The Willard and Taft families developed the Gladys community

The Willard and Taft families played an important role in the development of the African American community in Beaumont, particularly in the Gladys Street neighborhood.

David Willard’s grandfather, Elmo Willard Jr., opened Willard & Willard Funeral Home in 1929 with his brother, Joseph Willard. David’s wife Kim Willard’s grandfather, William Howard Taft, opened Mercy Funeral Home in 1929.

“For black-owned businesses, Gladys Street was second only to Forsythe Street with hair salons, restaurants, grocery stores all at the end of the street,” said David Willard, whose family property in the area, said declared.

Both families owned several businesses and residential properties around Gladys Street.

“Oddly enough, it’s a bit strange,” David said. “(My father) always made a distinction between the old and the new Gladys, because it was here long before there was a West End. Much of the land along the street, and even in this general area, belonged mostly to the families of the two people sitting at this table.

“Even before I was born, the Willards owned the majority of the property along this area. And when Mercy Funeral Home became a successful business and built up where they are, they started buying a lot of properties along that street, and along that area as well,” he said. .

“These two families, the Tafts and the Willards, have been fully involved in this area for a long time.”

Kim’s father, Harlan William “Billy” Taft, owned Taft Plumbing as well as the funeral home.

“My grandfather had three sons,” Kim said. “My grandfather hoped they would all work in the family business. However, the youngest, Wendell, was in the Air Force and he was not at all interested in being in the funeral business.

“It left my dad and my Uncle Donald here. My dad wasn’t really interested in this business and opened his own plumbing business. This left Donald, his eldest son, following in his father’s footsteps.

Billy and Donald opened a restaurant, Pit Stop BBQ, on the corner of MLK and Gladys Street, so it was all along the street with Mercy Funeral Home, Kim said.

“My dad had his headquarters just down the street in Oakland,” Kim said. “And then, right next to that block was the family flower shop, where my Aunt Gloria was the second African-American to open a flower shop in this town. She had this tiny little building just over the street. across the street. And then they opened this flower shop right there.

The couple are acutely aware of their family’s place in Beaumont history. They still live in the first brick house built by African Americans in Beaumont on Gladys Street.

Andy Coughlan is a

freelance writer.