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The Historical Story
of Bee County Texas By Camp Ezell
When the twentieth century dawned, Bee County had a Population of 7720 and Beeville's ''estimated count" of citizens was listed as 231 1 by the Texas Almanac. The county's population in 1860, two years after if was organized, was 910.
There had been a steady growth of Beeville and the villages of Mineral City, Papalote, Skidmore, Pettus, Normanna, and Clareville at the beginning of 1900, but there were only eight masonry structures in Beeville: Commercial National Bank, First National Bank, the Chittim Building, Gregory & August Dry Goods Store, the Masonic Temple, the R. R. Stout Building, the Thompson Building, and the A. P. Smith Dry Goods Store.
The brick buildings had concrete sidewalks at the entrance, but all other business houses (frame construction) were faced with board walks, and each store had a different walking level. There were no paved streets and no automobiles, and almost every store had a hitching post or two to accommodate customers who came to town on horseback or in buggies or wagons. There was a mott of Hackberry frees back of what is now Hall's Store. where farm and ranch people fled Their horses. The county provided public wafer troughs so the people could ''water their horses'' while in town.
But soon this picture was destined to be changed. In 1907, fire destroyed all of the buildings (except the Lindell Hotel) on the west side of the 100 block of North Washington Street and the south side of West Bowie Street to the railroad tracks. These were rebuilt with masonry construction and faced with concrete sidewalks.
The following year to the day (January 3 1, 1908) the frame houses facing Washington Street on the east side of the 100 block also were reduced to ashes, and these, too. were replaced with brick business structures.
Among the new buildings was Beeville's first '',skyscraper,'' a three-story structure called the Grand Opera House, corner of Washington and Bowie Streets, where L&M Restaurant now stands, erected in the latter part of 1907. A. F. Rees and E. J. Kinkler were the owners.
Grand Opera House officially opened on January 6, 1908, with W. B. Patton in a comedy, The Slow Poke. Admission prices were 75 cents, $1, and $1.50. There was a balcony, the ''dress circle,'' and four boxes, or loges. The Woods Sisters came later in January, and one of their plays was Marie Corelli's story, Thelma‑Land of the Midnight Sun.
A company was organized, the Opera House was leased, and Murray Eidson, who had booked plays for his father's Opera House several years before the new one was built, took over the management and brought some of the best dramas, comedies, and musical plays that came south during those days. People came from Goliad, San Patricio, Live Oak, Karnes, and Refugio Counties, and Beeville became an entertainment center.
Among the big productions presented were: George M. Cohen's musical play, Forty‑five Minutes From Broadway, Prince of Tonight The Rose Maid, The Havoc (a great drama with only three characters), Paid in Full, Within the Law, The Clansman (with nine horses on the stage at one time), Thomas Dixon in his own play, Sins of the Father, Taming of the Shrew, The Lion and the Mouse, The Wolf, Count Monte Cristo, The Right way, and many others.
And there were home-talent productions, including the cantata, Queen Esther, sponsored by the Rosetta Club and directed by J. Robert Wright, a voice teacher. Miss Cordie Lee Parr, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. L. F Parr, sang the title role, Robert Law was the King, and Frank Newcomb played the part of the mean man, Haman. Other singers included Miss Camille Dugat, Miss Mable Dugat, Miss George Offutt, Miss Cecelia Brauer, W. A. Francis, William Orlander, and J. Robert Wright, and many were in the chorus. Oldtimers are still talking about that musical production.
And there was Madame Ellen Yaw, a Metropolitan Opera Co. soprano, who was presented in recital. William Jennings Bryan delivered his famous Prince of Peace address. And the Rev. G. M. Boyd, the Methodist pastor, impersonated the characters of the play, Old Ebernezer.
Grand Opera House flourished for about eight years, but with the coming of movie theaters, attendance over the nation began to drop and many of the big stage shows stopped coming south, so the opera houses that had been the pride and joy of Beevillians was relegated to the shelf and the company that had operated it was dissolved. An attempt to convert it into a moving picture theater failed, but one gigantic ''sound picture," Birth of a Nation, was screened there and attracted a capacity attendance.
The ironical destiny of the entertainment center was yet to come. A group of gamblers leased a room on the third floor for the purpose of conducting games of chance; entrance to which was by invitation only. One night during Christmas Week of 1919, near the midnight hour, one of the participants lost every dollar he possessed. If was a cold night. He left the gambling table, went to the red‑hot pot‑bellied stove, and during his moments of anguish caused by 'the loss of his money, he kicked the stove over. Fire immediately broke out and spread quickly. The gamblers picked up their belongings and hurriedly left the burning building. The structure was reduced to embers and piles of disarrayed brick, mortar and steel. The foregoing was the story that spread through town the following day.
BEE COUNTIANS PLANT ORANGES
Along in 1909‑1911 Bee County people conceived the idea that the soil and climate of this area would be conductive to the growth of citrus fruits, and particularly oranges. Fruit frees were planted all over the county, and soon the frees began to bear fruit.
About this time a Class D professional baseball league was organized, and Beeville became a member of the loop. The team was called Beeville Orange Growers, and on the backs of the uniforms were the words, ''We Grow Oranges.'' Other members of the Southwest Texas League were Victoria, Brownsville, Laredo, Corpus Christi, and Bay City. In 1911 Beeville won the pennant, and that was the end of the league. Several players on the local team went to higher loops.
A few years later, Beeville's unofficial ''Sand Lot League'' developed several players who made their way to the major leagues, including Curtis Walker, with Cincinnati Reds‑, Loyd (Lefty) Brown, with St. Louis Browns; and Melvin Gallia, with Washington Senators. Earlier, John Fenner played with the Texas League.
With the demise of the baseball league also came the end of the orange growing project (on a large scale), for a hard freeze killed the trees. Several attempts were made to replant, but subsequent freezes during the next few years dampened the spirits of the people, and the citrus fruit idea diminished almost to the point of extinction. Many people have bearing trees near their homes where they are protected from freezing weather, but there are practically no large‑scale orchards for commercial purposes.
NEW MODES OF TRANSPORTATION
Near the end of the first decade of the twentieth century the first automobile to be owned by a Beevillian made its appearance, and John H. Wood, a local pharmacist, was the owner In June 1908. Soon afterward Dr. D. M. Thurston, who had the fastest pacing horses in the area to carry him in his buggy to his patients, purchased a high‑wheeled solid‑fired Columbia. Then W. 0. McCurdy, publisher of the Bee, bought a Brush and A. F. Rees and Dr. G. M. Stephens became owners of Franklin cars and attracted the attention of the public with their new modes of transportation. Gradually the horse and buggy were replaced with the new vehicles, but frequently horses had to be used to pull passenger cars out of muddy ruts.
In 1911, Charley Pressey arrived from Georgia in a Curtiss flying machine to add further thrills to the people of Bee County. Mr. Pressey returned to Beeville a number of years ago following his retirement and is currently a resident of this city.
Following the story of transportation development, it is recorded in the files of the Bee‑Picayune that Trans‑Texas Airways made the first air passenger and air‑mail flight into Beeville on July 23, 1949. Mrs. Dee Cherry Pagel, postmaster of Beeville at that time, was one of the passengers. This service was continued for a little more than a year, then was discontinued because of lack of traffic.
Oscar Travland opened Travland Airport north of the city during the 1940s and operated if for a number of years.
On February 1, 1967, the City of Beeville opened a municipal airport about three miles west of the town, with Scott Bledsoe as operator. After five years, Mr. Bledsoe gave up the lease, and Charles Morris of Kenedy is now the fixed lease operator. Planes land and depart from the airport daily. A number of local people are owners of planes.
Hall Industries' Rialto Theater, which opened for business on August 19. 1922, installed the first radio station in Beeville on December 27, 1924. The call letters were KFRB, and local talent broadcast entertainment programs for several months. Because of lack of interest the station was discontinued, but Henry Hall Jr., son of Henry Hall Sr. who started the radio service, is one of several ''ham'' radio enthusiasts here.
On October 20, 1949, John D. Rossi and his brother, V. L. Rossi, gave Beeville its second radio station, named KIBL. Later, John Rossi purchased his brother's interest in the business and continued to operate if daily until he sold the station to Don Funkhouser of Virginia in August 1971. who is the current operator of the station.
CITY WATER AND LIGHTS
At the dawn of the new century, Beeville's water supply was furnished by windmills. There was one at almost every residence in town. In 1893 a waterworks system was started by Greathouse & Taylor. but they experienced difficulty in enlisting customers because the people were reluctant to give up their windmills. In 1903 a company known as Beeville Water & Light Company took over to give the people both water and electric lights. However, many people were slow to discard their lamps and candles which had provided illumination through the years.
The company changed hands several times, but Central Power & Light Company provided city water from 1925 to 1946, when the City of Beeville purchased the water plant. Since acquiring ownership of the water system, several deep wells have been bored and large surface reservoirs have been erected to furnish water for the people.
Beeville has had telegraphic connections with the outside world since the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad came through Bee County in 1886, when Erie, which later was absorbed by Western Union, established an office here. The Western Union office is now located at 113 N. Washington Street.
G. M. Magill of the Land & Colonization Company of Quincy (a village about seven miles east of Beeville on the Refugio road) had the first telephone system in Beeville, set up in 1891 by Wright Vanmeter. Later the Eureka Company built lines for the people of Bee County, and a competing telephone system was owned and operated by the Atchley family, who were well‑known bee‑keepers and producers of honey. Southwestern Bell Telephone Company became the owner of telephone service here on September 6, 1912. In 1956 the company moved info its new building at the corner of Corpus Christi and Buchanan Streets, and in November of 1959 installed the direct‑dialing system which enables local people to make unassisted station‑to‑station calls to many parts of the world at a reduced cost. In 1948 the Beeville exchange serviced 2112 telephones. Today there are 5,496 customers, according to Marty Bane, manager of the Beeville office.
ORGANIZE FAIR ASSOCIATION
Bee County Fair Association was organized in 1890, with the following officers: J. A. Patterson, President; J. W. Magill, Vice President: H. Y. Kring, Secretary; J. C. Burrows, Treasurer, and Dr. L. E. Parr, J. M. Cary, Dr. D. M. Thurston, Levi Harkey, and E. G. Lauraine, Directors. The organization had a capital stock of $ 10,000. Five years later it was chartered for fifty years. The first fair grounds was located about two miles west of the city on what is now known as the Viggo Road. The acreage adjoined the Carl Rankin truck farm on the right side of the road which led to Viggo Kohler's F‑9 Pasture about six miles from the village. There were race tracks, and facilities for ring tournaments. Farmers and ranchers exhibited agricultural products and livestock, and the women displayed articles of clothing which they had made by hand.
After a few years, the annual fair succumbed because of lack of interest, but it was revived in 1912, on a much larger scale, and the location of the livestock and agricultural exhibits building was located about three blocks west of Peosta Creek on the left side of Corpus Christi Street.
The big social event was the crowning of the Queen of the Fair, held in the Grand Opera House. Miss Jessie Borrourn was the first queen, and her successors were Misses Fannie Ray, Frankie Welder, Letitia Law, Eda Brauer, Mrs. John W. Cook (her husband was the King), Alene Smith. Alice Ballard, Irma Bates, Mary Jane Burke, Josephine Burke, Kathleen Wilson, Mary McCurdy, Jeanette Marsden, Katherine Scott, Winona Hall, Mae Tarlton Dougherty, and Dorothy Beasley.
During World War I the Fair was dormant because so many of the young men were with the armed forces, but at the end of the war the event was revived and continued until 1933, when 'if died a natural death. One of the features of the Fair was the spectacular parade with decorated floats pulled by both horses and automobiles, hands furnishing music for the pageant. Those events will never be forgotten by the old-timers.
KU KLUX KLAN‑OLD AND NEW
During the Reconstruction Period after the Civil War, many Northerners came to the Southern States and aroused antagonism among the people when they entered politics. To add fuel to the fire the Radical Republican Party of the North put the Southern States under military rule and temporarily took voting rights away from Southern whites. Many of the newly emancipated Negroes who could now vote went along with the people from the North in setting up new State Governments.
These intruders, openly seeking plunder or political offices, were called carpetbaggers,'' and ''scoundrels,'' by the people of the South. The name carpetbagger'' was given them because the Southern aristocrats said these ''scoundrels'' could stuff everything they owned when they came South into a carpetbag. or suitcase.
The fine people of the Southern States suffered indescribable persecutions at the hands of these unprincipled political hijackers who were using many former Negro slaves to feather their nests.
In 1866 an organization known as the Ku Klux Klan was formed in Pulaski, Tenn., first as a social group for war veterans, but later, as if spread rapidly throughout the ex‑Confederate States, if was formally reorganized as the Invisible Empire of the South. The purpose was to protect the white people from the evil works of the carpetbaggers and the savage element of former Negro slaves.
Thomas Dixon wrote a book, ''The Clansman which was the foundation for the stage play of the same name (it came to Beeville), and later the play was converted info a sound movie, ''The Birth of a Nation,
which dramatically fold the story of how the Ku Klux Klan saved the South. The members of the organization wore white robes, with masks to conceal their identify, thus creating the appearance of what many of the freed slaves though‑F were ghosts, and this had the effect of frightening them and bringing them under restraint.
After Southern whites regained control of their state governments there was no longer any need for the Klan and it soon disappeared.
Texas had its share of the evil manipulations of the carpetbaggers, but did not suffer nearly as much as did the Deep South. There were some small groups of Klansmen in the Lone Star State. but since the Negroes in Bee County were of a better class and there was a mutual love between them and the white people, there was no need for the organization here. So far as I know, there was no Klan activity in this county.
In 1915, a man named Col. William Joseph Simmons organized a modern Ku Klux Klan in Atlanta, Ga.. limiting its membership to ''white, Gentile, Protestant, native American men,'' with a strictly secret membership. The movement spread rapidly throughout the United States, reaching a height of five million members.
By 1920, the Klan was active in Texas and made its way to Bee County. I was not living in Beeville at that time, but I kept in touch with what was transpiring through the local newspapers.
The county became divided, even brother against brother, father against son, friend against friend. The issues were worked into politics, and a Citizens Party was organized to fight the Klan. There was much bitterness among the people for several years, but finally, near the end of the 1920s, the Klan folded up, not only in Beeville but throughout the state, and the bitter feelings vanished.
There were fine people on both sides. And while apparently all of them were pleased that the experience was something of the past, there was an undeclared agreement that the matter would not be discussed, because no one on either side was going to say that he had been wrong. But all were glad that it was history, and most of them secretly knew that they had learned many lessons from the decade of discord among friends.
MANY MAKE SUPREME SACRIFICE
Thirteen Bee County men made the supreme sacrifice for their country in World War I (April 6, 1917, to November 11, 1918): Fletcher Dugat, Frank Vavrusa, Raymond Lee Chambliss, Eddie M. Sugarek, John William Kurtz, Robert Daniel Goza, John Boyce Miles, Joseph E. Maley, F. R. McCampbell, Joseph Collins, Andrew Sivley. Capetano Gonzales, and Charles R. Dugat. A. M. Handly, John R. Beasley, and Dr. G. M. Stephens served on the draft board. Captain Grover Heldenfels was wounded in battle twice and was cited for bravery.
In World War 11 (1941‑1945), the death list of Bee County men was much larger. The following gave their lives for their country: Dorsey Beauchamp, Cornelius Black, William D. Cannon, Earl H. Cloer, Ira Chandler, Harris Cox, Lee Davila, John M. Davis, Clarence C. Dodson, Robert L. Dodson, James R. Dougherty Jr., Otto B. Engelking, Adan Farias, Eduardo Farias, Syphes R. Fisher, Felix Flores, Tino M. Flores, Benito Garcia, Howard W. Grover, Lonnie Hampton, James B. Hatch, George W. Hoof, Frank W. Hunt Jr., William Kirchner, Herbert 0. Koehler Jr., Alfonso R. Martinez, William H. Maverick, Archie Mayberry, George W. Medley, George E. Miller, Roy Nunez, Manuel Ortega, Benito G. Ortiz, Octavio V. Pacheco, Patrick B. Quinn, Pedro M. Rodriguez. Recino P. Salinas, Dale V. Stice, Robert L. Tenberg, George Tindol, Jesus Trevino, William E. Vaughn, August C. Vollmering, Jack W. White, M. J. White, and Charles Major Lytle.
Four Bee County men lost their lives in the Korean War: Frank C. Flores Jr., Carlos Reyes Jr., James Stout, and David Warfield. Captain Lano Cox Jr., son of Judge and Mrs. Lano Cox Sr., a pilot with the U. S. Army Aviation in the 79th Infantry Division under General Eisenhower in France and Germany during World War 11, received the Purple Heart and the Croix De Guerre Awards after he was injured. He also served with the American Forces in Korea. After his return he was stationed at Fort Sill, and while flying a plane from Fort Sill to Louisiana a Navy plane collided with his ship and he was killed in the crash.
Bee Countians who lost their lives in the Vietnam War were: Lieutenant Aubrey Martin, Tom Swinnea, Tomas Gonzales, Leo Schroeller Jr., Don E. Thompson, Robert Salinas, Rodolfo G. Ybarra, and Robert Salinas Longoria. Two men who had served in Vietnam died after they returned to the United States: Alfredo Barrera and Sylvester C. Martinez. Sammy Dion Hoff was reported missing in action and to this day no account has been given of him.
The United States Government established Chase Field as an Auxiliary Naval Air Training Station in Beeville during World War 11 and trained Navy air pilots for the war effort. A concise history of the station has been prepared for this book by Lt. (j. g.) John Major at the request of Captain Robert Ferguson, Chase Field Commanding Officer. The article follows:
HISTORY OF CHASE FIELD
Originally planned as a municipal airport for the City of Beeville, Chase Field was opened as an auxiliary of the Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi. The field was named after Lieutenant Commander Nathan Brown Chase, who was killed on a training flight at Pearl Harbor in 1925. The name was chosen as a memorial to the Naval Aviators of 1925.
Chase Field dedicated 1h efforts to turning out Naval Aviators for World War 11 who would be the best trained pilots in the history of the country.
In response to the increasing need to accelerate the Navy's aviation training effort, midway through World War 11, the U. S. Government leased the Beeville municipal airport which was then under construction five miles southeast of Beeville. The field, Chase Field. was finally commissioned on June 1, 1943, as Naval Auxiliary Air Station. Following the war, the field was reduced to caretaker status and the City of Beeville took over Chase Field on November 14, 1946.
A year after the Korean War began, the Advanced Training Command found the facilities at Corpus Christi becoming more and more overloaded. It was decided that Chase Field would be ideal as a practice landing field for the jet aircraft then entering the training command. On August 14, 1952, the Navy paid Beeville $100,000 for Chase Field. Contracts were let to improve the existing facilities, and the first order of business was to lengthen one runway to 8,000 feet to handle the new jets. Two weeks later the runway was completed and Chase Field was back in business as a ''bounce'' field for Navy training planes.
On November 23, 1953, Chase Field was designated a Naval Auxiliary Air Station again, and on July 1, 1954, the citizens of Beeville and surrounding towns turned out in full force for the commissioning ceremony. After the ceremonies, the Navy's Blue Angels performed and Advanced Training Units 802, 203, and 204 were designated. Captain W. J. Widhelm assumed duties as the new Commanding Officer. Advanced Training Units 204 and 802 were later redesignated ATU‑2 13 and ATU‑223.
In August 1954, jet training commenced for the first time with the straight wing F9Fs and TV‑2s being the first jet trainers. Chase Field was honored early in 1957 when if was chosen to start swept‑wing jet training for the first time in the Navy. The first F9F‑8 Cougar 'Jet aircraft arrived on board on March 14, 1957.
On May 1, 1960, ATU‑203 was commissioned Training Squadron 24 (VT‑24)~ ATU‑213 was commissioned Training Squadron 25 (VT‑25); and, ATU‑223 was commissioned Training Squadron 26 (VT‑26).
Today, with approximately 200 aircraft aboard the station, the F9 Cougar continues to be the Navy's advanced let trainer. However, the Douglas TA‑4 Skyhawk is scheduled to replace the F9 in the near future.
Chase Field's Navy and Marine population has reached approximately 2400 with nearly 500 civilian employees and a ' approximately 3000 dependent wives and children. These figures reflect a total population of approximately 6000 persons directly related with the existence of Chase Field in Beeville.
In July 1968, Chase Field was elevated to the status of a full naval air station and is now NAS Chase Field. The future of Chase Field is as bright as it has ever been.
The station maintains a target site complex in McMullen County, about 60 miles from Beeville, and a two‑runway auxiliary landing field (NALF) in Goliad County. During the last two years, a number of new permanent structures have been added to Chase Field including a 450‑man bachelor enlisted quarters, a 128‑man bachelor officer quarters, an enlisted man's dining hall, a large indoor recreation center, a modern fire house, and a multi‑million dollar aircraft maintenance hangar. Presently under construction are a new Training Building. a radar air traffic control facility and extensive outdoor recreation facilities.
Commissioned to meet the needs of World War 11, Chase Field remains equally vital to the fulfillment of the Navy's jet training program of today. With approximately 100 TA‑4J "Skyhawks," 60 T‑2 ''Buckeyes" and a total of 3500 military and civilian personnel, Chase Field continues to produce one‑fourth of all the Navy's jet pilots. Within the next few years her training squadrons will produce more than 225 Marine and Navy jet pilots each year. The annual payroll is around twenty‑one million dollars.
The Historical Story
of Bee County Texas By Camp Ezell
Updated Thursday, December 21, 2006 21:02
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