Past Treasure of the Month – August 2015
During the month of August, Rosenberg Library remembers Galvestonian James B. Stubbs (1851 – 1925), a city attorney and Texas state senator during the late 19th century. The library exhibited an engraved walking cane, vintage business cards, and personalized stationery that once belonged to Mr. Stubbs. These items were donated by Eugenia McDonald on behalf of the Estate of Doyle McDonald. The McDonalds and Stubbses — both old Galveston families — were longtime friends.
The Stubbs Family Comes to Galveston
James Baytop Stubbs was the first-born child of Theodore Bonaparte Stubbs and Ellen Kirkpatrick Stubbs, residents of Montgomery, Alabama. Tragically, James Stubbs’s mother died shortly after his birth in 1851. Two years later, Theodore Stubbs moved to the port city of Galveston, Texas where he came in search of new business opportunities. Though trained as a machinist, Theodore Stubbs became a wholesale grocer, a lucrative career path in the mid-1800s. He entered a partnership with John Sydnor and later with P.P. Brotherson.
In 1855, Stubbs married his second wife, Catherine Kauffman. T.B. Stubbs & Company quickly grew to become one of the largest wholesale firms in the state. The Stubbs family grew as well, with 3 children born prior to the beginning of the Civil War. During the war, Stubbs was unable to maintain his business due to the Union blockade of the Galveston port. Instead, he joined the Confederate army and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war ended, T.B. Stubbs & Co. resumed its former business affairs, and the Stubbs family continued to expand with the birth of two more children.
The financial Panic of 1873 forced Stubbs to close his once-prosperous company. At age 51, he was compelled to convert the family’s residence into a boarding house in order to provide additional income for his wife and children. The Stubbs home was later lost in the Great Fire of 1885 which swept through Galveston’s east end. Fortunately, the insurance payment covered the rebuilding of the house at 1602 Market and also allowed the Stubbses to build two adjacent rental properties. Theodore Stubbs died in 1896 at age 71.
James B. Stubbs Builds a Legal Career
While the 1870s and 1880s were difficult decades for Theodore Stubbs, his eldest son, James, showed much promise. After attending private schools in Galveston, James Stubbs enrolled at Pass Christian College in Mississippi. From there, he was granted admission to Washington and Lee University where he earned a law degree in 1872. He returned to the island to practice at the leading firm Ballinger, Jack, and Mott.
In 1880, Stubbs was elected to the Texas Senate. When the state legislature voted to establish the University of Texas in 1881, Stubbs worked to bring the school’s medical branch to Galveston Island. He also served three terms as the city attorney for Galveston. He later opened his own firm with partner William J. Kelly. After Kelly’s death, Stubbs established a new partnership with his half-brother, Charles J. Stubbs, around 1885. The brothers operated a law office at the Trueheart-Adriance building, 212 22nd Street, for many years.
James Stubbs’s first wife was Rebecca J. Allen, whom he married in 1876. The couple had three children but later divorced. Stubbs married his second wife, Mathilda Hubner, following the 1900 Storm. Ms. Hubner was a widower whose two teenage children tragically drowned during that event.
In 1901 Stubbs was elected President of the Texas Bar Association. He was active with the Masonic Order and the El Mina Shrine Temple. Interestingly, James B. Stubbs gave the oration when a group of local Masons laid the cornerstone of Rosenberg Library in 1902. He died at his residence (1726 21st Street) in 1925 at age 74 and is buried in the Old City Cemetery.
A Look at Men’s Fashion During the Early 20th Century
The personal belongings of James B. Stubbs in the Rosenberg Library museum collection provide a glimpse into both fashion and social customs around the turn of the 20th century. One of the items is an engraved walking cane. Though first used as a device to facilitate balance for those with injuries or disabilities, walking sticks evolved into stylish accessories for both gentlemen and ladies between the 17th and early 20th centuries. American walking canes — which have curved handles — are variations of the traditionally straight walking sticks from Europe. Canes could be made from a variety of woods and be embellished with decorative designs. James B. Stubbs’s walking cane features a metal band with his name engraved upon it. By the 1950s, fashion canes became less popular as automobiles replaced travel on foot. However, orthopedic canes continue to be used today.
Another item, a set of mourning stationery, represents a form of communication which has mostly disappeared today. The stationery is designed with a black border surrounding the edges of each sheet as well as the edges of each envelope. Mourning stationery was used for two purposes. First, it was used by the bereaved to communicate with family and friends that a loved one had been lost or to express thanks to those who had offered their condolences. On the converse, mourning stationery was also used to convey sympathy in letters written to a bereaved individual who had suffered the loss of a loved one. Over time, mourning stationery has been replaced by commercially produced sympathy cards which often contain pre-printed messages.
This particular set of stationery was donated in its original box bearing the retailer’s mark from Ferdinand Ohlendorf’s Fine Stationery Shop. Mr. Ohlendorf operated his business at 2015 Market Street in Galveston during the early 1900s.