Quality Hill was Houston’s “first elite residential neighborhood” and existed from approximately 1850 to 1930. During the city’s earliest years, most businessmen lived near their places of work or in adjoining rooms to their businesses. After 1850 many prominent citizens of Houston built or owned houses in Quality Hill. Located near Buffalo Bayou, the neighborhood took up approximately three blocks north to south and at most five blocks east to west. At different times in its history, descriptions of Quality Hill placed it at various locations within the area bounded by Buffalo Bayou, Congress Avenue, Caroline (formerly Carolina) Avenue, and Chenevert Street. These descriptions may reflect actual changes in the neighborhood over its lifetime.
In 1850 businessman William J. Hutchins, namesake of Hutchins Street, constructed one of the earliest and finest houses in Quality Hill on the corner of Franklin Avenue and La Branch Street. His business stood nearby on the corner of Franklin Avenue and Main Street. Born in New York in 1813, Hutchins began doing business in Houston in 1838, and he quickly built a profitable dry goods business. He built his monumental house in an elaborately-decorated Greek Revival style. In 1866 Hutchins completed Hutchins House, which, at the time, was considered the largest contemporary hotel in Texas. Hutchins, an original developer and stockholder of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad, played a major role in bringing railroads to Texas and managed the company for seven years throughout the Civil War. A stockholder and director for many other area railroads, he served as Houston’s mayor in 1861 and as alderman for several terms.
In 1865 Charles S. Longcope, a cotton factor, commission merchant, and a former Mississippi River steamboat captain, purchased a house on Chenevert Street between Franklin and Commerce. The home, built in 1859, was formerly owned by German baker Michael Floeck and then by his son. In 1870 Longcope remodeled the French Colonial style house, one of the few in Houston, and installed custom-made iron grillwork from New Orleans, stucco over the original brick exterior, and a two-story addition on the back that accommodated a ballroom.
New Jersey native Cornelius Ennis came to Houston in 1839 and developed a general mercantile and drug business on Main Street. With partner George Kimball, Ennis became one of Houston’s first cotton merchants and built a successful enterprise. He later served as mayor from 1856 to 1857 and built up the International & Great Northern and Houston Tap railroads. During the Civil War, Ennis ran blockades for the Confederacy and continued to export cotton after the war. In 1871 he moved into a Greek Revival house in Quality Hill on the corner of Jackson and Congress.
Other early notable residents of Quality Hill included James Bute, a prominent paint and oils merchant; Dr. J. Larendon, a druggist; B. Tuffly, a well-known confectioner; and W. P. Hamblin, an attorney. Toward the end of the nineteenth century and into the beginning of the twentieth century, notable Houston families living in Quality Hill included the Warneckers, Scholibos, Taubs and Milbys.
The later decades of the nineteenth century brought significant changes to Houston. Due in large part to railroads created by pioneer businessmen, industrial development pushed into downtown. Residents moved away to streetcar suburbs like the Heights, Montrose, and Shadyside. Later, the new neighborhoods of River Oaks, Washington Terrace, and Riverside Terrace attracted citizens. Houses began to disappear from Quality Hill; many sat empty and deteriorated after their original inhabitants died or moved elsewhere and were eventually demolished. William Hutchins’s home was occupied by his daughter’s family until 1914 and then sat vacant until it was torn down in 1930. The Ennis house was sold, and its rooms served as rentals in the 1920s; the house was demolished in the mid-1930s. The Longcope home was demolished in 1949. Many other structures were razed from the 1940s through the 1960s.
As of the 2010s only two downtown houses survived from the Quality Hill era, but neither structure was from the original area of Quality Hill but rather on the outskirts. Both were intended for restoration and preservation downtown. One belonged to William L. Foley, whose nephews joined his dry goods business and in 1900 opened the business that became Foley’s Department Store. Foley’s house, a Victorian style home built in 1904, stood originally on Texas Avenue, then was moved to 704 Chenevert to make room for construction of Union Station (present-day west entrance to Houston’s Minute Maid Park). The other house, from 1711 Rusk, belonged to Arthur B. Cohn, who renovated an existing structure into a Queen Anne style home in 1905. Cohn became the principal accountant for William Marsh Rice’s estate and his substantial endowment for Rice University, which opened in 1912.