Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
The legacy of Houstonian Jesse H. Jones speaks to the great things he did for the State of Texas and Houston in particular. He may not have been a native born Texan, but certainly held the Texas spirit deep in his heart. It was both his spirit, and skill as a businessman that allowed him to bring Houston from an oil town to a hub of international commerce. In addition, his contribution to the economy in the south helped shelter Houston from being adversely impacted by the great depression.
Growing up in Robertson County, Tennessee, his dad was a tobacco farmer and merchant. At the age of nine, he and his family came to Texas to help with his uncle’s lumberyard in Dallas. The family returned, after two years to their farm in Tennessee, but the Texas spirit was already fixed into Jesse. Upon their return, with only a ninth grade education, Jesse became the boss over one of his father’s tobacco factories.
At the age of 17, Jesse Jones was certain he needed to go to college. So he returned to Dallas, Texas, enrolling in Hill’s Business College. In his early twenties, Jones managed his uncle’s lumberyard company in Hillsboro, Texas. After his uncle’s death, Jones moved to Houston where he continued to manage his uncle’s lumberyard. In what would be the first of many, Jesse opened his new Houston business, the South Texas Lumber Company. Throughout his life, he went on to become Houston’s largest real estate developer.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Houston looked like a small agricultural village on the banks of Buffalo Bayou. The downtown Houston skyline consisted of the 6-story Binz Building, the 8-story First National Bank Building and the 11-story Scanlan Building. In 1910, Jesse Jones shocked everyone when he said he was going to build the city’s tallest building--the 17-story Rice Hotel.
The 20s roared in with the founding of Humble Oil. Many more skyscrapers, like the Carter Building, were built for new oil companies and banks. In 1927, the 4 million dollar, 32-story Niels Esperson Building was built on Travis Street. Jesse again wanted to construct the tallest building in Houston, so in 1929 he built the 39-story Gulf Building. Not only did Jones build skyscrapers, but he vitalized down town Houston with grand hotels and theatres. Still today, Houstonians can take pride in down town Houston’s skyline, thanks to pioneers like Jesse Jones.
In 1920, at the age of 46, Jones married Mary Gibbs. The newlyweds focused on giving back to Houston. One of the most philanthropic things he and his wife did was found the Houston Endowment in 1937. Their Endowment supported scholarship programs, including those for women and minority students. Jones was eager to assist young men and women from all walks of life, obtain a college education and improve their stations. Throughout the Jones’ lifetime they contributed millions of dollars to Rice University, University of Houston and the medical center.
Prior to the Great Depression, Jesse Jones began investing in certain banks in the Houston area. The combination of his real estate developments, his chairmanship of the Texas Trust Company, leadership of Houston’s National Bank of Commerce helped Houston banks withstand the effects of the Great Depression.
In the middle of the Great Depression, it was becoming apparent that two Houston banks were going to fail and these failing banks would undoubtedly bring down other banks, not only in Houston, but the entire region. Jones knew that action needed to be taken to prevent this domino effect so he called together the top businessman of the city to work on a plan to help the failing banks. Not all of the people agreed with Jones that action should be taken to prevent this failure but Jones resilient Texas spirit that pushed him to protect the great state of Texas would not let him back down from something he knew would protect both the state of Texas that he loved very much and the entire region. This meeting lasted two days and two nights because Jones would not back down from his ideas of protecting his fellow Houstonians. Eventually a plan was worked out; and as a result of this action none of the Houston Banks failed during the great depression.
Soon after his bank plan worked in Houston, he was appointed to the Reconstruction Finance Committee by President Herbert Hoover. This was a committee designed to get the country’s economy back on track. The RFC later became a central pillar of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Plan. Jones was a conservative; he did not always agree with New Deal politics. Jones understood that the federal government cannot create jobs. Businesses are locally owned and their success would ultimately help the community survive. He believed the federal government could have a small role with limited handouts. Today, we are facing challenges in our economy, but we have certainly been there before and came through the “bust” to see a bigger and better Nation in the end.
Jones did many great things for the city of Houston as well as the United States of America. Jones was a man of servitude and he exemplified the Texas spirit that compels Texans to lend a hand to those in need. It is his good deeds and outstanding Texas spirit that led to his commemoration around the city of Houston and the State of Texas.
And that's just the way it is.