Mules Part II

In the course of looking for something else, I came across some great evidence in my mule housing mystery. We have a collection of “Rice Special Occasion” photographs that came from the Baker family. Most, but not all, of these are Commencement pictures.

The one that caught my eye is a picture of the ground clearing in preparation for the construction of the Chemistry Building in July, 1923. If you click on it, you’ll see not only a pretty impressive number of mules but also a farm house and several outbuildings behind them. (You can also see that this photo has been folded in half at some point. It’s a really big picture, too wide to reproduce here. The other half shows more mules and a very empty landscape.)

I felt a moment of elation, but began to wonder again almost immediately. The first issue to deal with is that I can’t really tell what angle this picture is taken from. There aren’t any landmarks that I can use to identify the spot. But it occurred to me that because this is clearly so close to the main part of campus, there are likely to be other photos where you can get a glimpse of these buildings. Sure enough, in this picture of the 1918 Commencement you can clearly see them in the background if you click to enlarge right over the top of the car parked on the left. They look to be roughly where the Mudd Building is today.

So, is this the house with sheds referred to in the 1933 waiver agreement? I don’t think so but I’m not completely sure. The first thing that bothered me is that the blueprint with the map of the outbuildings describes a “little house,” a one-story office with living quarters and an open shed attached. The house in this picture is a big old farmhouse. Second, another waiver allowing a Buildings and Grounds worker to live in the “little house” has turned up in the “Sundry Contracts” file, this one dated in the early 1940s. (It makes no mention of mules, however.)

But if I go back to the early aerial photo of campus, which we figured was taken in the early 1930s, and zoom in behind the Chemistry Building none of it is there. It looks as if the site has only been cleared recently and you can still see what’s left of a driveway, but the buildings are gone.

So, I’m still thinking about this. Any ideas?

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8 Responses to Mules Part II

  1. James Medford says:

    The big farmhouse that you can see in the two photos is likely on what is now Rice Boulevard, which was probably a dirt road back then. It was probably torn down when Southampton (the neighborhood north of campus) began to be developed in the 1920’s. I don’t have a clue about the location of the mule sheds, etc.

    You know what I’ve always been curious about … does Woodson have any old movie footage of events at Rice? Old newreels, home movies, that sort of thing. Other than footage from old football games, I’ve never seen anything other than still photos of the campus prior to the 1960’s.

  2. James W. Hajovsky says:

    I think Rice is the greatest university in the Nation and I love the history and photos you do in your articles. Keep up the good work, excellent job.

  3. Guillermo Trevino says:

    Melissa, It would seem to me that you would place a large number of mules about as far away from where you would study, eat, and sleep as possible. You would also place them in the opposite corner from prevailing wind directions. I would also think they would leave some pretty rich soil and there is an enticingly green patch in the far left corner of the 1930’s aerial. I am not saying this is the spot, but I would begin looking at the extremes of the property. All the Best.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      I think you’re absolutely right. I just found another aerial photo that I think fits with exactly what you’re saying. I’ll have time to post it this weekend.

      And thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. Guillermo Trevino says:

    My pleasure. You are linked to Alan Shelby’s sports blog and I have enjoyed your posts. Brilliant stuff.

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