an imposing mansion owned by the Wood family was destroyed by fire in March
1886, only the wrought-iron fencing and prized oleanders that lined the
surrounding sidewalks remained.
Within months, the owner of the home, Annie
Wood (1818-1894), widow of hardware merchant Edward Stout Wood (1816-1882),
built a new, equally elaborate brick residence in Queen Anne style with three
distinctive turrets where her previous home stood. As the heir to the oldest hardware
mercantile in the state, and thanks to her husband’s frugal nature, she had
virtually unlimited funds to create her new home.
Sanborn maps from the era list the structure
as being built from the highest quality residential materials. A two-story
carriage house and a one-story servants’ quarters sat at the back of the four
lots. A story in the local newspaper reported an accident during construction
in July when a “tinner” (roofer) fell from scaffolding and broke his leg but
In winter of 1888, the family business that
Edward had built over forty years was floundering financially due to the
excessive spending of the family reserves by his sons. Liquidating assets in
order to pay debts, the mansion was sold to Alphonse Kenison (1841-1920). Annie
passed away in 1894, having lived her last years in a cottage at 1916 Avenue O.
Kenison originally arrived in Galveston in 1859, but left to serve in an infantry unit
from his home state of Louisiana
during the Civil War. He was captured in New Orleans
and became a prisoner of war, eventually being paroled in Natchitoches
in 1864 before returning to the Island.
After setting up a business as a lumber
merchant on Market Street
near the railroad depot, the veteran married Caroline Spann in 1866. She passed
away the following fall, and the widower left the lumber business to go into a
dry goods partnership with Edward Buckley. In 1879, he changed careers once
more, entering the insurance business in partnership with Isadore Dyer and
William Francis Beers. From their second-floor office at Strand
and 22nd Street,
they became highly successful as one of the first general insurance agencies in
Kenison remarried to Ellen Settle
(1845-1902), and although they lost two sons in infancy, their other five
children thrived and filled their grand home with activity. Daughters Josephine, Frances
and Caroline were charter members of the Galveston Musical Club for young
ladies in 1894. The enthusiastic group grew to 50 members under the guidance of
Mrs. Beers (wife of their father’s partner) and was responsible for enticing
many of the eras finest musicians to visit the Island
to perform. On New Year’s Eve 1895, daughters Caroline, Frances,
and Josephine Kenison gave a cotillion for their young friends at 1120 Tremont.
The lower floor of the residence was prepared
for the occasion by stretching canvas over the spacious double parlor
floors, and then taking up the carpet in the library and waxing the floors to
create a dance floor. At exactly 11:59pm, the young celebrants gathered
underneath the chandelier and gave five cheers for the parting year. When the
minute had passed, six cheers welcomed the new year.
Living in a luxurious home drew attention of
citizens other than the social elite. The Galveston
Daily News ran a story in June 1898 titled, “Kenison Home Robbed Again.”
Four times within two years and twice within two weeks, the same man
burglarized the family’s home.
This time, the intruder appeared to have
crawled up one of the columns of the balcony on the Avenue L side of the home
and entered the parents’ bedroom. After taking a pocketknife and small change
from Kenison’s trouser pockets, he went into the adjoining bedroom of Josephine
and her youngest sister Lucie. The eldest daughter sat up in bed and ordered
the man from the room. This woke up her sister who shrieked wildly, awakening
their parents. The burglar made his escape by rushing past the astonished
homeowners and jumping from the second story balcony.
The house was filled even on non-social days
with the large family: Alphonse, the father; Ellen, the mother; daughters
Josephine, Frances, Caroline and Lucie; son Alphonse Jr.; a boarder Lucy Sydnor
(daughter of John Seabrook Sydnor, a wealthy slave trader who had moved to New
York after the Civil War and died shortly after); Ellen’s mother Josephine
Settle; and servant Belle Washington and her young daughter Hazel.
They all sheltered within the walls of the
mansion during the 1900 Storm and survived. Ellen served as a leader for one of
the relief stations set up by the Red Cross in the following weeks. She passed
away two years later. The Kenison home was raised after the hurricane as part
of the Galveston
grade-raising by a local contractor named John Egert, Sr.
Festive times returned to the Kenison mansion
in 1904 when Josephine and Clinton Glencairn Wells were married in the home. It
was described as one of the most attractive weddings of the season. The room
where the ceremony was performed was decorated in palms and maidenhair ferns.
Lucie served as the maid of honor, and Caroline and Frances were bridesmaids.
A lavish spread of wedding presents was
displayed in the music room for the close friends and relatives who attended to
view. The newlyweds were showered with rice upon their departure for their
honeymoon, after which they returned to their new home as 1801 Winnie.
Josephine and Clinton had one son, Clinton III, born in 1906. Two years later, Clinton passed away, and
Josephine and her son moved in with her parents.
Her youngest sister Lucie’s wedding to Herman
Bornefeld was also held in the grand home in 1914. They made their home at 2323
Avenue L, after briefly living in the Kenison mansion.
In December of that year, Josephine’s son
Clint wrote a letter to Santa that was published in the newspaper. It read:
“Dear Santa: I want a torch, a box of candy, a football, A Meccano set (the
original erector building sets), a pair of boxing gloves, a machine saw with
wood and that is all. I am 8 years old.” As the only grandson living in the
home of his grandfather, it is likely his entire list was delivered Christmas
Alphonse Kenison, Sr., who had been known for
his quiet demeanor and kindness, passed away at his home in March 1920. With
the head of the family gone, his children sold the large home to Maco Stewart
in June 1921 for $21,000. Members of the Stewart family resided at 1120 Tremont
until 1944, when the home was purchased by the Young Men’s Christian
Association. The mansion was torn down in the early 1950s to make way for a new
YMCA building. The Galveston
chapter of this association is the oldest in the state.
Now this stunning residence only exists in a
handful of photos as a reminder to treasure the historical homes that remain on