Article By Chris Daigle, Houston Historian
Drivers on Long Point scarcely notice the fenced off area in a parking lot at the corner with Pech Road. Many might think it’s a community garden because of all the weeds. Once upon a time, this was part of a massive farm, and the home of Spring Branch pioneers.
Here was the farm and home of the Hillendahl Family, landowners since 1854 when land cost $2.00 an acre and Long Point was an empty country road. About the size of an average suburban patio, the pebblestone cemetery is surrounded by a four foot hurricane fence. The city wouldn’t allow posts on the street side because of the fear of drivers crashing into cemetery, so it is left vulnerable on its western flank.
A few long-time residents still look backward with the Hillendahls, and even still care. Most of them are In their 80’s and 90’s now, like Danny Turner, who remembers the howls of wolves along Wirt Road, and pasture land as far as the eye could see, before the parking lots that surround the graves now.
Once there were five cars a day on this empty country road, d past a place that lives in history. rations of Hillendahls, many of whom lived and died on this land on a deserted dirt road that went to Houston.The holdouts against the forward march of progress, Arnold Hillendahl Sr. and wife Etta continued with the property long after Spring Branch ceased to be a rural outpost.
News stories in the Chronicle, Post, and Houston Press detailed the Hillendahls’ stand against urbanization, and their ultimate surrender to it in 1962. By then, Long Point had been paved for years, and there were stores and a restaurant or two. Long time resident Jerry Simonton was 10 in the 1950’s remembers, “We would play behind that farm, and watched Arnold plow that land with a mule. There was a lot of land, but most of it was trees.”
Arnold had already sold off most of the massive farm, including that which became the Monarch Oaks neighborhood. Taxes of $200 an acre made a family farm untenable. He gave 5 acre parcels to each of his four kids: Rosie, Arnold Jr., Herb, and Ruth. All but 12 acres went into Monarch Oaks.
Arnold and Etta farmed those last 12 acres until they were surrounded by progress. They raised the white flag, gave up the farm, and moved a few miles west. Houston caught up with them there, too. When they moved, they took the farmhouse, a couple of magnolia trees, and Rock, their 21-year-old mule, with them. Two century old barns were demolished, along with the pens, smokehouse, and chicken coops. An old well, dug by hand a century earlier, was covered over. Developers turned what was left of the Hillendahl farm into a parking lot and shopping center, with a 80.000 sq. ft. and Kmart at it’s center. A sea of concrete was poured over land that once grew corn, beets, onions,cabbage, and peas.
The only trace remaining, besides a street named after the Hillendahl family, is the cemetery. This will remain, no matter what. Arnold Hillendahl Jr. says his father saw to that.“The cemetery is set up with the city, county, and state to remain a cemetery. It took Dad five or six years to get that through. He wanted to make sure it would never get moved.”
A trust fund provides for maintenance of the little plot of land, final resting place for 20 of the Hillendahl family, including the patriarch, Heinrich Hillendahl. He purchased the farm’s original 80 acres in 1851 for $2.00 an acre. The rest was added in 1904. Heinrich buried his wife Elizabeth there in 1854. When he died in 1870, he too was added there.
Though the Hillendahl farm ranged from Long Point to what is now Westview Drive, and from Pech Road to Monarch Oaks, the family owned property all over Spring Branch. The family owned the first post office, and from 1885 to 1912, the area was known as Hillendahl.
How different were times back then? “We used to drive the cattle down to Wirt Road in the morning, and bring them home in the evening,” says Ruth. They talk of well water, wagon rides, chores, and switch whippings. The family laments the loss of the farm, and a fading way of life in general. Herb says their father was born and died at the farm, and their mother, Henrietta Viola Williams, known as “Etta,” was born a mile away, where 610 is now.
The family travelled in a buggy to get into town for provisions, and would make homemade sausage, homemade bacon, homemade ham. Vegetables were plentiful. For fun, Herb and Arnold played ball and rode bicycles to Houston when its city limits were miles from home. Produce grown on the farm fed much of Houston, and was sold at the Farmer’s Market on weekends.”You didn’t dare get in trouble then,” says Ruth. “Because when you get home, Daddy already knows about it. He didn’t have to whip us, he had to just look at you.”
The memories spring like the flowers on their ancestor’s graves. “Giving up the farm the family had for over a hundred years was the hardest thing Daddy ever did,” says Ruth. “Where the old house was, you could look out and see nothing. Then the city put up a bridge across from us.”
“They were sad, but they knew there was nothing they could do about it,” says Herb. “They never showed emotion much.”
Danny Carter’s family weren’t Spring Branch pioneers, but he laments the changes. “It’s all these apartments now. I was in the service when this was farmland. I came back and got married, and everything changed. We didn’t have air conditioning back then. We’d keep the windows open and hear the wolves out on Wirt Road.”
Most area residents are glad to see Spring Branch spiffed up from its former image of the 1970’s, but the fact is, revitalization is about the future, not the past. Even if it develops into a futuristic haven, it never again will be the pastoral world the Hillendahls remember.
Herb talks instead of the swimming hole at the creek that gave Spring Branch its name. He’s the only one living near the former farm. Some mornings he waters and tends the crepe myrtles on his ancestor’s graves. Each ancestor gets their favorite flower on his or her gravestone. It’s part of an old German philosophy that says, “From death springs new life. Herb tries not to linger too long or notice the busy traffic on Long Point, which is 20 feet away these days.
Once there were five cars a day on this empty country road, driving past a place that lives in history.
Once upon a time.
CHRIS DAIGLE is a native Houstonian and a contributing editor to The Grapevine Source. All articles and photos are copyright Chris Daigle. To contact Chris, click HERE.