26 July 1908: Finding drinking water on the Galveston Island has been a challenge since humans first began to inhabit the sandbar. Water pulled from shallow wells was too salty for drinking, so early on standing water was drawn from ephemeral ponds and cisterns were built to trap rainwater. The municipality of Galveston, the largest barrier-island city in America, built the first Water Works plant a few blocks south of the principal commercial quarter of the city at the southwest corner of 30th and Ball in 1888. By 1895 water was brought a distance of 20 miles from artesian wells at Alta Loma near Santa Fe on the mainland through salt marshes, over bridges above Highland Bayou, and under Galveston Bay to the pumping station. In addition to large holding tanks 100’ x 20’, a tall standpipe (25’ x 152’) handled overflow water, and a tall smokestack pierced the sky. The 3-story station was destroyed in the 1900 storm, and rebuilt with a lower 2-story profile in 1904. [For an excellent summary of the facility, see LINK].
17 October 2021: The prominent 1888 standpipe was initially constructed of iron, then further enhanced in 1912 with a 20” shell of concrete. It was demolished in 1968. The 2004 the 30th Street Pump Station was largely obsolete by the early 21st Century standards, and a new facility was built just north at 30th and Church Street, opening in 2010 after some delays caused by Hurricane Ike in 2008. The handsome old headquarters building was refitted to house the offices of the Galveston City Marshal’s who enforce building and transportation codes (tow trucks, parking, golf cart permits, etc.).
Postmarked: 26 July 1908; Hitchcock, Tex.
Stamp: 1c Blue Green Ben Franklin #300
To: Mr Chas. F. Cook.
Message: Yale, yours of the 22nd inst rec’d. Delighted with same. (Yes Sir) you may send me scenery fore mention on last card. This is of Gal. Co. Seat of Gal. This is only 141/10 mile from it San Antonio Tex is my former home. I sent you cad [sic] of S. A. Courthouse & Main Plazza Exchange again your devoted friend.
Robt B King. Hitchcock Tx.
Robert King and Charles Cook were members of a postal exchange club in which participants gained access to lists of people who wanted to exchange mostly pictorial cards of interest. Galveston pictures cards were especially sought by these members, the city was still notorious for the famous storm that killed upwards of 6,000 citizens of the island eight years before.
Robert was a bachelor aged 21 when he wrote the Galveston postcard to Charles Cook, a grown man of 39, married 15 years with a 12-year old daughter. Their lives were worlds apart, strangers reaching out to expand their world into places unknown except through these postcards. Certainly they had never met, and never would. Robert posts the card from Hitchcock, a mainland town about 15 miles from Galveston, and it seems he lived there, and perhaps traveled to Galveston for various jobs. As he mentions, he was lately from San Antonio, but in fact had been born in Victoria, TX, a town of about 4,000 (in 1910) near the coast between Galveston and San Antonio. San Antonio was the largest city in Texas in 1910 with a population of 97,000, and Galveston was less than half that size with 37,000 citizens (#2 was Dallas: 92,000; #3 Houston: 79,000; #4 Ft. Worth: 73,000; #5 El Paso: 39,000)
Robert’s parents were born in Victoria, his mother Fannie Craig in 1855 and his father, Robert E. King in 1850. Since the couple was African-American, they may both have been born into slavery, then married in their hometown 13 October 1875. Their first child, Marion F., was born in 1878, followed in 1880 by Solomon, Lizzie in 1882, Harry in 1884, our postcard author Robert Buckner in 1886, Zora Louise in 1890, William Craig in 1894, and Sie in 1895. In the 1900 census of Victoria, Robert, Sr. was not found with Fannie and his children, but his brother Joseph S. (Silas or Sie “Si”, for short) is adjacent and running a family farm with nephew Solomon. Fanny worked as a sick nurse, 16-year old Harry as a yard boy, 12-year old Robert studied in school.
The family moved from Victoria to San Antonio, beginning with Marion in about 1903, followed by Robert and Harry by 1907, Solomon in 1909. Robert tried his hand at various jobs, a porter for a dry goods company, M. Halff & Brother, while his brother Marion was a driver for Dullnig Grocery company. Robert would soon take up the profession of chauffeur and may have been a driver when he wrote the postcard, revealing precision as to distances when he says, “This is only 141/10 mile from it” perhaps meaning that Hitchcock was only 14.1 miles from the Galveston Water Works, a close estimate.
Robert served as Private, 2nd Class, Signal Corps (Colored) in WWI, then returned to San Antonio by 1920 to join his family enclave in the 500 block of West Huisache Street where all but Robert had lived in 1910. This was in the Alta Vista neighborhood 7 blocks north of San Pedro Springs Park north of downtown. Robert lived with his mother Fannie at #519; his widowed sister Lizzie, Mrs. Reed Thomas, lived at #515 with daughter Mildred and William King, her brother-in-law, and his wife; Solomon King and his wife Della lived at #513. Robert, William, and Solomon worked as chauffeurs, Lizzie was a cook for a private family. Most of the family remained in this block through 1930, Robert still working as a chauffeur, Solomon as a gardener, Della as a cook and Lizzie as a servant for private families. William King moved in with his sister Zora, wife of Sam H. Richardson at 916 Iowa east of downtown where William was a chauffeur and Sam was a café waiter. The family enclave remained on West Huisache Street, but Robert moved about 1935 to West San Antonio Heights where he owned a house on Culebra Road and worked as a gardener.
Robert Buckner King died in 1982 at 95 and was buried as a veteran in Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. Eastview Cemetery in San Antonio holds the remains of his brother Marion King who died in 1930, Marion’s wife Mattie E. Kelley (d. 1951), and brother William Craig King (d. 1982). Pleasant Green Cemetery in Victoria County is the final resting place of Robert’s Uncle Sie (Joseph Silas), who died in his rocking chair of a heart attack on 6 June 1926; a hint of a deeper genealogy is the fact that his father listed on his death certificate was Joe Sie King of Mississippi. I
Charles Fisher Cook was a white-collar worker in Somerset, PA, at age 39 about 17 years older than Robert. In a time when race was omnipresent in America, Charles was not likely aware of the race of his correspondent, and it it is not clear if the difference would have mattered to him. Somerset, PA was a small town of 2600 in 1910, located within the southern tier of counties just 75 miles southeast of Pittsburg and 25 miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line, once the demarcation between free states to the north and slaves states to the south.
Black Americans in Somerset were uncommon, just 20 of 2650, or 0.76%, and predictable for the era, mostly engaged in lower-wage, low-status occupations: porters, horse-handlers, drivers, cooks and servants. This racial and class occurred across America, whether Texas or Pennsylvania.
Charles worked as a fire insurance agent in 1910, and maintained this career through the rest of his working life. He married Mary Belle Woy about 1893; daughter of Andrew Woy (1838-1915), a Civil War veteran who served in the 133rd Pennsylvania volunteer infantry in battles at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. Charles’ father, Corporal Jonas Monroe Cook (1843-1927), also served the Union cause in Pennsylvania with the 61st Regiment from 26 September 1864 until 20 June 1865, a unit which last saw action at Appomattox 9 April 1865.
Charles and Mollie had a single child, Emily Catherine 1897-1979), who married Adolph Gephart Weyand (1895-1979) on 14 April 1920. Charles and Mollie remained in Somerset County, PA the rest of their lives, Mollie died in 1933, Charles died in 1952; they are buried there in Husband Cemetery near their daughter and son-in-law, who both died in 1979.