R. J. HILL BUILDING
By: Mary Belle Ingram
The R. J. Hill Building situated on Block 53, N 80’
of Lot 18 at the corner of Commerce and Fourth Street in the business
district of Palacios, Texas, was constructed in 1910 by Robert J. Hill.
The building has had a colorful and interesting history and is now the
museum for the Palacios Area Historical Association.
Robert J. Hill (1864-1930) and his wife Kate Elizabeth Breggan Hill
moved to Palacios in 1904, two years after the town was founded in 1902.
They saw the potential of this small village by Tres Palacios Bay and in
1906 purchased this lot from the Palacios townsite, a block from the bay
and just to back of the historic Palacios hotel; now known as the Luther
Hotel. In 1910 they built this two story building as an investment for
The building is a two-story concrete block and brick early 20th century
Plains Commercial structure. Supposedly, the bricks were made on the
site. Several other buildings constructed of same type blocks were built
around 1910, including a City of Palacios maintenance building and the
First Presbyterian Church. The first floor arcade has heavy columns with
decorative brick surrounding the windows and doors. Brick ornamental
design is on all four sides of the building. The front has a corner
entry with transom lights in the upper section of windows formed of
beveled squares of glass.
An early photo on the building reads, “Contractor J. G. BONTRAGER,
Palacios, Texas. INTIRE BUILDING CONSTRUCTED of IDEAL BLOCKS.”
Deed records show that the property was owned by the Hill family until
1933; when at that time it was sold to E. H. Lewis. In 1946 the American
Legion Greenwood Post #42 acquired the property and had their meetings
there for several years. In 1991 the Palacios Area Historical
Association purchased the property from Leonard Lamar and wife, John
Lamar; Dale and Cathy Porter for $50,000 for the purpose of a museum.
The downstairs of the building was used for a mercantile business at
first, but was used for other businesses as the years progressed. The
upstairs was finished for the living quarters for the owner and later
divided into apartments. There were offices used by various doctors
through the years.
In 1911, R. J. Hill advertised in the Collegeport Chronicle (Collegeport
was the small town across the bay from Palacios). The ad suggested
“getting ready for cold weather by purchasing clothes for winter,
tailored suits, everything for men and boys from feet to head. Free
Deliver. Phone 19. Commerce and Pavilion.” (Note: Pavilion Street later
became Fourth Street.)
Mr. Hill gave away needle cases as advertisements. Inside the case, it
reads, “You will find Franco Hygienic Toilet Articles as well as choice
Glassware and Crockery at R. J. Hill, Palacios, Texas.” Many years
later, when renovating the building, a box of these advertising needles
was found. Considering how many owners and leasers of the building there
had been since Mr. Hill’s time, it is quite remarkable that the box
Helen Wagner Bell, daughter to Dr. Joseph Wagner, said that her father
had his office in the Hill building. He was the first tenant in the
upstairs of the building. “We had our home in connection with his office
– taking up the entire second floor.
In a February 10, 1911, issue of the Palacios Beacon there is a photo of
Marie Nielsen, an actress who was to perform in the Hill Building Opera
House with a company of twelve people on Monday, February 13th. Manager
Oscar Korn who had built the opera house in Bay City, in appreciation of
past patronage was bringing the attraction to Palacios. The company
performing had played successful engagements in the Princess Theater in
Houston; the Grand in Galveston, Waco and Austin and was now in Bay
City. The top price for a ticket was fifty cents.
In the July 1915 booklet of the Baptist Young People’ Union annual
encampment there is an ad for “Tatum & Sons” with a picture of the Hill
Building shown. Dry goods and groceries, and wear goods were mentioned,
as well as Special Delivery. The building shown on the ad has a huge
American flag atop the northeast corner, and there are awnings on the
east and north sides of the building.
Mildred Ehlers, a longtime citizen of Palacios, remembers that her
sister and husband worked in the shoe department of the Tatum’s Dry
Goods store some sixty-five years ago. Her sister had met her husband
when she began working there.
According to Cornell Prindle, another longtime citizen of the Palacios
community, D. P. Moore had a store there in the late teens and twenties.
Moore also had a store in Bay City and earlier had stores in Matagorda
and Elliott’s Ferry. Photographs taken about 1928 show children and
adults with hats bought at D. P. Moore Dry Goods. Ladies are wearing
cloches and children have sailor hats.
According to Cornell Prindle, in the 1930’s Amy Hall had a canning
kitchen there and citizens from throughout the community and outlying
farms could come and can their vegetables and fruit. She also recalled
after Amy Hall closed the canning kitchen and in the late 1930’s, J. L.
Koeber had a store with Jerome Kimball managing it for him. The store
sold RCA Victrola Phonograph records.
In June 1940 a WPA kitchen opened in the Hill building. The Palacios
Beacon ran an ad stating that workers were needed to can the abundance
of products, such as corn, tomatoes, cabbage and peaches.
In the early 1940’s a man named Johnson had a pool hall in the building
for a short time but moved it to Freeport. Special events such as
Mexican weddings, wedding receptions and Halloween parties were held
throughout its history.
James Covey’s father worked at Camp Hulen during the early 1940’s. James
was thirteen at the time and the family lived upstairs in the Hill
building. At that time there were several rooms numbering to 14.
Downstairs there was a bar on the east side and a liquor store on the
west side and it was called by the local people the “Barrel Building”
because of the sale of beer in the bar. James remembers helping his
father making apartments out of the many rooms.
In 1947, the American Legion Greenwood Post #478 bought the property. It
did not change owners again until 1956.
Karl Wickham had a plumbing shop in the building about 1950. He and his
family lived upstairs. A city building ordinance forced him to add a
fire escape on the west which has remained there through the years. The
American Red Cross used the building after the devastating hurricane
“Carla” in 1961.
Photographs taken during the 1970’s shows a “Wards” sign on the front
east, front west and on the back east side. The photo shows a small
structure on the top of the building and again the sign “WARDS.” As late
as 1982, a large Montgomery Ward sign appears on the east side of the
north of the building and a floor shop sign on the west side of the
In the 1980’s a craft and gift shop called “Celebrations” occupied the
downstairs on the west side.
In July of 1986 the Palacios Area Historical Association purchased the
building with the primary purpose of housing a museum and preserving
this historic structure. Over the past twelve years the members have met
regularly to carry out their goal of restoring the building to its
former beauty when constructed in 1910.
Included in the preservation plans are to retain as much of the early
interior such as the concrete pillars which give support and the tin
ceiling. At the rear of the downstairs there is an elevated one-half
circle floor which was probably used for entertainment by musical groups
and that will be a part of the interior.
With the recent discovery of LaSalle’s ship, the LaBelle in Matagorda
Bay, the early history of the Carancahua Indians living in this area and
being a part of the Stephen F. Austin Colony this area museum housed in
this historic Hill Building has a story to tell to all who visit
Palacios in years to come.
The Texas Historical
Marker for the R. J. Hill Building was dedicated October 28, 2001. The
R. J. Hill Building is on the corner of Fourth and Commerce Streets,