was born in 1875, the son of a Tennessee farmer who brought his family to Texas with dreams of a better life. Then seventeen, Jesse completed a four-month business course in Dallas in only five weeks, and then became an instructor. Jesse soon found that teaching was not his calling and wandered from job to job until finally becoming a manager at his uncle’s lumber company.
Jones used his financial savvy and business instincts to go on to build a fortune in the construction and building industry. Thirty-five of Houston’s earliest skyscrapers were built as a result of Jones’ efforts to make Houston a top-ranking city. In order to lure the 1928 Democratic National Convention to Houston, Jones built the Houston Coliseum.
In addition to his extensive real-estate holdings, Jones was principally responsible for developing the Houston Chronicle into a major newspaper. He was a major influence in the construction of the Houston Ship Channel and the San Jacinto Monument. He was also cofounder of the Humble Oil Company, which later became Exxon.
Jesse Jones also made significant contributions on the national scene. He was appointed Director General of the American Red Cross by President Wilson during World War I, and later headed the powerful Reconstruction Finance Committee during the Depression.
Although he died in 1956, Jesse Jones’ legacy lives on in Houston through the works of the Houston Endowment Foundation, Inc. which Jones and his wife, Mary Gibbs Jones, established in 1937. Appropriations from the foundation exceeded $40 million in 1988, mainly providing scholarships, grants for medical research, religious and charitable endeavors, the arts, and other projects and facilities.
Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center itself was a result of the Houston Endowment Foundation when it made a large initial donation to get the Cypress Creek Parks Project going. According to Judy Bell, then head of parks acquisition for County Judge Jon Lindsay’s office, “The park is named after Jesse H. Jones because it was the Houston Endowment that donated the first $25,000 for the development of the park. Other organizations,” Mrs. Bell emphasized, “soon followed suit.”
Today there is the symphony hall, a bridge, a high school, a medical library, and several buildings at local universities, all perpetuating the name of Jesse H. Jones, the man probably most responsible for making Houston the city it is today.
—Dennis Johnston, Naturalist
Parkscape, Spring 1990