GREAT CITIZENS - GEORGE HENRY HERMANN
The parents of George Henry Hermann, another prolific Houstonian philanthropist, arrived in the city to seek their fortune in 1838. With only five dollars in hand they established one of the first bakeries on Houston's Main Street, after Hermann's mother had pawned her jewels to purchase flour and sugar. Shortly before Hermann's birth, his father expanded his activities to the dairy business.
The youngest of four sons of Verina (Fanny) Michels and John Hermann of Davos, Switzerland, George was born on August 6, 1843 in a two-story house at Smith and Walker Streets. He was given the name of an older brother who had accidentally shot himself and died three years before.
In the fall of 1861, at the age of eighteen, Hermann joined the 26th Texas Calvary serving in the Confederate Army until it was disbanded on May 15, 1865. In the meantime in 1862, his father died and his mother died a year later.
After the war, Herman became involved in the cattle business, rising from stock-keeper and cattle driver to a partnership in a brokerage firm. Returning to Houston in 1872, he entered into business with W.J. and Julius J.Settegast, and started selling land as well as cattle.
In 1884, Hermann began dealing exclusively in real estate. Among his many transactions was the trading of a team of horses and a buggy for a tract of land in northern Harris County. When the big Humble field was discovered in 1904 he found that the tract lay at the center of the oil producing field.
Hermann proceeded to amass a huge fortune. At the time of his death, his estate was worth several million dollars. Despite his wealth, he lived frugally and chose to bestow much of his fortune on the people of Houston. He donated ten acres of land in what was then the South End of Houston, for the establishment of a charitable hospital. On June 6, 1914, Hermann donated an adjacent 285 acres of land for a park opposite Rice Institute. Two other notable donations were a parcel of land to the Houston Art League for the founding of a museum, which became the Museum of Fine Arts, and Hermann Square at the site of his childhood home in front of City Hall. He donated this small park, dedicated to his mother, with the stipulation that Houstonians be able to sleep in it overnight, "undisturbed by the forces of law and order."
Four months after providing land for the larger Hermann Park, on October 21, 1914, he died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. The park, which contains the Houston Zoo, was opened in 1920. Four years later, the art museum, the first in Texas, was dedicated. Hermann Hospital began operating in the area where the Texas Medical Center was later built. Today, both the old and new Hermann Hospitals, as well as the Hermann Professional Building, are memorials to Hermann's philanthropy.