R. J. Hill Building Palacios

Matagorda County Historical Marker Narrative

National Register Marker Dedication



401 Commerce Street

28°42’00.66”N      96°12’55.00”W





Inscription typed by Faye Cunningham


By: Mary Belle Ingram


The R. J. Hill Building situated on Block 53, N 80’ of Lot 18 at the corner of Commerce and Fourth Street in the business district of Palacios, Texas, was constructed in 1910 by Robert J. Hill. The building has had a colorful and interesting history and is now the museum for the Palacios Area Historical Association.

Robert J. Hill (1864-1930) and his wife Kate Elizabeth Breggan Hill moved to Palacios in 1904, two years after the town was founded in 1902. They saw the potential of this small village by Tres Palacios Bay and in 1906 purchased this lot from the Palacios townsite, a block from the bay and just to back of the historic Palacios hotel; now known as the Luther Hotel. In 1910 they built this two story building as an investment for their future.

The building is a two-story concrete block and brick early 20th century Plains Commercial structure. Supposedly, the bricks were made on the site. Several other buildings constructed of same type blocks were built around 1910, including a City of Palacios maintenance building and the First Presbyterian Church. The first floor arcade has heavy columns with decorative brick surrounding the windows and doors. Brick ornamental design is on all four sides of the building. The front has a corner entry with transom lights in the upper section of windows formed of beveled squares of glass.

An early photo on the building reads, “Contractor J. G. BONTRAGER, Palacios, Texas. INTIRE BUILDING CONSTRUCTED of IDEAL BLOCKS.”

Deed records show that the property was owned by the Hill family until 1933; when at that time it was sold to E. H. Lewis. In 1946 the American Legion Greenwood Post #42 acquired the property and had their meetings there for several years. In 1991 the Palacios Area Historical Association purchased the property from Leonard Lamar and wife, John Lamar; Dale and Cathy Porter for $50,000 for the purpose of a museum.

The downstairs of the building was used for a mercantile business at first, but was used for other businesses as the years progressed. The upstairs was finished for the living quarters for the owner and later divided into apartments. There were offices used by various doctors through the years.

In 1911, R. J. Hill advertised in the Collegeport Chronicle (Collegeport was the small town across the bay from Palacios). The ad suggested “getting ready for cold weather by purchasing clothes for winter, tailored suits, everything for men and boys from feet to head. Free Deliver. Phone 19. Commerce and Pavilion.” (Note: Pavilion Street later became Fourth Street.)

Mr. Hill gave away needle cases as advertisements. Inside the case, it reads, “You will find Franco Hygienic Toilet Articles as well as choice Glassware and Crockery at R. J. Hill, Palacios, Texas.” Many years later, when renovating the building, a box of these advertising needles was found. Considering how many owners and leasers of the building there had been since Mr. Hill’s time, it is quite remarkable that the box survived.

Helen Wagner Bell, daughter to Dr. Joseph Wagner, said that her father had his office in the Hill building. He was the first tenant in the upstairs of the building. “We had our home in connection with his office – taking up the entire second floor.

In a February 10, 1911, issue of the Palacios Beacon there is a photo of Marie Nielsen, an actress who was to perform in the Hill Building Opera House with a company of twelve people on Monday, February 13th. Manager Oscar Korn who had built the opera house in Bay City, in appreciation of past patronage was bringing the attraction to Palacios. The company performing had played successful engagements in the Princess Theater in Houston; the Grand in Galveston, Waco and Austin and was now in Bay City. The top price for a ticket was fifty cents.


In the July 1915 booklet of the Baptist Young People’ Union annual encampment there is an ad for “Tatum & Sons” with a picture of the Hill Building shown. Dry goods and groceries, and wear goods were mentioned, as well as Special Delivery. The building shown on the ad has a huge American flag atop the northeast corner, and there are awnings on the east and north sides of the building.

Mildred Ehlers, a longtime citizen of Palacios, remembers that her sister and husband worked in the shoe department of the Tatum’s Dry Goods store some sixty-five years ago. Her sister had met her husband when she began working there.

According to Cornell Prindle, another longtime citizen of the Palacios community, D. P. Moore had a store there in the late teens and twenties. Moore also had a store in Bay City and earlier had stores in Matagorda and Elliott’s Ferry. Photographs taken about 1928 show children and adults with hats bought at D. P. Moore Dry Goods. Ladies are wearing cloches and children have sailor hats.

According to Cornell Prindle, in the 1930’s Amy Hall had a canning kitchen there and citizens from throughout the community and outlying farms could come and can their vegetables and fruit. She also recalled after Amy Hall closed the canning kitchen and in the late 1930’s, J. L. Koeber had a store with Jerome Kimball managing it for him. The store sold RCA Victrola Phonograph records.


In June 1940 a WPA kitchen opened in the Hill building. The Palacios Beacon ran an ad stating that workers were needed to can the abundance of products, such as corn, tomatoes, cabbage and peaches.

In the early 1940’s a man named Johnson had a pool hall in the building for a short time but moved it to Freeport. Special events such as Mexican weddings, wedding receptions and Halloween parties were held throughout its history.

James Covey’s father worked at Camp Hulen during the early 1940’s. James was thirteen at the time and the family lived upstairs in the Hill building. At that time there were several rooms numbering to 14. Downstairs there was a bar on the east side and a liquor store on the west side and it was called by the local people the “Barrel Building” because of the sale of beer in the bar. James remembers helping his father making apartments out of the many rooms.

In 1947, the American Legion Greenwood Post #478 bought the property. It did not change owners again until 1956.

Karl Wickham had a plumbing shop in the building about 1950. He and his family lived upstairs. A city building ordinance forced him to add a fire escape on the west which has remained there through the years. The American Red Cross used the building after the devastating hurricane “Carla” in 1961.

Photographs taken during the 1970’s shows a “Wards” sign on the front east, front west and on the back east side. The photo shows a small structure on the top of the building and again the sign “WARDS.” As late as 1982, a large Montgomery Ward sign appears on the east side of the north of the building and a floor shop sign on the west side of the north façade.

In the 1980’s a craft and gift shop called “Celebrations” occupied the downstairs on the west side.

In July of 1986 the Palacios Area Historical Association purchased the building with the primary purpose of housing a museum and preserving this historic structure. Over the past twelve years the members have met regularly to carry out their goal of restoring the building to its former beauty when constructed in 1910.

Included in the preservation plans are to retain as much of the early interior such as the concrete pillars which give support and the tin ceiling. At the rear of the downstairs there is an elevated one-half circle floor which was probably used for entertainment by musical groups and that will be a part of the interior.

With the recent discovery of LaSalle’s ship, the LaBelle in Matagorda Bay, the early history of the Carancahua Indians living in this area and being a part of the Stephen F. Austin Colony this area museum housed in this historic Hill Building has a story to tell to all who visit Palacios in years to come.


The Texas Historical Marker for the R. J. Hill Building was dedicated October 28, 2001. The R. J. Hill Building is on the corner of Fourth and Commerce Streets, Palacios, Texas.


South elevation prior to window replacement.

South elevation after window replacement.

Northwest elevation prior to exterior cleaning, roofing work, window and door replacements.

Corner view after cleaning exterior masonry and installation of some windows and doors.

Robert J. and Kate Elizabeth Brigance Hill
By Colleen Claybourn

Robert J. Hill was born in September of 1864, and Kate Elizabeth Briggan was born in Old Columbia, Texas, on August 13, 1866. They were married on May 24, 1894, and made their home in several coast towns until 1904, when they moved to Palacios.

In 1910 Mr. Hill built a two-story brick and stone building at the southwest corner of Commerce and Fourth Streets, and was in the mercantile business for many years. Robert J Hill served the City as Councilman and was active in many projects which helped to make Palacios grow

Mr. Hill's mother and father lived with the couple for several years before their deaths. Although the couple had no children of their own, they welcomed young people into their home. Ruth Snedaker lived with them while she attended high school, and Mrs. Hill's grand niece, Willene Shanks, also lived with them during her high school years. Many nieces and nephews never thought a summer complete without a visit to Aunt Kate and Uncle Robert at the little seaside town.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Hill were active in the First Presbyterian Church, which they joined in 19 I 6.

Mr Hill died in Corpus Christi on March 11, 1934, and Mrs. Hill died in Palacios on January 20, 1930. Their funeral services were held at the First Presbyterian Church with the Reverend George F Gillespie officiating. Burial was at the Palacios Cemetery

Historic Matagorda County, Volume II, page 243

Robert J. Hill

September 19. 1864 - March 11, 1934

News reached here Monday of the death of Mr. Robert J. Hill, in Corpus Christi, after an illness of some duration. The remains were shipped to Blessing, and brought to the Palacios Funeral Home, where funeral services were held Tuesday at 10 a. m., Rev. G. F. Gillespie of the Presbyterian Church officiating. Interment was made in the Palacios Cemetery under the direction of the Palacios Funeral Home, E. E. Burton, H. B. Farwell, A. J. Louderback, C. E. Pasal, Duncan Ruthven and C. W. Nester acting as pallbearers.

Mr. Hill was 69 years, 5 months and 22 days of age and had lived in Palacios a number of years, being one of the first to settle here. For some time he was engaged in the mercantile business, served the city as councilman and had been active in many ways helping to make Palacios. A little over four years ago he was preceded in death by his wife, and since that time he had been less active and the loyal support given to all civic and other organizations by he and Mrs. Hill has been greatly missed.

They had no children and Mr. Hill had no near relatives, but leaves a host of friends to mourn his passing on. Those here from out of town for the funeral were Mr. and Mrs. W. O. Parker and Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Hanson, of Freeport; Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hanson and Mrs. Robert Hanson and Mrs. Albert Reynolds, of Brazoria and Mrs. Neal, of Corpus Christi.

Palacios Beacon, March 15, 1934

Kate Elizabeth Brigance Hill
August 13, 1866 - January 20, 1930

Mrs. R. J. Hill died Monday, Jan. 20th, at 1:20 a. m., at her late residence in Palacios, Texas. Funeral service was held in the Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, Jan. 21st, at 10 a. m., conducted by Rev. G. F. Gillespie. Burial was in Palacios cemetery according to the ritual of the Easter Star.

Kate Elizabeth Briggan was born in Old Columbia, Texas, August 13, 1866. She was married to Robert J. Hill May 24, 1894. They made their home in several of the coast towns until 1904, when they moved to Palacios.

Mrs. Hill was reared in the Episcopal Church, but united with the Presbyterian church in Palacios in 1916, to which organization she gave enthusiastic service. Her christianity was very practical and real.

Mrs. Hill was one of the unofficial hostesses of the pioneer times in Palacios. The writer arrived in Palacios Saturday evening, Oct. 22, 1905 and promptly on Sunday afternoon Capt. and Mrs. Hill invited us for a sail on the "Novice" that most comfortable and fastest sail boat that has ever been on this bay. An enumeration of Mrs. Hill's hospitality and kindly thoughtfulness would be a recital of a large part of the social and philanthropic history of Palacios.

It was her joy to tenderly and lovingly care for both Mr. Hill's mother and her own father for many years before their death. Then her mother-heart went out to a young girl, Ruth Snedaker, to whom she gave a pleasant home and motherly care while Ruth attended High School.

After Ruth's graduation, Mrs. Hill's grand niece Willene Shanks found a loving welcome into her home through her high school years. During these years the high school young people always had a pleasant rendezvous at Mrs. Hill's home because of her genuine cordiality.

The many nieces and nephews never thought a summer complete without a reunion with Aunt Kate and Uncle Robert.

To try to tell of her charitable deeds to those in need would be in the nature of betraying a confidence for modesty was one of Mrs. Hill's most noticeable characteristics. Her attitude toward loved ones, home, friends, church and city was one unswerving devotion and loyalty.

There is a subtle tie among the pioneers of Palacios forged in the lives of enthusiasm of a few united people working together to bring to this sunny end of a cow trail an incorporation, a Public School, the Academy, the B. Y. P. U. Encampment, water works, a bank, electric lights, cement sidewalks and some shelled streets. Elder, Wildman, J. T. Price, Mr. and Mrs. Doss and now Mrs. Hill have gone and we are still camping on sadly miss the close companionship and firm friendships.

The sincere sympathy of her large circle of friends is extended to her dear husband and other relatives.

Card of Thanks

We desire to express our deepest thanks to the neighbors and friends for their many acts of kindness and words of sympathy given to us during our grief caused by the death of our beloved wife, sister and aunt, and especially do we wish to thank those who sent such beautiful floral offerings.

R. J. Hill
Mrs. M. C. Hanson and family
Mr. and Mrs. W. O. Parker and family.

Palacios Beacon, January 23, 1930


Copyright 2009 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
All rights reserved

Mar. 5, 2009
Nov. 4, 2011