Her generosity lives on: Myra Stafford Pryor

myra pryorAmong the many people who owned 401 King William aka Villa Finale were Colonel Ike Pryor and his wife, Myra. The couple purchased the home in 1896 from E. B. Chandler and Thomas H. Franklin who bought the property after it went up for auction in December 1895 following the foreclosure on Edwin Polk. What was interesting about the transaction from Chandler and Franklin to the Polks is that the deed states Myra paid $2,500 in cash upfront “out of her separate money given her by her mother.” This bit always intrigued me and it didn’t make complete sense until I looked further into the life of Ike Pryor.

At the time they purchased the home, Colonel Ike’s career as a cattle merchant was in transition. He and his brother were left penniless after the severe winter of 1886 – 1887 decimated their herd. After losing his livestock, he borrowed $70,000 on his good name to invest in the Texas and Colorado Land and Cattle Company and settled in San Antonio. While he continued to be a respected businessman, there was very little wriggle room financially as far as it came to major purchases, and this is why it makes sense having Myra’s name as the source for the home’s downpayment as clearly stated on the deed. My fascination with Myra Pryor didn’t end with the purchase of the property.

One day while taking a jog along the River Walk, I noticed her name on a plaque by the AT&T Lock and Dam, under Brooklyn Avenue: this is when I knew there was more to her story. Ike Pryor married Myra in 1893 after his first wife, Sarah, passed away. Myra was born in Columbus, Ohio to a well-to-do family. Myra had married once before but was left widowed after the passing of her first husband, George Early, in 1888. She lived with her second husband, Ike, in King William (at what is now Villa Finale) until 1901 when they purchased 100,000 acres in Zavala County, a property they called “77 Ranch.” After the lifting of the blockade of Cuba following the Spanish-American War, Ike made a fortune by shipping cattle on speculation to Havana for “spot sale” (cash for goods delivered on the spot). In 1908, they founded the town of La Pryor, roughly 20 miles south of Uvalde. Ike died in 1937 leaving his fortune primarily to Myra. Myra died in 1943 leaving Frost National Bank as the trustee of her estate valued at $750,000 (over $10 million today) for the purposes of “a trust created for charitable purposes in perpetuity.” It was Myra’s last will that all net income remaining with the Trustee should be used solely for charitable purposes at the Trustee’s discretion.

This last provision and others in Myra’s will and testament were challenged by some of her family members in court. While they won a case in District Court that invalidated the creation of a trust, the Court of Civil Appeals in San Antonio in 1945 reversed that decision upholding her last wish to create the Myra Stafford Pryor Charitable Trust. Today, this Trust has over $25 million in assets and annually gives over $1 million to charities and non-profit organizations. Among the many wonderful initiatives funded by Myra’s generosity are full time tutors and mentors for San Antonio’s underpriviledged youths, funding for trainers for Guide Dogs of Texas, and new state-of-the-art technology for the Mays Business School at Texas A&M. Her legacy in San Antonio lives on!

Villa Finale Retreats to Forth Worth – Part 1

How many other work places take you on a retreat to visit places of interest?  Villa Finale’s staff has that unique opportunity. The past two years the staff visited Galveston but this year we went north to Fort Worth!  The trip began in the early morning hours of Tuesday, January 27th as the staff gathered – coffee cups in hand – on the grounds of Villa Finale ready to board our big white rental van (christened “the iceberg” during the trip) for the 4.5 hour drive north.  After a brief stop for breakfast goodies, our Fort Worth exploration began with a guided tour of the Japanese Garden.  Built in 1973 inside the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, the 7-acre site was once a gravel quarry and dumping place for manure produced by the military’s equine.  Years of manure droppings made it an ideal location for the growth of lush green plants.  Many of the plants were donated by businesses and individuals, not only from Fort Worth but throughout the United States.  The result is a lush paradise of fine greenery accessible by winding paths which whisk you away to another place.  The bridges, rolling hills and decks provide a tranquil place of reflection and serenity.  If you ever visit, make sure you feed the Koi – they are eager to make your acquaintance!

After a well-deserved night’s rest everyone was up and ready to go for another day of cultural expansion.  Wednesday morning’s first stop was Thistle Hill, a mansion built in 1904 now owned and operated by Historic Fort Worth, Inc. a local partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Historic Fort Worth was founded in 1969 to preserve the city’s identity through stewardship, education and leadership. The organization was gifted the property in 2005 but not before it was saved from demolition in 1974 by a group of concerned citizens who raised $240,000 to purchase the property.  That came during a time when many of the city’s oldest and most beautiful homes – located in a once opulent area called Quality Hill – were being razed for parking lots and modern businesses.  Citizens knew a part of the city’s rich history would be lost if some of the homes weren’t saved from the wrecking ball, and, indeed, Thistle Hill is a gorgeous treasure!

The home was built as a wedding gift by Albert Buckman Wharton – who owned Fort Worth’s first auto dealership – for his new bride, Electra, the beautiful daughter of one of the city’s wealthiest cattle barons.  As I listened to this I thought, wow, what a great wedding gift!  Some of us would get luck to get a crock pot!  And Albert spared no expense – he paid $46,000 (that’s well over $1 million dollars today) for the 11,000 square foot abode that, although grand in every way, is incredibly practical and comfortable.  I was most particularly impressed with the wall decor in what used to be the billiards room; the walls have several inspirational quotes and sayings. The Whartons didn’t live in the house very long before they sold it to Elizabeth and Winfield Scott in 1911.  The Scotts immediately began remodeling the home from its original Colonial design to a Georgian Revival style.  Unfortunately, Mr. Scott died a few months after the property was purchased and never lived in the house.  Mrs. Scott and her son Winfield, Jr. moved into the house in 1912 after all remodeling projects were completed.  Thistle Hill would be her home for the next twenty-six years during which time she hosted a variety of social events.

After Elizabeth’s death in 1936, Winfield, Jr. sold the home to the Girls Service League as a safe and positive place for young women to live while they completed their education.  However, as women became more independent and it was “acceptable” for young ladies to be out on their own, the need for Thistle Hill as a rooming house became irrelevant and the organization abandoned the building.  The house was left empty for a number of years until it was purchased in 1974.

Historic Fort Worth also owns the Ball-Eddleman-McFarland House only a few blocks away; this was our next stop.  Now the headquarters of Historic Fort Worth, the first floor can be rented out for small private events and weddings.  Although smaller than Thistle Hill, the Victorian charm of this home can be seen inside and out.  The Queen Anne style Victorian house was constructed in 1899, also in Quality Hill, by Sarah Ball, the widow of George Ball, a wealthy banker in Galveston.  Sarah, who paid roughly $38,000 to have the house built, chose this site not only because it sat atop a bluff above the Trinity River – thus providing great views – but also because it was right next door to her physician, Dr. Joseph Pollock.  Ball died in 1904, merely five years after the home was constructed, and that same year it was purchased by William H. Eddleman, a cattleman and founder of Western National Bank.  Eddleman and his wife had one daughter, Carrie, who was the light of their life.  When Carrie met and fell in love with Frank H. McFarland, the Eddlemans gave their blessing as long as McFarland didn’t take their daughter too far away after marriage.  So what did the couple do?  They moved in with Carrie’s parents: now there’s a gentleman for you!  The Eddlemans remodeled an upstairs bedroom as a suite for the young couple, and the four lived under the same roof until the death of Carrie’s parents.  Frank McFarland died in 1948 and Carrie lived in the home until her death in 1978 – that is a total of 75 years in one home!

The McFarland house is very beautiful and charming.  The exterior features turrets, gables, carved sandstone, marble and copper.  The interior is rich with colorful stained glass, splendid woodwork including coffered ceilings and parquet floors throughout and so much more!  I could go on and on about the features of this home, but it really is something you have to see for yourself.  It’s wonderful that the Junior League of Fort Worth purchased the home in 1979 thus saving it from eventual demolition before it was purchased by Historic Fort Worth.  Both Thistle Hill and the McFarland House are available for guided tours.

So much to tell about places we visited during our trip to Fort Worth!  I will be blogging about the rest of our trip over the next few days.  Villa Finale’s staff would like to thank our wonderful docents at the Japanese Garden, Mr. and Mrs. Winn; Diann at Thistle Hill, Jimmy at McFarland House, as well as Historic Forth Worth, for their generous hospitality!