Alanson Burson
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Alanson Burson

Father of Nederland, Texas

By W. T. Block

A Beaumont Enterprise news article of Sept. 20, 1903, called Alanson Burson the “father of Nederland,” so I have often wondered in our local history that he is remembered mostly as the stepfather-in-law of Cornellus Doornbos.

Offhand it would seem that either of 2 Dutchmen, Albert Kuipers or Gerardus Kilsdonk, were entitled to that appellation, although neither remained in Nederland for long, and each returned to his family in Holland. Kuipers accompanied many contingents of Dutchmen from Antwerp to Galveston aboard the liners Olinda or Ellen Rickmers, and originally 10th Street was named for him. Kilsdonk was the first postmaster and operated the first store. Another would be Arthur Stilwell, president of Kansas City Southern Railroad, since his company owned the first store building; the Orange Hotel, which housed the immigrants; the rice irrigation canals and pumping plant; and the 42,000 acres of rice lands surrounding Nederland.

From the time that the 65-year-old Burson arrived in Nederland with his wife in 1899, he soon became involved in every aspect of the town, holding key positions of finance and responsibility, all of which attested to the fact that he was an affluent merchant, well-versed in business procedures.

When Burson first saw Nederland from an excursion train window in 1898, there was nothing to be seen except windswept prairie grasses; when he returned with his wife Margaret in July, 1899, there was still only one store building, the hotel, about 5 residences, and 1 muddy street. So how or what could induce an older man, well-established and “well-heeled” elsewhere, to abandon his secure position in Kansas, and relocate on an open prairie?

Obviously he had been hand-picked by some railroad official, possibly even Stilwell, because the establishment and welfare of the railroad’s Dutch colony of Nederland was Arthur Stilwell’s personal project. Burson as a person has always intrigued me, and I wanted to know what his previous life had been. I had only 2 clues - the newspaper article said he had come here from Kansas, and the 1900 Nederland census reported him as being born in Ohio in March, 1834. I spent several hours on my computer in my search for him, and what resulted was a lesson in genealogy, albeit not of any expertise I might possess as a genealogist.

When I first put Alanson Burson’s name into the search engines, I soon discovered that he had been enumerated at age 16 in the Independence Township, at Mattoon, Coles County, Illinois in 1850. I also put a query attached to the Burson genealogy database, which resulted in a response from Dewey Burson in California, who knew some genealogy of Alanson Burson, also about his first 2 marriages and his 6 children, all born in Illinois

I later discovered that Burson’s youngest 3 daughters had married in Garnett, Anderson County, Kansas, and I then realized that Garnett, Kansas was the place where Burson had resided previous to coming to Texas. When I contacted the Anderson County webmaster, I was overjoyed to learn that both Bursons were buried in Garnett, and had headstones revealing dates of birth and death.

Alanson Burson was born on March 10, 1834 in Greene County, Ohio, the son of Silas Burson and Charity Bird, who were Virginians. The couple moved to Mattoon, Illinois, about 1840, where Alanson received whatever rudimentary education that he possessed.

Alanson’s first marriage was to Cynthia L. Murry on Nov. 20, 1853, but obviously she died within 2 years, probably during childbirth. On Aug. 19, 1856, Burson married Margaret S. Hicks, born in Illinois on Feb. 23, 1835; Margaret remained his wife for the next 45 years, and became the mother of their 6 children. Their children included Arthur L.; Edward B.; Marietta, Maggie, Gertie, and Pearl Burson. Burson’s service during the Civil War is unknown, but in 1903 he belonged to the Port Arthur Encampment of Grand Army of the Republic, composed of Union veterans.

About 1882 Burson moved to Garnett, Kansas, where his 3 youngest daughters married, as follows: Gertie to L. C. Boyle; Maggie to Charles M. Rogers; and Pearl to Gus Graves. The writer believes that Burson was a prosperous merchant in Garnett up until 1899, which would explain why some railroad magnate would induce him and Margaret to move to Nederland during their elder years, and where Burson became the next postmaster and merchant.

Following a query published in Anderson County (Ks.) Review in Jan. 2002. Mrs. Dorothy Kipper Lickteig, president of Anderson County Historical Society, was kind enough to send me the following quips from Vols. 1 and 2 of “Anderson County Early Gleanings Books,” as follows:

“June 26, 1885-Alanson Burson leased the old Commercial House, is having it renovated, and ready to take in boarders, commencing June 29.”

“July 10, 1995-The Commercial Boarding House has been open for 2 weeks, and is doing a fine run of customers. Alanson Burson, proprietor, will make a success of this new venture.”

“Nov. 26, 1886-Alanson Burson leased the St. James Hotel and took possession.”

“Dec. 5, 1890-Married at Fourth Street Hotel, Nov. 29, Gertie Burson, daughter of Alanson Burson, proprietor of the hotel, and L. C. Boyle, county attorney of Bourbon County, Kansas.”

“May 19, 1893-Alanson Burson killed one of the largest spotted vipers (rattlesnake?) between his house and barn, just north of Garnett, 5’2” long.”

“Jan. 19, 1894-Alanson Burson purchased the coal oil and gasoline business formerly owned by Nick Pontius, and will enlarge the business by putting on a wagon and delivery in any part of the city. Headquarters are at Ashwood’s Shoe Shop.”

“Apr. 15, 1895-Alanson Burson sold his coal oil and gasoline business to O. B. Adams.”

“Dr. Arthur Burson, son of Alanson Burson, died in Garnett on Aug. 4, 1892, age only 33 years and 16 days.”

“Feb. 14, 1900-Died, Pearl Burson Graves, d/o Alanson Burson, wife of Gus Graves, leave one daughter, Nadjy Meisenheimer. Age 25, Pearl was a talented musician. {Info about Pearl Graves furnished by Lois J. Miller, of Idaho Falls, Idaho.}

“Feb. 12, 1897-Ed Burson died at the home of his parents, Alanson Burson’s, on E. 4th Ave., Garnett, on Feb. 9th, age 28. He had been afflicted the past 2 years with slow consumption and death resulted. He leaves a wife and his aged parents. Funeral Thursday from the residence and remains laid to rest in Garnett.”  (end) ***

During 16 months of 1898-1899, Gerardus Kilsdonk and his 2 store clerks, Emilia McCormick and L. B. Silvernail, had each served as Nederland’s first 3 postmasters until Burson was sworn in as postmaster on Aug. 4, 1899. He remained postmaster for nearly 3 years until he was replaced by Clarence Samuel King on May 10, 1902.

In Aug., 1899, Burson took over Kilsdonk’s store and post office when the latter returned to Holland. In 1900-1901 Burson harvested 2 crops of rice, grown on land leased from the railroad, and he realized a $10,000 profit each year. He employed newly-arrived Dutch immigrants, who worked dawn to dusk daily in his rice fields for 75 cents to $1.00 daily. In 1901 he contracted the building for the railroad of 3 large warehouses, to store sacks of rice until they could be shipped to a rice mill. On May 18, 1901, Margaret Burson died, and he accompanied her body back to Garnett, Kansas for burial.

By 1901 Burson’s many positions and investments attested to his affluence and position in the new immigrant community. The Enterprise also noted:  “...Mr. Burson is gentlemanly and courteous, is full of vim and energy. He personally supervises his varied interests, and really accomplished more real work than any other business man... He is local representative and realtor for the Port Arthur Land and Townsite Company (a railroad subsidiary), and he is the local agent for Port Arthur Rice Milling Company....”

In 1901 Burson built a large building to house his business; he reorganized it with partners A. H. Scott and J. B. Peek, into a grocery, dry goods department, hardware and farm machinery enterprise, handling Moline plows, Deering harvesters, and J. O. Case threshers. Burson remained as secretary-treasurer and general manager of that firm.

In 1903 my father, Will Block, in partnership with Henry Spurlock, bought out King Mercantile Company, when C. S. King resigned as postmaster and moved to Port Arthur. They handled the P. and O. line of farm machinery, and thus were in competition with Alanson Burson.

In 1902 J. B. Peek and Ed Rockhill decided to organize First National Bank, and they induced Burson to become president and the largest stockholder and contributor to the $25,000 capital stock. In 1904 Peek and Rockhill once more induced Burson to become president and chief stockholder of Nederland Rice Milling Company.

In 1903 Burson married an English lady, Emma Newman, and he became stepfather to her daughter, May Newman, who on July 15, 1907 married Cornellus Doornbos. When the Orange Hotel was abandoned in 1907 and eventually torn down, Alanson built the Burson Hotel at the northwest corner of 12th Street and Boston, where he also kept his real estate office until he died.

In 1902 Burson also surveyed and platted Burson Addition, bounded by the railroad and 9th Street on the east and west and by Chicago and Helena streets on the north and south. In 1906 Burson’s grocery, the bank, the rice mill all folded, when the rice market “went bust,” and undoubtedly Burson lost a large portion of his worth. That year rice that sold for only $1.50 a barrel had cost $2.25 a barrel to produce, and Texas rice farmers suffered a loss of $2,000,000.

From 1906 until 1910, it appears that Burson depended largely on his hotel earnings and real estate sales for his livelihood. He died at age 76 on Sept. 23, 1910, and his widow accompanied the body to Garnett, Kansas for burial beside his second wife.

Emma Burson ran the hotel until Ca. 1918, when she sold out to—Matthews, who in turn sold out to M. W. Oakley, who ran the hotel until he sold out to Albert and Dick Rienstra in World War II days. The hotel was moved to an inside lot, where it was operated as Dale Hotel by Dick Rienstra for many years. Albert Rienstra recalls distinctly that Emma Burson remained very much an English lady as she visited his mother and drank tea around 1920.

The saga of Alanson Burson’s life, reputed to be the “father of Nederland,” has been long overdue, especially his life in Kansas and Illinois. And it was a computer and sheer dumb luck that brought that biography to its present genealogical fruition.

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