Susan Ripley Hilliard has always been fascinated by history. As a little girl she lived in Nashville, TN, Charlotte, NC, El Paso, TX, Washington, NC, New Orleans, LA, and Oklahoma City, OK, as her father was transferred many times, working as an engineer with General Electric. Through these experiences she developed a unique sense of home, building friendships all over the country and learning the history and cultures of numerous American cities. She has now lived in Houston for over 40 years and in that time she’s become very familiar with its neighborhoods. Houston is one of the most diverse cities in America and the stories of how its neighborhoods came to be are just as varied. Susan has a narrative behind one of her favorite Houston neighborhoods, Boulevard Oaks.
Continued from Rediscovering Historic Houston: Boulevard Oaks Part 1
The Houston landscape was vastly different in the early 1900s and after the founding of the Rice Institute, there was an obvious need for homes for the influx of professors who were moving here from all over the globe, as well as the administrators of the university. I love oral history as it gives me a glimpse of what this area looked like back in the mid 1920s. Here is a wonderful story from Ray Watkin Strange, a fellow member of the NSCDA, National Society of Colonial Dames of America, who recently died.
She told me that after Edgar Odell Lovett decided to take the position as President of the Rice Institute, he came down from Princeton to visit the board of directors. He was picked up at the train station in a horse and buggy by Ray’s father, William Ward Watkin. Watkin wanted to show Professor Lovett the site where the new university would be built.
When they arrived, Dr. Lovett looked around and only saw a flat cow pasture. The land was totally flooded and the mosquitoes were swarming! After meeting with the board, Lovett was taken back to Rice Hotel and before retiring he sent a telegram to his wife reporting that Houston was a “barren wasteland.” This is a far cry from the gorgeous, oak filled campus that we see today.
The other afternoon I called Mr. Theodore Hirtz, a prominent attorney here in Houston, Some years ago Mr. Hirtz sent a letter to his neighbors informing them of a property that was going on the market. The home he was brokering at the time was of his grandmother-in-law, Annie Martin Cochran, who was married to William Shepherd Cochran. In 1926, the Cochrans had agreed to purchase a piece of property from Captain James A. Baker who was handling the development of the “Broad Acres” subdivision. One afternoon they traveled down “Old Poor Farm Road” which is present day Bissonnet to the cow pasture which is now known as “Broad Acres.” Captain Baker met them and assisted Mrs. Cochran as she climbed over the barbed wires and selected the lot which became 1324 South Boulevard. This was the first home that John Staub designed and built.
Additionally, Mr. Hirtz suggested that Annie Martin Cochran as a member of the Houston Garden Club, probably was the person, along with William Ward Watkin, who put into place the design for planting all of our gorgeous oak trees that line North and South Blvd. today. Evie Jo Craven Wilson, founder of Boulevard Oaks Ladies Club, went on to create a neighborhood plan for planting oak trees and maintaining the esplanades, and this plan is largely responsible for the enduring beauty of the neighborhood’s landscape. Today, Boulevard Oaks consists of 21 subdivisions and contains two nationally registered historic districts, Boulevard Oaks Historic District and Broadacres Historic District. Because of the Rice Institute, Boulevard Oaks was born.
As a proud Boulevard Oaks resident, I’m always available if you want to learn more about my beloved neighborhood. And if you want to dive deeper into Rice University’s beginnings and the work of Edgar Odell Lovett, I highly recommend John Boles’ book, University Builder: Edgar Odell Lovett and the Founding of the Rice Institute. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Boles speak on the subject of Edgar Odell Lovett several times and he is simply full of knowledge concerning Edgar Odell Lovett and the university’s history. In fact, when I invited John Boles to speak at the NSCDA State Meeting at the Houston Country Club a few years ago, he asked me how long I wanted him to talk. I said whatever is appropriate. His answer to me was I could talk about Edgar Odell Lovett all day and never stop!
To Be Continued…This entry was posted in Rediscover, Resources
- Annie Martin Cochran
- Boulevard Oaks
- Edgar Odell Lovett
- Evie Jo Craven Wilson
- James A. Baker
- John Boles
- Rice Institute
- Rice University
- Ted Hirtz
- William Marsh Rice
- William Shepherd Cochran
- William Ward Watkin
- Woodrow Wilson