One of Galveston’s
finest homes was built for a woman who died before she could ever live within
its walls. Despite its tragic beginning, the story of the residence would
become as impressive as the structure itself.
The tale of the mansion
began when David E. Bradbury (1812-1866), the captain of a windjammer, arrived
in Galveston in
1840 with his 16-year-old bride Julia Ann Livingston (1824-1858). The couple
became two of the city’s earliest settlers while Texas was still a republic and became
parents soon after their arrival.
Their first son Henry Clay
was born in 1841, followed by daughter Josephine Livingston in 1846. In 1850, a
second son Edward was born, but the child died tragically just two weeks after
his first birthday, while his mother Julia was pregnant with their fourth child
Captain Bradbury was one
of the chief developers of the Houston Ship Channel, referred to at the time as
the Galveston Bay Channel. He borrowed money from William Hendley in 1849 to
finance his shipping and dredging operations, making several surveys between Galveston Island
and Bolivar through Trinity and San
After the death of his
son, Bradbury resumed his interest in Galveston’s
deep-water project that sought to deepen the island’s waterways to allow
passage for larger and thus more lucrative vessels. He appeared before the
Texas Legislature several times to acquire funds to dredge Buffalo Bayou to
enable small craft to reach Harrisburg (Houston).
On April 7, 1857, he was
given the contract for the improving navigation over Clopper’s Bar and earned
$22,725 for the project. A later contract in 1858 entailed widening the
shipping passages through Red Fish Reef and into Buffalo Bayou.
These lucrative contracts
enabled the captain to build a dream home for his family. In February 1858, he
purchased three lots at the southeast corner of Twenty-fifth Street and Avenue K and
began construction of an elegant three-story mansion.
The residence was
constructed largely from ballast materials used in Bradbury’s cotton ships,
including high quality metals, pressed red brick and other quality materials
from the east coast and Europe. As the first
brick home on the Island (pre-dating Ashton
Villa by a year, which is often thought to hold that title) and one of the
first in the state, it garnered much attention in the community.
The impressive masonry
exterior was trimmed in white woodwork and featured arched windows, seven wide
porches, and was crowned with a slate and metal roof with wrought iron
cresting. The large structure had fifteen rooms, three hallways, four
fireplaces, and the luxury of five closets.
Gas provided the lighting,
and fixtures were imported from Europe. A two-story,
brick-veneered servants quarters occupied part of the back of the property
behind the home.
Then tragedy struck the
family again on September 2, 1858, when Julia died at the age of 34. She never
had the chance to live in the stately mansion. Julia and her son Edward are
buried in Trinity Episcopal Cemetery on Broadway. It is believed that the rest
of the Bradbury family did not live in the home either, as the captain sold it
to Nelson Clements shortly after Julia’s passing.
He remained on the Island
with his children for a short time, partnering with Nahor B. Yard, former
Senator Franklin H. Merriman, Frenchman Henri de St.
Cyr, and John S. Clute, Jr. to form the Texas Telegraph Company in 1860 before
moving to Port Lavaca, where he passed away eight years later.
Nelson Clements was a
commission merchant who dealt in cotton in Galveston
and New York.
His prominent connections in society included his wife’s uncle, Louisiana
Congressman and millionaire Duncan F. Kenner. Clements was also the co-builder
of Bean’s Wharf in Galveston
in 1859 and the owner of a successful steamship company.
In December 1862, working
with Confederate General John Magruder, the businessman contracted for the
delivery of thousands of arms, munitions, and other supplies needed by the army
in exchange for cotton. Though he delivered the shipments, he spent the next
year and a half lobbying unsuccessfully for payment. His contract was
officially cancelled by the Confederacy in April 1864.
As further insult, his
grand home was used as the headquarters of Confederate Colonel Henry M. Elmore,
leader of the Twentieth Texas Infantry, and his aide Captain Dixon Hall Lewis,
Jr. (son of an Alabama
senator) during the Civil War. Colonel J. A. Robertson, prominent in Island commercial and civic life, was also stationed in
the home during that time. Perhaps partly due to the misfortune of the lost
funds from the Confederate contract or to the home’s connection to the
Confederacy, Clements soon sold the property.
Well-known banker Henry
Seeligson (1828-1887) acquired the home during the 1870s and lived there until
1883 when he sold it to Joseph Seinsheimer. Seinsheimer (1855-1938) came to the
Island from Cincinnati
in 1873 and within months was working with the firm of Marx & Kempner,
successful cotton factors and wholesale grocers.
In 1879, he married
Blanche Fellman (1860-1945), who was said to be one of the most beautiful young
women in Texas.
As the daughter of the founder of Fellman’s Dry Goods Store, she undoubtedly
brought useful business and social connections to the marriage as well. They
initially lived with Blanche’s parents, but moved the following year when their
daughter Emma (1880-1969) was born.
Seinsheimer entered into
the partnership of Freiberg, Klein & Company liquors, wine and cigar
wholesalers in 1880. The business became enough of a success to afford the
young family a large home on Market and Twelfth, as well as a live-in staff
that included their coachman Albert Gilbert, maid Jennie Lyman,
and William Washington. It was in this large home that Blanche gave birth to
their only son Joseph Fellman (1881-1951).
At only 28 years old,
Seinsheimer purchased the mansion in 1883 that would be identified with his
name from that time on. The home had fallen into disrepair and the family spent
the following months restoring it to one of the most envied properties in Galveston.
Within the first few years
he owned the home, he replaced the gas power with electricity and contracted
other updates to modernize the home. Edythe (1884-1971), the couple’s youngest
child, was the only member of the family born in the home and lived most of her
pursuits were broad and incorporated a range of interests. He was part owner of
baseball club, and for the last two months of the season in 1890, served as the
president of the Texas Baseball League. He often commented on his
disappointment that the Island league had
Upon the death of Harris
Kempner in 1894, Seinsheimer became office manager of H. Kempner banking and
cotton and held the position until his own passing. That responsibility did not
keep the entrepreneur from following additional opportunities, and two years
later he opened the Seinsheimer Paper Company.
At the time of the 1900
Storm, the family lived at the Avenue K home with their live-in cook Dora Ware,
but no record was found to indicate whether they remained in the structure
during the incident. The first floor flooded, but the building survived with some
Afterward, Seinsheimer had
the house raised five feet, making it the first brick home to be raised in Galveston. In addition to
the necessary repair work, he added new wings to the residence and expanded the
porches to provide more entertaining space. The slate portion of the roof was
also replaced with asbestos shingles at that time.
An invitation to the
Seinsheimer home for a party was a coveted prize, as the family members were
known for being gracious and skilled hosts. Local newspaper columns mentioned
the details of guest lists and decorations much more often than they did the
accomplishments and business of Seinsheimer himself.
bridal showers, card-playing socials, and an annual party to celebrate the
couple’s wedding anniversary. Their 50th anniversary party was one
of the grandest Galveston
galas that year.
Seinsheimer was a charter
member of the El Mina Shrine Temple and a 33rd degree mason. He
acted as president of the Scottish Rite Temple Association of Galveston from 1906-1922. In June 1938, he
took his wife and daughters on a trip to Los
Angeles where he was scheduled to attend the annual
session of the Imperial Shrine Council.
contracted pneumonia and died in his room there at the Biltmore Hotel. He was
82. His family brought him back to the Island
and held his funeral in their home.
Blanche and her daughters
remained in the house for several more years until she advertised in search of
a smaller, three-bedroom home in 1943. Shortly afterward, the Seinsheimers left
the grand residence that had sheltered members of their family for fifty years.
The trio moved to 3028
Avenue O, and Blanche passed away in October 1945 shortly after her 85th
birthday. She and her husband are interred at Galveston Memorial Park
In April 1944, their
former home and the rear servant quarters were converted into multi-unit
apartment buildings. The floorplan subdivided the house into 25 rooms, four of
which had fireplaces.
In a much more modest
style than the previous owners enjoyed, the largest apartments offered three
rooms with a private bath. There were nine apartment units in the main home:
four on the first floor, three on the second, and two on the third. The
separate servants’ quarters were divided into two units, and a laundry room was
established in the basement. During World War II, the apartments were
designated as war housing for families of men serving at Fort Crockett.
The former servants’
quarters and garage were heavily damaged in a fire in 1946, though firemen from
three companies fought for an hour and a half to save it. In October 1960, the
Seinsheimer family unfortunately decided that the 102-year-old mansion had
outlived its usefulness and had it razed. After sitting empty for several
years, the once impressive homes’ walls tumbled down, ending its place as a
center of historical and social importance in the community.
Two original street
markers - one from the side of the home facing Avenue K and the other from the side
facing Bath Avenue (now 25th Street / Rosenberg Avenue)—were
salvaged from the demolition site and donated to Rosenberg Library by R.W.
Alford who was contracted to demolish the home.
In 1978, a one-story
office building took the place of the Seinsheimer residence.
A 1917 newspaper ad listed that the home was in need of “a
yardman, one who understands milking a cow.”