Thomas H. Mathis: Businessman and pioneer (part two)

Mary Jane Nold Mathis, ca. 1880

The firm of Thomas and John Mathis, known as J. M. and T. H. Mathis, greatly helped the improvement of the Aransas Bay pass between St. Joseph Island and Mustang Island by contributing $5,500 to a project that included widening and deepening.  This also gave access to the deeper water of the Gulf of Mexico from the bay.  Among their many other public improvement projects were the building of bridges, county roads, buildings, and the construction of the Orleans Hotel, to name a few.  In 1880, after over a decade of doing business together, the brothers went their separate ways.

However, Thomas Mathis continued doing business on his own in Rockport.  In addition to his ranching operation – he owned 24,000 acres of land along the Nueces River – his financial contributions led to the Western Union Telegraph company setting up business in Rockport, the construction of the first telephone line in that part of Texas, and the building of the first cold storage meat refrigerating plant in the state.  His success was due in part to his keen sense for business as well as his congenial personality which ingratiated him to the citizens of Rockport.

Thomas H. Mathis’s grave in Rockport.

Although involved in many business affairs, Thomas always remained active in his family’s life.  His first wife, Cora Linda, had died of typhoid just a few months after their marriage.  In 1875, he married Mary Jane Nold of Ketucky, a music teacher who had arrived in Rockport to join her parents in 1874.  The couple had eight children whom, despite being financially secure, were taught the value of hard work by their parents.  One of the Mathis children’s most detested tasks was pulling the weeds from the yard of the family home.  According to family records, the Mathis boys would avoid the work by making numerous trips to have a drink of water.  Father soon caught on to their plan, however, and had a water bucket placed close to their chore area to stop the lollygagging.

Mary Jane Mathis was just as involved in the community as her husband.  She was the organist at Rockport’s Presbyterian Church for 35 years until a broken wrist prompted her retirement.  For 25 years, Mary Jane was also president of a ladies organization called the King’s Daughters – her Rockport chapter did much of the charity work in Aransas County.

Thomas Mathis died on March 19, 1899.  Mary Jane continued to live in the family home in Rockport for the next 25 years after her husband’s passing.  For the last 16 years of her life, she lived in Corpus Christi – a portion of this with her daughter, May Mathis Green and her second husband, Harry Watson.  Mary Jane Nold Mathis died on February 26, 1943 and was buried in the family plot at Rockport next to her husband.

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