reese Career and Technical Center — at the corner of Chatham Ave. and University Blvd. made unexpected human contact in the middle of last month, Fort Bend ISD spokesperson Veronica Sopher tells Click2Houston’s Syan Rhodes: “We were back-filling into a trench when we found some remains, or what we thought could be remains.” The caretaker of a graveyard less than a mile away — which sits on the former Imperial State Prison Farm — wasn’t surprised. Having overseen the Old Imperial Farm Cemetary (pictured above with the same errant spelling) for nearly 20 years — reports the Chronicle’s Brooke A. Lewis — “[Reginald] Moore believes it’s just part of a larger graveyard that includes the remains of those who were part of the convict leasing system,” a statewide program through which Texas allowed mostly black prisoners to be contracted out for free labor shortly after slavery was outlawed. Fearing damage to the then-undiscovered grave sites, Moore “relentlessly pushed city and school officials to study the open area near the cemetery and urged them not to build nearby,” but construction began anyway last November. It’s now being held up in the area where the inadvertent exhumations took place. [Houston Chronicle; more] Photo: Historic Houston
“If you don’t know that’s a big dip,” reports a reader who scouted the scene of the impromptu lake formed over the weekend on the lawn of the Near Northside’s Hollywood Cemetery, “you don’t appreciate just how much water that is.” The cemetery lies between Little White Oak Bayou and I-45, along the northeast edge of N. Main St. The water level has lowered a bit since these photos were taken on Sunday. Do note the bouquet, presumably perched above one of the completely submerged gravestones, in the right foreground of the view above.
More views of Lake Hollywood:
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High Water Marks in the Near Northside
The partially ruined former Jefferson Davis Hospital nurses quarters at 1225 Elder St. — until very recently in the running for a spot on the National Register of Historic Places — was recommended for demolition at last week’s Harris County Commissioner’s Court meeting following a public hearing the day before. The building, tucked west of the elevated freeway tangle where I-45 splits from I-10 near Downtown, would have joined the nextdoor former Jefferson Davis Hospital itself on the historic registry — instead, it looks like the structure will finally meet meet the ‘dozers after its long slow decline, accelerated by damage from a fire in 2013 that lead to last year’s semi-collapse.
Next door, the 4-story hospital structure (built in 1924, and replaced by 1938 with another Jefferson Davis Hospital where the Federal Reserve building now stands on Allen Pkwy.) cycled through various modes of use and disuse until its early 2000’s restoration into the Elder Street Artist Lofts, which serve as low-rent apartments and studios for artsy types. That redevelopment, of course, involved carefully digging around the dozens of unmarked graves turned up on the surrounding land, which beginning in 1840 had served as the second city cemetery (and as the final resting place for a hodgepodge likely including Confederate soldiers, former slaves, victims of the 1860s yellow fever epidemics, people who died in duels, Masons, and a variety of others). The hospital’s name is still carved above the lofts’ entrance:
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First Ward Fire Damage by HFD
COMMENT OF THE DAY: AT LEAST THERE’S A LITTLE SOMETHING TO BRAG ABOUT LEFT IN UPTOWN “Well, at least I am glad they recognized and saved the [Morse-Bragg] cemetery. It is a shame there is nothing left close by to reflect the history of the mill, or cotton gin. Nice to imagine incorporating [some] coffee shops [or] restaurants around a small museum as part of Uptown. For those who are not familiar with the area, it is on a street called Wynden Drive (43 S Wynden Dr.).” [MontroseResident, commenting on Texas Leads in Housing Starts; Houston Home Prices Shoot Up; previously on Swamplot] Illustration: Lulu
THE GRAVESITE BREAKUP MYSTERY NEAR ALDINE MIDDLE SCHOOL Who, exactly, ordered the unannounced, interrupted, and apparently haphazard plant and gravestone removal at the unmarked Aldine Cemetery near Aldine Middle School last week? As of Friday, Mike Snyder writes, the local sheriffs were still trying to figure that out — as were some of the (living) family members of the buried, and unofficial Aldine historian Elizabeth Battle, who had been working to get the cemetery its own historical marker. Battle tells Snyder she’d been under the impression that “people . . . barreling in and destroying graves without contacting the descendants” wasn’t something that was likely to happen; University of Houston professor and periodic gravesite construction advisor Ken Brown notes that any disturbance of the 30-ish headstones, even by the property’s owner, should have required a court order. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of semi-cleared Aldine Cemetery on Aldine Meadows Rd: State rep. Armando Walle
BUILDING AROUND 1 CEMETERY AND POSSIBLY OVER ANOTHER IN CYPRESS’S ALDEN WOODS “I said to the county attorney’s representative, this looks like the spot, this looks like a cemetery,” University of Houston anthropology professor Ken Brown told ABC 13’s Ted Oberg, discussing a visit two years ago to the land currently being developed as the Alden Woods subdivision. Darling Homes is developing the 70-acre tract off Huffmeister Rd., just north of the intersection with Maxwell Rd. in Cypress, into a gated community of 3,000-to-5,000-sq.-ft. homes with interior courtyards. Brown investigated another old cemetery on the land for the Harris County Historical Commission; neighbors took him to a site on the other side of the project area rumored to be the burial ground of the slaves held by nearby landowners (some of whom are thought to be buried in the graveyard Brown was sent to check out). The landowner’s cemetery got legal protection from development with the help of the county attorney’s office and still sits in a forested area in the subdivision. The slave cemetery site was not further investigated archaeologically, despite the alleged presence of an employee of the attorney’s office on the site with Brown as he identified groups of east-west-oriented depressions which “[suggested] family type plots within a cemetery.” A statement from the Harris County Attorney’s Office to ABC13 says that the office will now work with the subdivision’s developer to investigate the site. [ABC13] Alden Woods site plan: Darling Homes
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: APPRECIATING THE DEAD FOLKS NEXT DOOR “I used to live next to a cemetery, and it was a great neighbor. They never had any parties. They never left old mattresses by the curb. It never got ‘redeveloped’ into a Cane’s Greasepath. Many people, I suppose myself included, find them to be sylvan and contemplative, beautiful spaces. But I acknowledge that death is probably the #1 source of apprehension for the average person, so a symbol of our own looming mortality may not make the most comforting neighbor for many.” [Semper Fudge, commenting on The Axis Apartments Under Construction on West Dallas and Montrose Are on Fire Now] Illustration: Lulu
What do you say when the apartment complex you’re featured on teevee news complaining is being built too close to gravesites bursts into flames the very next day? “I don’t think anything I said was incendiary,” feng-shui expert and holistic-life-coaching grad student Trisha Keel tells Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg, the day after the 368-unit Axis Apartments burned to the ground. “Although I’m a passionate person about this city,” she adds.
Keel, who runs a blog featuring feng-shui no-nos she encounters around town, had posted pics showing graves in the Magnolia Cemetery just steps away from north-facing ground-floor patios of the complex at 2400 West Dallas St. Among the dead: members of the Bammel, Wortham, and Halliburton families. “The dead are NOT good neighbors!” she wrote on her blog and Tumblr underneath the photo reproduced at top. “Their decaying energy feeds off your vital life force. Do not live among the dead.” Then she brought her complaints to the mayor’s office to complain. And a reporter at TV station KHOU.
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Words That Burn
COMMENT OF THE DAY: BURY ME AT HOLE 18 “I’ll tell ya, country clubs and cemeteries [are the] biggest wasters of prime real estate. My partial solution: Combine the two! All you have to do is build a couple of extra holes (a 20 or 21 hole golf course) so you can close a hole or two when a hole is ‘needed’ to welcome a new permanent resident. Markers (flush to the ground, of course) can double as distance markers. (‘It used to be an 8 iron from ole Ted to the green for me, but now it seems to be a 7′). Perpetual maintenance? No problem! Additional revenue for the facility? No doubt! Just remember where you heard it first.” [Al, commenting on Homebuilders Playing Through Old Katy Golf Course]
UNMARKED GRAVES UNCOVERED IN DICKINSON AFRICAN-AMERICAN CEMETERY Over the weekend, volunteers clearing brush and whacking weeds at the Magnolia Cemetery, the African-American cemetery between League City and Dickinson near FM 646 and Highway 3, found hundreds of unmarked graves that date back before the Emancipation Proclamation. Now, reports abc13’s Erik Barajas, the Galveston County Historical Commission is working to identify the graves as the cemetery seeks state designation and protection as a historic site: Pastor William H. King III of Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, behind which sits Magnolia Cemetery, tells Barajas: “‘There are slaves buried here. There are people from World War I, World War II, school teachers, people who worked in the community. . . . We want to make sure.'” [abc13] Photo: USGenWeb
DYING TO GET INTO STATE PARKS Texas’s Parks and Wildlife Dept. is considering a novel way to expand parkland. Nothing’s carved in stone, but Ted Hollingsworth, director of land conservation, says that the department will continue to discuss with the Green Burial Council the possibility of “partnering with death service providers or funeral directors” to annex properties adjacent to existing state parks after they’ve been transformed into green burial sites: “We wouldn’t own or manage the cemetery,” Hollingsworth tells teevee reporter Josh Hinkle, “but where people pay for [green] burials a certain part of that payment takes out that land, and pays for that land, that then does get added to the state park. . . . Makes more habitat for turkey, quail, deer, snakes, lizards. . . . Makes more room for trails, picnic areas, all of that. Where we have opportunities to add land, especially not at the cost of the taxpayers, we want to explore those.” Hinkle adds: “However, [Hollingsworth] said bodies would not be near campsites — a relief for regulars like Dave and Kanita Riggle.” [KXAN] Photo of Huntsville State Park: Flickr user TX Diva
COMMENT OF THE DAY: TOO DULL TO BE HAUNTED “As a former owner of a condo in Park Memorial (just a few feet south of the slab where the bones were found), I hate to break it to you hopeful readers, but there was not even remotely anything spooky or creepy that occurred on the grounds during the 5 years I lived there. There simply wasn’t anything going on . . . paranormal or otherwise.
Sorry.” [Dave, commenting on Park Memorial Condos, New Apartments Built on Top of Old Rice Military Cemetery]
Spooked former residents looking for some sort of larger, more mystical explanation for the disastrous end of the Park Memorial Condos at 5292 Memorial Dr. now have confirmation of a first-class backstory to hang their storytelling hats on. A little late for Halloween, a medical examiner has determined that the human remains discovered this summer during the condos’ demolition — and the preparation of the site for its replacement, the Park Memorial Apartments — belong to bodies interred at a cemetery that once graced the site. That would be the Crooms Cemetery, Preservation Houston’s David Bush tells teevee reporter Deborah Wrigley. The African-American burial ground was named after Felix Crooms (who scored nearby Crooms St. as well), was in operation from approximately 1917 to 1937, and also served as the final resting place for members of St. Luke’s Missionary Baptist Church.
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If it’s, say, 1980, and you’re trying to get rid of a dead body, burying it at the foundation level of a brand-new condo complex going up over the reported site of an ancient cemetery might sound like a perfect after-offing disposal plan. But in Houston, you never know what’s going to get dug up next. HPD detective Carlos Cardenas tells Chronicle reporter Mike Glenn he doesn’t think the partial skeleton unearthed by construction workers yesterday on the site of the recently demolished Park Memorial Condominiums at 5292 Memorial Dr. (pictured above in a late stage of assisted decomposition) belongs to the native American graveyard reported to have existed there previously.
Forensic testing should give a clearer answer, but the circumstances of the body’s burial appear to tell a story on their own: The human remains were discovered along Chandler St. near Arnold, at the far northeastern corner of the complex, wedged between a retaining wall and a concrete slab that workers were taking out. The body was likely concealed there when the Park Memorial Condos were built, police detectives tell Glenn.
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Frequent Olivewood Cemetery visitor Roger Barnaby came across a disturbing discovery in the historic African-American cemetery south of White Oak Bayou between Heights Blvd. and Studemont not long before dark on Halloween: Survey markers and what look like new fenceposts, installed only a few inches from some marked graves. Barnaby tells Swamplot he’s not certain of the purpose of the posts, but believes they and the survey flags mark an intended expansion of the cemetery’s longtime neighbor to the south and east, grocery distributor Grocers Supply. “You can even see that they pounded a survey spike into one of the graves,” he notes:
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