The Nebraska That Tipped Its Hat To Texas And Built A City

When a heart attack killed Oscar Martin Carter in 1928, newspapers marked the millionaire’s passing with statements of his wonderment.

Financial assistant. Banker. City builder. Gold digger. Inventor. Dakota Cattle King. Texas Money King.

It’s been nearly a century since the shrewd Nebraska businessman who envisioned a Lone Star State utopia died. Almost a century since he disappeared from the pages of Nebraska newspapers so completely that he barely deserves a mention in the state history books.

But the new suburb he envisioned, selling 10,000 lots on the installment plan — $5 down and $4.40 a month — lives on.

Houston Heights: Population 20,000, with a footprint of just under 3 square miles. It’s a neighborhood the size of Valentine – but with 10 times the population – now nestled very close to the heart of Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States.

These days, “The Heights” is on the run. Money Magazine called it “Top 10 Big City Neighborhoods”. The New York Times recommended its Mexican cuisine in its 36 Hours in Houston travel guide. National Geographic touted its opera house and its antique shops, art galleries and restaurants.

“It’s just a very unique neighborhood in Houston that has so much character,” said Jordan Jones, one of many young professionals drawn to the area.

Locals and visitors alike know the gothic mansions straight out of a Charlotte Bronte novel that dot the fanciest blocks of The Heights.

But few know the story of the man who founded Houston Heights, a Nebraska who lost two fingers, his company and his beloved son in pursuit of his dream.

Houston Metropolitan Research Center

One of the only known photos of Oscar Martin Carter. The businessman moved to Ashland, amassed a fortune in Omaha, then bet big on developing Houston Heights in what is now Houston. Carter died in Houston Heights in 1928, having lost two fingers in an ambush and his beloved son in an accident. He also died with a fortune of $75 million in today’s dollars.

In the years following the Civil War and Reconstruction, in the wide open spaces of the Republic of Texas, wealthy men came calling.

The commercial capitalists called them newspapers.

Oscar Martin Carter of Nebraska took his place in this narrative when he headed south with Daniel Denton Cooley, cashier at the bank of Ashland, where Carter served as president.

Born outside Boston, Carter had traveled west in an ox-drawn wagon in 1864. He stopped in Colorado and staked a gold mine near Gunnison, he then headed to the Dakotas and raised cattle. Eventually he hitched his team to Plattsmouth and stuck to it as well, later settling in Ashland with his wife Cinderella – yes, that was her real name – and their children.

He would serve as treasurer of Saunders County, run hardware stores, and open banks. He will build his reputation from a turreted castle in 35th and Farnam in Omaha.

In 1890, Carter left his castle with a half-million-dollar pot of investors in his South Omaha and Texas Land Company, and was ready to build streets and alleys, utilities, schools, businesses and parks on 1,765 elevated acres 4 miles from downtown. Houston.

“He found enough investors to build the streets of a community where he hadn’t built a single house,” said Mark Williamson, director of the Houston Heights Association and longtime resident. “It must have been such a big undertaking.”

The land itself was a draw, 23 feet higher than the growing city of Houston, a city prone to flooding, mosquitoes and yellow fever outbreaks.

Carter installed his son Arthur as head of the power and water plants.

He made Cooley his general manager and built him a six-bedroom cypress mansion with marble tubs and inlaid wood floors.

Other grand Victorians followed, along with a posh hotel to attract potential residents. But Carter also wanted to appeal to the middle and working classes.

He ran ads in the Houston Chronicle with pencil drawings of his likeness in a bow tie and pinstripe suit, gesturing off the page as he gave his speech.

“The one hundred percent man is the man whose mind is unobstructed by the cares of home…Let us take you and your wife to (to) the heights and show you these pretty houses… You will want to live in such a charming community and be surprised that the path is so easy.

And it was.

Affordable bungalow and cabin kits from Sears and Roebuck have arrived on the railroad. An electric streetcar took workers south to Houston to work and home.

“Opinions differ, but this was probably the first streetcar suburb in Texas,” Williamson said. “And possibly the first west of the Mississippi.”

Larger homes lined the wide, tree-lined Heights Boulevard, followed by smaller homes as you move away from the center.

A mall has sprung up along 19th and Ashland Avenue. Ashland was joined by Waverly and Cortlandt, perhaps a misspelled nod to the Gage County village of Cortland.

“It’s a beautiful place, beautiful boulevards and beautiful streets, cut through the hardwoods and the running streetcars,” exclaimed the Wahoo New Era editor after visiting the Carter community.

What shouldn’t you like? Houston Heights was a modern marvel. Soon it would be a small, self-contained town with its water and electricity plants, its ironwork and its oil mill, its mattress factory and its automobile company, its sawmill and its brickworks, its library and its opera.

The Nebraskanians followed Carter from afar.

When the Omaha and South Texas Land Company went bankrupt in 1893, prompting a run on a Carter-owned bank in Grafton, the Beatrice Daily Times called Houston Heights “her favorite plan”.

When Carter was ambushed by gunmen in the office of his furniture factory in 1900, leaving him with a broken arm, scalp wounds and two missing fingers, the Ashland Gazette called him ” exciting experience with thieves”.

And when the Plattsmouth Journal reported on the accident that killed Carter’s son at the Houston Heights Aqueduct five years later, the newspaper expressed sadness. “His sudden death yesterday was a great shock to his father and he was almost prostrate with grief.”

But Carter continued. Just like Houston Heights.

Heights district

Houston Heights Association

Cyclists pass one of the tall houses in the Heights neighborhood. Carter designed the neighborhood to attract some of the area’s wealthiest residents, as well as working-class residents who used the electric streetcar to work in downtown Houston and lived in homes sold by Sears and Roebuck.

The Heights had its lows.

It was annexed in 1918 by the city of Houston. It flourished in the 1930s, but faltered at the end of World War II. The tram has disappeared. Cars and highways attracted workers. The burn has set in.

And then along came a serial killer, Dean Corll, whose mother had owned a candy store up high. The 33-year-old kidnapped and murdered more than two dozen boys with the help of two accomplices in the early 1970s.

The New York Times described the crime frenzy – and the heights – of this era. “This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in this new city and although there are still shopping malls and large churches, the side streets are run down, given over to the white working class. There are vans on blocks in the driveways and tires on frayed ropes in the grassy backyards.

After the murders, business owners united to form the Houston Heights Association, Williamson said. Residents joined the fledgling association and quickly took over.

They began salvaging homes and businesses, Queen Anne mansions and elegant Craftsman bungalows and cottages. The old aqueduct reservoirs have been transformed into restaurants and shops. They sought approval for three historic districts and listed more than 100 individual properties on the National Register of Historic Places.

They began a renaissance that brought a new generation of residents to the heights. Residents like Jones love the quick commute to downtown. They love the “crazy number” of one-of-a-kind restaurants and the “wide expanse of local bars,” says the 35-year-old Texan.

They are drawn to the old storefronts and vintage shops, the farmers markets and home tours, and the public art and music in the park. A revamped running course along the bayou.

The old library still stands, down the block where Oscar Martin Carter spent his last years.

But his house? Long gone, Williamson said. Replaced by an apartment complex.

The Texas Money King died a wealthy man in Houston on January 6, 1928 – his estate estimated at $5 million; $75 million in today’s dollars.

“His death was sudden,” Omaha Bee reported. “It cut short a career that earned him the title ‘financial wizard’ and made him one of the best-known ranchers, bankers and real estate agents in the West and South West. “

Lambert Hall

Houston Heights Association

Lambert Hall, the former sanctuary of the Heights Christian Church, now houses Opera in the Heights and other organizations.

Jordan Jones visited Nebraska as a boy on a hunting trip with his father.

“Honestly, I was young enough not to remember that.”

But, he’s flown to Eppley a dozen times over the past year on work-related trips. He ventured to Dundee and the Old Market for dinner.

He had no idea that the Houston Heights neighborhood he loves was created by a Nebraska man with a grand vision for a 20th century city.

Everything he knew about Carter? His likeness on the sign of the Carter & Cooley Company Deli on Houston’s 19th Street.

Last year, Jones sold his second home in the Heights and is renting as he prepares for a job-related move to the Midwest.

Destination: Omaha.

The Free Flatwater Press is Nebraska’s first independent, nonprofit newsroom focused on the investigative and reporting that matters.

Download our apps today for all our latest coverage.

Get the latest news and weather straight to your inbox.

Comments are closed.