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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Moments in Texas History ~ 1.15.2012

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Company chartered to build road from Houston to Austin
January 15, 1841
On this day in 1841, the Houston and Austin Turnpike Company was chartered by the Congress of the Republic of Texas to lay out a road from Austin to Houston. Capital stock of $125,000 was to be divided into 625 shares, with the seven directors to own at least five shares each. Tolls were allowed on condition that the toll gates be at least forty miles apart. The work was to start within twelve months and be completed in five years. The road was to start at Houston, cross the Brazos River within five miles of San Felipe de Austin, and continue from the river on the most practical route to Austin. This initial turnpike company was followed by the chartering of some fifty such companies between 1841 and 1905. Early roads often were mere rocky trails or mud streams. Courses were longer and less efficient as they went around hills, large trees, and boulders. The early roads zigzagged, had right-angle turns, and held water. At the beginning of the twentieth century very few roads in the United States had any kind of hard surface. The advent of the automobile in the early 1900s led to a dramatic change in attitude toward highway development in the nation and in Texas.

Texas Memorial Museum opens
January 15, 1939
On this day in 1939, the Texas Memorial Museum opened on the University of Texas campus in Austin. The museum was established as part of the Texas Centennial Celebration Bill of 1935, in which funds amounting to $225,000 were allocated for "gathering and preparing materials for exhibits of natural and civic history ... and for furnishing and equipping the Texas Memorial Museum." The museum's opening came just a few months after the death of UT anthropology professor James E. Pearce, who had been advocating the establishment of such an institution since 1920. Ownership of the Texas Memorial Museum was transferred in 1959 from the state to the University of Texas at Austin. The museum, which reopened in January 2004 following a major renovation, attracts about 65,000 visitors a year. Exhibits are based on the museum's more than five million specimens, primarily collected and researched by UT scientists and students. Among the most popular exhibits is the remains of a pterosaur, the largest flying creature ever found, with a forty-foot wingspan.

Governor grasps at federal straw to stay in office
January 15, 1874
On this day in 1874, Democrat Richard Coke was inaugurated as governor of Texas. Nevertheless, Republican governor Edmund J. Davis refused to vacate the office. Coke had overwhelmingly won the gubernatorial election in 1873. But the election was tainted by irregularities on both sides, and the state Supreme Court had voided the contest in Ex parte Rodriguez. Davis cited these facts and refused to budge. He even called in the Travis Rifles, but these troops supported Coke when they got into the Capitol. Davis then appealed for federal troops to President Grant, who telegraphed a refusal. Coke took over when Davis resigned on January 19.

Confederate veterans create orphanage
January 15, 1867
On this day in 1867, Bayland Orphans' Home for Boys, a county home for dependent and delinquent boys, was organized in Houston by Texas Confederate veterans. The institution was first located at Bayland on the west side of Galveston Bay near Morgan's Point. The nonsectarian home, planned to care for and educate up to 250 orphans of deceased Confederate soldiers, opened in August 1867. Henry F. Gillette was superintendent from 1867 to 1882, and Col. Ashbel Smith served as staff doctor. In 1887, when Houston-Galveston packet travel ceased and Bayland became inaccessible, a decision was made to move the home to Houston. Mrs. Kezia Payne DePelchin, later connected with the DePelchin Faith Home, was elected matron in 1888. The institution moved a number of times around the Harris County area over the years, with its final location near Webster. The orphanage ceased to function strictly as the Bayland Orphans' Home after World War II. Boys attended public school at Webster, and efforts were made to place children in foster homes.
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