Schmidt's Garden and A Baby Named Quarantine

By Kathleen Maca

If you think some of the names we hear today are unusual, you might be surprised to learn it is nothing new. Imagine going through life with the given name of “Quarantine.” A member of one of Galveston’s most well-known families in the late 1800s did, preferring to be addressed by his full first name rather than shortened versions or nicknames.

The story began with his father, German immigrant Frederick William Schmidt, who settled in Galveston in 1836. After serving in the military, he became one of the first butchers on the Island.

By 1843, his successful business allowed he and his new wife Charlotte Beissner to purchase five acres between Avenue O, Avenue P, 20th and 21st Streets. The home was built behind where the Hotel Galvez now stands.

In 1853, a deadly Yellow Fever Epidemic arrived in Galveston from New Orleans aboard the SS City of Mexico. In response to dire accounts of the fever’s toll in Louisiana, Galveston voters strengthened quarantine regulations on August 5 and appropriated money to build the first quarantine station in Texas. Three days later under quarantine, Charlotte gave birth to the couple’s fifth child and named him Quarantine Bennett Schmidt.

The regulations likely saved many lives, though approximately 60 percent of the 5,000 Island residents became sick and 523 died. Fortunately, no one in the Schmidt family was lost.

Placeholder imageAs their family grew to include nine children, Frederick and Charlotte developed the property surrounding their home into a popular pleasure spot known as Schmidt’s Garden. The enclosed grounds had been used for private parties and picnics for years, but as their popularity grew, Schmidt planned to make improvements to draw even larger crowds.

He hired Richard Kuhler of New Orleans to supervise construction of an octagon-shaped pavilion with an open dance floor, saloon, stage, park benches, eating tables, and refreshment stands. The grounds were planted with mulberry, chinaberry, and cedar trees in addition to assorted flowers and shrubbery to create an enjoyable oasis for visitors.

In 1857, Schmidt added a large building the newspaper described as a “spacious mansion” where large indoor gatherings took place. During festival seasons when attractions in other parts of town would close for the night, crowds often migrated to Schmidt’s where they continued their festivities long after midnight. As the grounds’ popularity grew, so did the number of buildings.

A visiting reporter from New York in 1858 remarked, “While I linger in this pleasant, gay and sunny city of the South…I spent an hour or two in Schmidt’s Garden and the new hall very pleasantly. This hall will soon be open and well kept during warm weather for those who like amusements.”

The Civil War reached the shores of Galveston three years later, and on August 3, 1861 the Union steamer USS South Carolina fired on the Island. Days later, the New York Times labeled the action as “barbarous” citing that the ship endangered citizens rather than focusing on the Confederate batteries.

Placeholder imageSeveral large shells exploded high in the air with pieces striking Ashton Villa and other homes; some were even fired directly into a crowd of people on the beach. One shell buried itself near Schmidt’s Garden and required cautious removal. It would not be the last time that shells struck the grounds during the war.

Union forces occupied Galveston early in October 1862, and the Garden served as a pre-dawn rendezvous point for Confederate scouting missions throughout the city. Two of Frederick and Charlotte’s sons, Christopher and Louis, fought in the pivotal Battle of Galveston in 1863.

After the war, things returned to normal and “Butcher Schmidt,” as he was called in the community, continually made improvements on his venue. During the 1870s and 1880s, May Day (Mai Day), Fourth of July, and other holiday celebrations as well as fetes and dances were regularly held at Schmidt’s Garden.

Families, friends and neighbors would gather in the long benches and tables beneath shade trees to picnic or listen to German bands playing on the bandstand nearby. After partaking in foaming glasses of beer, sauerkraut, weinerwursts (a predecessor to the hot dog), liver sandwiches, ice cream, soda water, pretzels, and cigars from stands rented by vendors, visitors could relax, stroll through the beautiful gardens, or take part in a number of activities.

Children had large areas to enjoy the swings or take part in organized games of log balancing, frog jumping, sausage catching, ten pin alleys, blind man’s bluff, and singing contests. Adults could visit with others, dance, participate in athletic events, or try their luck at a shooting gallery or beer drinking contests.

During this era, almost any occasion or anniversary provided an excuse for a parade, many of which ended their route at the Garden to crown a parade queen and provide a stage for long-winded speeches.

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Schmidt ran an advertisement in April 1872 offering a five-year rental of the grounds complete with buildings and amusements. Though one of the notices stated his reason was his intention to leave the city, he never did. Within a month, Frederick Jr. had taken over control of Schmidt’s Garden, and his father opened a carriage repair shop.

The Galveston Artillery Company hosted a dress parade and picnic at Schmidt’s that month to raise funds for the Galveston Mercantile Library that had recently opened as the city’s first library. Other fundraisers that took place at the venue benefitted the St. Joseph’s School, Galveston Orphans’ Home, and other local causes. They often featured music by popular performers such as Petit’s Brass Band and ended with impressive fireworks displays that illuminated the grounds at night.

Frederick Schmidt Sr. was elected chairperson for the first May Fete and Volkfest on the Island in 1876. He oversaw all of the arrangements and rented his venue to the city for $500. With numerous activities planned for the first three days of the month, ticket sales reached an astonishing $4,013 by May 1.

A local photographer from Blessing & Brother studio was there to capture the excitement on Opening Day which began with a parade from Turner Hall on Sealy Avenue and wound its way through town to the Garden where the May Queen was crowned.

Many of the visitors arrived at the Garden via the Galveston and Western Railway, known as “Little Susie,” that ran just north on Avenue N in the later years of the venue’s existence. The relay on the little narrow gauge line merely consisted of seats attached onto flat cars, but the reasonable “excursion rates” made it a popular choice. A round trip fare to Schmidt’s Garden was reduced to one-fifth the usual one-way rate in honor of the festival.

In addition to the traditional Maifest activities, such as a street parade of ten decorated wagons, the 1880 festival had over 800 attendees and offered a peculiar form of entertainment. A steam operated miniature railroad on an extensive circular track, which Black, Sengelmann & Company brought to Galveston from Schulenberg, was the star attraction. A diminutive locomotive sped along the track pulling a dozen cars while a tiny engineer shoveled coal and blew a whistle, mimicking large-scale locomotives.

A gentleman who the local newspaper described as “one of the most massive intellects in Galveston” observed its operation for about half an hour before declaring it to be “the most wonderful thing I ever saw. There can be no humbug about that.”

The grounds were at their most beautiful at night, with Chinese lanterns hung to light the grounds as attendees enjoyed refreshments. The stage was lit with calcium lights of all colors, and the festivities continued until midnight. They resumed the following day and concluded with a grand ball that lasted until 2am.

Frederick Schmidt, Sr. passed away in 1886. After his death his son George, a policeman, assumed management of the Garden. The Maifest was held at his father’s Garden for the last time the following year. In 1887, the Garden was divided into city lots and sold.

The Schmidt family meat market and butcher shop operated until about 1947, having been in business for about 65 years. Quarantine Schmidt was operating the market at the time of the 1900 Storm, and later opened a shop of his own at the corner of 28th Street and Avenue P. He also drove a delivery truck for a local brewery. Quarantine married a widow, and in addition to her daughter the couple had nine children of their own.

His brother Christopher also followed their father into the family business as a butcher but was stricken with paralysis in 1885. He lived with his wife Annie and their children in his father’s home on property that was originally part of Schmidt’s Garden. Their brother Frederick Jr. who helped manage the property after their father’s passing, also became a butcher after the land was sold.

Frederick and Charlotte Schmidt rest in Old City Cemetery on the Island where their business once played an enjoyable role in the lives of countless Galvestonians.