Stephen F. Austin State University

Wallisville Landmarks - Early Establishments in the Wallisville Townsite (May 2014)

Wallisville Landmarks - Early Establishments in the Wallisville Townsite
By Kevin Ladd

The Skating Rink

The old town of Wallisville, which served as the county seat of Chambers County from 1858 to 1908, was a charming place in which to live. It also offered many diversions to visitors.

Among those was a skating rink constructed in June 1906 by George E. Carlin, a contractor and builder who hailed from Houston. The rink was erected on lots 7 and 8 in Block 15 of the town site. This was an interesting location for many reasons. For one thing, the tract of land was situated on the Trinity River. Just next to the skating rink stood a small one-room store that had once served as a general mercantile business for Mr. Albert G. Van Pradelles, one of the more prominent men of the town. By the time the rink was established in 1906, Mr. Van Pradelles had been dead for over 20 years and the store was operated by the Bennett family. The skating rink stood next to the home of one of Mr. Van Pradelles's daughters, Fannie, and her husband Charles Kuhlenthal.

Grand Opening

The August 24, 1906 edition of The Liberty Vindicator described the grand opening of the place: "Last week Wallisville invited Liberty to be present a the opening of the skating rink Friday [April 17], which occasion would be celebrated with skating in the afternoon and a ball in the evening. Liberty accepted and went. Not all of Liberty -- but forty-five of her men, women and children. The event, while not conducted as well as it might have been, was enjoyed, and we await with much anticipation when Wallisville bids us come again." Among those who attended from Liberty were E. B. Pickett, Lottie Pickett, Laura Stephens and Stella Steusoff. Music was provided by a Negro string band from Galveston, a popular and well liked group led by a man named "Crip John." His wooden leg led to the nickname.

The late John Middleton (1941-2013) conducted extensive research into the Townsite and all of its various structures. In September of 1973, he traveled to San Antonio to interview Joy Wooten Krise, Gladys Wooten Chapman and Wilda Wooten. The three Wooten sisters remembered the skating rink vividly. The center of the rink was set up for dancing, while the outside was for skating. The hardwood floor boards for the rink were set in with the narrow sides up.

The late Tabitha Jones Mayes had equally good memories of the skating rink. The middle portion of the rink, where the dance floor was located, was a round-shaped area surrounded by a fence that stood approximately 18 inches high. A player piano was also situated in the dance floor area, and it played while the skaters or dancers took to their respective floors. The skates rented for five cents. She remembered a Bob Gilmartin, one of several men who served as manager at the skating rink. The manager operated out of a caged area located at one end of the rink.

The rink was curved at the ends, with one end protruding out over the river. Separate toilets for men and women were located in this end of the building, for obvious reasons. The rink also had large windows, with shutters that could be lifted up and down for cross-ventilation purposes.

Many public events, such as barbecues and political rallies, were often held near the rink with dancing held inside the building afterward.

The skating rink was destroyed by the flood surge experienced during the 1915 hurricane.

The LaFour-Davis Hotel

One of the most familiar landmarks in the town was the hotel operated first by Joseph and Martha LaFour, and later by Sheriff G. C. Davis. The hotel flourished for several decades and was a major commercial operation.

Joseph LaFour spent most of his early years in the Double Bayou section of the county, and while living there he was married to Martha Barrow, daughter of Reuben Barrow Jr. and his wife Susannah Dunman. In the years after the Civil War, how-ever, LaFour began to think about moving to the county seat at Wallisville and establishing a hotel. He decided to sell his house at Double Bayou and make the move.

On December 19, 1872, Joseph and Martha purchased Block 9 in the Wallisville Townsite from Solomon B. Wallis and moved to town. They had a handsome two-story hotel built on the corner of Davis and Main streets. This was on the south side of Block 9. The hotel was completed during 1873. The success of this operation led Mrs. Lizzie Wilson to build another hotel, or boarding house in Block 10 in 1882. The hotel also included outbuildings, such as storage buildings, stables for horses and other structures.

Thirty Dollars a Month

An 1873 advertisement in the Galveston Weekly News showed the following charges:

Board per month ………. $30.00
Board per week ………... 8.00
Board per day ………….. 1.50
Single meal ……………... .50
Lodging …………………… .50

A newspaper reporter came to Wallisville in August 1875 to attend a murder trial. "The house of Mr. LaFour," he wrote, "is much the largest building in the place, but many pleasant cottages are scattered about, the most of which are shaded by umbrella china." This is an apparent reference to China Berry trees.

The late Tavia LaFour recalled that an orange orchard was located on the north side of the hotel.

The Disasters of 1875

The hurricane of September 17, 1875 caused some serious damage to the hotel. The Galveston News reported: "The LaFour hotel withstood the terrible rush of water and wind, but sustained considerable damage, the bedding and chests of clothing being injured by the water. The storehouse, with a full stock of groceries, was washed away. The stables and out-houses were very much damaged."

A second disaster struck the town on December 2, 1875, when the courthouse was destroyed by fire. The commissioners court rented the second floor of the hotel to serve as a district courtroom until a new building could be erected.

Sheriff Davis Buys Hotel

The hotel was operated by LaFour and his family for the next twenty years until it was sold in November 1895 to Gibson Clay Davis, a former sheriff. After buying the hotel, Davis also constructed an addition on the back of the building, providing more rooms for tenants. It might be noted that Sheriff John Frost was living at the hotel at the time of the 1900 census. He was later murdered that same year while serving eviction papers at Smith Point. Family letters also indicate that Davis and his wife Rachel Mayes Davis moved into the hotel in late 1895, leaving their previous home on Lake Miller.

In 1899, Sheriff Davis had a new store constructed just west of the hotel. The building was completed by late March of that year and rapidly became a favorite gathering place for the young folks of Wallisville. The store fronted on Main Street.

The hotel sustained serious damage during the 1915 hurricane. The old original portion of the hotel was completely destroyed by the storm, but the 1895 addition survived and was used for other purposes for awhile. A tramp spent the night in the building, and it burned. Longtime residents always assumed the tramp started the fire.