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Galveston Monthly

Bradbury-Seinsheimer Mansion

Oct 31, 2019 10:24PM

One of Galveston’s finest homes was built for a woman who died before she could ever live within its walls. Despite its tragic beginning, the story of the residence would become as impressive as the structure itself.

  The tale of the mansion began when David E. Bradbury (1812-1866), the captain of a windjammer, arrived in Galveston in 1840 with his 16-year-old bride Julia Ann Livingston (1824-1858). The couple became two of the city’s earliest settlers while Texas was still a republic and became parents soon after their arrival.

  Their first son Henry Clay was born in 1841, followed by daughter Josephine Livingston in 1846. In 1850, a second son Edward was born, but the child died tragically just two weeks after his first birthday, while his mother Julia was pregnant with their fourth child Simon Augustus.

  Captain Bradbury was one of the chief developers of the Houston Ship Channel, referred to at the time as the Galveston Bay Channel. He borrowed money from William Hendley in 1849 to finance his shipping and dredging operations, making several surveys between Galveston Island and Bolivar through Trinity and San Jacinto Bays.

  After the death of his son, Bradbury resumed his interest in Galveston’s deep-water project that sought to deepen the island’s waterways to allow passage for larger and thus more lucrative vessels. He appeared before the Texas Legislature several times to acquire funds to dredge Buffalo Bayou to enable small craft to reach Harrisburg (Houston).

  On April 7, 1857, he was given the contract for the improving navigation over Clopper’s Bar and earned $22,725 for the project. A later contract in 1858 entailed widening the shipping passages through Red Fish Reef and into Buffalo Bayou. 

  These lucrative contracts enabled the captain to build a dream home for his family. In February 1858, he purchased three lots at the southeast corner of Twenty-fifth Street and Avenue K and began construction of an elegant three-story mansion.

  The residence was constructed largely from ballast materials used in Bradbury’s cotton ships, including high quality metals, pressed red brick and other quality materials from the east coast and Europe. As the first brick home on the Island (pre-dating Ashton Villa by a year, which is often thought to hold that title) and one of the first in the state, it garnered much attention in the community.

  The impressive masonry exterior was trimmed in white woodwork and featured arched windows, seven wide porches, and was crowned with a slate and metal roof with wrought iron cresting. The large structure had fifteen rooms, three hallways, four fireplaces, and the luxury of five closets.

  Gas provided the lighting, and fixtures were imported from Europe. A two-story, brick-veneered servants quarters occupied part of the back of the property behind the home.  

   Then tragedy struck the family again on September 2, 1858, when Julia died at the age of 34. She never had the chance to live in the stately mansion. Julia and her son Edward are buried in Trinity Episcopal Cemetery on Broadway. It is believed that the rest of the Bradbury family did not live in the home either, as the captain sold it to Nelson Clements shortly after Julia’s passing.

  He remained on the Island with his children for a short time, partnering with Nahor B. Yard, former Senator Franklin H. Merriman, Frenchman Henri de St. Cyr, and John S. Clute, Jr. to form the Texas Telegraph Company in 1860 before moving to Port Lavaca, where he passed away eight years later.

  Nelson Clements was a commission merchant who dealt in cotton in Galveston and New York. His prominent connections in society included his wife’s uncle, Louisiana Congressman and millionaire Duncan F. Kenner. Clements was also the co-builder of Bean’s Wharf in Galveston in 1859 and the owner of a successful steamship company.

  In December 1862, working with Confederate General John Magruder, the businessman contracted for the delivery of thousands of arms, munitions, and other supplies needed by the army in exchange for cotton. Though he delivered the shipments, he spent the next year and a half lobbying unsuccessfully for payment. His contract was officially cancelled by the Confederacy in April 1864.

  As further insult, his grand home was used as the headquarters of Confederate Colonel Henry M. Elmore, leader of the Twentieth Texas Infantry, and his aide Captain Dixon Hall Lewis, Jr. (son of an Alabama senator) during the Civil War. Colonel J. A. Robertson, prominent in Island commercial and civic life, was also stationed in the home during that time. Perhaps partly due to the misfortune of the lost funds from the Confederate contract or to the home’s connection to the Confederacy, Clements soon sold the property.

  Well-known banker Henry Seeligson (1828-1887) acquired the home during the 1870s and lived there until 1883 when he sold it to Joseph Seinsheimer. Seinsheimer (1855-1938) came to the Island from Cincinnati in 1873 and within months was working with the firm of Marx & Kempner, successful cotton factors and wholesale grocers.

  In 1879, he married Blanche Fellman (1860-1945), who was said to be one of the most beautiful young women in Texas. As the daughter of the founder of Fellman’s Dry Goods Store, she undoubtedly brought useful business and social connections to the marriage as well. They initially lived with Blanche’s parents, but moved the following year when their daughter Emma (1880-1969) was born.

  Seinsheimer entered into the partnership of Freiberg, Klein & Company liquors, wine and cigar wholesalers in 1880. The business became enough of a success to afford the young family a large home on Market and Twelfth, as well as a live-in staff that included their coachman Albert Gilbert, maid Jennie Lyman, and William Washington. It was in this large home that Blanche gave birth to their only son Joseph Fellman (1881-1951).

  At only 28 years old, Seinsheimer purchased the mansion in 1883 that would be identified with his name from that time on. The home had fallen into disrepair and the family spent the following months restoring it to one of the most envied properties in Galveston.

  Within the first few years he owned the home, he replaced the gas power with electricity and contracted other updates to modernize the home. Edythe (1884-1971), the couple’s youngest child, was the only member of the family born in the home and lived most of her life there.

  Seinsheimer’s business pursuits were broad and incorporated a range of interests. He was part owner of the Galveston baseball club, and for the last two months of the season in 1890, served as the president of the Texas Baseball League. He often commented on his disappointment that the Island league had failed.

  Upon the death of Harris Kempner in 1894, Seinsheimer became office manager of H. Kempner banking and cotton and held the position until his own passing. That responsibility did not keep the entrepreneur from following additional opportunities, and two years later he opened the Seinsheimer Paper Company.

  At the time of the 1900 Storm, the family lived at the Avenue K home with their live-in cook Dora Ware, but no record was found to indicate whether they remained in the structure during the incident. The first floor flooded, but the building survived with some damage.

  Afterward, Seinsheimer had the house raised five feet, making it the first brick home to be raised in Galveston. In addition to the necessary repair work, he added new wings to the residence and expanded the porches to provide more entertaining space. The slate portion of the roof was also replaced with asbestos shingles at that time.

  An invitation to the Seinsheimer home for a party was a coveted prize, as the family members were known for being gracious and skilled hosts. Local newspaper columns mentioned the details of guest lists and decorations much more often than they did the accomplishments and business of Seinsheimer himself.

  Festivities included bridal showers, card-playing socials, and an annual party to celebrate the couple’s wedding anniversary. Their 50th anniversary party was one of the grandest Galveston galas that year.

  Seinsheimer was a charter member of the El Mina Shrine Temple and a 33rd degree mason. He acted as president of the Scottish Rite Temple Association of Galveston from 1906-1922. In June 1938, he took his wife and daughters on a trip to Los Angeles where he was scheduled to attend the annual session of the Imperial Shrine Council.

  Unfortunately, he contracted pneumonia and died in his room there at the Biltmore Hotel. He was 82. His family brought him back to the Island and held his funeral in their home.

  Blanche and her daughters remained in the house for several more years until she advertised in search of a smaller, three-bedroom home in 1943. Shortly afterward, the Seinsheimers left the grand residence that had sheltered members of their family for fifty years.

  The trio moved to 3028 Avenue O, and Blanche passed away in October 1945 shortly after her 85th birthday. She and her husband are interred at Galveston Memorial Park in Hitchcock.

  In April 1944, their former home and the rear servant quarters were converted into multi-unit apartment buildings. The floorplan subdivided the house into 25 rooms, four of which had fireplaces.

   In a much more modest style than the previous owners enjoyed, the largest apartments offered three rooms with a private bath. There were nine apartment units in the main home: four on the first floor, three on the second, and two on the third. The separate servants’ quarters were divided into two units, and a laundry room was established in the basement. During World War II, the apartments were designated as war housing for families of men serving at Fort Crockett.

  The former servants’ quarters and garage were heavily damaged in a fire in 1946, though firemen from three companies fought for an hour and a half to save it. In October 1960, the Seinsheimer family unfortunately decided that the 102-year-old mansion had outlived its usefulness and had it razed. After sitting empty for several years, the once impressive homes’ walls tumbled down, ending its place as a center of historical and social importance in the community. 

  Two original street markers - one from the side of the home facing Avenue K and the other from the side facing Bath Avenue (now 25th Street / Rosenberg Avenue)—were salvaged from the demolition site and donated to Rosenberg Library by R.W. Alford who was contracted to demolish the home.

  In 1978, a one-story office building took the place of the Seinsheimer residence.  

Extras:

A 1917 newspaper ad listed that the home was in need of “a yardman, one who understands milking a cow.”

The family had an elaborate garden on the grounds that included a much-admired peach tree.