Sunday, April 28, 2013

Houmas House

Houmas House - Former Residence of Oliver Beirne

A Google search on steamboat Captain James Beirne, founder of the hamlet Beirne, AK,  brings back "Steamboat Oliver Beirne".  So who was Oliver Beirne?

Oliver Beirne was the son of Andrew Beirne (1771-1845) an Irish immigrant to the United States from Dangan Co. Roscommon.  Andrew sold lumber and farmed in Union, Monroe County, Va., during the early nineteenth century. He served in state and national politics, and during the War of 1812, he served as captain of a rifle company and as colonel of the Monroe County militia.   His son, Oliver, developed sugar plantations in Ascension Parish, Louisiana and his residence was Houmas House on the Houmas Plantation.

Oliver Beirne's daughter, Betty, married William Porcher Miles (1822-1899), a mayor of Charleston, S.C., and a Democratic member of the U. S. House of Representatives from 1857 until South Carolina seceded.  After the Civil war, Oliver Beirne made Miles manager of the Houmas Plantation Louisiana.  Oliver Beirne had inherited Houmas from his friend John Burnside (d. 1881). Miles managed these plantations until his death in 1899.

At its peak in 1857, the Houmas plantation has over 10,000 acres and 800 slaves.  The principal crop was sugar.  Following the death of Miles in 1899, the property began to be divided up and the house began to fall into disrepair.   It was restored to its present glory in 1940 and was the setting for "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte" in 1963.

The magnificent house stands on the banks of the Mississippi about 60 miles west of New Orleans and is open for tours.  Add another site to the bucket list of "must visit".

When you own a place like this,
you get a steamboat named after you...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Beirne, Arkansas

April is officially Beirne History Month.

R.D. settled in Texas in 1882 but two years earlier J.L. Beirne was making his mark about 200 miles east in Arkansas.  Per "The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture" (not an oxymoron):

The small community of Beirne is located twenty-one miles southwest of the Clark County seat of Arkadelphia. It was founded by Illinois native and steamboat captain James Lewis Beirne in 1880. Originally named York, the community was later renamed for Beirne. The community, like many surrounding it, grew out of the timber industry, and it was once considered one of the premier shipping locations along the St. Louis, Iron Mountain and Southern Railroad. Like many of its neighboring communities, it too fell victim to waning timber production in the early 1900s. Today, Beirne is home to one of the largest producers of hardwood material in the world.

Quickly after the community’s establishment, Captain Beirne built a sawmill and Methodist church, which he pastored. By the end of 1880, a railroad depot was constructed, and Beirne’s sawmills and grist mills were in full operation. On May 7, 1880, Beirne established a post office under the name of York; on May 26, 1880, it was renamed Beirne. In 1881, Beirne’s daughter and son-in-law moved to the area, and the group established a store and planing mill on the 800 acres owned by Beirne. The community quickly gained the reputation as the best shipping point on the railroad for the citizens in the Okolona (Clark County) area. James Beirne died in 1908 and is buried in the town bearing his name.

Did R.D. and J.L. know each other?  Maybe - but probably not, 200 miles was another time zone in 1882.  Interesting that both became entrepreneurs, unwilling to toil under the glare of some tight-fisted robber baron.

What drove Cap'n Beirne to side with the Methodists?  Was there a Methodist to his madness? (I have waited years to use that one).  What happened to the steamboat? Is there a juicy Concordia-style steamboat grounding that no one will talk about?

A road trip to Beirne AR is in the planning phase.  For now we must be content with a photo of its post office, where stamps are still four cents and the mailman knows everyone by their first name, be it BobbieSue, BillyJoe, BessieMay, EddieLee, etc.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

R.D. Beirne, Part 2 of 2

So, after leaving Roscommon when he was 18, our man R.D. ended up in Denison, Texas in 1882.  There he opened a "dry goods" store in partnership with a Mr. Stenson.  Based on the advertisements of the time, "dry goods" seems to be clothing, textiles, fabric and the like.  Evidently they prospered and R.D. later bought out his partner.

In 1882 Texas was wild and wooly.  The Chishom Trail was still being used, with thousands of cattle plodding northwards just a few miles west of Denison.  Judge Roy Bean was in West Texas, holding court in Del Rio, where he once fined a dead man for vagrancy for an amount that just happened to equal the contents of the deceased's wallet.  Around this time, the JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle peaked at 1.3 million acres and on April 3, 1882 Jesse James was assassinated by the coward Robert Ford (a great movie, BTW)...  Did Roderick Dermott Beirne live in interesting times or what?

Fast forward to 1908 and after 26 years of keeping up with the crazy fashions of the times*, not to mention enduring the haggling of old countrywomen, R.D. had made his fortune and was able to retire.

* Haute couture in north Texas in the early 1900's was whether to wear chaps with or without pants.

Below is the notice in the Denison Daily Herald that R.D. Beirne was set to "discontinue business" starting Nov 17, 1908.

Denison is about an hour from Southlake and a couple of years back we drove up there to see what was left of R.D. Beirne's Dry Goods Store. Not much, to be honest, although the building is still intact but the businesses appear to be closed. Not sure which of these two is 305 Main Street.

R.D. Beirne, Part 1 of 2

There were Beirne's in Texas long before yours truly
and there will be many more long after I am gone...

 A few weeks after moving back to Texas in 2009, I was in casual conversation with our neighbor Stanley.  I was giving him the high-level ancestry and I mentioned a great-great grand-uncle who lived in Denison and whose claim to fame was the above-mentioned clock on the high school.  Lo and behold, Stanley's mother went to Dension High and was a history buff and she was one of the contributors to a book about the school.  He produced a copy of the book and sure enough, there was a page given over to R.D. and his generous donation - see the excerpt copy above. 
Note that $2500 in 1913 is about $58,000 in todays money.
Thousands of graduates later, the high school and clock came down in 2007.  It was an impressive old structure and would have been 100 years old this year.
The clock was still around in 2009 and I suppose if I had acted faster, I could have laid claim to at least a piece of it...  I am unsure where it ended up but might make a few calls to the Denison City Council.