Many residents in the early days of Galveston had an impact on
lives and businesses far beyond the shores of our Island. Determination, keen
business sense, and love for family and community were often common threads in
the lives that happened within the walls of Galveston’s lost mansions.
John D. Rogers (1828-1908)
came to Texas from Alabama in 1841 with his father, settling near
Washington-on-the-Brazos. The bright young man soon attended the Medical
College of Louisiana (now known as Tulane University) and returned home to
practice medicine. While living in Washington-on-the-Brazos, he married Martha
C. Allen in 1857 with whom he had one son, Robert Allen Rogers (1857-1938).
When the Civil War began,
Rogers obtained a captain’s commission and raised Company E, known as the Dixie
Blue, of the Fifth Texas Infantry in Washington County. He later rose to the
rank of lieutenant colonel in Hood’s Brigade. His name is listed on the Hood’s
Texas Brigade Monument on the State Capitol grounds in Austin.
Rogers formed the John D.
Rogers & Company cotton firm after the war, first operating in Millican,
Texas. His wife passed away, and he married her sister Priscilla Laurence Allen
in 1867. Two years later, their son William Richard Allen Rogers (1869-1937),
often referred to as WRA, was born.
In 1868, Rogers moved his
family to Galveston, one of the most important ports in the nation. In the 1870
census, they are listed as living in the Island home of his relative, Dr.
William Rogers. Initially involved in banking and cotton enterprises, he soon
focused solely on the cotton industry, where he found great success.
He also operated
Allenfarm, a lucrative cotton plantation on the Brazos River which he inherited
from his father-in-law. Rogers was one of the first postwar plantation owners
to utilize convict labor to work the land.
Most of the 150 inmates
utilized on Allenfarm were white. With 1,000 acres of crops to be tended, this afforded
an inexpensive source of labor for farmers and a much-needed source of income
for the correctional system.
Business success provided
Rogers with the means to build a home of his own for his family in 1874 on
three lots at the southwest corner of Tremont (23rd Street) and
Avenue I (Sealy). The two-story house was constructed of sturdy native pine and
cypress and featured wide galleries with walk-out style windows across the
front of the structure’s first and second floor. Other porches on the side of
the home offered more privacy.
In addition to twelve rooms
ornamented with plaster cornices and imported wallpaper, the Rogers’ home had
five hallways, two bathrooms, five closets, and eight mantled fireplaces. A
large kitchen was designed to accommodate enough staff to service the family’s
gatherings of friends and community during special occasions.
It had its own separate
gas heater and indoor water closet (bathroom) with a washstand and tub for the
servants’ use. The pantry was equipped with a china closet, sink, and drain
Elegant smoking and dining
rooms featured burled cypress paneling and were decorated with typically
elaborate Victorian paintings and greenery. Surrounding the entire property was
a wrought iron fence with the name “John D. Rogers” on the front gate. The
streets in the area were paved with wood blocks, which was considered quite an
improvement to the previous dirt roadways that would mire carriages in mud
after a rain.
The main house was
originally configured in a “C” shape with shingle roofing. A two-story building
that served as stables and servants’ quarters along with half a dozen other
small outbuildings were positioned at the back of the property. An imposing
columned porch on the property behind the Brown family’s Ashton villa somewhat
resembled the 1838 Michel B. Menard House but was updated with Victorian
flourishes and trim.
In celebration of Mardi
Gras in March 1878, the Rogers’ home was one of many large Galveston mansions
brilliantly lit and draped with flags, as part of a citywide “Illumination of
Priscilla, a devout
Christian, was a member of the new Baptist church when it opened in 1883, and
her son WRA was the first to be baptized there. Mr. Rogers was an ardent sports
fan whose favorite past times included baseball, horseback riding and fox
hunting. His celebrated pack of hunting hounds were occasionally mentioned in
advertisements for public exhibitions of sportsmanship.
The eldest son, Robert,
married in 1885 and moved to the Fort Worth area, leaving his younger brother
as heir to the family businesses in Galveston. Rogers’ youngest son, WRA,
married Mary Landon Lowe (1874-1949), the daughter of Galveston Daily News Vice
President Major R. G. Lowe, in 1898. The couple and their children lived in the
Rogers home on Tremont with John Rogers and four servants. Their daughter Priscilla
was born in the family home April 1900.
Renovations to the
property in the late 1880s removed all but two of the outbuildings, including
the two-story servants’ accommodations. The wing of the home which was designed
to serve as the back portion of the “C” shape was re-oriented to fit lengthwise
at the rear of the home, and the mid-section was widened slightly. Although the
grand two-story gallery remained on the Tremont side of the building, the back
gallery, which now stretched along the back two sections of the home, only
existed on the ground floor. The wood shingled roof was also replaced with
fashionable, fireproof slate during this era.
Priscilla was sitting in
her chair enjoying the evening breeze on the upper gallery of her home on August
30, 1888, when she fell backward and passed away almost immediately. Though she
had been an invalid suffering from heart disease for some time, her family was
shocked by the loss of their 50-year-old matriarch.
Her husband John returned
immediately from Denver where he was attending a Deep Water Convention when he
received the news. Rogers donated a new organ to his wife’s beloved church in
In 1894, Rogers
constructed the Rogers Building at 2013-2019 Strand as an investment. Currently
the home of the Trolley Station event venue, passersby can still see the
initials J.D.R. and the date 1894 inscribed on the two parapets at the top of
the building. Business continued as usual for the elder Rogers and his youngest
son William, who was by this time was very involved in his father’s
enterprises, until a series of events at the turn of the century presented new
In July 1899, an
unprecedented flood along the Brazos River killed 200 people and caused
property damage in a large area surrounding the Allenfarm plantation.
Determined to address the situation in person, the 71-year-old veteran arrived
on the scene before the water level rose to its highest by riding on a
construction train to Navasota and then hiring a fisherman to carry him the
last ten miles to Allenfarm by boat.
The 150 convict laborers
at the farm and their guards were housed in a boarded-up wagon shed, and
makeshift rafts were quickly constructed of spare wood for other workers to sleep
on. Rogers slept in his own bed that had been propped up on chairs in the ten
inches of water in the house. Though he invited his servants to sleep in the
house with him, all but one was too frightened that the building might float
No lives were lost on
Allenfarm, although the crops were a total loss. Replacement seed was
immediately ordered, and after ten days, a tanned and tired Rogers returned
home to Galveston. It was not the last disaster damage he would see.
Just as they had for many
years before, Colonel Rogers and his friend Colonel D. C. Giddings of Brenham
were vacationing together in the north during the summer of 1900. They were
still in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in September when they received word of the
devastation of the great hurricane in Galveston the following September. Rogers
set out immediately for home and reached the Island on Friday the 14th.
Finding his own home
virtually unharmed, Rogers turned his attention to the thirty- to fifty-
thousand dollars’ worth of damage to his Gulf City Compress Company. Warehouses
were cleared of wreckage and buildings were restored. The compress machinery
itself was uninjured, so work began again as soon as there was available cotton
John D. Rogers moved into
a smaller home at 2317 Avenue I in 1903, perhaps ready to distance himself from
the busy life of his son’s young family. But when he began to suffer from
Bright’s Disease, he was moved back to his Tremont residence. He lapsed into a
coma on October 19, 1908 and passed away four days later in the home where he
had raised his family.
His body was carried by
train to Brenham on a cold rainy day where he was buried beside his wife
Priscilla in Prairie Lea Cemetery. His will bequeathed his plantation to his
first son Robert and his children, and his Galveston home and business to William.
Rogers, Texas in Bell County was named in his honor due to his involvement with
the local railroad.
The Rogers’ home was
updated for one of the last times in 1912 when part of the area formerly used
as the side porch was enclosed to create a curved room addition. A small
outbuilding was converted into a garage at approximately the same time, and a
two-story dwelling was added at the back of the property that served as a
WRA’s daughter Priscilla
married Rufus Fenner Scott, Jr. on October 18, 1924. The couple moved to Paris,
Texas after returning from the honeymoon leaving her parents alone in the large
white mansion on Tremont. In the steps of his father, WRA found success at his
father’s firm, John D. Rogers & Company. He also served as the president of
the National Compress & Warehouse Company and was one of the organizers of
the cotton exchange.
While his father enjoyed
being an outdoorsman, WRA had artistic tendencies. He was prominent in both
civic and social circles, performed as a member of the Galveston Quartet
Society, served as a director for the Hotel Galvez, a trustee of the Rosenberg
Library, a member of the Galveston Artillery Club, and a director of the Old
After several years of
retirement from business responsibilities, WRA passed away at home on St.
Patrick’s Day in 1937 at 6pm, the same time of day his mother had died under
the same roof.
His widow Mary remained in
the home alone except for boarders on the property until 1947, when she moved to
Paris to be with her daughter where she died two years later. She and her
husband are buried at Trinity Episcopal Cemetery. For the first time in its
history, the large residence on Tremont sat empty.
Mary’s daughter Priscilla
appointed Hutching-Sealy Bank as the trustee for the home since she no longer
lived in Galveston. In 1950, the bank sold the residence and property to
contractor R. Kesel for $860, and he immediately began the process of razing
the grand home.
The stalwart building did
not give way easily, and demolition crews who were given the task of
disassembling portions of the home for salvage remarked that the old woods must
have hardened with age to make demolition so difficult. As plaster broke away from
the walls, newspapers from 1904 were revealed.
One had a prominent
advertisement for John D. Rogers & Company. It was the last whisper of the
family name within their home.