Notebook:Houston's of Pequea Valley



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From PA Archives


Papers of the estate of Henry Howard Houston (b. 1820, d. 1895), one of Philadelphia's wealthiest and most prominent citizens, who was involved in railroad, steamship, mining, and land development enterprises. Henry Howard Houston's great grandfather, John Houston, migrated from northern Ireland about 1725 and settled in what became Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Upon his death in 1769, the elder John Houston owned a farm exceeding 1,000 acres in the Pequea Valley of Lancaster County. John Houston's eldest son, who was also named John, was born in Lancaster County in 1743 and attended Glasgow University where he received his certificate of attendance signed by Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations. Subsequently earning a degree in medicine from the Medical School of the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) in 1768, the younger John Houston became a surgeon, along with four of his brothers, and served in the American Revolution where one of his brothers was killed at the Battle of Paoli. After the war, the younger John Houston acquired a large landed estate near present day Wrightsville in York County where he died in 1809. He was married to Susanna Wright Houston (1752-1829) of Wright's Ferry, now Columbia, Pennsylvania, and one of his daughters was Martha Houston, who married Joseph Mifflin and was the paternal grandmother of the noted Columbia poet and painter Lloyd Mifflin (for additional material on Lloyd Mifflin at the Pensylvania State Archives see the Lloyd Mifflin Collection, Manuscript Group 165.) John Houston's son, Samuel Houston, was also trained as a physician at the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania but apparently gave up the practice of medicine on account of ill health and retired to manage his properties at Columbia, Pennsylvania.

Samuel Houston's son, Henry Howard Houston, worked at various jobs, including a stint at James Buchanan's Lucinda Iron Furnace in 1843, then for D. Lee and Company from 1847 to 1850, and finally for the Pennsylvania Railroad, where he was selected to organize the company's pioneer freight business from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. He subsequently organized the American Steamship Company and the International Navigation Company, operating more than twenty ocean going steamships and many more that plied the waters of the Great Lakes. HHH (who was familiarly known as "H cubed" or "Cubie") was also a successful investor in gold and silver mines in Colorado and Montana, the oil fields of western Pennsylvania, and was an investor in the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. Long the largest land holder within the city limits of Philadelphia, he was the developer of the Chestnut Hill, Wissahickon Heights, and Roxborough sections of the city. Houston also financed the construction of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in Chestnut Hill and St. Peter's Church in Germantown, and was a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania. He erected a 30-room stone mansion modeled on an Irish castle that he called Druim Moir (Gaelic for "Great Ridge") for his private residence. Situated amid fifty-two acres of lawn and woodland that included a small deer park, the mansion was surrounded by a number of other buildings including an older farm house, an entrance lodge, and two tenant dwellings. The property was also connected to downtown Philadelphia by a new rail line. Samuel Houston (1793-1863), who became the president of the Republic of Texas and for whom the city of Houston, Texas was named, was a distant cousin of Henry Howard Houston. For related materials, see also the Samuel F. Houston Letterpress Copybooks (MG-349) at the Pennsylvania State Archives, the Henry Howard Houston Estate Papers at the University of Pennsylvania Archives and Records Center, the Smith Family Papers at the American Philosophical Society (Ms. Coll. 76), and the Mifflin Family Papers among the Franklin and Marshall College Special Collections (Ms. Coll. 32) at Lancaster, Pennsylvania.


James Houston 1766?