She had 9 husbands and 10,000 pieces of glassware

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 23, 2016

This widow of the South accumulated 9 husbands & 10,000 pieces of glass! Anna Safley Houston (1876-1951) single-handedly amassed thousands of pitchers, creamers, lamps, flasks, jugs, china, tea sets, platters and frilly art-glass baskets. Her collection of pitchers alone is thought to be the largest in the world. “Antique Annie,” as the native Alabaman was called behind her back, opened a millinery store in Chattanooga, TN in 1904. She had a brief stint as an antique dealer in the 1920’s but ended up losing it in the Great Depression. Houston continued collecting glass throughout her retail career.

anna houston

So what makes Annie so fascinating, a town character to the locals? To start with, there are those 9 husbands. “She was something else…as nutty as a fruitcake,” says Tom Williams, a veteran Chattanooga advertising executive whose 1993 book, Always Paddle Your Own Canoe, remains the definitive work on Houston.

Anna attempted to settle down in Arkansas with Otto Ashbaugh on May 23, 1897, five years after leaving home to travel and perform with a group of entertainers who were paid to promote hair tonic. During her six-year marriage, Anna gave birth to two daughters who both died in infancy. She later claimed her first husband was a carouser who abandoned her—she tracked him down in Colorado and indeed found him in bed with another woman.

Only two months after her marriage in 1903 to E.R. Crisman, Anna reported Crisman was brutal and unbearable. She had a change of heart, however, when he persuaded her to move from Colorado to Chattanooga, promising the young businesswoman he would invest her money in high-interest loans to laborers. When after a few months in the city she found Crisman had instead used her money to invest in a furniture store, she recovered what was left and left Crisman, opening a ladies’ millinery store on 13th Street.

On Chattanooga’s Main and Market streets Anna built a dressmaking business, selling fine fabrics and fanciful hats. In 1909, she married her next husband, George Berry, who worked part time in Anna’s shop. The marriage ended in divorce two years later when Berry alleged he had discovered Anna had previously wed three times. He would not have married her had he known she was a chronic divorcee, he claimed.

Anna was clearly not averse to lying about her age when she married Oscar Moser in January, 1912. Moser was 27, a part time bookkeeper for Anna’s business and also a clerk at Chattanooga Bakery. Anna was likely between 36 and 38, rather than 30 as she claimed on their marriage certificate. The couple lived in a house on McCallie Avenue for six months before the marriage ended in divorce.

One of Anna Houston's many marriage certificates, currently on display at the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts.

One of Anna Houston’s many marriage certificates, currently on display at the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts.

Anna married railroad brakeman Harold Creekmore in April, 1913. Thanks to this union, Anna enjoyed vouchers to travel in all 48 states as well as Canada, Cuba and Mexico. She claimed to have been alone in Juarez when gunfire from Pancho Villa and his gang terrorized the town. Still she traveled, presumably building her glassware collection. But after four years of riding the rails, Anna filed for divorce, claiming Creekmore had assaulted her.

Four days after her divorce from Creekmore in 1917, Anna married Richard Vallmore of Chattanooga. Vallmore promptly moved into Anna’s home on McCallie Avenue, but announced five months later he did not intend to live with Anna anymore. That was fine with Anna, who charged him with cruel and inhuman treatment, adding that Vallmore scratched her face and took her money.

The next year, Anna left the country for another one of her buying trips and wound up marrying Ernest Forfar during November in Winnipeg, Canada. Nothing is known of Forfar except that he failed to appear at his divorce proceeding only a year later, when a decree was granted on the grounds of abandonment.

Within a few months, Anna wed war veteran, James Houston, who at 26 years old was 18 to 20 years her junior. Having acquired several business interests, including houses rented to Chattanooga college students, Anna found the young plumber and handyman—who owned a truck capable of transporting antiques—especially attractive. This marriage endured for 16 years; at the end, Houston said he left Anna simply because he could never find a place to sleep at night—there was always a piece of antique furniture or some other collectible in his way.

In 1937 George Brown, 15 years her junior, became her ninth and last partner in marriage. Brown, who had lived in a veterans’ facility in Mountain Home and who suffered extreme shell shock, also had a severe drinking problem. When Anna divorced Brown four years later, she inexplicably took one of several former last names: Houston.

The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts features a room where the glassware hangs from the ceiling, much like it did in Annie's barn. Courtesy WUTC/NPR

The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts features a room where the glassware hangs from the ceiling, much like it did in Annie’s barn. Courtesy WUTC/NPR


After the Depression, the bank foreclosed on Anna’s home. Instead of selling her precious glassware, she let the house go and built a ramshackle barn in which to live and store her glassware. When there was a fire in the barn in the late 1940s, those valuable pitchers were used – bucket brigade-fashion – to pour water on the flames, and most of her possessions were saved.

During the last 15 years of her life Anna lived in virtual poverty, sleeping on a cot with only her dog for a companion. Annie Houston died of malnutrition — her death certificate says obstructive jaundice— rather than sell a single piece out of her collection to pay for treatment. Ironic that the glassware was worth a mint, yet its owner died a pauper rather than subject herself to letting go of the only company she kept. It is an art collection that she literally gave her life to preserve.

When, shortly before her death, she went before the city commission to try to give her collections to the city, she was laughed out of the room by commissioners, who thought she was trying to give them a lot of junk. Ultimately, the childless collector did make legal arrangements to leave her 50+ collections in trust to the people of Chattanooga. Today, a century-old Victorian home perched high above the Tennessee River in Chattanooga’s vibrant Bluff View Art District houses Annie Houston’s world.

The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts collection is indeed so impressive that only 10% of the entire collection is shown at the museum, the rest being in the basement. There are literally millions of dollars of glass inside the walls of the museum. The rare glass collections include amberina, plated amberina, Pomona, peachblow, Burmese, cameo, Steuben, Tiffany, cranberry, satin, Quezal, Durand, sandwich and cut glass as well as more than 600 patterns of Early American pressed glass.

There is also a variety of lustre and a large collection of the rarest examples of Staffordshire, Mettlach steins, Rockingham-Bennington pottery, bottles and flasks, original Toby jugs, Meissen, and Rose Canton pieces, mostly in the Rose Medallion and Rose Mandarin patterns. The Houston museum features a room where the glassware hangs from the ceiling, much like it did in that barn.



4 Responses

  • Mckee Cox says:

    Wow, I can’t imagine living in poverty all that time, and after being laughed at by the city, giving it all to them! She left quite a legacy!

  • Thomas Fred Miller says:

    Her grave is adjacent to mine . . . we should be side-by-side in time. I remember the old building in East Ridge, TN where she lived with her treasures . . . as a child I rode my bicycle past the building, never knowing what was inside, and certainly never dreaming that someday I would be buried next to her. Thomas Fred Miller (aka T. Fred Miller, photographer in Chattanooga). 2015

  • June Castle Gabbard says:

    I can relate to Anna, having collected way too many items. I always thought of myself as, “A organized hoarder”, anyway, my husband is used to it now.

  • Saw a link to this posted on FB and recognized your name from long-ago photography credits in the early North South Trader magazine (I’m now editor there) and The Illustrated History of American Civil War Relics. At least, I think it’s probably the same Dave Tabler. Enjoyed this piece on Anna Houston.

Leave a Reply

− 1 = 3

First forestry school in the USA

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 20, 2016

Some of the things I learned at Biltmore would be hard to find in any text book published then or later — things, that as I look back over my 44 years as a forester, have proved fully as potent for good as any of the technical disciplines of the profession.

The good Doctor taught us the value of relaxation in good company, when with song and stein the whole school and faculty would make merry and stretch lusty harmony and a keg of beer well into a starry Saturday night. Such carryings-on made for an espirit de corps and a strong bond of brotherhood that somehow seems to have lasted all thru the decades that have gone by.

He possessed and passed on to us his love of the woods and all that in them is. To hunt and fish, he taught by word and deed, is the especial privilege of the forester and a soothing ungent for a soul often wearied and harassed by over much fire fighting.

He preached that an appreciation of the birds, the beasts and the fishes, the flowers, the glamorous smells of bay swamps and spruce thickets and the shape and texture of foliage covered hills were all a part, and often the larger portion of a foresters compensation.

A great forester, a masterful teacher and a strong and lovable character, our good Doctor Schenck can look back from his quiet home in Lindenfels and know that he lives not only in the affectionate hearts of his “boys” but as well in the forestry of America he helped in the borning.

Inman F. Eldredge
from a May 29, 1950 Reunion Speech to the Alumni of Biltmore Forest School, Asheville NC
Biltmore ‘06

In 1895, German forester Dr. Carl A. Schenck accepted George Vanderbilt’s offer to come to North Carolina to manage and restore his vast woodland properties.

Biltmore Forest School, 1911 sessionPhoto caption reads: “Lecturing at the Fiber Plant. Canton, N.C. 1911. Class is in session for Biltmoreans at the Champion Fibre Company’s plant in Canton, North Carolina, 1911.”

Schenck oversaw thousands of acres dotted with several hundred houses and abandoned farms. In 1898, he established the Biltmore Forest School, the first forestry school in the United States, using Vanderbilt’s forests as a campus.

Students in Schenck’s twelve-month curriculum split their time between classroom lectures and fieldwork. Combining theory with practice, the students gained experience in the physical side of forestry, including the care of nurseries, transplanting seedlings, timber selection, felling, logging, and sawing.

They also studied forest finance and economics, dendrology, botany, fish and game, and the machinery associated with forestry. The campus was located at the site of a sawmill and gristmill formerly owned by Hiram King, a leader of the Pink Beds farming community.

Schenck’s operation was quite successful in its first years, but Schenck had a falling out with Vanderbilt and left the estate in 1909. He established the school’s winter headquarters in Darmstadt, Germany. The Biltmore Forestry School was headquartered in the town of Sunburst, N.C. from 1910 to 1913. Sunburst is located on the Pigeon River, just west of Mount Pisgah.

Biltmore Forest School Students in class. Picture Taken in 1907 by George Butz. Collection Cradle of Forestry - Historic Site & Discovery Center.

Biltmore Forest School Students in class. Picture Taken in 1907 by George Butz. Collection Cradle of Forestry – Historic Site & Discovery Center.

The Champion Fibre Company constructed the village prior to their beginning logging operations in the area. Reuben B. Robertson, manager of the company, offered the use of the facilities to Dr. Schenck and his students. Schenck was particularly excited about the location because it offered the students the opportunity of direct observation of hardwood and spruce forests, logging operations, sawmills under construction, different types of log chutes and flumes, splash dams in operation and an up-to-date pulp mill.

Schenck struggled to maintain the school as a traveling entity in America, but enrollment dwindled as new forestry schools emerged. Schenck’s final class, who numbered more than 300, graduated in 1913. Many became prominent and successful foresters for both federal and state agencies as well as private forest industries.



Leave a Reply

+ 7 = 11

Charles Holzer builds the first general hospital in SE Ohio

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 19, 2016

Today, Holzer Medical Center-Gallipolis is the largest employer in Gallia County, OH with 1,123 people on the payroll.

Dr. Charles Elmer Holzer (1887-1956) came to Gallipolis in 1909, as a resident surgeon at the Ohio Hospital for Epileptics. Recognizing the need for a community hospital, he returned in May 1910, after completing his training. With a local loan, he converted a private home into a seven-bed infirmary just a stone’s throw from the Ohio River.

In 1913, Holzer furthered his training in surgery, closing the hospital temporarily to study in Europe (where he in a few short years would volunteer as a surgeon during the World War). He returned to Gallipolis in 1914, married nurse Alma Vornholt and resumed his practice. The couple bore a son, Charles Elmer Jr, in 1916. That same year Holzer senior began construction on the First Avenue Holzer Hospital, the first general hospital in southeast Ohio.

Charles E. Holzer, Sr. in scrubs. Photo courtesy

Charles E. Holzer, Sr. in scrubs. Photo courtesy

The new facilities opened in 1917, and Holzer Hospital continued to expand until further growth in that location was no longer possible. Dr. and Mrs. Holzer meantime opened the area’s first school of nursing in 1920.

Dr. Charles E. Holzer’s contributions beyond the field of medicine include founding The French Art Colony, a regional multi-arts center. It occupies a historic Greek Revival house, “River by,” on a site continuously occupied since 1796. Dr. George Livesay constructed River by between 1855 and 1858. Originally, the building had three stories, six rooms, a large front hall, and a winding stairway.

The Holzers purchased four adjoining city lots and the home in 1918 for $5,700.00. Alma Holzer is credited with naming the home “River by” after seeing that phrase in a book, “A Journey Down the River,” by naturalist John Burroughs. The Holzers made a number of physical changes to the house, adding a large front porch and a swimming pool where Mrs. Holzer gave swimming lessons to area children. The couple remained in the home the rest of their lives.

Charles Holzer organized construction of the Silver Bridge in 1928, joining the capitals of Ohio and West Virginia; purchased land for an airport; and initiated the first air ambulance service in Ohio.

In 1933, the Holzers bought an old Gallipolis tavern—‘Our House’—originally built in 1819 by a Henry Cushing and his sister Elizabeth, and furnished it. The tavern had been the center of the community’s social life for many years. General Lafayette, on his triumphant tour of America, was entertained there on May 22, 1825. Gallipolis still celebrates Lafayette’s visit with a ceremony each spring.

Holzer Hospital in Gallipolis OHHolzer Hospital in the 1930s. Courtesy of the Gallia County Historical Society, photo by the late Dick Thomas, retired photojournalist, Gallipolis Tribune.

Jenny Lind, internationally recognized singing sensation of the mid-nineteenth century, stopped at Our House in the 1850s during her American tour. The Cushing family owned and operated Our House until 1865.

In 1936, the house opened as a public museum, The Our House Museum, and was given by the Holzers to the Ohio Historical Society in 1944 as a memorial to the French families who founded Gallipolis.

In 1949, the Holzers gave the growing Holzer Hospital to the citizens of the five county area, to be administered by the Holzer Hospital Foundation. After outgrowing its downtown location, Holzer Medical Center opened on Jackson Pike in 1972 with 269 beds.


7 Responses

  • cay cross says:

    can you please tell me the name of the person who was hospital administrator when holzer medical center was dedicated -I believe in 1970 to 1972… David Harmon was guest speaker.

    Thank you so very much.

    Cay Cross

  • eric james says:

    to anyone interested i have a silver coin that was presented to staff as a commerative coin when the holzer hospital branch opened on jackson pike in 1972, i would like to sell it to someone , i do want it to go to someone who will appreciate it and collect it not melt it down someday. eric james 7405774339

  • Diana Randolph says:

    I too have one of the silver coins. It was offered for sale to the public when the new hospital was dedicated in 1972, and the money from the sale was devoted to landscaping the property around the hospital. I was a candy-striper (aka volunteen) at the hospital at the time, and I attended the dedication ceremony in May 1972. The guest speaker was David Hartman, the television personality who had a role as a doctor on a TV series at that time. I remember my fellow candy-stripers and I wondered why they had an actor who played a doctor on TV as a speaker at the dedication instead of having a real doctor speak.

  • Henny Evans says:

    could the admin. have been Wayne Foster???

  • Bob says:

    I thought it was Hugh Kirkle

  • Sara Sheets says:

    Administrator was Hugh Kirkle
    Find it interesting that Riverby is mispronounced
    If it was from book – River by should be how
    Also ther is an error in Alma Vornholt spelling

  • Julie McGowan says:

    I was born in the holzer hospital in 1967.
    I wish I could see in it again.

Leave a Reply

3 − = 1

Lover’s Leap

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 18, 2016

Cumberland [MD] Evening Times, May 18th & 19th, 1881

“Jack Chadwick lived in the wild country near Negro mountain with his mother and little brother Jesse. He was a great hunter and feared nothing. In one of his excursions he came across an Indian chief, who lived in the break in Will’s Mountain a mile or two up the creek with his white wife and daughter, the latter just blooming into womanhood.

“The chief had sided with the whites against the protest of his tribe, and they forsook him. He took up his residence in the hollow. Jack fell in love with the daughter and it was reciprocated. But the chief wanted her to marry an officer at the fort and told Jack he was too poor. Disheartened but still determined, Jack left for his home. Stopping at a spring to drink he turned over a stone and uncovered a glistening ledge of rock, which he found to be rich silver ore.

“Returning to the home of his love, he told the chief what he had found, and proposed to show him the mine if he would give him his daughter. The Chief agreed, the silver mine was shown him, and the young man went home to prepare for the wedding. Returning, he brought his brother with him. The Chief, however, had changed his mind at the instigation of the officer of the fort, and declined to give his daughter to young Chadwick.

Lovers Leap, Cumberland MDFrom: “Feldstein’s Top Historic Postcard Views of Allegany County,” 1997.

“All day Jack protested, but the old chief was obdurate, and finally the lover seemed to acquiesce and asked for a few moments talk with the maid, which was granted.

“Sauntering among the trees and talking of the harshness of the parent, the lovers finally agreed to make for the fort and get married, and soon they slipped out of sight of the old home. The old Chief was watching, however and when he missed them he went in pursuit, overtaking them back of the cliff. He was very angry and attacked Jack with a club. The latter threw a stone at the Chief and unfortunately killed him.

“The daughter loved her Indian parent dearly, and amid her wailing declared she could die with Jack but could not live with him, now that he had killed her father. ‘Then let us leap off the cliff yonder together and end our trouble,’ said he. She consented, and arm-in-arm they walked to the cliff, where they clasped hands and leaped off together.”


3 Responses

Leave a Reply

+ 4 = 12

A family spat among the Baptists

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 17, 2016

Alabama’s oldest Baptist congregation will be 208 years old this year. Or not, depending on whom you ask.  Elder John Nicholson led the first worship on October 2, 1808 at the home of James Deaton in Killingsworth Cove (now part of Huntsville.) And for 170 of those 202 years the congregants who’ve adhered to the tenets of the original Flint River Baptist Church of Christ (the “Primitive” Baptists) have been at odds with more modernized, or “Missionary” Baptists.

The church today known as Flint River Primitive Baptist Church for many years maintained close organizational ties with nearby Enon Baptist Church.  Formed in June 1809, Enon was initially to be known as the ‘West Fork of the Flint Baptist Church.’ At their second meeting, they decided the name was too cumbersome and renamed themselves ‘Enon.’

Flint River Primitive Baptist ChurchBut in 1838 the Flint River association declared non-fellowship with the modern missionary movement, its societies, auxiliaries and supporters (Enon topped the list). Those congregations that embraced new church practices such as mission boards, Sunday Schools, and musical instruments in the church became “New School” or “Missionary” Baptist. Flint River Baptist Church continued in the simplicity of New Testament worship, thus being called “Old School” or “Primitive” Baptist.

By 1840 Flint River withdrew all fellowship from Enon, which in 1893 changed its name to the ‘First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Alabama, a Missionary Baptist Church’, for advocating a perversion of the articles of faith.

The two churches tangled again in 1908, the centennial year of Flint River Church. The missionary Baptists planned a celebration claiming the years 1808 – 1908 as their anniversary dates. They sent out a leaflet in which they stated correctly that Flint River Church was constituted in 1808, but also stating that it —meaning the Primitive congregation— had been out of existence for many years!

First Baptist Church of HuntsvilleFirst Baptist Church of Huntsville building, built 1895, on the corner of Clinton and Gallatin Streets.

“When Flint River Church saw this report she was justly offended,” huffs The history of Flint river Church/Flint River Association 1808-1955 “because she was reported dead, when she was yet alive, and had a continuous existence ever since her first organization and because a people who differed from her and opposed her in almost every particular claimed her as their ancestor and proposed to celebrate her organization in a manner that was highly offensive to her.”

“Any attempt by the Missionaries to celebrate this year,” stated Flint River Church clerk B. B. Lawler in Primitive Baptist magazine, “is like a man wanting to celebrate his golden wedding when he has been married twenty years to one woman and thirty years to another one.”

Both churches remain active today.  The First Baptist Church of Huntsville makes no mention of the 1908 centennial ruckus on their website.


One Response

  • J.Willenborg says:

    I’m writing in hopes that you will help spread the word of a Appalachian documentation project I will be starting mid-summer 2013. The goal of this project is to document life in rural Appalachia, focusing on all that is good and positive within the area. Those from this region know its worth and we want to help share it with the world. We will do this through photography, poetry, and retelling of history.

    Please help share our kickstarter project so we can get the support and funding to see it to completion.

    Thank you so much.

Leave a Reply

− 1 = 3

↑ Back to top

This collection is copyright ©2006-2016 by Dave Tabler. All visuals are used in accordance with the Fair Use Law (Per Title 17—United States Code—Section 107) and remain the property of copyright owners. Site Design by Amaru Interactive