OUR EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR'S PERSPECTIVE
VOLUNTEERS, the Life Blood of
the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation
By Dennis C. Parmer
When I was contemplating writing my first newsletter article as the new Executive Director of the SLHF, I pondered lots of topics but quickly came to the conclusion that I could not write a more important article than about the volunteers at SLHF.
Webster's New World Dictionary defines the word "volunteer" in two ways that are appropriate for this newsletter article. They are: 1) a person who chooses freely to do or offer to do something; 2) chooses freely to enter into any transaction with no promise of compensation. These two definitions define the act of volunteering but fall way short of defining a volunteer for the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation.
Our volunteers have a passion for the preservation of the history of Sugar Land; they are serious about safeguarding the heritage of this city. At the same time, our volunteers are a fun loving group of individuals from a cross section of this city and county. They range from high school students to senior citizens. They come in all sizes and from many ethnic backgrounds. They have a wide variety of business and non-business backgrounds. They are diverse in many ways yet called to a similar purpose: the preservation of our heritage and history!
In a recent Chautauqua Talk, I heard former Sugar Land Mayor Bill Little make numerous references to someone volunteering to do this or that as Sugar Land transitioned from a company town to an incorporated city. Fifty plus years later it is still true; a lot of residents volunteer in this City. It is one of the attributes that makes this a great place to live!
With regards to the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation, volunteers are the life blood of our organization. This was true back when we were chartered in 2008; it is even more true today, and will most certainly be true when we open a museum on the Imperial Refinery Site in a couple of years.
Come join us as we continue to preserve our heritage and history. We would love to have you as a part of the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation.
The Imperial Valley Railway
Railroads have played an important role in Sugar Land's history, especially the Sugar Land Railway which transported refined and raw sugar to and from the harbor docks in Galveston. This article covers the little-known rail line that ran westward from Sugar Land through the state prison farms to a spot on the east bank of the Brazos River south of Fulshear.
William T. Eldridge, Sr. and Isaac H. Kempner, Sr. chartered the Imperial Valley Railway Company on May 30, 1907. Their intention was to build a railroad from Sugar Land to Hemstead, a distance of roughly 60 miles. Paid-in capital was $100,000. The business offices were located at Sartartia, the small community west of Sugar Land on Highway 90-A across from Central Unit 1 of the State Prison System.
The Imperial Valley Railway never reached its intended destination. The first section of track ran 5 miles from Sugar Land to Cabell. (See the accompanying map drawn in the 1920s. The rail line is highlighted in red). Although they do not appear on the map, several spurs totaling an additional 5 miles intersected the first section of the rail line. On January 31, 1912, Eldridge and Kempner consolidated their local railroad holdings by merging the Imperial Valley Railway into the Sugar Land Railway Company.
The following photo shows an engine near the roundhouse for Sugar Land Railway's rolling stock. The roundhouse and maintenance sheds were located on the south bank of Cleveland Lake approximately midway between Main Street and Wood Street. This area is now a vacant field.
In 1931 the rail line was extended westward an additional 12 miles from Cabell to Hickey on the east bank of the Brazos River. Although the railway hauled commercial freight and passengers, its principal purpose was transporting sugar cane to the mill in Sugar Land from the extensive cane-growing operations west of Sugar Land, which included the State Prison Farms.
In the 1920s and '30s local growers abandoned sugar cane as a commercial crop due to weather conditions (especially flooding), pests, labor costs, and greater financial returns on other crops. As sugar cane crops decreased, the viability of the rail line diminished. The westernmost section of the line from Hickey to Cabell shut down in 1942. Ten years later, the 3-mile section between Cabell and Pryor was also abandoned.
The Imperial valley Railway may be a ghost of the past, but a few remnants are still visible today if you know where to look.
Much of the information in this article comes from the Handbook of Texas.
Robert C. Hanna
September 15th, 1928 - January 25, 2013
Robert Clyde "Bob" Hanna, age 84, of Sugar Land, passed away on Friday, the 25th of January 2013, in Houston. He was a devoted husband, father, brother, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend.
Bob was born in Decatur, Illinois, to Clyde and Annamary Hanna. Bob was a 1950 graduate of Millikin University in Decatur, served on the Board of Trustees from 1986 - 1995, was named Alumnus of the Year in 1995, and in 2003 was inducted into Millikin's Medallion Society. Hanna served with the U.S. Army from 1950 - 1954 and was honorably discharged as 1st Lieutenant, Infantry.
Hanna joined Imperial Sugar Co. in 1955 as an Assistant Sales Manager and began a career that led to successive promotions in sales management positions, then to the vice presidency and finally to the top leadership in the company. He was named Sugar Man of the Year in 1993 by The Sugar Association. After 38 years of service, he retired as President, CEO, and Director of the Imperial Holly Corporation, to assume the post as Vice Chairman.
It was asked that in lieu of customary remembrances, memorial contributions in honor of Bob may be directed to the Memorial Hermann Foundation, 929 Gessner, Suite 2650, Houston, TX, 77024; Millikin University, Alumni and Development Office, 1184 West Main St., Decatur, IL., 62522; Houston SPCA, 900 Portway Drive, Houston, TX, 77024 or to the charity of one's choice.
REVIEW OF CHAUTAUQUA TALKS
Chautauqua Talk #2
"Transition from Company Town to Incorporated City"
William A. Little, Speaker
Bruce Kelly, Interviewer
The second of the Chautauqua Lecture Series presented by the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation in association with the Sugar Land Cultural Arts Foundation on February 12, 2013, was held in the Sugar Land Auditorium on the Lakeview Elementary School Campus.
Susan and Cliff Wagner sent us another wonderful review of the lecture. We had to edit it for lack of space in the newsletter so if you would like to read the entire article please see it on our website.
Following is the edited version of their review:
It was a modest period compared to today's standards but the conditions were right in Sugar Land and it was time to get on with it, the Transition from Company Town to Incorporated City.
The year was 1959 and the City of Stafford had just annexed part of Sugarland Industries' property. There was a sense of urgency amongst Sugar Landers to gain control of their destiny before more land was annexed.
Imperial Sugar started selling homes on the Hill, creating a tax base for the prospective city which paved the way for incorporation. Sugarland Industries managed the homes south of the highway, and those went up for sale after the incorporation. But how did the Sugar Land we know today develop from a company town? What lead up to her incorporation and what is the city's legacy since incorporation? This was the story told by Bill Little in the second Chautauqua Talk presented by The Sugar Land Heritage Foundation in partnership with the Sugar Land Cultural Arts Foundation.
William A (Bill) Little moved to Sugar Land in 1957 from Sandusky, Ohio because of complications stemming from a severe "snow allergy". Bill's first job was with Imperial Sugar where he was involved with selling the houses on the Hill for Imperial. Later, when he worked for Sugarland Industries he was involved with the sale of lots in Venetian Estates, Belknap and later the Brookside Subdivision.
Sugar Land was a city in transition. Upon incorporation in 1959 Bill was elected to be an alderman for the young city and just two years later became Sugar Land's second mayor. Who better then to enlighten the audience about Sugar Land's humble beginning than Bill, telling not only the history of what happened but, more importantly, telling how and why those decisions were made.
The talk was facilitated by Bruce Kelly, a homespun Sugar Land historian, in a homey interview style. As Bruce coaxed Bill's chronology with relevant questions, the talk took on the atmosphere of a father and his son simply chatting about the good old days. With laptop in hand and a bevy of slides, Bruce was able to seamlessly display relevant documents such as pictures, newspaper articles and ledger entries. Bruce was well armed to punctuate Bill's recollections with antidotes of early Sugar Land from a child's perspective.
Looking at Sugar Land City Hall today it is hard to believe that just 53 years ago City Hall was a single empty room rented for $10.00/month. The needs of young Sugar Land were many. There were governmental structural issues of providing water, sewer, and electricity not to mention garbage service, establishing building codes and providing a dog catcher. There were developmental issues such as installing sewer lines in the Alkire Lake area and there were those sensitive issues of collecting city taxes and fees for the new city services. Everything had to be worked through.
In retrospect Sugar Land's metamorphosis seems like it must have been an overwhelming task for a mayor and five aldermen, but Bill does not remember it that way. He tells of a pragmatic city government who simply identified the needs of the community and then sought to remedy the situation. City planning was a good thing so a "Comprehensive Plan", was developed for Sugar Land. Zoning protected the home owner's property values so it was adopted. Performing urban renewal of the Quarters was the right thing to do so working with the FHA a growing young city made it happen. It was a time in which city government stepped up to do what needed to be done.
It is the goal of the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation to capture personal accounts of Sugar Land history before they become irretrievable. For this reason it was good to see this Chautauqua Talk video recorded. It will be videos such as this which will explain to future generations how a modest city government with a singular focus lead Sugar Land to become the vibrant city she is today. This video will explain Sugar Land's legacy, great communities don't just happen, they must be properly planned and the first ingredient in any success story must be integrity.
FEBRUARY 23rd WORK DAY VOLUNTEERS
From left: Bob Ring, Randy Parker, Dennis Parmer, Marisa Parks, Michelle Wohlwend, Jackie James, Cherry Wong, Marsha Smith, Becky Parmer, Haroldetta Robertson, Betty Schofield, James Wong, Scott Coffee, Chuck Kelly
Not pictured: Sherrie Hickl, John & Thelma Loper, Gail Parker, Tracy & Roberta Prater
We had a great morning, moving things around in the Museum, creating storage space for gift shop inventory and general cleaning and sorting. Come see the new and improved Museum and watch this space for more work day opportunities!
FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS AND CONNECTIONS
IN SUGAR LAND, TEXAS
By Jackie James
Growing up in Sugar Land there was one joke that was always said in jest but was absolutely true. "When you are talking to someone who lives in Sugar Land, do not speak unkindly of anyone else in town because they may be related to the one to whom you are speaking."
Even folks who grew up here and are in their sixties and seventies now are still surprised in finding out about a family relationship they didn't know about. For instance, at a Sugar Land High School reunion a couple of years ago, I was talking to a fellow graduate and she mentioned two friends of mine and said they were her first cousins. Even though I was born here, I was totally surprised as I had no idea my friends were
related to her.
People who moved to Sugar Land in the 1920s and 1930s liked it so much that they would tell their family members, and then those folks would move here also. Many high school kids fell in love, married and stayed here to work for either Imperial Sugar or Sugarland Industries, which increased the family ties in our town.
The family relationships and connections in Sugar Land made our town a warm and wonderful place in which to grow up. As I became a teenager it began to mean a lot to me as we had no extended family here and I began to feel a part of many families while spending time in my friends' homes. I firmly believe that the family ties in Sugar Land were, and still are, the most important part of our history, and had such a positive influence on all of us.
Here is a story that we received recently from Cherryl Irene Hughes Fikes that we wanted to share with you:
"Sugar Land was home to many in my family. The McMeans family arrived in the 1920's, and were charter members of the Methodist Church. My grandmother, Nola McMeans Hughes, spoke the words, 'number please' as a telephone operator. Her twin sister, Nora McMeans Blair, worked in the 'new' grocery store. My cousin, Buddy Blair still lives on Main Street.
My Elskes relatives were in Sugar Land in 1928. My grandfather was a carpenter and worked on houses. They lived on Brooks Street, where my aunt, Irene Elskes Couvillion, lived until her death. She married a handsome young man who rode into town on his motorcycle, Jimmy Couvillion, of the western Auto Store.
My mother, Dorothy Elskes Hughes Daves, worked in the Sugarland Industries office. I was born in Laura Eldridge Hospital 69 years ago, and though moved from Sugar Land at age ten; still consider it my home town."
On a personal note, I emailed Cherryl and thanked her for sharing her family history with us, gave her my telephone number and told her to call me the next time she was in S.L. About ten minutes later I received a phone call from her and we talked for about an hour and a half! I felt as if I had known her all my life and she left here at the age of 10. But she considers Sugar Land her home town; what a great compliment to the folks of Sugar Land.
She and I had a connection immediately because I knew and loved her family members whom she mentioned. To me, that's what Sugar Land has always been about; the closeness that folks have always felt for one another here. I have said many times, "Sugar Land has always been like one big family". It is our town's greatest blessing and the families here are the ties that bind us.
We are interested in finding out more about the relationships and connections of the families of Sugar Land, and presenting their stories in our newsletter. Please send any information or anecdotes about your families that you would like to share, to Marsha Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org
GIFT SHOP GOODIES
Limited availability item:
Note cards designed by Annette Williamson Wise, who left us much too early. Annette also designed and painted the Main Street Bridge with scenes from Sugar Land, past and present. There are 8 cards in a pack, with 4 different scenes, for $10 per pack. When these are gone, there won't be any more!
Sugar Land Heritage Foundation
Board of Directors
Roy Cordes, Jr.
Rev. Martin Nicholas
9:00 - 1:00
Sugar Land Heritage Foundation Museum
9:00 - 1:00
2nd Saturday of each month at 10:00
$10 for adults
$5 for 12 - 18
Free for under 12
The next 3 walks are March 9th, April 13th and May 11th
Dennis's Wish List
Fire Proof Cabinet for Archivist Area
Lockable File Cabinet for Executive Director's Office
Matching Chairs with Rollers for Conference Table (8 or 10)
Steel Shelving to Store Artifact Collection
Funds for Build-Out for Museum Exhibits
Folding Tables & Chairs
Keurig Coffee Maker
LCD Projector for Giving Presentations
Transcription Machine for Oral Histories
THANK YOU TO THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE WHO RECENTLY MADE IN-KIND DONATIONS TO SLHF
Gail & Randy Parker