Sunday, August 30, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History   August 30

David Ayres Adds Another Tract to his Proposed “Methodist City”, Centre Hill, September 1, 1838

The number one concern of entrepreneur in the Republic of Texas was land development.  The newspapers of the era are full of prospectuses for the sale of lots in nascent cities.  The descriptions of the proposed cities all contain standard language---If one believed the advertisements all the cities were located in healthy parts of the state, surrounded by fertile soils, with plenty of clean water, at major crossroads.  

A few of the cities such as Houston, promoted by the Allen Brothers, not only lived up to the advertisements, but actually exceeded them.  Most, however, such as Aurora on the site where Port Arthur was later founded, failed.  

We can count Centre Hill in northern Austin County as one of the failures, and it is of special interest, because its proprietor, David Ayres, intended it to become a “Methodist City,” anchored by a Methodist college.  

On Sept. 1, 1838, he bought the 320 acre land bonus James Bradford Pier had been awarded because of his participation in the Battle of San Jacinto.  Pier’s 320 acres, later surveyed by John Wesley Kenney, was part of the 11,000 acre tract upon which Ayres intended to build his Centre Hill.  

Such an undertaking was too much even for Ayres so he went north for financing, borrowing the money from his brother Silas and the firm Hedding, Day, and Ayers (I didn’t misspell Ayres---David was the only brother to use the “re” spelling.) 

The firm was in New Albany, Indiana, also the home of Calvin Ruter, Martin’s brother.  Mrs. Ruter and the children were to live in New Albany during Martin’s trip to Texas in 1837.  That is the reason David Ayres and Martin Ruter were travelling companions to Texas.
James Bradford Pier had emigrated from Ohio in time to participate in the Revolution and establish himself as a solid citizen of Texas.  He already had a land grant in the same neighborhood of both Ayres and Kenney.  

Centre Hill was located on the road from San Felipe to Washington on the west side of the Brazos River, and David Ayres made a go of it for a while.  The Republic of Texas named him Postmaster and regular (as regular as any) mail service developed.  Things turned horribly wrong.  The first blow was the establishment of the Methodist College at Rutersville—instead of Centre Hill.  It must have been especially galling because Robert Alexander, Ayres’ son-in-law, was one of the prime movers in the establishment of Rutersville.

Centre Hill hung about 10 more years, but when it lost the county seat election to Bellville, Ayres packed it in and moved to Galveston.   When it was finally dissolved, Hedding, Day, and Ayers no longer held the mortgage.  It was eventually acquired by Don Alonzo Cushman of New York City.  Cushman was also a developer, best known for building houses near the seminary then in its infancy—one of his investors was one of the professors better known for a single poem than all his seminary work---Clement Moore of Night before Christmas fame.  

James B. Pier continued to live near the Centre Hill site—about five miles to the west in Travis.  His niece, Lucy Pier Stevens, came to visit the family from Ohio at Christmas 1859 and was trapped for the duration of the war.  She kept a diary now owned by DeGoyler Library at SMU.  Mrs. Pier and one daughter also kept diaries, so historians have a great resource for understanding the Texas home front during the Civil War—three diaries from the same household. 

All that’s left is the name of a road, Center Hill Road.  It might have been a great Methodist center, but eventually was abandoned. 


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