It was popular in the mid-1800’s to build homes on the islands and peninsulas which lined the San Jacinto River. These locations provided relatively cool breezes and easy access to the steam boat traffic which plied the ship channel several times daily.
The summer of 1875 saw many of these islands occupied. Hog Island had a lighthouse, an inn and a wharf and Alexander Island was named for its most famous occupant, Rev Robert Alexander. John West had a home and store on the peninsula below today’s ExxonMobil docks.
In 1866 Clara Grafton was hired as an agent of the Direct Navigation Company. She lived on Hog Island and ran an inn there. In November 1874, she married John West.
The wedding announcement from the Galveston Daily News said, “May the happy couple live as long as they want to, enjoying the peaceful quietitude of their island home and receiving jointly, as the bride has received singly, the universal esteem of the bayou travelers and the Hog Island population.”
After the wedding they moved to West’s home on the peninsula.
The Baytown coastline looked much different in 1875 than it does now.
Erosion, dredging and subsidence have greatly smoothed the shoreline, but in the 19th century, the bays formed a series of cul de sacs which created havoc when the storm surge from the The Great Indianola Hurricane of 1875 hit on Thursday, Sept. 16.
The town of Indianola was destroyed with over 300 people killed, but settlements along the San Jacinto River were devastated as well. At Harrisburg, Buffalo Bayou rose over 30 feet, nothing was left standing in Lynchburg, and the water at Wallisville was 8 feet higher than was ever known. By the time it got here, It would have been classified as a tropical depression.
Excerpt from the Houston Telegraph, Sept 21, 1875. - Mrs. McKee and little Clara Grafton, (Mrs. West’s child) were with Mr. and Mrs. West at their new house at Baytown. When the water rose over Hog Island, Mr. McKee, Charles Post (the light keeper), and Mrs. Pierce with her four children abandoned the island and came in a skiff to West’s before daylight on Thursday morning.
During the day the water rose gradually in the house, and by afternoon reached the ceiling. They hung on by the windows until about 4 p.m., when finding that the water was gaining they got into a skiff, with the hope of reaching the high land. In half an hour the skiff swamped, and in getting hold of the windows again two children were lost.
Mr. West then made a hole in the roof, and small hand holes were made to cling to. In a short time the roof was swept away from the building, the tide carrying them up the bay several miles. They drifted about Thursday night and Friday at the mercy of the waves, during which time Mr. McKee and Mr. Post got into a tree. When the norther came out Friday it drove them back down the bay. Nobody was left on the roof except Mr. and Mrs. West, Mrs. Pierce with and one child, and Mr. Post. The wind drove them across the bay and current into the mouth of the canal.
Just as the roof entered the canal it turned over and Mrs. Pierce and the child were lost.
Mr. West rose, clinging to his wife, and seized the roof again. The current swept the roof over on the east side, and when it struck the bank the two were thrown up on the side of the bank. Post was able to reach the shore. West was senseless and Mrs. West stunned but moaning.
The tug Coates had been driven by the gale onto Morgan’s Point and lay on the other side of the bank. Mr. Nelson, who had brought her up from Red Fish through the gale, and Mr. Rhett, master mechanic, were on board.
Hearing the moans they went over and carried the pair on board the tug. Within half an hour Mrs. West gave birth to a boy. These ragged men, aided by Mr. West, faithfully performed the duties belonging to gentler hands.
The brave little woman, who had undergone all those perils, seeing her mother, child, sister, and four nieces swept away before her eyes gave directions which saved her life and that of the babe. As soon as mother and babe were in condition to be moved and the gale would permit, the men on the tug carried them up to the old Morgan place where every possible arrangement was made for their comfort. Yesterday evening when the Fowler left Morgan’s Point, both were doing well. Mr. McKee was rescued Thursday night. Robert Alexander, who was thought to have drowned was found with his wife clinging to trees.
From the Houston Telegraph Oct 10, 1875 - From a passenger of the steamer Lizzie from Baytown, we learned of the sad news that Mrs. West, the heroine of the cyclone, died on Monday. Her babe survives her. The little fellow has been named Storm West.
Clarence Storm West continued to live in the area and by the late 1890s owned much of the land which became old Baytown.
Baytown resident Chuck Chandler is retired from the Exxon Refinery and currently serves as Vice President of Baytown Historical Preservation Association. Contact him at email@example.com