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Elgin History Beat

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Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2018 12:05 pm

“In 1828 two Irishmen, James Power and James Hewetson, contracted with the Mexican government to settle 200 families in Texas. One-half of the families were to be Mexicans and the other half Irish,” wrote Sister Margaret Rose Warburton, C.D.P. in June, 1939 in a dissertation.

It is not known which group Thomas O’Conner (relation is not known to the O’Connor who settled in Elgin) was among, but “The first party were 108 souls, embarked in the ship Prudence, all of whom except 8 perished in one week with the Cholera.”

This is shared as an illustration of the terrible risks immigrants took to start a new life.

As March 17 and St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I found our former archivist, Ann Helgelson’s writings about Elgin’s Irish connection.

“At least two of the important figures in the Elgin brickyards were Irish immigrants. Michael Butler (1842-1909) sailed from Ireland to New York City in 1866. He moved around a bit and by 1869 he had settled in Dallas and established his first brick plant.”

Later, “His son John Frances Butler, who studied ceramics engineering at Ohio State University, discovered the clay deposits along Sandy Creek. He persuaded his father to buy the land and moved there to establish Elgin-Butler Brick. The plant began operation in 1901.”

“Thomas O’Connor came to America in 1869, just a few years after Butler. He, too traveled around and ended up in Austin and then Elgin in 1882,” wrote Ann.

The 1890 O’Connor Building located at 116 Depot Street was constructed with a furniture store located on the first floor and living quarters on the second. (Elgin, Texas: Heritage Walking Tour).  He came to Elgin to build fireplaces, chimneys, wells, and cisterns for the numerous houses and commercial buildings going up in the town. O’Connor soon discovered rich clay deposits locally and began to fabricate his own bricks by hand.

The building is currently owned by Bill Montgomery, a nationally recognized artist. When one is allowed to peak behind the brick walls, past the boarded off Otis elevator, and through the huge, high ceiling vestibule of yesteryear, there is a giddiness of excitement when the last door is opened and the light comes pouring into the artist’s workspace. It is a bit like crossing the threshold of a novel where I imagine a hardworking Irish brickmason toiling.

Another Elgin local of Irish (and Scottish) origin were the founders of McGee Brothers Shoe and Upholstery Repair. A family owned business, designated a Texas Treasure, has been in business for over 50 years.

Located at 113B North Main Street, Cristin Embree says in the 2014, 78621 magazine, “McGee Bros Shoe Repair is a true cornerstone business and gem in Elgin. In 1928 A.R.(oss) Sr., Mack and Howard McGee purchased the established shoe repair shop owned by Will D. Nichols, a business established in the 1880s.”

The brothers knew nothing about shoe repair, but it was the depression and they soon learned.  Later, Ross did the shoe repair and Howard upholstered furniture and made new seat covers for cars. He also made mattresses in the back of the shoe shop.

Outside our window: next month

From the President, Donna Snowden: For those of you who missed our last event on Texas Independence Day, we hope you won’t miss the next one! We hope to plan some of our future meetings during the day hours and still continue to have some meetings at night. Hopefully, this will help with everyone’s busy schedule!

St. Patrick’s Day is near and happily our archivist, Debra W, has included some of my family in this issue of the History Beat. The name McGee is of Irish and Scottish origin. If you haven’t visited McGee Brothers Shoe Repair on Main Street, you have missed an opportunity to step back in time. Not much has been changed since I was a young girl hanging out with my grandfather, Howard, and my great-uncle, Ross, during the hot summers days of the 1950s with no air-conditioning.

We would take a break and walk two doors down to Ramsey’s Pharmacy and have a coke or a chocolate root beer. In the 1990s a bench purchased by my mother Elwanda Lundgren McGee and my Uncle Howard “Buddy” McGee and other family members, was dedicated in Ross and Howard’s honor and sits in front of the store. I also remember Joseph O’Connor from the O’Connor Building on Depot Street. He attended one of our Elgin Historical Association meetings and talked about his remembrances of growing up in the small town of Elgin with Elgin attorney, Jack Webb, and my Uncle Wallace Lundgren. They were great friends!

That is what the Elgin Historical Association aims to do- preserve local history, make it interesting for our new friends and citizens and connect families with their past. Please join us by attending our meetings/programs, volunteering or monetary donations.

We are currently selling raffle tickets to help fund our Elgin Depot Museum. A $500 Hyatt gift card to the Lost Pines Hyatt or any Hyatt Property will be given away. Only 200 tickets will be sold. They are $20 each, or 6 for $100. The drawing will be at the opening of our next exhibit on June 2 at the Elgin Depot Museum at noon. You need not be present to win.

Hope you will take time to stop by and visit these buildings and the museum.

Trivia Quiz

March question: What country did Robert Morriss Elgin originally come from?

Answer to February’s Quiz: Mary Christian Burleson. She was the first white woman to live in what is now Elgin and took part in the Run-away Scrape when the residents fled as the Mexican forces, led by Santa Anna were advancing at the time of the Revolution.

Collections, Keepsakes Tips

Organizing collections. Whether it is letters, photos, or silverware, it is best to develop a system of labeling. Wrap silverware in tissues; and sort items chronologically; if it is worth saving, take them out of the box or folder and label. Use a pencil or photo pen to make notes of people’s names on the back of photos, place and any notes for the occasion.

Next month: what to do with collections family members do not want.

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