Saturday, December 24, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  Dec. 25

Twas the Night Before Christmas. One Degree of Separation with Texas Methodism. 
The “small world phenomenon” burst upon the public consciousness with John Guare’s 1990 play and 1993 movie adaptation, Six Degrees of Separation.  One of the characters says, “I read somewhere that everyone on this planet is separated by only six degrees of separation.”

It’s fun to play “degrees of separation” with Texas Methodist history.  For example, John Wesley Kenney is one degree removed from John Wesley.  Kenney’s mother was converted by John Wesley on one of trips to Ireland.   We could also cite several examples of one degree of separation with Francis Asbury claimed by Texas Methodists. 
One of my most surprising discoveries was when I found two degrees of separation between David Ayres and Clement Moore, the widely acknowledged author of the most famous Christmas poem in English, A Visit from St. Nicholas. 
Clement Moore is often described as a seminary professor of Greek and Hebrew, but he was much more than that.  His father was Benjamin Moore, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.  His mother was Charity Clarke, daughter of an English officer who remained in New York after service in the French and Indian Wars.  Clarke acquired an estate on the northern end of the built up area of Manhattan Island which he called Chelsea.   Clement Moore inherited that estate and made a fortune subdividing it into residential lots.  The area of New York City has retained the name Chelsea. 
Moore gave 66 lots to the Diocese to establish a seminary.  Moore had earned two degrees from Columbia, and when the seminary was completed, he was appointed Professor of Oriental Languages. 
Moore had a partner in his land development business, Don Alonzo Cushman (1792-1875).   Their partnership built houses around the seminary in the 1820’s, some of which still stand and are widely recognized as the best examples of the Federal Style in New York City.
Cushman, who was founder of the real estate firm of Cushman and Wakefield, which still exists, is the link between Texas Methodism and A Visit from St. Nicholas. 
The most famous Texas Methodist land developer was David Ayres.  He planned a grand Methodist city, anchored by a Methodist college, Centre Hill in northern Austin County near the Caney Creek camp meeting site.  To that end he acquired about 11,500 acres for his projected city, surveyed it into lots, and built a hotel.   He couldn’t finance the project himself, so he borrowed funds from his brother Silas and his business partners, the company of Ayers, Day, and Heddin in New Albany, Indiana.  (It’s not a misprint.  David was the only member of the family to spell his name “Ayres.”) Coincidentally, New Albany was also the home of Martin Ruter’s brother, Calvin Ruter who was Presiding Elder of the district there.   Ayres was in New Albany borrowing funds for Centre Hill.  Martin Ruter was in New Albany entrusting his family to his brother’s care as he went to Texas.  That’s why Ayres and Ruter travelled to Texas together, arriving in November, 1837. 
The firm of Ayers, Day, and Heddin held a mortgage on Centre Hill. 
When the Methodist college was founded at Rutersville rather than Centre Hill, it was a great blow to the fortunes of the projected city.  The real death blow came when Centre Hill lost the county seat election to the site of Bellville.  Ayres gave up, moved to Galveston.  The value of the Centre Hill property was now greatly diminished.  Don Alonzo Cushman acquired the devalued mortgage, and his agents eventually disposed of the property.  That’s how David Ayres is separated by two degrees from A Visit from St. Nicholas.    


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