Not all of Galveston’s lost mansions were Victorian or Colonial
style homes. One in particular, the 1899 Waters Davis Jr. House, was quite
modern in appearance even though it was constructed over one hundred years ago.
The residence was built by
Waters Smith Davis Jr. (Waters Davis II, 1868-1940), whose parents, Waters S.
Davis (Waters Davis I, 1829-1914) and Sarah Allan Huckins (1838-1917), lived in
the 1898 Waters Davis House that still stands at 1124 24th Street.
Waters Davis II was an
exporter of cotton seed products as well as president and general manager of
the Seaboard Rice Milling Company. The mill and his offices were at 4002-4028
Avenue G (Winnie), approximately where Sandpiper Cove Apartments stand today.
Davis’ wife, Sarah “Daisy”
Ball League (1876-1922) descended from two of the most prominent families in
Galveston, as her name reflects. Construction on their residence began in 1899
and was completed by January 1900, three months after Waters Davis III was
Prominently positioned on
the northwest corner of Broadway and 19th Street, the design
incorporated cleaner lines that were considered quite contemporary. The
Victorian era was coming to a close, and once-fashionable gingerbread style
homes were considered dated. Large enough to accommodate entertaining and befit
the Davis’ position in the community, it was not ostentatious in appearance.
Two small outbuildings at
the back of the property were the first to appear in public records and show on
an 1899 Sanborn fire insurance map, with the larger of the two being marked as
a dwelling. When the main home was constructed, this became the servants’
quarters. All three brick structures featured slate roofs.
The floor plan provided
the family with five bedrooms, four tiled bathrooms, two grand hallways, four
brick-front gas log fireplaces, and three wide gallery porches. The first story
featured an oak grain stairway and flooring, and the plastered walls were
covered with fine burlap and painted. The home was equipped with gas as well as
electricity and a hot air furnace.
A floored attic provided
extra living space for servants, and the large basement ample storage. Gardens
on the grounds which included numerous chrysanthemums and date palms were
highlighted in local tourism materials.
The brick home’s
completion just a few months prior to the Great Storm of 1900 probably lent an
advantage against the hurricane. Because insurance papers from the time list no
repairs in the months following the storm, it can be assumed that any damage it
sustained, such as broken windows, was minimal.
Despite any difficulties
faced by the family during the months following the storm, Daisy focused her
efforts on aiding the community. She was one of sixty-six women who established
the Women’s Health Protective Association (WHPA). Among its other achievements,
the group led efforts to clean up the city as well as replace trees and plants
lost during the disaster.
The organization operated
its own nursery on land donated by Daisy’s father, John Charles League
(1850-1916), where oak and palm trees, oleanders, and a variety of shrubs were
propagated. In little over a decade, the WHPA is estimated to have planted 10,000
oaks and 2,500 oleanders across the Island.
Mrs. Waters is credited
with designing the placement of oleanders on the avenues and streets of local
cemeteries, with each location being assigned a single color—white or pink. She
even distributed free white oleander cuttings from her home, putting notices in
the local paper whenever she had them available for Galveston residents.
Normalcy began to return
to parts of the Island after the storm, and the young family enjoyed their home
to the fullest. Daisy had a large staff to assist her in managing the household
and grounds. The servants included two housemaids, a cook, handyman, nanny
(referred to as a “nurse”), yardman, and a young boy to serve at the dinner
table and perform general chores.
In 1902, Davis ran an
advertisement in the local paper in search of a gentle saddle pony for his son
and another ad soon afterward in search of a cocker spaniel puppy. A jersey cow
was bought as well to provide fresh milk for the household and kept at the back
of the property.
That was an important year
for more than the lucky child though, as his father’s company began to market
Comet Rice which is still available today. The product was delivered by horse
and buggy and bagged for shipment as far as China. The young couple began to
host numerous society gatherings of friends from Galveston and Houston,
including box parties at the Grand Opera House and dinners at the Hotel Galvez.
In February 1904, while
Daisy was pregnant with her second child, Sarah Catherine, she opened her home
to host a special sale benefitting the Altar Guild of Trinity Episcopal Church.
All sorts of fancywork pieces, candles, and other items considered suitable for
Valentine and Easter gifts were made available by the ladies of the guild, and
tea was served to attendees. The money raised was used toward the
beautification of the interior of their church.
The WHPA appointed Daisy
chairman of one of their largest projects in May 1906, when over 900
Filamentosa palms were purchased in California and shipped to the Island to
line Broadway and Bath (25th Street) Avenues with the trees.
Transportation in refrigerator cars was provided free of charge by the Gulf,
Colorado and Santa Fe Railway for the undertaking.
Once the necessary palms
had been set aside for the plantings, the remainder were made available for the
public to purchase at cost. Undoubtedly, a large portion of Galveston’s palms
today were part of or descended from this immense project.
In the following years,
Daisy played a major role in many fundraising events for the Island, including
developing the plan for WHPA’s First Annual Horse Show in 1906. In between all
these activities, the family made time for trips to Europe and summers on the
east coast. Such luxuries were partially funded by the extra income of a
separate apartment building that occupied half of the property by 1912.
Waters developed a patent
for processing, sterilizing and packaging rice in 1914, bringing him acclaim
from across the nation. This allowed Comet Rice to be easily packaged for
consumers and distributed to small and large retailers.
Two years later, Daisy’s
father, real estate investor John Charles League passed away. The couple listed
their own home for sale and moved in with Daisy’s mother, Nellie Ball League
(1854-1940), at her home at 1710 Broadway. This Nicholas Clayton treasure is
still standing. William Lewis Moody III (1894-1992) purchased their residence
for use as his new residence.
The sale marked the second time a
member of the family sold their home to a Moody. William Moody III’s
grandfather, Colonel W. L. Moody (1828-1920), purchased the grand
League-Waters-Moody Residence from Sarah Ball League’s grandfather Thomas
In December 1920, George
Black Ketchum, manager of the Model Meat Market, and his wife Musette Newson
purchased the home from Moody for $30,000. In addition to leasing space in the
outbuildings on the property, the Ketchums were the first to create studio
apartment rentals inside the home.
Musette took advantage of
her large new home and hosted meetings of several organizations of which she
was a member, including the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Circle Number
2 of the Women’s Auxiliary to First Presbyterian Church, and the Board of the
Letitia Rosenberg Home for Women. The Galveston native was widely respected as
an organizer of the local Young Women’s Christian Association and served the
organization for the remainder of her life as a member of the board of
George drove his Studebaker
away from the home for the last time on January 17, 1924, after selling it to
Danish immigrant Anders “Andrew” Enevol Berthelsen and his wife Pauline Marie
Thomsen. George, Musette, and her mother Margaret Stevenson Newson moved into
the Love Apartments at 1908 Avenue F, but the couple was divorced less than one
Berthselsen’s life was a
shining example of what hard work could bring to brave, young immigrants in the
years following the Civil War. The determined young man learned the blacksmithing
trade at the age of 14 in Denmark and immigrated to America in 1868 at the age
of 17. He found his initial success in a job shoeing horses in Illinois before
venturing out to the mining towns of Colorado. After making a successful strike
in Georgetown, he bought two farms in Iowa and returned to his homeland for his
parents, brother and sisters.
He married Pauline Marie
Thomsen (1865-1964) in 1885, and moved to Webster, Texas in 1899. In 1908, they
moved with their seven children to Cotton Gin and then to Mexia, where
Berthelsen made his second fortune with a series of oil and gas wells on his
cotton farm. Unfortunately, Berthelsen passed away in 1926 after only living in
their Galveston home for two years.
Pauline and her youngest
daughter Anna remained in the residence, splitting their time between their
island home and one in Houston. Within a year, she began taking in boarders.
Sprinkled in between the newspaper advertisements listing their apartments for
rent over the next few years, there was often a notice offering a reward for
their Boston Terrier named Tiny, who was obviously quite an escape artist.
In the late 1940s, Italian
grocer Iacopo Federighi (1891-1965) became the last owner of the home. After
much debate in the community, the property was rezoned for use as a business in
1960. Federighi took advantage of the rezoning by utilizing the Davis home as a
gas station and store downstairs, and five efficiency apartments upstairs.