Thomas H. Ball, lawyer, prohibitionist politician, and promoter of publicly owned Houston port facilities, son of M. O. (Spivey) Cleveland and Rev. Thomas Henry Ball, was born on January 14, 1859, in Huntsville, Texas. His father, a Methodist minister, had moved to Huntsville from Virginia in 1856 to become president of Andrew Female College. Ball's parents died, and he was left at the age of six in the care of his uncle, Lt. Sidney Spivey, a Confederate veteran, who sent him to private schools for his primary and secondary education. After graduating from Austin College in 1871, Ball worked as a farmhand and clerk and attended lectures at the University of Virginia, where he was elected president of the law class. He returned to Texas, was admitted to the bar in 1888, and was thrice elected mayor of Huntsville, a post he held from 1877 to 1892. He practiced law in Huntsville until 1902, when he moved to Houston.
Ball first became active in Texas politics in 1887 as an advocate of a prohibition amendment to the state constitution. He held many state Democratic party posts and was elected to the United States Congress in 1896. He resigned in 1903 to return to a Houston law practice that primarily served railroad and corporate clients. In 1911 he was selected chairman of the Prohibition Statewide Executive Committee, and many prohibitionists encouraged him to run against incumbent governor Oscar Branch Colquitt, who was up for reelection in 1912. Ball declined, and lent his support to Judge William F. Ramsey, who was easily defeated by the antiprohibitionists. In 1914 at a pre-primary elimination convention, Ball emerged as the prohibitionist standard-bearer with the slogan "Play Ball." Both wet and dry forces assumed he would win the coming gubernatorial nomination. But political newcomer James Edward Ferguson won support by focusing on farm tenant reform. Late endorsements of Ball by President Woodrow Wilson and William Jennings Bryan backfired when Ferguson also asserted that national politicians should stay out of Texas politics. Ferguson won the nomination in July. Ball lost because of his refusal to embrace other prohibitionist demands, growing uneasiness about his legal service for large corporations, his friendship with Joseph Weldon Bailey, his own lackluster campaigning, and Ferguson's skillful demagogy.
In addition to Ball's prohibitionist activities, he was also a lifelong, vigorous promoter of publicly owned port facilities in Texas. As a member of the Rivers and Harbors Committee in the United States House of Representatives, he secured the first federal aid for development of the Houston Ship Channel in 1899. After leaving Washington he lobbied the state legislature and the United States Congress heavily, determined to facilitate local, state, and federal efforts to upgrade Houston port facilities. Both bodies soon passed measures significantly aiding local navigation districts. Following the development of Buffalo Bayou, Ball served as general counsel to the Port Commission of Houston.
He married Minnie F. Thomason in 1882. They had three children and adopted three more. In 1907 the community of Peck, just northwest of Houston, was renamed Tomball in Ball's honor. Ball died in Houston on May 7, 1944.