Henry Schley Ervay, Dallas businessman and mayor, was born on June 29, 1834, to Jacob and Sophia (Schley) Ervay in Elmira, New York. Ervay spent his boyhood in Pennsylvania and, after studying engineering, set out and found jobs that included surveying, exploring in the American and Canadian west, and working for the Butterfield Overland Mail Company. In New Orleans in 1859, he joined Gen. William Walker’s filibustering expedition in Nicaragua. During one battle, Ervay was wounded nine times and almost lost a leg. Walker’s men spent twelve days in a Honduran prison. Walker was subsequently executed, but Ervay and the other men sailed back to New Orleans with British troops. Ervay remained in the hospital the entire winter to recover from his wounds. In the spring of 1860 he left New Orleans and spent two months in Galveston, where he was ill with fever. He then made his way to Dallas. Once in Dallas, he obtained work at a gristmill in Carrollton, and in 1861 he purchased controlling interest in it.
On May 20, 1862, Ervay married Maria Louise Hickman, daughter of James P. and Mary (Bronaugh) Hickman, and the couple settled in Dallas. They had four children named Jimmie, Harry, Henry Jr., and Maude; the first two children died in infancy. They also adopted their grandson, Ervay Bronaugh Fagin, one of Maude’s children. He died in 1918.
In the fall of 1863 Ervay enlisted in the Confederate States Army and was made assistant quartermaster. The wounds sustained in Honduras prevented him from active duty service. After the war, he embarked in the livestock trade, worked in real estate, and then, with his brother Frank Ervay, opened a wholesale implement and vehicle distributing business. He also became involved in the local government and served as school board president and between 1868 and 1870 as alderman. In April 1870, when Mayor Benjamin Long resigned to go to Europe, Ervay, as mayor pro tem, assumed the top office.
Texas governor Edmund J. Davis believed that Ervay was not sufficiently loyal to the Reconstructionist government and ordered not only that Ervay be removed from office but also that Dr. J. W. Haynes be appointed in his stead. Ervay refused to step down and was consequently jailed in Dallas, where he spent three days until the State Supreme Court ruled that Governor Davis did not have the power of removal. District Judge Hardin Hart released him, and Ervay resumed his position.
Ervay was mayor during three critical technological advances for the city—the arrival of the first railroad, the telegraph, and the first iron bridge. In 1871 citizens voted 156 to 11 in favor of an ordinance levying a special tax of $14,650 for procuring real estate and erecting a depot for railway traffic. In 1872 a subsequent ordinance was approved for another special tax to make up the deficit of the $14,650. The Houston and Texas Central Railroad arrived in Dallas on July 16, 1872, and the Texas and Pacific arrived in Dallas in 1873 (after Ervay’s administration ended). Ervay was also one of the directors of the Dallas and Wichita Railway Company, organized and chartered in 1871. This railroad company suffered through starts and stops in construction before finally being purchased by the Texas and Pacific Company in 1880.
Ervay and his fellow aldermen also purchased four and one-half acres of land adjacent to the extant Masonic Cemetery to create a city cemetery. The city paid Nancy Turbeville $145 an acre for it to acquire the property. After more than a year abroad, Benjamin Long returned to Dallas, and was re-elected mayor over Ervay by the citizens in November 1872.
In 1881 Ervay opened a drugstore at Elm and Sycamore streets in Dallas. Later in the 1880s, however, he turned to mining as his profession. He became one of the mine directors of the Cripple Creek Consolidated Mining Company in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and moved there. In January 1903 the Ervay family moved to El Paso to enable better supervision of the mining interests in Sonora, Mexico, and in 1905 they moved to California.
Ervay died in San Diego, California, on August 21, 1911, and was interred at the Oakland Cemetery in Dallas. He was a member of the Tannehill Lodge No. 52, A. F. and A. M., which conducted the funeral services. Ervay Street in Dallas is named in his honor.