Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The EHHS Social Order – 11.2.4 – Early Cowtown Society - Quality Hill

If the upshot of the railroad coming to town was the ready availability of outbound transportation for Fort Worthians—all 500 of them at the time—it was also the gateway for thousands of people living north and east of us who had been reading of the “Wild West” in their local newspapers and dime-novels of the day.  Within 10-years, our population jumped to 6600 and after 20-years, in 1890, it was 23.000.  Our little town was booming and the railroad made it possible.  As the sequential maps above reflect, our entire country had been largely “wired-up” by 1890.

Essentially none of Fort Worth’s Cattle Barons were born to wealth and when they started moving to town after working their ranches for about 25-years, they had the task of having to learn how to live to their levels of accomplishment.  And what better way to start effectively living up to their stations than to build a grand house in Fort Worth's very first "upscale" neighborhood, Quality Hill?"  A section of land located just southwest of downtown and today, other than for a couple of surviving relics such as Waggoner's Thistle Hill, covered by Ft. Worth's "hospital district" the area is difficult to find on casual inspection.  The 1891 "birds-eye" drawing below pretty well illustrates the area (outlined in red) at the time.

The very first cattleman to build a home on Quality Hill was R.D. Hunter, a Scotsman via Missouri who had come to America in 1843.  After having been a gold miner during the California gold rush period, Hunter saw promise in the post-Civil War free-range cattle business and stopped off at Texas to give the business a try.  Success and fortune followed and Hunter, like many others of his day decided to make the newly developing Fort Worth his later-life home.  Ultimately Hunter, with the aid of the T&P railroad, founded a coal mine about 60-miles west of Fort Worth at Thurber and a side business of making brick with the residue coal not taken by the railroad.  His Thurber bricks were the ones we recall driving on as they covered our downtown streets and on some of the early brick highways that were still paved with their original brick surfaces…Highway 80 to Weatherford, for example.  His grand home was built in 1897 at the corner of Summit and El Paso.

For the most part, the mansions of Quality Hill were built by men who had not been born with silver spoons in their mouths (although one—George Reynolds—long carried an iron arrowhead in his back). Two of the most successful began their careers as cattle trail cowboys (Samuel Burk Burnett, William Thomas Waggoner); another began as a Pony Express rider (George Reynolds), and still another began as an illiterate woodchopper (Winfield Scott).

Summit Avenue just as easily could have been called “Cattleman Avenue.” Among the cattlemen with fine homes along Summit Avenue were John Bunyan Slaughter, William Thomas Waggoner, Cass Edwards, Colonel C. A. O’Keefe, brothers William and George Reynolds, Samuel Burk Burnett, and James H. Nail. Likewise, Penn Street could just as well have been called “Bankers Boulevard.” Bankers on that four-block street included W. H. Eddleman, Otho S. Houston, Major Khleber Miller Van Zandt (also a lawyer), and C. H. Silliman.

Pennsylvania Avenue had a bit more variety. Winfield Scott who listed his occupation in the city directory as simply “capitalist” (in boldface), was Fort Worth’s biggest taxpayer. Also on Pennsylvania Avenue were three cotton brokers (Neil P. Anderson, Hermann Frerichs, and T. B. Owens) and four bankers (H. C. and W. R. Edrington, H. B. Herd, and G. E. Cowden).

As the Cattle Barons built and moved into their Quality Hill mansions during the late 1890s, Fort Worth finally had some venues large and fine enough to host some fancy soirees that might have become the genesis of our 1950s Meadowbrook Minuet but, I don’t think so…not yet.  A couple of Winfield Scott hotels, the Metropolitan and the Worth, were built near the end of the decade that would have had large enough public spaces to hold a large party but, I'm not sure that many of us knew how to do it yet.  Still, there were no paved streets yet, nor any automobiles, although a streetcar system was pretty well developed by now and we had some electricity.  Fort Worth was developing into a working man's society with a few manager-types moving in to help keep the books straight.

After the large growth seen the decade before, Fort Worth’s population growth slowed considerably during the 1890s.  It appears to have been a time of organization and consolidation of the City infrastructure itself, as well as a time of changing of the guard as the older Cattle Barons were mostly in or approaching their retirement years when they built their mansions.

As younger leaders emerged, it became clear that although some of Fort Worth’s leading citizens had earned substantial wealth, none of them were “to the manor born” in an East Coast sense.  However, since the arrival of the T&P Railroad about 20-years earlier, an inflow of people, news, and new ideas had been contributing to the maturation of our Chisolm Trail campsite.  And some of our leading citizens had taken the opportunity to travel “back East” to see for themselves, the big cities they had been hearing about.  But, we had a long way to go to catch up with magical places like Chicago, where much of our cattle herds headed for processing and New York, where a lot of our beef was consumed and where Jay Gould and the T&P Railroad money originated…..

Chicago 1870--before the great 1871 fire destroyed much of this...

Fort Worth 1890--a rare shot of the Texas Spring Palace..up 2-years, then burned down.

Fort Worth 1899 - 10th Street viewing east..Houston shown above, is 2-blocks ahead and Hell's Half Acre starts on the right side of 10th St.

Plainly, although some of us had some money, we weren't quite ready to work on getting our own Cowtown Society up and running just yet...and forget about minuets out on the lawn...for now, anyway.  It would take a few more years of Summers and 35 mph train rides "back East" for some of us to start developing our own notions of how Cowtown Society ought to work.  And in 1900, what better place to start learning than in New York City?  After all, weren't the Astors and Vanderbilts going at one another for the top spot in NYC society about then?  Why, yes they were....and that story is next....

Circa 1900:  
Fort Worth population.............26,700
New York City population...3,400,000

Next, The NYC Connection and "The" Mrs. Astor's famous 400


Anonymous said...

Excellent presentation, Gus. Haven't seen the RR development maps for the country arrayed in such a logical fashion to show the westward growth. And where did you get that picture of early Fort Worth? Haven't seen that one before, either!

RR Buff

Gus said...

Thanks, Buff. I'm a slow learner myself and need to construct clear, concise illustrated stories to help understand overviews like this story seems to demand. Bird's Eye maps aren't my favorites since they can be a bit fanciful depending on who commissioned the work. Nevertheless, since aerial photography hadn't been perfected much before the mid-1920s, these bird's eyes are better than nothing to help clarify things that occurred before good aerials came available.

As I finish this piece, I'll be working in a c.1890 view south from about 8th St. taken from one of Ft. Worth's first skyscrapers...about 6-stories...that will show the disparity between the bird's eye and what was actually on the ground.

Sherri Sledge Pulliam said...

Gus, I so appreciate all of the research you have done on early Ft. Worth. I enjoyed all of the wonderful maps, pictures and the early Cattle Barron Mansions. I didn't realize that Cass Edwards was one of the early Cattle Barrons. My Dad, Sam Sledge, worked with Cass Edwards (the Cattle Barron's son), from the late 1980's until my Dad died in 2003. Dad developed a lot of the Edwards ranch land. Cass was a fine gentleman and my Dad thought the world of him.

Gus said...

Thanks, Sherri. I should probably highlight the fact that if one wishes, they could take any one of those names listed in the article and develop a pretty fascinating story that touches other early day Fort Worth pioneers and subsequent city development.

Interesting that you should mention Cass Edwards, a name I hadn’t encountered until recently; but, not as a Cattle Baron, rather as a man who had not long ago died and had been the owner of the land you mentioned. As I’ve probably said before, Google is a scary thing and the principal reason Gus came to be when embarking on this particular journey (pastime) about 10-years ago.

In a way, it’s a shame that the Social Order series is so limited to “exposing” the roots of that ancient minuet on the lawn and the subsequent invitation only soiree(s) at the club. Otherwise, I’d love to follow some of those cattleman tangents…Amon and the Oilmen will be coming up soon so, if you see me veering off track, please help me correct any resulting derailments.

Anonymous said...

I see that the Cass Edwards family has come into your context and I would like to mention that it is one of the few such original families that has continued its presence in the city in a quiet yet meaningful way. The Bass brothers are mere youngsters compared to the continued legacy in the Edwards family.

I'm not sure if I saw it on your site, but there is some confusion over the land originally held by the Edwards family that was used for the formation of Trinity Park (including perhaps the Botanical Gardens) when it came into the possession of the City of Fort Worth in the very early 1900's. I have seen it claimed that that land came from the holdings of another big early landowner.

I've also heard it said that the Edwards family originally held all the land upon which the TCU campus now rests, the Colonial Country Club, the onetime Cullen Davis holdings to the west (now the Stonegate neighborhood), and the Tanglewood and Overton Park neighborhoods to the west and southwest of TCU. All this land conversion apparently took place without fanfare and I suspect there is quite a story there.

Gus said...

Excellent observations and I suspect you're right about there being an interesting and significant story awaiting development about the Edwards family. There is a brief timeline sketch in what appears to be an Edwards development company website that I think confirms the details you've noted.

The purpose I had in mind in listing as many names as came to light in my cursory study, was to provide starting points for others and maybe myself later, to dig a little further into the early history of Fort Worth pioneer families. According to the Edwards site, their original holding peaked at something like 7000 acres which, while sizable, is small compared to Waggoner's 500,000 plus. Of course location - location - location comes into play to even the relative values. I suspect there were a number of other close-in land owners like Edwards that could be discovered.