“Oh, you have the Amanda Dignowity House!” says a neighbor.
“Oh, you have the Amanda Dignowity House!” says the City of San Antonio.
“Oh, you have the Amanda Dignowity House!”, says the Conservation Society.
And consistent with my skeptical nature, my response has always been something like, oh yea — how do you know it’s the Amanda Dignowity House?
The previous owner also believed the house to be the Amanda Dignowity House. And why not? During the mid to late 1800’s Amanda Dignowity was known to be quite the active businesswoman on the Eastside. As old-fashioned habits tell us, our neighborhood is her husband’s namesake. More accurately it’s their namesake or even her namesake considering the extent of her business activity.
Scattered about so many places is this often published description or something very similar: “Dignowity Hill was San Antonio’s first exclusive residential suburb. The area was settled by Dr. Anthony Michael Dignowity, a physician and Czech immigrant, who built his family home on a hill to the east of town and called it Harmony House.”
My response now degrading to cynicism says good thing Mr. Dignowity was accompanied by his multi-talented wife and didn’t have to do that settling all alone! I digress. But what edited histories for public consumption do is present simplified situations and often with a “lone wolf” endeavor. We forget how very dependent people were on each other in the pre-auto, pre-telephone, pre-digital media and pre-credit card, paypal and amazon days. These pioneer journeys often required entire large families to relocate while simultaneously depending upon remaining family members who often provided financial assistance. Of all of the truncated 100± word Dignowity Hill histories that are scattered about, the short blurb at http://eastpointsa.org/listing/dignowity-park/ has the best value in terms of brevity and accuracy.
Texas was incredible complicated during the 1800’s and the Dignowity’s like so many other families had a complicated history. What we do know is that Anthony Michael Dignowity (1810-1875) married Amanda J. McCann (1820-1907) in 1843 in Little Rock, AR. The Dignowity’s came to San Antonio in 1846 when Mr. D volunteered as a surgeon in the Regiment of Arkansas Mounted Volunteers serving in the Mexican War. When Mr. D decided to stay in SA to serve as a town physician instead of heading to the war front, it was a matter of a few months before Mrs. D and their two young children traveled by water via the Mississippi River, New Orleans and arrived in Texas through Port Lavaca and joined Mr. D in SA.
Both Mrs. + Mr. D were very skilled and knowledgeable since they both had full medical educations and both had practiced medicine in Arkansas. Both were also very enterprising business people as they started businesses and invested in land soon after arriving in San Antonio. To give you an idea of the quantity of dealing by the couple, according the Bexar County Clerk Archives, the number of grantor deeds listed for Anthony M and A M Dignowity exceeds 260. Grantor deeds for Amanda J and A J Dignowity number close to 1100!
1848 was a big year: The Mexican War finally ends with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY. The importance is not lost on the Dignowity’s. The Dignowity’s took advantage of the Mexican War’s outcome by purchasing large parcels of land whenever they became available. Their original home was in a low lying area closer to downtown on Acequia Street. In time, 2 large land grants were issued in Anthony’s name and by 1858 Amanda had power of attorney over all of their property dealings. In an era when women’s personal legal rights were limited, their property rights were relatively vast in that they could retain title to property acquired before the marriage and had community rights to property obtained during the marriage. However, the community property could only be managed by the male in a marriage and power of attorney was executed to allow both spouses to legally participate in the business. Ten years younger than Anthony, Amanda lived 32 years beyond the death of her husband, so her wheeling dealing years were rich and included much of the historic Eastside as well as other neighborhoods surrounding downtown San Antonio. Instead of following the Dignowity story, which in itself is exciting, let’s get back to the Crockett Street House story.
In the end, one could speculate that Amanda Dignowity had something to do with the Crockett Street House, but exactly what was the persistent question. Eventually, I did find the Amanda Dignowity connection but it was not what I or anyone else expected.
In June 1881 Amanda Dignowity purchased the vacant lot (1120 E Crockett) as part of a larger parcel from James Jackson of New Orleans. By November 1882 she had sold approximately one acre to George W. Philips. The vacant lot was sold in February 1883 to Annie R. Smith for $750. A reduced parcel of 1/3 acre was then sold on March 16, 1886 for $400 to Miss Agnes Cotton, a feme sole. The digital archive file that answered so many questions was a Contract and Mechanics and Builders Lien dated exactly 130 years ago today on March 25, 1886 between Miss Cotton and The Bexar Building and Loan Association. It’s in this handwritten five-page document that we learn that Miss Agnes Cotton borrowed $3400. Within this agreement, Miss Agnes Cotton refinanced the lot purchase costs, agreed “to erect, build and construct a one story Rock house on the property below described, according to the plans and specifications therefore marked Agnes Cotton’s Exhibits ‘A + B’. . . . .”, and financed the construction costs.
For better or for worse, she hired a contracting company that specialized in wood carpentry, “Cotton + Hornung” to build her stone house! Previously in partnership with Gus Kampmann, Clem Cotton was Agnes’ brother and was relatively young at the time (20’s or 30’s) while Louis A. Hornung was the master builder and much older.
What I’ve been able to learn about Miss Cotton has been only through archived publications. Luckily her professional activities were well documented and like so many social individuals during the 19th century, her comings and goings were often published in the local papers. Unlike the tradition that a proper woman would only be mentioned in the newspaper at birth, marriage and death, Miss Cotton was very well respected in town and her activities were sprinkled across decades of news notices.
So today, exactly 130 years to the day that Miss Cotton signed an agreement to borrow what was a hefty amount of money for a single woman to build her own rock house, I can begin the story of this remarkable woman. A future post will be about Agnes, but let’s just start by saying the naming of the SAISD Agnes Cotton Elementary School on Blanco Road in Beacon Hill is a minor honor for an educator that was a life-long advocate for nurturing curiosity and learning.
To set the record straight, what some call the Amanda Dignowity House, and I’ve been calling the Crockett Street House and The Rock is really the Agnes Cotton House of 1886. Whew – that was easy!