While visiting Old Bayview Cemetery several years ago, I happened across the grave of a truly remarkable man whose name is probably unknown to most of us who grew up in Corpus Christi.
He was born Wilhelm Dury in Wurzburg, Bavaria (Germany), on May 15, 1825. He was educated at the university in Munich, earning degrees in philosophy and natural science. Unfortunately, he got involved in the 1848 revolution against King Ludwig I and had to flee Germany.
He immigrated to the U.S. in 1849 and soon after changed his name to William DeRyee. He married Ida Mylius, an immigrant from Saxony, on June 22, 1849, in Tennessee.
Together, they would have five children.
DeRyee's knowledge and interests were wide-ranging; a true 19th century Renaissance man! He would become a skilled chemist, geologist, and pharmacist. With his brother-in-law, he devised an improved cottonseed huller and opened several highly successful cottonseed mills in Tennessee.
It was his interest in geology that brought him to Texas to investigate the state’s mineral deposits. He and his family relocated to New Braunfels (which had a sizable German population) in 1856. There, he developed an interest in photography, inventing a new photographic copying technique called "homeography".
In 1859, he moved again...to San Antonio...and opened a photographic studio.
In 1860, DeRyee and partner Carl Iwonski, created an epic album (The Texas Album) that contained the photos of every member of the Texas legislature and two historic photos of Gov. Sam Houston.
At the start of the Civil War, DeRyee was appointed Texas State Chemist.
During the war, he developed several sources of nitrates for explosives and invented a procedure for making smokeless gunpowder used in explosives and tracer bullets.
After the war, he relocated his family to Corpus Christi. He would open a pharmacy in January 1866 at the corner of Chaparral and Peoples.
During the horrible yellow fever epidemic of 1867, he and his wife Ida lost their 17-year-old son, Emil, to the disease. When the epidemic claimed the lives of every doctor in the city, the town turned to DeRyee to treat the sick. He developed remedies and invented an effective antiseptic using a chlorine water and creosote mixture, which saved the lives of many.
In later years, while maintaining his pharmacy in Corpus Christi, DeRyee conducted research into mineral resources for the state of Texas, earning him a place as a major scientific leader in Texas history.
His drug store always had displays of natural curiosities that he had personally collected during his research, and he was considered the most learned man in the city.
In later years, DeRyee would go into partnership with Mr. R.H. Bingham. In 1902, DeRyee sold his interest in the pharmacy to Mr. Bingham. DeRyee, in failing health, moved to his ranch near Cotulla.
When he died on May 23, 1903, the entire city of Corpus Christi mourned the loss. Burial took place in Old Bayview Cemetery, where a historical marker now stands at the DeRyee family plot.
His wife, Ida, passed away in 1909 and is buried beside him and their son, Emil. As with many of the tombstones in Old Bayview, the headstone of DeRyee is broken and defaced, but I was quite pleased when the historical marker was placed at his gravesite in 2015.
DeRyee and Bingham Pharmacy was demolished in 1908 to make way for the 4 story City National Bank, which stands to this day. (After DeRyee’s death, his partner, R.H. Bingham, would move the pharmacy to the Lovenskiold Building at the corner of Mesquite and Peoples. The “Bingham’s Drug Store” sign is still visible on the back side of that building).
William DeRyee’s contributions to agriculture, geology, medicine, and science, in general, earned him a top spot as one of the state’s most illustrious and accomplished citizens.
Robert Parks is a special contributor to KRIS 6 News. Parks was a history teacher at Carroll High School for 19 years and is now retired. His knowledge of Corpus Christi history makes him a unique expert in the subject.