Heights History

D.D. Cooley Home

As early as 1886, Oscar Martin Carter, a self-made millionaire who had business interests in Nebraska and Colorado, brought to Houston a Utopian vision for the approaching twentieth century type of town, a planned community where successful entrepreneurs and working people alike could live and work, in health and safety, as neighbors. Compared to Houston, a city plagued by yellow fever and devastating annual floods, Carter chose the ideal spot for his new community. Houston Heights, with an elevation 23 feet higher than downtown Houston, a natural sandy soil, rich vegetation, mature trees and artisan water sources, promised a sanctuary of health and well being. The name Houston Heights then was a natural title and gave confidence to people hunting a healthful location. It is a matter of history that during the terrible yellow fever epidemics that periodically struck Houston, many people fled to the Heights and camped out until the siege subsided.


Not only did Carter realize that Houston would attract major industries and thus experience population growth due to the jobs created by those industries, but he planned for many of the industries to locate in his planned development. He also knew that there would be a great need for housing and he wanted his development to provide the opportunity for home ownership.


Carter's vision included a transportation system that would bring passengers four miles from Houston to his planned community, a considerable distance in those days. However, in 1890, when most cities the size of Houston already had electric streetcar lines, Houston only had two mule-drawn systems. He arranged for the purchase and electrification of both systems, thus guaranteeing electric streetcars to Houston Heights. His investment gave potential investors the confidence to believe in his dream and invest in his totally planned community. It was also a very profitable venture, since the city was destined for tremendous growth as well. By 1891, Carter attracted a corps of investors who set up the Omaha and South Texas Land Company. He even convinced some of them to give not just their money, but to live their lives in his Utopian city. Carter recognized the desire of the growing middle class to move away from the noise and dirt of the crowded city. The company purchased 1,756 acres of land, and made over $500,000 worth of improvements, including utilities, streets and alleys, as well as parks and schools. The blocks were carefully arranged, some principal streets were covered with shell, and a waterworks system was established. Scattered open spaces supplemented the 60 foot-wide esplanade on Heights Boulevard. The trees and other natural features that now line the streets were planted during that early period of development. Carter also built a commercial strip at 19th and Ashland Streets and arranged for stores to open there to serve new residents.


The founding fathers also built a series of grand Victorian homes along Heights Boulevard, a broad, tree-lined central thoroughfare patterned after Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. Major industrial and commercial concerns were also attracted to Houston Heights by Carter and his associates before the turn of the century, thus completing his plan to develop a totally planned community in which to live and work.


From the outset, Carter planned Houston Heights as a modest community. In general, Carter sought to prevent speculation. His advertisements and his methods of promotion do not appear to have been aimed at the very wealthy, but at the growing class of white-collar workers, young professionals, and the skilled craftsmen of the working class. His philosophy has been maintained in practice by the residents over the years, whether consciously or not. The social and economic make-up of the present day Houston Heights probably is quite similar to that of 1915. The early occupants of the large, fanciful homes along the Boulevard were often doctors, lawyers or real estate professionals.


The greater portion of Houston Heights was residential, however, and as it grew, it was not uncommon for a new resident to use the skills of his trade to build a home for his own family in addition to those he built professionally. Smaller, more modest cottages were built by resident-carpenters and other members of the building trade.

Credits: Houston Heights Assoc. for much of the above information.

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