Saturday, August 02, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History  August 3

Houston Mayor Leaves Bequest for Churches and School   August 1856

Last week’s column related Walter Clark’s bequest to Texas Methodist institutions.  Of course many persons include good works in their estate planning, and the development offices of Methodist universities have entire departments devoted to encouraging friends and alumni to do so.  

In the mid-1850s the mayor of Houston, James H. Stevens, although still a young man, was dying of consumption (tuberculosis).  The long, lingering illness gave him to time for estate planning rare in the mid-nineteenth century.  The Methodist Church in Houston was one of the named beneficiaries in his will.  

Stevens had a very large estate—valued at about $300,000.  He was born in Kentucky in 1818 and came to Houston in 1840.  He became a merchant and railroad promoter and was one of the organizers of the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos, and Colorado Railroad.  This rail line was a key to Houston’s success as it diverted the cotton trade from the Brazos River bottoms to Houston instead of Harrisburg.  The seal of the City of Houston has a locomotive as its main image as a reminder of the importance of railroads in the city’s history.   

The city elections of 1855 featured a railroad vs. anti-railroad controversy.  Stevens was put forward as the mayoral candidate for the railroad faction and was elected.  

His term was short as he died on July 21, 1856, and his will was soon made public.  He divided his estate among his family and then bequeathed $1000 each to the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopal Churches.  He also left $5000 as a challenge grant.  The condition of the grant was that Houstonians could have the money when they raised $10000 for an academy.  

Only one month after the death, friends of the deceased met the challenge with $20000 and chartered Houston Academy.  The academy closed during the Civil War, but reopened afterward and is recognized as one of the foundations upon which Houston ISD was created. 


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