Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

  Howard Bland, Sr.
Historical Marker
South of Taylor
, Texas
 
 

on FM 112 .5 mi. E of FM 619 intersection,

Marker Text:
  (1848-1933) Born in Zanesville, Ohio, Howard Bland, Sr., came to Texas in 1878 and began raising sheep on his homestead near this site. An annual sheep shearing contest evolved into a community fair, and Bland donated land for the annual event. His other business interests included real estate, a commodities warehouse, a flour mill, and ice house, a hotel, a local power company, theater, and the Taylor Daily Press, an anti-prohibition newspaper. A community leader, he served on the city council and chamber of commerce, and was a member of the 34th Texas legislature.
 

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GPS Coordinates: Latitude:
Latitude 30.562664, Longitude: -97.370163


 
 

 

HOWARD BLAND, SR. PIONEER RANCHER AND BUSINESSMAN
Historical Narrative By Roy H. Bland, Jr.

 

 Research shows that Howard Bland, Sr's. , forbearers migrated to Ohio from Virginia in the late 1700's settling in a pioneer fashion in an area near the present Zanesville in Muskinghum County, thus becoming one of the "first families" of that state and county. As they established themselves there they became large and successful sheep ranchers. Howard Bland was born at Zanesville, Ohio on May 5, 1848.(2) He grew up there, leaving at about the age of thirty to seek his fortune in the young state of Texas. He chose as his partner in this venture, N. W. (Wes) Gorsuch an member of another early family in that area. In his search for a suitable site he first traveled to the Texas coast but then returned to Central Texas where he decided to settle at Taylorsville, which offered , besides good land and water, a major rail line which provided an marketing outlet for the sheep he and his partner planned to raise.(3) They purchased their first tract of land in 1878 (4) and this is where Howard Bland built his first home, which still stands and is in use today. In 1882 an second tract was added creating 643 acres as the "home place". (5) In November of 1880 he returned to Zanesville, Ohio to marry Augusta Schultz (6) bringing her back to his prairie home a few miles S.E. of the town. About the same time Mr. Bland bought out his partner's interest. (7) Though cattle were the dominant livestock in the area, the raising of sheep was also widely practiced. Bland & Gorsuch brought their "seed stock" from Ohio. Later, an apocryphal family tale has it , that H. Bland sought improved breeding from the Hampshire flocks on Queen Victoria's farms. The family tradition continues, as the same breed and their descendants continue to be raised by his grandson, Roy H. Bland, Jr. on the site.

 

 Initially, all of the sheep men gathered their flocks at a site just South of town ( A.C. Foster place) (8) for the annual wool shearing in July. However, shortly after he had settled here, H. Bland persuaded them to move this site to his ranch headquarters where he hosted them with a big barbecue. Together with this socializing there almost spontaneously developed wagered contests in sheep shearing, foot races, horse races and etc. This activity attracted the attention and interest of the town folk and the concept of an annual community fair was born.(9) Mr. Bland, naturally took an active part in promoting and planning this project. The site of the first Taylor Fair's Association July event was moved back to near the original shearing site, now incorporated into the city as Washington Heights(, in the year 1891.(10) In 107 on or about the date of the Fair's founding, H. Bland together with other prominent men in the town, purchased a tract of land N.W. of town and deeded it to the Taylor Fair Association as a permanent site. (11)

 

 Permanence however, has a way of becoming intransigence with the passing of time, as an notice in the newspaper in 1917 notes an called meeting of the Fair association in vol. Bland's office to consider disposition of its properly.(12) Thus this may be surmised to be the date of the original demise. Still the original event has been revived in recent years, during the week of July 4th , under the name of Taylor Independence Festival. Besides some of the original contests the early Fair included rodeo, judging of livestock and homemaking skills and a parade with decorated surreys and buggies. Though motorcar races was to follow in its last years the introduction of sulky cart races by thoroughbred trotting horses in the fairs early years was said to give the Taylor Fair "class" and a sophistication among the ranks of the states local fairs. (13) This activity was introduced by Mr. L. Nelson, an horseman from Kentucky, and it was embraced by Mr. Bland and others who purchased trotters to compete. Mr. Bland won local and statewide recognition with his champion Kentucky trotter Parnell.

 

Parnell quickly garnered the state championship title, followed in turn by his son Parnell Jr. who after extending his winnings into the Northern states was scheduled to be entered in the National Championship in 1t399, being acclaimed at that time as the best stallion in the South. (14)

 

In his early years Howard Bland was known all over the country as a "trader" of anything of value. Early on he acquired the lifelong "sobriquet" of "Colonel". Asides from his ranching, apparently his first "business" venture was with Mr. John Gano, selling real estate from their office in the old Sturgis-Womack Bldg. (15) Later in 1887, together with another partner, Mr. Ed. Robertson, he began business in an warehouse, built for them with three foot walls of Round Rock limestone.  They dealt in horses, mules, wool, hogs, corn and other produce plus

real estate. The business later expanded to include fuel (wood and Coal) feed & seed and in its last decades pecans and cotton seed. An early advertising slogan read: "We buy what the farmer has to sell and sell him what he needs to buy." (16) With some variation and changes in the partnership the business continued along these lines until the death of H. Bland's youngest son, Howard "Son" Bland, Jr., in 1952. At that time the 65 year old business closed. (17) At one point in this businesses history (1897) and with a new partner, Mr. James A. Thompson, $50,000 was invested to establish the Diamond Roller Mills to process the wheat the farmers had grown as an alternative crop when cottons price fell to 5¢ a pound.

 

The Mill was located across the street from the 107 Elliott St., "warehouse" headquarters. (18) This project remained an integral part of the firm for about ten years when the price of cotton recovered and replaced wheat as the main area crop. The Mill was sold and some years later dismantled and moved. (19) Messer's Bland & Thompson used the capitol proceeds from this sale to invest in a section of ranch land near Corpus Christi, Texas (20) the property still being mutually held by the heirs. It was during this period that Mr. Bland joined with Austin entrepreneur, Mr. A. J. Zilker to establish an ice plant on property adjoining the flour mill. (21) Ice was sorely needed by Taylor's early citizens as then it had to be cut from Northern lakes and shipped by rail to the city. (22) With his foresight and penchant for a profitable investment he joined with Mr. J.A. Thompson and others in 1891 to establish the Taylor Electric Light & Gas Power Co. which boasted of having 605 incandescent bulbs. (23 & 24) This first source of Taylor's power was later sold to the Williams Bros. as the Citizens Light Co which in turn gave way to the Texas Power & Light 0o.(25)

 

Colonel Bland's continued interests in agriculture as he acquired additional farm lands. In 1912 he joined the Southern Cotton Association of Macon, Georgia. He was made Vice president for the region when the Association's goal was to ensure 15O cotton. (26) He also served for a number of years as Vice President for the Waco Cotton Palace and their annual conventions.(27)

 

In 1910, Mr. Thompson left the firm and Howard Bland, Jr. joined. The new business then became known as H. Bland & Co. (28) In 1916 this partnership purchased the small theater and confectionary business owned by J.A. Athas on Taylor's Main St.(29) and at the same time bought out Mr. A. Zizinnia's interest in the Zinnia-Hoke "Colonial Theater" just up the block. The former Athas theater was renamed the "Acme", then the "Billy Burke" for the glamorous actress of the period. The "Colonial" remained unchanged except for ownership. (30) In 1924 the Taylor Amusement Co. was chartered and utilizing the first names of its 3 partners, Hoke, Bland a son the old Athas theater was renamed again as the "Howard" theater.(31) Under which name it continues to operate, only now directly across the street at a site which was formerly the "Rita" theater. This latter theater together with its sister the "Don" on 2nd St. and the "Texas Drive In" all had been a part of the Companies mid-term expansion period. Around 1935 when the state wide theatre chain of Robb & Rowley, later an subsidiary of United Artist, bought into the Taylor Amusement Co., these additional theaters were graduly phased out. (32)

 

In 1917 Mr. Bland working together with Mr. A.J. Zilker of Austin and Mr. T. W. Marse a Taylor businessman, bought the old Murphy Hotel property on the corner of 1st & Porter St. (33) to build what was acclaimed as one of Central Texas finest modern four story, fire proof brick hotel. There were fans in every room together with a convenient coffee shop and a large "ball room". Its name, Blazilmar, was derived by using the combination of the first three letters in its partners surnames. (34) It remained under the Bland management until the period of World War II when it was sold.

 

Colonel Bland took an active interest in city and civic politics, being one of the five persons named to the committee to charter and incorporate the town. (35) He served on the City Council, Chamber of Commerce, local Highway Committee and as a member of the local Kiwanis Club. He was also a pioneer member of the First Christian Church, the second church in town. (36) Where he served on the Building Committee to erect the church's 2nd and current building, in 1952. He was one of its Directors and regarded as a "pillar of the church" guiding and aiding it financially during his life.(37 & 38) Mr. Bland also served two terms in the 34th Legislature's House of Reprehensive where he was on the Committee of Claims & Accounts and acted as Chairman of the Roads, Bridges & Ferries Committee in 1917. (394.40). His youngest son, Howard Bland, Jr., followed in his father's footsteps in his business and by supporting civic work. The Rotary Club named him as the 1944 Citizen of the Year. (41) He also served on the Texas Good highways Commission. While he managed the family's business interests, his oldest brother Roy Sr., who was deprived of much formal schooling by bad health, combined his interest of the "out of doors" with his ability to manage the family's large agriculture holdings in the area.

 

Howard Bland's two daughters, Leah and Zella shared a passive and financial interest in his business enterprises, which included his wide spread real estate ventures which he undertook with others. One of which was approximately an section of land in Hardin Co., Texas (42) bought at the time of the Spindle top oil discovery. Another joint land venture was with Mr. T. Nelson of Round Rock and Mr. R. B. Pumphrey (his son Roy's father-in-law) in a land development, The La Salle Co, located in LaSalle & Mc Mullin Co. which sold farms and towns lots in a townsite named for his daughter, Zella. (43) Of this the old Hotel Zella still remains just off Highway 79, North of Cotulla, Texas where it bias an historical marker. The La Salle Co. was recently dissolved while the land development project, fizzled out as did others in the early years when the area's land boom ended. Mr. Bland also held stock in the oil companies that .arose in the time of the discovery of the two fields in the Taylor area (Thrall & Abbott fields, 1922 & 1930) ( 44)

 

Further local business ventures and interests are as follows. In 1913, he together with others founded the Taylor Daily Press (45) This was an anti-prohibition paper which was sold to Mr. Geo. Peeler in the 1920's. He served as a member of the Board of Directors for both the Taylor National Bank and the First Taylor National Bank. In 1b'3 he was a charter officer in the founding of the First National Bank which later became the First Taylor National Bank. (46)

 

Throughout his active life, Howard Bland, while maintaining his ranching and agricultural heritage also strove to apply his energies and resources to develop and better the community and state within which he lived. This is a testimony to that legacy and inspiration left for posterity.

 

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