THROWBACK THURSDAY: Chesley’s articles provide some history of Durham Park
By JAMES WEAR
While glancing through some old copies of The Paper, a publication that served Liberty Hill briefly in the early 1980’s that was published by the Liberty Hill Community Education Advisory Council, I came across a pair of articles about the history of Durham Park, which was perhaps the first subdivision in the Liberty Hill community.
Credited with writing the articles was Helen Chesley, whose husband, John, developed Durham Park back in the early 1970’s. John Chesley also built many of the homes in Jenks Branch, and restored the fascades of some of the buildings in downtown Liberty Hill. Helen Chesley is also believed to be the individual who started a library in downtown Liberty Hill back in the mid-1970’s. I have vague recollections of that library, and do recall that my niece, Beth, was among those who volunteered to work there.
Helen Chesley’s article, according to an editor’s note, was based on research by Henderson Shuffler, who, according to Texas State Historical Association, was a widely-acclaimed journalist and Texas historian. He passed away in 1975.
According to Helen Chesley’s article, the middle portion of Durham Park sits upon land that was given to Alexander W. Rowlett, a Virginia man who served in the Texas Army in 1836. Rowett is said to have served under General Sam Houston and was among those at San Jacinto, where the Texas army defeated Santa Anna’s Mexican army and won Texas’ independence.
Rowlett, although having served only three months, was awarded a certificate for 320 acres of Texas land. At the time, the Texas Republic had little money and paid its soldiers with land grants. Some years later, Rowlett sold his certificate to W.A. Elliott, who patented 320 acres in Hamilton County in 1890.
Because he fought at San Jacinto (a battle that lasted only 18 minutes and resulted in only nine Texas casualties), Rowlett was eligible for 640 acres as a bounty, which he never claimed. After his death, his stepmother and half-brother, Daniel, filed a claim as Rowlett’s heirs. After being awarded the certificate in 1854, they turned around and sold it to Benjamin F. Owen, who is credited with surveying and patenting the lands that are now part of Durham Park.
In a second article, Chesley writes of Thomas F. Gray. Gray is believed to have come to Texas in 1833 at the age of 19. He settled in East Texas in Jasper County. Two years later, research indicates Gray was married with one child. His wife, Martha, was 15 at the time.
By 1838, Gray filed a claim with Jasper County for a headright he was entitled to as a settler who came to Texas prior to its revolution. Because he was married, he was entitled to 4,605 acres. He would soon sell this certificate to George Washington Glasscock for $500, with the agreement being that Gray would retain a half interest in any lands Glasscock might locate, survey or patent under it. Glassock patented some 4,600 acres in Western Williamson County in 1846, with that acreage including the northwestern half of present day Durham Park.
In 1851, Glasscock (who the city of Georgetown is named after) deeded back to Gray 2,391 acres as per the two men’s agreement, but a year later, Gray sold the land to William Huddleston for $1,800.
One notable feature at Durham Park is Hurricane Hall, which serves as a community center for the subdivision. Back in 1997, I spoke with the late Homer Teague, who at the time was the president of the homeowners association. Teague told me of plans to accept bids to demolish the unrestored portion of the hall. Teague said the building was built in the mid-1800’s. Fire had struck the building at least twice, the last time being in the 1950’s. He said local historians said the hall had once served as headquarters for Durham Park Farms.
Teague also said the building, which was once believed to have served as a stagecoach stop, was purchased by a a man named Dave Harrell in 1898. Harrell is believed to have spent two years restoring it.