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SOUTH END LAND COMPANY

SOUTH END LAND COMPANY. The South End Land Company of Harris County was chartered in Austin, Texas, on June 4, 1902, and funded with capital stock of $60,000. The incorporators listed on the charter included Alfred J. Condit and H. T. D. Wilson of Houston, as well as William Wright Baldwin of Burlington, Iowa. The purpose of the South End Land Company was to “erect and repair buildings and loan money” primarily within Harris County. The enterprise operated from suite 1006 of the Thomas Scanlan Building, located at 405 Main Street, Houston, Texas.

William Wright Baldwin served as president of the South End Land Company, but his principal livelihood was as a career executive and railroad attorney with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company (CB&QRC). Thus, Baldwin did not reside in Houston or Texas. He left Alfred Judson Condit, also an officer of the South End Land Company, with responsibilities of “on the scene” sales and supervision of projects. His title with the company was listed as vice president. In 1904 the secretary of South End Land Company was Martin T. Baldwin, and the treasurer was J. E. Breed, both of Cook County, Illinois.

The company’s first project in Harris County was the Westmoreland Addition in the Montrose area. The South End Land Company purchased forty-four acres in 1902 and developed a twelve-block subdivision. A portion of the tract was originally known as the Obedience Smith ten acres, which was the last remaining ten acres of land once owned by early Houstonian, Obedience Fort Smith, whose land grant covered much of the current downtown area. The acreage was purchased by the South End Land Company from A. F. Sittig. It was platted to consist of 429 lots, bounded to the north by Hawthorne Street, to south by West Alabama Street, to the east by Burlington Avenue, and to the west by Garrot Boulevard. By 1903 lots were sold in what the Westmoreland Preservation Alliance refers to as the “first planned, elite residential area” in Houston.

The main entrance to the neighborhood was defined by “cast-stone gate piers at the east end of Westmoreland Avenue at its intersection with Louisiana Street and Berry Avenue.” The streets were “originally surfaced with crushed oyster shells.” Westmoreland Avenue was, and remains, the widest street in the addition, with the largest concentration of grand houses on spacious lots. 

The primary phase for construction of homes spanned more than ten years. Residences built during that time consisted of one or two single-family homes, in styles reflective of the period, including Queen Anne, late Victorian, Craftsman, American Four-Square, and variants of Colonial Revival. Standard features of Westmoreland Addition homes included “full-length verandas supported by columns or brick piers, and sleeping porches…[and] smaller, back service porches.”

In 1907 on a train to Houston, Baldwin met Edwin Kelly, a carpenter from Charleston, Illinois. Baldwin suggested that Houston would be a prosperous place for a carpenter’s work. When Kelly moved his family to Houston in 1908, Baldwin provided him with building contracts for homes in the new Westmoreland Addition, as well as other South End Land Company projects in 1909 in the community of Brunner to the west of Houston, located in and around the Shepherd Drive area.

The next major development for the South End Land Company came in 1908 with the purchase out of the estate of William Marsh Rice of more than 9,400 acres of land six miles west of Houston. The original plat showed the east boundary as the north-south rail line that crosses Bellaire Boulevard and divides current Bellaire from what is now West University Place, spanning westward to what is now Renwick Street. The northern boundary was a rail line but is now marked by Westpark Drive. The southern border was marked by a line extending due west from where Brays Bayou crossed the rail line to the east.

The development was initially called Westmoreland Farms, which was copyrighted in April of 1909 by the South End Land Company. Baldwin had surveyed 1,000 acres of the eastern section of the land into smaller tracts for truck farms. Supporting this new community, and at the center of the acreage, was a new townsite named Bellaire. It was originally bounded to the north and south by Palmetto and Jessamine streets and to the east and west by First and Sixth streets. (Sixth Street is now Ferris Street.)

Bellaire was principally named after Bellaire, Ohio, which was served by one of the CB&QRC rail lines, as well as for the “good air” from constant Gulf breezes. Before the end of 1909 the South End Land Company, in cooperation with Harris County, constructed a road from Main Street in Houston to the heart of the new town. The new road was named Bellaire Boulevard, and it was covered in shell.

Laid along the entirety of Bellaire Boulevard were tracks of the Westmoreland Railroad Company, incorporated by William W. Baldwin and A. J. Condit. The tracks were part of the construction of a streetcar line from the main street corner of Bellaire to Houston’s Main Street, connecting with the Houston Electric Company south end line. That line extended from Eagle Avenue, down what is presently Fannin Street, where it connected with the new Bellaire line at Bellaire Boulevard. Bellaire Boulevard within Houston city limits is now called Holcombe Boulevard. The one-hour trip between Bellaire and downtown Houston required one transfer at Eagle Avenue.  December 28, 1910, marked the beginning of service. The continued development of automobile transportation, as well as frequent derailments caused by old track, led to the demise of the line on September 26, 1927. Motor bus service commenced the next day.

By the middle of 1910, the South End Land Company invested approximately $175,000 in capital improvements, including roads, drainage, and the electric rail line. In addition, according to a mention in a 1910 edition of The Electrical World, the company planned to build an independent electrical light plant for Westmoreland Farms and the town of Bellaire, Texas. At the close of 1910, Bellaire consisted of twelve homes, along with a general store, post office, and rail station.

The only known controversy is a lawsuit brought against the South End Land Company by W. B. Fordtran in 1907. The case involved a commission dispute over the sale and subsequent recovery of lots in the Westmoreland Addition, to which the initial ruling was against plaintiff Fordtran. An appeal in October of 1907, however, overturned the matter in Fordtran’s favor. The South End Land Company was ordered to pay the plaintiff the disputed commissions, less any relevant commissions already paid.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Augustine M. Antrobus, History of Des Moines County, Iowa and Its People, Volume 2 (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1915). Bellaire Historical Marker Information, Bellaire, Texas (http://ci.bellaire.tx.us/457/Bellaire-Historical-Marker-Information), accessed March 18, 2016. The Electrical World LV (January 6–June 30, 1910). Mrs. Robert N. Gay, Jr. and Mrs. J. W. Hawks, eds., Bellaire’s Own Historical Cookbook (Bellaire Women’s Civic Club, 1969.) Houston Daily Post, June 5, 1902. Houston Post, June 14, 1910. Lynn McBee, “History of the Bellaire School,” Bellaire Historical Society, November 1, 2014 (http://www.bellairehistoricalsociety.org/ConditHistory20141101.pdf), accessed October 7, 2016. The Texas Civil Appeals Reports: Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Courts of Civil Appeals of the State of Texas during June, October and November 1907, Vol. 47 (Chicago: T. H. Flood & Co., Publishers, 1909). Westmoreland Civic Association (http://westmorelandpreservationalliance.org), accessed March 18, 2016.

David H. Falloure

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Handbook of Texas Online, David H. Falloure, "South End Land Company," accessed October 20, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/dss04.

Uploaded on October 11, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.