Lost Mansions - Waters Davis Jr. Residence

1902-1908 Broadway Avenue

By Kathleen Maca
Waters Davis 

 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 born.

  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.

 Placeholder image 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.

  Placeholder image 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 Massie League.

  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.

  Placeholder imageMusette 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 directors.

   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 year later.

  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.

  A decade later, the once elegant residence was razed, and the Broadway Service Center was built on the lot. No signs of the home remain, but the lasting effects of some its residents still grace Galveston Island.