Dipping, the Soft Drink Situation and Other Offal Things: Texas’ First Food Inspector

And I’m not talking about chewing tobacco.

Recently, there was a program called The Poison Squad on the PBS show, American Experience. It was based on the book by Deborah Blum, The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. The story was fascinating, and if you were lucky enough to have seen it, you would know that the work was started by Dr. Harvey Wiley, the father and first commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration. I wanted to find out more about how this new bill affected Denton and decided to look into it.

The Pure Foods and Drug Act was passed in 1906 – and here I’m going to do a book plug because it was Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, that rallied the public outcry for better meat inspection. To comply with public concern, the state of Texas approved the Blanton Pure Food Bill. It was very similar as it “entitled an act to prohibit and prevent the adulteration, fraud and deception in the manufacture and sale of articles of food and drink; prescribed penalties for the violation of the act and provided for the appointment of a dairy and food commissioner.” It also allowed a salary for the new commissioner of $2,000 per annum, a deputy at $1,200, and a stenographer at $600 a year.

Governor Campbell appointed Dr. J. S. Abbott of Dallas. He was a graduate of the University of Mississippi and had completed his post graduate work in chemistry and bacteriology at the University of Chicago. Abbott was also the candidate of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs, and he chose Robert H. Hoffman Jr., a Denton man, as his deputy.

Entrance to the College of Industrial Arts.
Entrance to the College of Industrial Arts

Their offices were located at the College of Industrial Arts (CIA) in Denton (now known as TWU) in the main building, something that was not the original wish of the “A&M men” who had intended them to be ensconced in the men’s Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. As it was the State Federation of Women’s Clubs who had rallied nearly fifty clubs, as well as individuals to petition their representatives to support the food law, the location of the headquarters was most important to them, and they had to fight to have it at the CIA. “The point of contact,”they said, “was with the women of the State instead of with politicians.”

The new law stated that every city and town in the state had to have an inspector who would demand samples of any foods that were offered for sale and the samples would then be sent to Denton for analysis. In the early days, a budget had not been set aside for inspectors, so Abbott traveled a lot. His investigations were not always welcome and those travels sometimes proved to be dangerous.

The “Soft Drink Situation.”

In August 1908, he began investigating the “soft drink situation” which had been brewing for some time. Once again, the purpose was to make sure that the soft drinks remained pure and did not contain anything other than what they were supposed to – such as tar for coloring or saccharine instead of real sugar. In one instance, Abbott found in an establishment near the CIA campus where some bottled soft drinks had “genuine beer” in them instead of soda.

The good doctor reported in the Texas State Journal of Medicine’s October 1908 issue that “Five popular soda water drinks have been found to contain cocaine. We refrain from publishing their names as warrants only have as yet been sworn out. Three of these preparations were made in the State and two outside the State. One was manufactured in Denton near the Dairy Commissioner’s laboratory.” The establishment of Mr. O. M. Curtis was one of those five and Mr. Curtis later published an explanation and apology in the local paper. Afterwards, it can be noted that his advertisements became more professional.

See Sample No. 379

Back in the day, some manufacturers peddled “near beer” that was advertised as having low alcohol content (about two percent). They had names like: “Frosty,” “Uno,” “Hiawatha,” “Tin-Top”, and “Teetotal.” For some reason, this wasn’t always the case, and so it was, that while in the fair town of Burnet, Texas, a prohibition county, that Dr. Abbott entered a Frosty joint.

Note: The following is a creative scenario based on a newspaper account, please excuse my liberty.

Dr. Abbott: (showing the proprietor his card), “Please good sir, I would like to procure a bottle of Frosty to take back to my lab for analysis.”

Proprietor of the Frosty joint: “If you don’t take your weaselly hands off my bottle of Frosty,” he sneered, “and back out that door – I’ll shoot you in the gut!” Abbott puffed up his chest and said, with a quavering voice, “My good sir, do not force me to take legal action, because I will!”

This must have worked because the paper stated that he got his Frosty without being shot.

Word spread quickly while he was in Burnett, and as Abbott visited more establishments, he found himself being followed around town by “parties who attempted to disfigure his face.” Needless to say, he kept out of alleys and ate in the dining room while he was there.

“Dr. Wall, the dentist, and Dan Davis have a mock fistfight for the camera.” – This little gem belongs to the Sanger Public Library. [Dr. Wall and Dan Davis], photograph, 1915~; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth26705/: accessed February 22, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Sanger Public Library.


Wheat!

Wheat had been a source of pride to Millers in Denton County. The Alliance Mill of Denton won the first prize for the best flour exhibited at the Dallas Fair from 1886 to 1896, the St. Louis Fair in 1895 and 1896, and the Paris Exposition of 1900 and 1904. The Krum Mill won a blue ribbon at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1904 and honorable mention at the Paris Exposition of 1910.

In 1910, Dr. Abbott was called in to be a witness for the Federal prosecution of grain shippers. The case involved wheat that had been shipped into the Texas via Missouri. Gainesville had received around $20,000 worth of corn in very bad condition. Other Texas flour mills, including Denton, had previously received inferior grades of wheat – wheat that was “scarcely better than a No. 3 grade. In short, Texas was used as an unloading ground. This had happened in the past because there were no “expert graders” located here.” Now that Texas had Abbott – someone in a paid position and with a budget to build a case – the government was able to go after them.

Later, in 1911, Dr. Abbott, sent out a letter to the attention of women’s club members, asking for volunteers to become food inspectors. He regularly addressed the various clubs with the purpose of educating and generating their interest, urging them to “study these problems and then distribute their knowledge by talking to their neighbors and friends. Abbott used the newspapers to educate the public, but was often criticized by “wasting” so much newspaper space.

The Dipping Problem

Then there was the dipping problem: farmers would dip seed potatoes into a solution of formaldehyde (or called Formalin) to act as a fungicide during the “post-harvest treatment” of potato seed tubers. Formaldehyde was not a recognized carcinogen for a time; some people knew that it was dangerous, but it had been – and still was – used in several ways involving food items such as wheat and potatoes, as well as the part of the pasteurization process of milk bottles. Dr. Abbott reminded potato growers in Denton (and elsewhere) that the practice was illegal.

I shared this bit of trivia to a friend of mine who said, “I guess that wasn’t the “pure” they were hoping for.”

This was soon removed from the legislation as it was determined to be a “safe” and necessary method for preventing diseases such as Black Scab and Scurf.

In which history repeats itself (again)

Lucky him. In the years that followed, Abbott “educated” many: “We have a specific law in Texas now, and with sufficient assistance we are going to undertake the consumers not only from adulteration and impurities, but from unsanitary conditions surrounding handling food products.” “Almost ever slaughter house we have inspected in our rounds has been condemned as unsanitary and in violation of the Texas pure food statute, and we expect to condemn and close fully half of those in the state before our rounds are completed.”

He was, unfortunately referring to slaughterhouses, which among many other practices, accepted hogs that had been fed on offal. In case you don’t know what that is, offal is the entrails and internal organs of an animal. Humans eat it, but animals that eat it can contract diseases which can make them sick, and in turn make humans who eat these animals sick.

I am grateful that this came about because the practice was – and is – just awful.

Dr. Abbott resigned in 1914 after going before the federal government asking them to create a department “to promote uniformity in the food and drug legislation.” As a result, he was made head of the newly created department, called the Bureau of Chemistry which eventually became the Food and Drug Administration. He spent six years with them until he was named the secretary and director of research for the Institute of Margarine Manufacturers until his death in 1943.

The governor appointed Claude O. O. Yates, of Austin to take his place and the office was moved from Denton to Austin. The City Federation of Women’s Clubs’ pure food committee continued to promote the Pure Food and Drug Work for the next twenty-five years.

Leslie Couture, Special Collections


References

“Pure Food Law is Signed,” Jacksboro Gazette, Mar 28 1907, p.2.

The Daily Express, Sept. 2, 1907, p.6

“About Coca Cola. Dr. J. S. Abbott Is After the Soft Drinks That Contain Cocoa Cola,” Denton County News, August 20, 1908, pp 3&6

“Abbott Assaulted. Pure Food Commissioner Has Strenuous Time While In Town of Burnet,” Record and Chronicle, January 8, 1909, p.1

“Pure Food Report,” Dallas Morning News, December 9, 1907, p8

A History of Small Grain Crops in Texas: Wheat, Oats, Barley, Rye, 1582-1976.” Irvin Milburn Atkins. 1976; p.23

“Dr. Abbott At Houston. Denton Man Talks of the Enforcement of the Pure Food Law. Federal Department Is Now After Shippers of Inferior and Damaged Grain Shipments Into Texas with Dr. Abbott Co-operating,” Record and Chronicle, May 5, 1910, p.2

“Club Women, Attention,” The Lampasas Daily Leader, Nov. 14, 1907, p.2

“Unclean, Unsound Food Is Worthless Food,” Says Abbott,” Record and Chronicle, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 1913, p.2”

“Abattoirs Condemned. Dr. Abbott Condemns Two Local Slaughter Pens as Being Unfit for Use – Warns Butchers.” Denton County News, Oct. 10, 1911, p.1, c.3

“U. S. Abbott Head New Department,” The Bryan Daily Eagle, Apr. 11, 1914, p.1

“Chemical Society Convenes Tonite; Dr. Abbot Speaks,” The Technique [Georgia School of Technology], Oct. 15, 1937, p.1

Borrowing Books from the Undertaker

The Incomplete History of the Libraries in Southeast Denton.

In my world-view the public library has always been a free and openly accessible place. I naively assumed that everyone in Denton had the same experience as I. However, as with many cities during the years of Jim Crow, African-Americans were excluded from services at Denton’s main public library.

One of the first threads of this story can be found in an oral history given by Bess McCullar in 1975. Mrs. McCullar was the head librarian for Denton City-County Library from 1937 to 1943. During her tenure, the Library was located on the third floor in the County Courthouse on the Square. (We are in the process of digitizing the reel-to-reel taped oral histories and uploading the interviews to our catalog and Internet Archives site. You can listen to the complete interview here.) Oral histories provide a unique insight to the person being interviewed as well as the way they perceive, or remember, the events in their lifetime. This excerpt from Mrs. McCullar’s interview provides a first-hand account of the start of the library for Denton’s African-American community.

“One day, one of my girls came out of the stacks and rushed over to me, and she said, ‘There are two colored boys in here, and they want to check out a book, and that’s a problem, you know.’ So, I was just looking at some children’s books I had just bought, and I got up and took them [the boys] back to my desk, and asked them to have a seat, and I told them how glad I was to see them. And I said ‘You know what? Wouldn’t you like to have a little bit of this public library out in your community?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Well,” I said, ‘I’m just going to get you one.”

Mrs. Stella Garrett*

In her oral history, Mrs. McCullar stated that she then spoke to the council about funding for a library in Southeast Denton. She also said that she contacted the Jones Undertaking Parlor and asked if the library could be set up there with Stella [Estella] Garrett*, an employee, in charge.1

I wondered, could the passage from Mrs. McCullar’s interview be verified? Did we really have a “branch” of the Public Library in Southeast Denton? I checked the book The Pubic Library of Denton, Texas; A Brief History by Mattie Lorene Wells and found the same excerpt from Mrs. McCullar’s interview along with a little more information. Mrs. Wells indicated that the “branch” was opened in 1940 with about 150 books and was closed in 1948 due to lack of funding and the books moved to the Fred Moore School. 2

I wanted to know more, though. What happened between the dates listed above? I started searching and located a few documents, but most of the information found came from articles in the Denton Record-Chronicle (DRC). This provided some insight, albeit one-sided, to the story of the libraries (it turns out there was more than one) in Southeast Denton.

Mrs. McCullar did go before the City Commissioners on May 28, 1942. The City Commission minutes from the meeting recorded that Mrs. McCullar asked the City to restore $600 (funding that had been reduced) and an additional $200 to the library. She also asked for $60 for funds to operate a “Negro branch of the library”. The City Commission took no action on the request at that time. 3

It was little less than a year later when the article “County Library for Negroes” appeared in the February 12, 1943 issue of the DRC reporting that a branch of the library had been established in the W.M. Jones Undertaking Parlor at 1025 E. Hickory Street. Mrs. Estella Garrett would oversee the collection of about 100 books and magazines.4  Mrs. McCullar resigned as librarian to take a position with the Red Cross shortly thereafter. In her resignation letter to the Denton City Commission dated February 27, 1943 she made specific mention of the branch of the library in the Jones Undertaking Parlor requesting that $60 be put in a fund separate from the regular library budget to purchase books for the new branch.5 It appears that the library was funded, and Mrs. McCullar did stay involved for a while. An article from July 1, 1943 stated that new books had been purchased by Mrs. McCullar including the titles One Foot in Heaven and Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington.6

In 1945, Miss Nancy Hartshorne the Denton representative of the Danforth Foundation started a community drive to establish a free public library on East Prairie Street.7 Throughout the early months of that year, articles appeared regularly in the newspaper mentioning different organizations and individuals that donated time, books, magazines and other items to develop the new location. Phoebe Mizel, chair of the “committee for the development of Negro libraries” 8 said that the idea for the project was suggested at the December 1944 meeting of the Wesley Foundation at the First Methodist Church. A list of desirable books was compiled by Fred Moore, principal, and the teachers at the Fred Douglass School. The new library was established in the Midnight Owl Café, 702 East Prairie, which was the site suggested by African-American members of the community. Unlike the library in the Jones’s Undertaking Parlor this location had a dedicated reading room, with over 200 books and magazines.9 It was under the charge of Alice Alexander, Eva Hodge, Fred Moore and Emma Jones. 10.

By April 1945, there were three libraries open in Southeast Denton, at the Jones Undertakers on East Hickory, the library in the Café on East Prairie Street 11 and the third location was a children’s library that had been established at the Fred Douglass School. 12. (See article to right) A few days later a party was held at the Fred Douglass School for students and adults who worked to establish this new children’s library.13 The plans for the summer of 1945 included moving books from the school library to the other two locations for access by the public, story hours for children of all ages and the development of a supervised recreation program. These projects were conducted by college students.14

An article published May 3, 1945, mentioned that a committee from the Business and Professional Women’s Club was starting the process for the development of a community center and recreation park in Southeast Denton. It was their plan that when the project was completed all the libraries would be consolidated into one collection in the community center. 15 (While the park and the community center were completed, I cannot find any information about the libraries being consolidated.)

It should be noted that only the library in the Jones Undertaking Parlor appears to have a direct link to the City-County Public Library. The other two locations were developed as community projects, but funding was still an issue. At a meeting of the City Commissioners in July 1945, as Mrs. R.W. Bass was arguing for increased library funding she pointed out “that two years ago the Commission pledged $60.00 a year for a ‘negro library’ which was to function as a branch of the main library, which has never been paid.”16  The support for these libraries, came from the community. The DRC reported in November 1945 that 40 books were donated to the library located in Jones Funeral Home by residents. At that time, it had about 250 books and was used by 50 residents each week, and Mrs. Garrett was still acting as the Librarian.17

By 1948, the main public library had outgrown its space in the Courthouse and plans were underway to construct a new building in the City Park (Now Quakertown Park). It appears that the original plans for the building were to include a “Negro Reading Room,” but an article from May 4, 1948, (see below) gives insight to how those plans changed. In a joint session, the City Commission and the County Commissioners Court, with representatives from the City School Board, decided that instead of creating a separate reading room in the new library building a public library for the African-American community would be included in the new high school that was being planned for Southeast Denton.18  A meeting was held at the Fred Douglass School on May 5, where city and county officials presented the plan to about 50 members of the African-American community where it was accepted unanimously.19.

The Fred Douglass School was reopened in a new building and renamed as the Fred Moore School, in October 1949.20  Although I found no written records, it is possible that books from the two libraries operated in the businesses were consolidated into the new school/public library.

Photograph from the The Dragon, 1953 Yearbook of Fred Moore High School.
Available on the Portal to Texas History.

I spoke to Mrs. Linnie McAdams because I could not find any articles or documents with information about the library at Fred Moore School in the 1950’s. She recalled:

 “I moved to Denton in June of 1957, and shortly afterwards I asked my husband about going to the library. He told me that I could not go to the library. He said that if I wanted a book from the library, I should go over to Fred Moore School and go to the office and tell them what book I wanted, and they would request it from the Emily Fowler Library. The book would be delivered to Fred Moore School, and they would let me know when to come and pick it up. I chose not to use that system. To the best of my knowledge that was all that was available to Blacks. My then husband had lived in Denton all his life and knew what the rules were. As soon as the announcement was made that the Emily Fowler Library was open to all, I and my two children went there and got library cards, and we have since used the library regularly.”

That “announcement” was made in 1963 in the next article found relating to African-Americans’ access to library services. Published on July 28, 1963, the first line of the article titled, “City Formally Opens All Public Facilities”, reads: “Denton City Council has followed up last week’s announcement that Denton schools are to be racially integrated by passing a formal resolution today which declares all public City facilities open to all citizens.” Mayor Whitson said after the passage of the resolution that there had never been any ordinance barring anyone from the use of any facilities. “But we just wanted to make it official and plain, as a matter of policy that our facilities are open to everyone.” Regarding the library: “County Judge W. K. Baldridge said that, as far as he and the County Commissioners were concerned, the City-County Library is integrated. ‘For a while, we had the water fountains marked for white and colored use, and the restrooms too,’ Baldridge said, ‘But people kept tearing down the signs, so we just quit putting them up.” 21

Just as the City facilities were desegregated, so were the public schools. The school board announced that the segregation in the high school classes at Fred Moore would end in September 1967 followed by the Jr. High classes in September 1968 leaving only elementary classes.22 All levels were desegregated, and the Fred Moore School closed by January 1970. 23 The branch library closing with the school.

I call this an incomplete history because there are gaps in the story that need to be filled. There is more research that needs to be done. The archives for the Danforth Foundation, the Methodist Church and the Business and Professional Women’s Club have archives that I have yet to explore.

Most importantly, I have yet to speak to more members of our community that may have been involved or affected by these library projects, or lack of access to the main public library. If you, or someone you know, lived through this time and would like to share your story, we invite you to contact the library to give an oral history interview.

*Some notes about Estelle E. Garrett

The photograph was published in the Saint James A.M.E 100 Anniversary Booklet. Caption reads: “Mrs. Estella E. Garrett – A member of St. James since 1922. Served as member of senior Choir, Sunday School Supt., Missionary Society, Church Secretary, Steward Board, Trustee Board, ACE League teacher. At Present, president of Stewardess Board and Secretary of Missionary Society.”

 From her obituary, published September 24, 1995, Denton Record-Chronicle.
“Estella E. Garret, 94 retired funeral directors of Citizens Undertaking and Peoples Funeral Home, died Wednesday, September 20, 1995 in Denton. Mrs. Garrett was born April 17, 1901 from Kaufman. She was a member of St. James A.M.E. Church.”

Laura Douglas
Emily Fowler Central Library


Works Cited

  1. McCullar, B. (1975). Interview with Mrs. Bess McCullar / conducted for the Emily Fowler Public Library by Alec Williams, July 22, 1975. Denton, TX: Denton Public Library.
  2. Wells, M. L. (1975). The public library of Denton, Texas: a brief history. Denton, TX.: Mattie L. Wells.
  3. City of Denton. (1942). City Commission Minutes. Denton TX: City of Denton.
  4. County Library for Negroes. (1943, February 12). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 3.
  5. McCullar, B. (1943). Letter of Resignation.
  6. Books Bought for Negro Library. (1943, July 1). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 5.
  7. Public Library for Colored Folk Opened in City. (1945, January 11). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 9.
  8. Library at Negro School to Open. (1945, April 12). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 9.
  9. Plans Made for Negro Library. (1945, January 26). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 2.
  10. Make Plans for Negro Library. (1945, February 2). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 2.
  11. Negro Libraries In City Growing: Plans for Summer. (1945, May 3). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 5.
  12. Library at Negro School to Open. (1945, April 12). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 9.
  13. Party Given for Library Workers. (1945, April 19). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 12.
  14. Negro Libraries In City Growing: Plans for Summer. (1945, May 3). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 5.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Library, Police Funds Reinstated by Commission. (1945, July 7). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 1.
  17. 40 Books Donated to Negro Library During Past Week. (1945, November 9). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 7.
  18. City and County Dads Plan Negro Library. (1948, May 4). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 1.
  19. Negro Library Plan Accepted. (1948, May 6). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 1.
  20. Open House This Afternoon to Dedicate Fred Moore School. (1949, October 2). Denton Record-Chronicle, pp. 7-2.
  21. City Formally Opens All Public Facilities. (1963, June 28). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 1.
  22. Board Will Close Negro High School. (1967, June 30). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 1.
  23. Closing of Fred Moore Delayed Until January. (1969, July 25). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 1.

Other articles consulted but not directly used.
Denton Building Hits Record of $5,000,000. (1949, January 2). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 5.
Denton’s Library Goes Big Time. (1949, July 31). Denton Record-Chronicle, pp. 5-2.
Girl Scout News. (1945, January 19). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 2.
Obituary: Estella Garrett. (1996, September 24). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 20A.
Teachers Cry, Smile Over Closing of Negro School. (1967, July 2). Denton Record-Chronicle, p. 1.

In the News – Read Early Editions of DRC

Over 2000 pages of the Denton Record and Chronicle (DRC) from the years 1908 – 1909 and 1911 – 1916 can now be viewed on the Portal to Texas History.

Articles published in the DRC have provided a daily diary of community events since 1882 when the the Denton Chronicle was established as a weekly newspaper. In 1899 the newspaper became the Denton Record and Chronicle when the Denton Chronicle combined with another local paper, the Denton County Record. The paper changed again to the current name, the Denton Record-Chronicle, in 1915. 

Articles from the Denton Record-Chronicle capture the nuances of the community and chronicle the events that changed and shaped North Texas.  It is almost impossible to access an issue of the DRC and not find some gem of information. Whether it is a local story, a crime report, the announcement of a birth, an obituary, or the chronicling of a national event, it is through newspapers that we are able to rediscover and reconnect to our history.

These are the first images to be uploaded to the Portal through the TexTreasures Grant project. More issues will be added throughout the year. In August, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) awarded $24,820 in funding to the Denton Public Library (DPL) under its TexTreasures grant program. The Library is using these funds to digitally archive issues of the Denton Record-Chronicle (DRC), beginning with issues published in 1908 through the end of 1938.

The digitized images will be added to the collection of Denton County newspapers accessible through the University of North Texas Libraries’ Portal to Texas History. This project is one of 44 statewide projects made possible this year by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services to the TSLAC under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act.

Laura Douglas
Emily Fowler Library

From the Archives… Denton’s First Municipal Airport

On December 17th, Denton Enterprise Airport officially opened a new runway. It is thus somewhat serendipitous that while recently doing an inventory of maps and blueprints transferred to the library during Trash to Treasure Day 2016, I came across a survey map of the Denton Municipal Airport dated November 1928 which would serve as the impetus of this posting. The Denton Municipal Airport depicted by this map operated from October of 1928 to December of 1937, but I didn’t know that when I found it.1

What I did know was that Denton had been home to a number of airfields over the years. I further knew that Denton Enterprise Airport was previously known as Denton Municipal Airport, and I assumed this might be an early map of that airport. It wasn’t. For one, The City of Denton didn’t purchase the land for Denton Enterprise Airport until 1943.2 For two, this map placed the airport betwixt (because — 1928) Pecan and Cottonwood Creeks, a location which in no way resembles the physical features of Denton Enterprise Airport, nor did it resemble those of the other historic airfields of Denton, Denton/College Field and Hartlee Field

Map of the Municipal Airport in the City of Denton Texas, 1928. Denton Municipal Archives.

Just by comparing this map to current online maps of Denton I could get a general idea of where this airport was located. Pecan Creek is still labeled on maps and while Cottonwood Creek is not, it is still depicted. The best I could estimate was that this airport laid somewhere west of Carroll Blvd., east of Fulton St., north of Panhandle St. and south of University Dr., but other than that, there seemed to be little easily discoverable information on this particular airport. That lack of information drove me to want to find its exact location.

I searched old editions of the Denton Record-Chronicle using the library’s access to newspaper archives (available to you at the library as well!) and found an article about the opening of the airport on the front page of the Oct. 2, 1928 edition. The article mentions festivities that included air races from Meacham Field and Love Field, stunt contests, a model plane competition and a dance on the courthouse lawn. The article also gave me the general location of the airport, “three fourths of a mile northwest of the courthouse.”3

I was surprised at how close to downtown that sounded and wanted to pinpoint its location as best I could. Other sources have listed its general location relevant to landmarks such as the Calhoun Middle School (the high school of the day), but I wanted something definitive. I reread the October 2nd article and realized I had missed something (not the last time in this story, but more on that later)!

Mentioned in that article were the names of the pilots that participated in the air races from Meacham and Love Fields and their passengers. I recognized one of those names immediately. While I was an intern at the History of Aviation Collection at the University of Texas at Dallas, I was responsible for reprocessing the William G. Fuller Collection, 1917-1978. Fuller was the original Airfield Manager for Meacham Field. He was also Director of Aviation for Fort Worth and Grand Prairie, Mayor of Euless and the name that caught my attention in that Denton Record-Chronicle article. He was listed as a passenger on M.L. Buchanan’s plane during the race from Meacham Field.4

I then realized there were other names that seemed familiar, several in fact: Buchanan, Vernon Johns, W.O. Jones, Bill Ponder and Mrs. W.G. Fuller. Not only were these names familiar to me because of the work I did on Fuller’s collection, but I realized I had seen them all in the same photograph!

From left to right, Top Row: M.L. Buchanan, Evelyn (Mrs. W.G.) Fuller, Vernon Johns, Mrs. W.O. Jones, William G. Fuller, W.O. Jones. Bottom Row: Bill Ponder, unnamed, unnamed, illegible.
William G. Fuller Collection, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.

On the back of that photograph, along with the names of the people in it, were the words “Opening Denton Airport 1930.” Obviously, the airport opened in 1928 so I believe the date is likely an error in memory or an approximation from when Fuller donated his papers in 1963. Regardless, I thought, if this photograph exists surely there must be others, given the hullabaloo surrounding the airport opening; and because there was a Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff photographer, D.B. Green, and Star-Telegram representative, Mabel Gouldy, on Bill Ponder‘s plane (incidentally, he finished in first place in the race from Meacham Field) as well as another representative, Bessie Stephenson, in Reg Robbins‘ plane (second place).5

The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) is the home of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s photographic archives, so I contacted Sara Pezzoni, Photo Collections Specialist, but there weren’t any relevant photographs in that collection. Since UTA also has a sizable cartographic collection, I also contacted Ben Huseman, Cartographic Archivist, but he was unable to find anything of relevance in his collections either. Not yet discouraged, I turned to more local sources.

I reached out to Gary Cook, a Senior Development Coordinator with Denton County and local history buff. He concurred with my assessment of the airport’s general location using aerial photographs at his disposal, but nothing showed the airport or its remnants. I checked the aerial photographs that we received from the City of Denton Engineering Department in 2016, but the earliest we have is from 1989. I then got in touch with Cody Yates, a GIS Analyst with the City of Denton, and he was able to provide me with a 1942 aerial photograph of the area. This was the earliest photo he had, but there was still nothing recognizable to me as the remnant of an airport. I decided to broaden the scope of my search, and thus began a series of frustrating disappointments in trying to locate a photograph, map or anything that would definitively show the airport’s location.

I contacted the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas to see if their Works Progress Administration (WPA) records for Denton County might contain maps or photographs, but no such luck. I struck out with the Texas General Land Office as well. The Newberry Library in Chicago holds the archives of Rand McNally, but had no Denton maps. I found only two institutions that had 1930s era maps of the Denton area (not even the City of Denton has City of Denton maps from the 1930s that I’ve been able to find).

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission has a 1936 and a 1938 map of Denton, but they contain no physical features or street-level detail that would aid in my search; and The University of Chicago, of all places, has a 1931 map of administrative precincts and railroads, but no airport, not even street names. I found myself quite surprised and frustrated that the 1930s presented such a black hole in my quest. If it weren’t for the newspaper article, I would have questioned if this phantom airport ever really existed. Great Depression aside, this was the Golden Age of Flight, how could there be so little information about Denton’s first Municipal Airport?

I was later able to find mention of the airport in City Commission Minutes from 1928 and information on the clearing of the creeks by the Street and Bridge Department in several Mayoral Reports we have in the City Secretary Records, 1892-1976,6 but these were just brief accounts of activities at the airport, nothing of a location. Two local historians, DJ Taylor and Mike Cochran, were then able to provide me, thankfully, with some local, contemporary accounts of the airport.

Mr. Cochran had no personal knowledge of the airport himself, but he located an individual who did. Mr. John Roberts, whose relative, Standlee Ector Roberts, grew up on the 1200 block of the west side of Bolivar St. He relayed a story of how Standlee would jump the fence in his backyard to play in the airfield with his friends as a kid. Assuming the addressing grid is the same today as it was back then, the 1200 block of Bolivar St. begins roughly at the intersection of 2nd and Bolivar Streets. Due west of that location lies the Carroll Park Addition situated between Pecan and Cottonwood Creeks.

Denton Landing Field, 1924. Courtesy DJ Taylor.

Mr. Taylor provided me with a photo of the area from before it was developed as the Municipal Airport and was being used as a landing field by Army pilots training out of Love Field. In the upper left-hand corner of the photograph above, you can make out the landing strip roughly situated between the two creeks. He also shared a story of a young Bob Storrie whose uncle would buzz his house on Egan St. when he would come into town before landing at that airfield. Mr. Taylor knows quite a bit about Denton’s aviation history. For more information on the Storrie boys and early aviation in Denton, including the fate of one of the original hangars of this airport, I recommend reading his articles in the Retrospect from September and December 2012.

From here though, I was stuck. I put my search on hold for a couple of weeks before revisiting it again, from the beginning. I reread that October 2nd article, and here is where I should remind you that earlier I mentioned missing something more than once during my search. This time, it turned out to be the last paragraph of the article, more specifically the penultimate sentence in that paragraph which I skipped over in search of “more.” It reads, “A circle 100 feet in diameter was traced with white rock near the center of the field…” I had dismissed the circle in the survey map that started this search as some arbitrary symbol denoting the center of the map, never thinking for a second this was an actual, physical feature of the airport. Surely, if rocks sat there for nine years they would leave a depression in the ground or even still be there! This is where I am especially thankful that Mr. Yates sent me that 1942 aerial photograph. When I looked at it again, like a slap in the face, there was the remnants of a perfect circle, just east of Alice St. situated between Emery and Cordell Streets.

Section of 1942 Aerial Photograph. Courtesy of City of Denton GIS Analyst Cody Yates.

This was my Eureka! moment. Still, I wanted to be able to better relate where the airport used to be with where current residences are now. Since the survey map was drawn to scale I figured I could superimpose the map onto the image above using the circle as a reference. Once I managed to get the circles to line up and on the same scale I could then put points on the map that corresponded with the four intersections that surrounded that circle. Then, I georeferenced the survey map with current satellite map data using those points, adjusted the opacity a bit and created the two images below that show the location of the original Denton Municipal Airport in relation to how Denton looks today. The creek paths may have been changed a bit over the years and the scale is likely not perfect, but I think it does the trick nevertheless.

Maps of the 1928 Municipal Airport of the City of Denton Texas as it would be seen today. Base maps courtesy of MapTiler, OpenStreetMaps and Google Maps.

Given the season, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps Santa placed any metal detectors beneath the trees of the folks in Carroll Park because who knows, more history could be buried right beneath their feet. Take that, Indiana Jones!

Written by Matthew Davis, Archivist, Denton Municipal Archives

Notes

1 City Commission Minutes. December 20, 1937.

2 Airport History. dentonairport.com.

3 Denton’s New Airport Formally Opened. Denton Record-Chronicle. October 2, 1928.

4 William G. Fuller Collection. History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.

5 Denton’s New Airport Formally Opened. Denton Record-Chronicle. October 2, 1928.

6 Mayoral Reports, 1917 – 1928, Box: 1, Folder: 11. City Secretary Records, MA 2019.002. Denton Municipal Archives.

Other Sources

Mike Cochran, DJ Taylor, Gary Cook and Cody Yates

Respectfully, F. E. Piner

In May of 1922, Denton had a small, but fatal epidemic of smallpox. Dr. Piner, the City Health Officer (CHO), reported that they lost four out of the five cases. The health department, with the help of the police, tracked down everyone they felt had been exposed and quarantined 23 persons who they immediately “double” and “triple” vaccinated, which resulted in “not a single secondary case.”1

After reporting to the State Board of Health and the State Health Officer the condition in Denton, Dr. Piner along with Dr. Fullingim, and their staff, worked to vaccinate more than 4,000 people in a week’s time, including “more than 200 who could not or did not have money even to pay.” And they were all vaccinated a second time!

The town, he reported, was full of sore arms.

Clark, Joe. [Nurse administering a shot], photograph, Date Unknown; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc489351/m1/1/?q=nurse%20shot: accessed October 18, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.

Dr. Frank Ewing Piner was born on January 1, 1869 to Judge Finas Ewing Piner and his wife Henrietta McCleary. He was among the first graduating class in 1886 of Denton High School. And, for a short time after, he was the Secretary of the Owsley Hose Company for the Denton Fire Department, which was noted in the 1890 Denton Business Directory. He then attended medical school at Tulane University in New Orleans from 1892-1894, accepting the position as the County Health Officer in November of 1894.

Dr. Frank Piner on top far left - No.2 -photo Special Collections, Denton Public Library
http://[Portrait of Six Men], photograph, Date Unknown; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth12553/: accessed October 18, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Denton Public Library. (Dr. Piner is no.2)

The City Health Officer

Much like today, the Health Department has many duties. However, the names and types duties were quite different at that time, and they relied on the help of the general public and police department for their assistance. As the CHO, Dr. Piner had to interact with the Office of the City “Scavenger” regularly. This office was created to “haul off to the city dumping grounds all filth (i.e. human feces), garbage, dead animals, rubbish and offensive manner. And, their job had to be done between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.2

Below is a list of typical duties the Health Department had to inspect each month and report to the mayor and city commissioners:

Inspect all public ground sewerage disposal; the city dumping ground – which was listed as being one mile northeast of town; the trash – which was a mile east of town; the public well water: sending specimens to the state board of health and adding minnows to the wells to eat mosquito larvae; keeping up with all public health conditions – including vaccinations, quarantines, and fumigating as needed; making sure everyone’s dry closets passed the closet ordinance; and all manner of nuisance calls, such as someone having too many hogs in one pen, or investigating the source of any peculiar smells.

We’re In the Pest House Now

By the time 1900 had rolled around Frank had gained quite a bit of experience. He’d dealt with previous smallpox epidemics in 1895 and 1899. And, in addition to having his own practice, he’d traveled the county far-and-wide to visit patients and assist other physicians in their surgeries, such as Dr. Inge in the removal of one of the eyeballs of a man by the name of C. W. McCombs. Squeamish, he was not. At the age of 26, he even attended the hanging of J. Q. A. Crews, along with other physicians to pronounced the man dead.

Following the alarming 1899 smallpox epidemic , he accepted the position of City Health Officer, succeeding Dr. Lipscomb. The two traded on-and-off for the position until 1909 when Frank was appointed once again because of another small pox outbreak. And in 1910, he brought up “the need for a city pest house to the attention to the council” as well as prodding the city commissioners to invest in cleaning up the creeks which were a breeding ground for mosquitoes and disease.

In 1913, he was appointed deputy pure food inspector to the Texas Pure Food and Dairy Commission and was given a list of many things to inspect within the city, such as testing the city’s milk and dairy cows and making sure the doors to all of the meat markets, grocery stores, restaurants, and bakeries all had screen doors to keep the flies out.3

The American Plan

During and after WWI, there was an increase in venereal diseases around town, and well, everywhere. For instance, in the final City Health Officer’s reports for 1921 Piner states,“we have had much gossip about [the] town being full of venereal disease. This is not true. These diseases have been reduced 50 percent during the past year.” This cannot be verified, however, as there are no surviving reports before 1920.

Using the CHO Reports available in the City Secretary’s Collection of the Municipal Archive, we examined the reports from 1920-1921 to see how many cases of STDs had been reported on. Some of the reports are missing – so with only six months to go on for each month, we took an average. In 1920, Denton had a population of 7,626. The number of venereal diseases would have been around 80 for 1920 and 120 for 1921.

In his report on August 24, 1920, Dr. Piner discussed, “The past month we have had 4 cases of syphilis and 2 cases of gonorrhea. Only two of these cases were home product [from Denton]. Some of the cases on hand are without means as the treatment of syphilis is expensive. They require about 12 doses of the 606 medicine which costs about $2.00 per dose. The State Venereal Law requires the city to have these cases treated and if necessary, provide a place for their detention…Have had lots of help from the Police force in enforcing this law.”

Well, what law? Turns out, the “American Plan” was passed at the beginning of World War I to incarcerate and treat female prostitutes from spreading STDs to soldiers. As all physicians were required to report these cases to the city health officer, who was then required to quarantine [which was usually in a jail] these women until they were considered “cured.”

So did Denton participate in this plan? Yes, yes, we did.

CHO Report, February 22, 1921: “In our raid the last meeting night on a house west of town, we found the reputation of the place was not exaggerated. One [woman] was found infected, another was just convalescing from an attack. In summing up the women that have been taken by the city officers, the Health department found that in this class of women 7-out-of-10 infected. In the work we have done in the enforcement of the venereal law convinces me that it is the greatest law ever passed. Our books show that. this law reduced the number of cases 50%.”

Something interesting to note, no one seemed to use the term prostitute or prostitution in either the newspaper or in any of the CHO reports. The term was usually “case,” the “traveler,” or the “home product.” However, they did not shy away from the phrase “venereal disease.”

The Rain Prophet

From 1924-1925, the country suffered from a severe drought. According to the Denton Record-Chronicle, the ‘rain prophets’ were getting more numerous. Several have ventured predictions that it was “going to rain” and that the drouth would be broken when the rain came. Frank Piner is dubious about Ed Smoot’s act in turning the dead snakes belly upward to bring rain, and says by all means the snakes should have been hung up in a tree – which is pretty unfailing in bringing rain.4

So what about the ending? In the midst of all of these reports, there’s a man who had a sense of humor, a family, and appeared to care deeply about taking care of his community; something that he did for 48 years.

Such a long time.

In reading his reports, we’re not told of his personal struggles, or the hardships endured by a doctor until later on in life. A rather lengthy article appeared in DRC in which he chronicles some early memories of being a country doctor.

He [Dr. Piner] was a character, said Mr. Headlee in the October 21, 1948 issue of his Denton Doings. He died before he wrote a planned history of “The Rise and Fall of Oak Street.” That history would have been good.

Leslie Couture, Special Collections Department, Emily Fowler Library

1Denton County News, May 16, 1895, p.8, c.4. “Denton County Free From Smallpox, Says Dr. Piner, Health Officer.”

2Record and Chronicle, August 4, 1910, p.6. “City Scavenger.”

3Denton Record-Chronicle, October 10, 1913, p.1 – “Commissions Here for Food Inspectors. State Commissioner Abbott Forwards Commissions to Dr. F. E. Piner and Mrs. Murphy.”

4Denton Record-Chronicle, April 23, 1925, p.5 c.2 – “Rain prophets.”

In The Weeds 9.24.19: Happy 70th Anniversary to the Wyatt Hedrick designed Denton City-County Library!

This past weekend, the Executive Board of the Texas Historical Commission met at the Fowler Library for a meeting to recommend new additions to the National Register of Historic Places. While here, we took them on a tour of our building and found that at least one of the members seemed more interested in the architect of the original library building, Wyatt Cephas Hedrick. Here it is in 1949 shortly after its opening:

Denton City-County Library 1949

Here is a 1948 floor plan with the architect’s name in the lower right corner:

What you see in the picture above is the old eastward-facing front entrance on Oakland Street. If you visit our library now, the original footprint is now staff-only since the remodel of 2003. The O’Neil Ford designed addition of 1969 was added on the eastern, front side of the Hedrick design. Obviously, Oakland Street would have to be closed from Parkway to McKinney St. There is a kind of funny story to that where Ford writes to then-City Manager Jack Reynolds at the time of planning the Civic Center Complex in reaction to the “controversy” of closing Oakland. In effect, Ford says that it shouldn’t be one given how more aesthetically attractive the new arrangement will be. So, if you’ve ever wondered why there is that big, sweeping turn from Parkway to Oakland Streets in front of the Fowler Library, now you know!

July 31st front page of the Record-Chronicle announcing the opening:

This is one of many congratulatory ads placed in the same issue back in the days when, as a small town, local businesses welcomed newcomers to the community. Not sure when this practice stopped, but they are quite frequent in the mid-20th century:

The Pioneer Magazine of 1950 has a nice article on the newly-opened library and can be found here as part of our Municipal Archive.

Mr. Hedrick was an incredibly prolific architect with hundreds of buildings, mostly in Texas, ranging from massive, elegant Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, to several buildings on the UNT campus, to our modest library. In fact, at one time, his firm was the third largest in the country. Their records and archives and those of its predecessor are held at the Alexander Architecture Archive at UT Austin and can be searched here.

Written by Chuck Voellinger chuck.voellinger@cityofdenton.com

From the Archives or… Down the Rabbit Hole

We have recently had a lot of internal interest in former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s connection with Denton. One of our Library Assistants, Lara Elio, contacted the fine folks at the LBJ Presidential Library to inquire about a framed portrait of President Johnson talking to Phyllis George. They were able to tell us that the photo was taken by White House photographer Frank Wolfe at the dedication of the Visitor Center at LBJ State Park, August 29, 1970 when George held the title of Miss Texas. Of course, before being crowned Miss Texas, she held the titles of Miss Dallas and Miss Denton and would become Miss America the following year. Consequently, the Denton Municipal Archives houses the Miss Denton Pageant Collection, 1953-1981 within the Emily Fowler Central Library and is open for research!

Wolfe, Frank. LBJ and Phyllis George. August 29, 1970. Denton Public Library.

Back to LBJ. I came across a 1963 letter from then Vice-President Johnson to Emily Fowler while processing the Denton Public Library Records, 1934-2019 (also open for research). Enclosed with that letter was another from J. George Stewart, Architect of the Capitol, verifying that a flag (presumably sent with these letters) was flown over the Capitol. The only United States flag I have been able to find in the library was in a box simply marked, “flag.” It is old enough to be the flag mentioned in these letters (in fact older, as it only has 48 stars), but the only identifying mark is a small tag sewn between the blue field and the stripes with the number 66 written on it. The manufacturers mark on the flag has long been worn away, but with what little information I did have I tried to contact the current Architect of the Capitol through their website to verify this as the flag from the letter. I received no response. So, I contacted the folks at the LBJ Presidential Library to see what information they might have, but they had no record of the letters at all. At an impasse, I began to wonder what other connections LBJ might have with Denton.

LBJ to Emily Fowler. Correspondence, General, 1934 – 1989. Denton Public Library Records. Denton Municipal Archives.

The request for the flag was made by Emily Fowler through a “mutual friend,” Gene Latimer. Latimer was a former high school student of Johnson’s in Houston and would later become his aide, but what did he have to do with Denton and how did he know Emily Fowler? The internet being what it is, I was able to find out that in 1952, Latimer resigned from Johnson’s Senate staff and took a job with the Federal Civil Defense Administration in Dallas which would later be moved to Denton and its duties absorbed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1979. That put Latimer in Denton so I was able to search his name in back issues of the Denton Record-Chronicle through the library’s subscription to Newspaper Archives (free to use for anyone at any branch of the Denton Public Library).

The Latimers were quite involved in the community. Aside from his work with Civil Defense, Gene was a member of the Denton Toastmasters and the Friends of the Denton City-County Library, as the Denton Public Library was called then (which satisfied my curiosity about his connection with Emily Fowler). In fact, he was elected president of the Friends in 1966. Mrs. Latimer was a member of the Ariel Club, Altar Society and the Woman’s Shakespeare Club. Having verified their Denton-ness I thought there must be some other hidden mementos of Gene and LBJ hanging around town and immediately got in touch with FEMA to see what they had! They had a couple of photographs of LBJ visiting the “Nations First Federal Underground Center,” but nothing else.

At this point I remembered having seen another letter from LBJ, framed and hanging on the wall at the Water Production Plant while I was there accessioning materials for inclusion into the Water Utilities Records, 1947-2012 (yes, also open for research). I went back to see if Latimer had a hand in that letter as well. He did not. However, the content of this letter seemed familiar to me, so I went back to the library and back through the material I received from Water Production. In it is a file marked “McKenna Park Water Tower.” In that file is an unsigned copy of that LBJ letter to then Mayor Mark Hannah in February of 1951. But wait, that’s not all! There’s also a letter to Mayor Hannah from Senator Tom Connally and several from Congressman Ed Gossett all involving the same issue.

LBJ to Mayor Hannah. February 22, 1951. Water Production.

Apparently the City of Denton was having a hard time getting the promised steel for the construction of the water tower from the Pittsburgh-Des Moines Company, enough of a hard time that it required intervention on the part of both Texas Senators and the Congressman from the 13th District to have the National Production Authority look into the Pittsburgh-Des Moines Company’s purchases to determine that they had enough steel to provide what was promised.

Long story short, the water tower was eventually built, and I still have no idea where the flag came from. What I do know is, another Capitol flown flag was gifted to the Emily Fowler Library by the Elks Denton Lodge No. 2446 in 1981, but I have no idea about its whereabouts either. Perhaps the biggest take away from this search has been in discovering that no one orders custom pants like President Lyndon Johnson.

Matthew Davis
Archivist

Sources

  • Denton Public Library Records, 1934-2019.
  • LBJ Presidential Library
  • Denton Record-Chronicle, 1960-1967.