Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Belle Sherman Kendall

Oftentimes, old secondhand books come with old signatures from their long-departed previous owners. Most of the people who signed or wrote in these books fade from any conscious thought or knowledge of their existence except by those descendants who keep their memories alive. And then there are those individuals such as Belle Sherman Kendall, who obviously owned this History of Texas book and signed it.

Had this 1892 book by John Henry Brown been of sound body (i.e., having a spine), I would have had something of collectible value. It's content is still valuable in a reading copy only, but I found added value in the signature once I figured out who this person wasn't.

I initially researched the name Belle Thurman Kendall and got nothing. After omitting the middle name, I found Belle Sherman Kendall, which caused me to re-examine the signature. Sure enough, it was Sherman, not Thurman.

With the correct name, I discovered a wealth of Texas history back to the Battle of San Jacinto and the Republic of Texas days.

According to Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Patriot Ancestor Album, Volume 1 (Turner Publishing Company, 1995), Belle's father was Sidney Sherman, a businessman from Kentucky, who organized a company of 55 soldiers to join Sam Houston in the fight for Texas independence from Mexico in 1836. He also brought the only Texas flag to fly at San Jacinto. Sherman settled in Harrisburg (part of Houston now). Actually, he bought the town, which had been burned by Mexican General Santa Anna's troops only the day before the Battle of San Jacinto. Sherman rebuilt the town and set up his business (railroad office, lumber mill, grist mill). More than a decade after the war, Belle was born in 1847.

Belle grew up in Houston and married William E. Kendall, Sr. As Belle Sherman Kendall, she became President of the Ladies Reading Club of Houston, which became the Women's Club of Houston. Later she was credited as the the founder of the Houston Public Library System after she secured funding from Andrew Carnegie to build Houston's first library (see related library history here). She was also a founding member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Today, the Kendall Neighborhood Library and Community Center in Houston is named for her.

The Houstonist reported last year on the construction of the Kendall Library, noting its drive-thru service with the opening line: "Houston is getting its first library for lazy people." I wonder how many of the new library's patrons, lazy or not, have any inkling of the history of the name on the building and its connection with Houston's first library?

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