Mr. Houston would one day build his wealth in Salisbury on the land he purchased and owned, but he got his start saving his wages as a waiter in nearby Virginia.
Solomon T. Houston was born on October 27, 1832 in Salisbury, MD to parents Levin and Easter Houston. He was one of the most prominent men in Salisbury, building his wealth on real estate. The name Solomon Houston appears in different forms throughout numerous historical documents. Solomon was referred to as Saul and Houston was alternatively spelled Huston.1 One of five freedmen involved in the acquisition of land and establishment of the John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church in Salisbury was his father, Levin Houston. The church was the first black school on the Eastern Shore and the first place of worship for African Americans in Wicomico County.2
Interestingly, there is a relationship between Solomon Houston and the white Hustons who owned and resided in the nearby Poplar Hill Mansion, the oldest standing building in Salisbury. When Salisbury was first founded, Major Levin Handy was the first owner of the mansion. The building of Poplar Hill Mansion, as Handy referred to it, began in 1795-96, sixty years after Salisbury's founding, and was probably built by its slaves, some of whom probably remained when the state of Maryland forcibly sold Handy's 357-acre plantation to pay off his debt.3
Levin Houston, the father of Solomon Houston, who was a slave of Dr. John Huston, was one of the slaves that had lived at Poplar Hill Mansion. Before the main home was built, he was born in Poplar Hill. After Dr. Huston passed away in 1828, Levin was soon granted his freedom the following year. Additionally, it's believed that Dr. Huston may have owned Solomon Houston.5
Solomon Houston was married to Annie Marie Houston as of the time of the 1870 U.S. Census, which described her as a housewife and her husband as a livery stable keeper.6 Together they had six children: John, Laura, Mary, Samuel, and Julia. His daughter, Julia, was married to Ulysses Langston, the owner of the livery stable and grocery store on Church Street.7
During his time in Salisbury, Houston became a preeminent landowner and landlord, making his living from real estate dealings which was notable for an African American in Salisbury at the time. Richard W. Cooper, a writer from the July 28, 1968 edition of The Salisbury Sunday Times described him as a highly respected citizen of Salisbury, and — through evidence of numerous land records — Houston was the owner of many properties in Salisbury, including the parcel where the present Wicomico Junior High School is located, at 635 E Main St in Salisbury, MD.8
Houston was also involved in the purchase of land for the creation of a cemetery on Commerce Street known as Houston Cemetery.9 He was one of six people that purchased the property in 1901, including his daughter Julia and her husband Ulysses Langston. He also owned several properties on Church Street near the John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church and the Sembly house located on the corner of Church Street and Salisbury Boulevard (Route 13). Houston also owned property near Ward Street, east of the Georgetown area that would eventually be removed to make way for the old Route 50 highway. Many of his properties were used as rental units. Houston’s land records disclosed over 40 transactions related to the purchase and sale of his properties.10
The U.S. Census showed that Houston had a number of occupations recorded over time. Houston's occupation was recorded as "Keeper of a Livery Stable" in the US Census from 1870.11 In the 1880 U.S. Census, Houston's occupation was listed as a waiter.12 Prior to 1880, Houston was waiting tables in Washington, D.C., when Harrison Phoebus, the manager of the Hygeia Hotel in Old Point Comfort, Virginia, persuaded him to accept a position as the head waiter for $65 a month. Army and Navy officers as well as rich residents who participated in the hotel's social events frequented the facility. The wealthy clientele Houston served allowed him to save and invest his earnings, enabling him to purchase numerous properties in an area known as Mill Creek between Hampton and Old Point Comfort, Virginia.
As a result, Houston made thousands of dollars by selling his holdings at a profit. By the 1890’s, Houston built several homes in the area, known as Houston’s Section. The land in and surrounding Mill Creek became quite valuable thanks to his development activities at the time.13 Interestingly, his name was spelled differently throughout every Census document, switching between Saul and Solomon and Houston and Huston. Eventually, Houston left his job as a waiter behind and was identified as a landlord in the 1900 US Census.14
As one of the leading residents of the state of Maryland, the first colored bank on the Eastern Shore was opened in honor of Houston. The institution was called the Houston Savings Bank. The bank was opened on December 15, 1910 and started with a capital stock of $10,000.15 The bank was started by Melvin J. Chisum, president of a bank in Hare Valley, Virginia, along with the help of several other men.16 The Houston Savings Bank was the only 100 percent black owned bank in Salisbury, but unfortunately, the bank did not survive and lasted only a few months.17 The bank was later relocated to 2730 N Salisbury Boulevard, and was later bought by Hebron Bank, who has owned the property since 2018.18
On January 12, 1916, Solomon T. Houston of Salisbury, passed away at the age of 83 years old. According to his death certificate, Houston’s cause of death was from endocarditis and aortic regurgitation. The death certificate listed his trade and occupation as a retired head waiter.19 He died at his home on East Church Street. At the time of his death, he was survived by five children, three girls and two boys, along with one older brother, John R. Huston, who was 91 years of age. His funeral took place at the John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church.20
As an active member of the Salisbury community, Houston will be remembered not only for his social, financial, and political affairs but also for his religious work, serving as a board member at the John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church and chairman of several committees.
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