History of Kemah

Kemah “Wind In The Face” By Jean Epperson Original on file with The Texas Historical Commission, Local History Programs.

The recorded history of Kemah began when a labor (approx. 177 acres) of land was granted to Michael Gouldrich on August 24, 1824 by the Mexican government. Gouldrich was listed as one of Stephen F. Austin’s first colonists in 1826, a widower over 50 years of age engaged in farming and stockraising. His land was located on the south bank and at the mouth of Clear Creek and Galveston Bay. Gouldrich disappeared from historical record and William Vince of Vince’s Bayou, Harrisburg County acquired the Clear Creek land. The name “Flanders Grove” or “Flanders Labor” appears on several early maps of Galveston Bay in the vicinity of the present day town of Kemah at the mouth of Clear Lake in Galveston County. The place-name was given because one John Flanders bought the property from William Vince. John Flanders was issued a passport for six months on December 7, 1830, in Austin’s colony. A notation in Austin’s Register of Families reads, “Flanders is to be included as a colonist although he takes no land.” Flanders was 32 years old, single, a farmer from New Hampshire and had arrived in December 1930, probably in Anahuac where he acquired a house and a lot. He was not listed on the 1834 census of Anahuac and was probably then living on his Clear Creek property. John Flanders was listed among the dead at the Alamo. He was one of thirty-two men, commanded by Captain George Kimball, who entered the Alamo on March 1, from Gonzales. Why he was with the men from Gonzales is unknown. Flanders was a private, 36 years old, unmarried, and had immigrated from Massachusetts by way of New Orleans. He was the son of Levi and Mary (Sargent) Flanders and was born in Salisbury, Massachusetts. John had been in business with his father with whom he had a disagreement over a mortgage held by John on a piece of property owned by a widow. John wished to foreclose and his father opposed it. The disagreement developed into bad feelings and John left home and never communicated thereafter with his family. In 1841, Allen Vince, of Vince’s Bayou, Harris County, was named administrator of the John Flanders estate. The estate was said to consist of only the labor of land at the mouth of Clear Creek on the Southwest side. A petition for sale of the land, to satisfy debts, was requested May 28, 1844. Money was owing for lawyer fees (in the case of Sawyer vs Vince in District Court), and to the estate of William Vince, the deceased brother of Allen Vince. The land was appraised at $2.00 per acre and sold to Jonathan D. Waters on July 2, 1844 for $354.00 The heirs of John Flanders received Bounty Warrant #810 for 1920 acres on April 25, 1851 for his “having fallen with Travis in the Alamo.” One thousand nine hundred and twenty acres in Dimmit County were patented to the heirs on October 17, 1851. Along the shoreline of the village was a shell reef some 20 to 30 feet deep in places. During the 1890’s James Bradford sold the shell to the railroad for seventy-five cents a rail car. A spur tract was built from Dickinson to haul away the shell. During the excavation of the shell some twenty-five Indian skeletons were unearthed also lithic debris (arrow points, stone tools, etc.), pottery and fire hearths were found. A Southern Pacific railroad line was built and passed through the area bringing more people, so the Bradford and Kipp families subdivided the land they owned into town lots in 1898 and established the township of Evergreen. The village was basically a summer resort. The hurricane of 1900 flattened the town and in 1901 Henry Kipp and his wife moved back to Evergreen and built a lovely two-story home with wrap-around porches that is till standing today on 10th Street. Jane and James Bradford also built a similar two-story home facing the bay not too far from the Kipp home. Johnathan D. Waters of Fort Bend County sold 10 acres of the southeast end of the Gouldrich labor on Clear Creek to Charles B. Underhill of Galveston on October 3, 1850. Underhill and wife, Martha Jane sold the same 10 acres to Mrs. Elizabeth S. Justice on June 3, 1853. The widow Justice married Abraham H. Kipp sometime after her husband, Stephen died in 1856. Kipp’s son Henry married Elizabeth’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth Justice. In 1875 they moved from Clear Creek to Cedar Bayou, Harris County where Henry began a shipyard. The business prospered and the Kipp’s raised a family of nine children there. A daughter, Jane Kipp married James Bradford of Cedar Bayou, who owned a large four masted schooner. Bradford ran his boat from Cedar Bayou along Galveston Bay freighting cordwood, brick, produce, or anything the customers wanted. In 1891 the Bradfords moved back to Clear Creek and lived in the house first built by Jane’s parents. The Kipps and Bradfords acquired the balance of the Gouldrich labor and part of the Muldoon league. The Kemah post office was established November 12, 1907 by John H. Kipp, Sr. The name of the town was changed to Kemah because there was already an Evergreen. Kemah, an Indian word meaning “Wind in the Face”, was chosen by residents. Most families on the bay had boats for transportation, therefore one of the first businesses in Kemah was the Platzer Boatyard. Owned and operated by Herman Platzer the yard was located on Clear Creek, which afforded deep water for docking while the shallow bay did not. New boats were built and old boats repaired and refinished. With the advent of Prohibition in 1920 and the tolerance of Galveston County officials to alcohol and games of chance, Kemah became Houston’s playground with wide-open gambling and drinking. During the 1950’s the Clear Creek Channel was opened and a large shrimp fleet was based at Kemah. Carla, the 1961 hurricane devastated the city and virtually destroyed it. Recovery from the massive storm was slow but the fishing industry returned and grew in strength. Marine storage facilities for pleasure craft in the city and surrounding areas during the 1970’s and 1980’s added greatly to the economy. Kemah was incorporated as a village on March 22, 1965. The first mayor was Dr. R. B. Estes and the first Aldermen were John J. Dewey, F. W. Bertram, J. J. McCabe, Lee Hart, and Frank O Mabry. The first Police Chief was Kenneth Hanson. On October 22, 1966 the Village of Kemah adopted Chapters 1 through 10, Title 28 of Vernon’s Texas Civil Statutes becoming a General Law City. In 1992 the city encompassed two square miles with a population of 1,300.

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