On Monday, we celebrated Presidents Day. Traditionally, this has been a commemoration of George Washington’s birthday. Some people see this as a commemoration of two birthdays, Washington’s (2/22) and Lincoln’s (2/12.) And many of us celebrate all the president’s on this day.
We celebrate Washington as the Father of Our Country. His example largely determined what the president should be and do. Earlier, he also reinforced the American notion of the army’s relationship with the government. He relinquished power and returned home after the Revolution was won (the English poet Byron praised him as “the Cincinnatus of the West.”) And he established the tradition, later cemented in the Constitution, of presidents seeking no more that two terms.
Lincoln led the nation through the Civil War and further defined what a president should be and do. And, even when it seemed he might not be re-elected to see the war through, he upheld the Constitution’s prescription for elections (“This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President elect, as to save the Union between
the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such grounds that he can not possibly save it afterwards.” – quoted in Lincoln by David Donald, p. 529)
Two other men who became president were also born in February. One was a revered president of the 20th century, the other a notable one of the 19th (and they happen to have been the two oldest at the time of their inaugurations.)
Whether you’re remembering one president, two presidents, or all the presidents, the best way is to learn more about them. There is no better place for this than the library. The Denton Public Library has books and videos for all ages about each of the 43 people who have served our country as chief executive. A good series of books for adults is The American Presidents published by Times books, and two good series for younger readers are Encyclopedia of Presidents
published by Children’s Press and Great American Presidents published by Chelsea House. Come by and check them out. And while you’re here, see what else is available.
One of my favorite places in the library is the 641’s – who doesn’t love a good cookbook? I am especially partial to books with full-color pictures and have a great narrative to tell the stories behind the receipes. When I was a kid, I loved to read the cookbooks by Jeff Smith – The Frugal Gourmet. I never had any intention of making anything, but I loved taking the journey.
“Old School Comfort Food: How I Learned to Cook” – Alex Guarnaschelli
Alex can often be found as a judge on shows like “Chopped” and frankly, her icy stare scares me a little bit, but her idea of comfort food is right on the mark!
As an Anglophile who watches Downton Abbey on Sunday nights, I’ve gotten into the show right before it – The Great British Bake Off. One of the two judges, Paul Hollywood, has a new cookbook “Paul Hollywood’s British Baking.” Learn how to make an Eton Mess or a Cornish Pastie.
I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to wander through the 641’s and see what amazing adventures you can take by reading about food.
What’s your favorite cookbook?
— Kerry Montz, North Branch
(Is it dinner time yet?)
If you buy a piece of land west of downtown Denton heading out towards I-35 and south of Scripture Street, chances are you are buying a portion of what’s known as the “E. Puchalski Survey” and your deed will probably state that. But, who was he? Before we get into that, a little background about our county. Denton County was formed from the much larger Fannin County in 1846 and was subsequently divided up into smaller units. The Texas Land Office archives contain a map of all the original patentees for this county and can be searched by name at the Denton Co. Clerk’s website under the “real property records search” link. I’ve seen his name many times before while doing research and thought I might see if I could find anything about him. Plus, the grant includes the area of west of downtown Denton and UNT, so what may have been a piece of land in the middle of nowhere in 1850s hasn’t been nowhere for quite some time.
In searching for his name in the County Clerk’s database I came upon this nice document from then-Governor Elisha M. Pease, which looks to be a rewritten copy of an earlier version.
Here is the survey from the Denton County Atlas with modern additions including streets, highways and railroads (click on image for larger view):
So, this is fantastic! I have the patent document from the Texas Land Office with the governor’s signature and I’m thinking, “we’ll soon find out alot about Mr. Puchalski.” Not so fast. Can’t find him in any census records, early Denton settlers, immigration lists, etc. The two standard histories of Denton and the County only briefly mention the survey, not the man. How can someone who owned a significant portion of Denton’s land “disappear”? Finally I find this somewhat cryptic document in Ancestry:
Apparently he served as a private with Price’s Company of the Texas Mounted Volunteers in the Mexican-American War. Checking in “Texas Veterans in the Mexican War” by Spurlin, he is found in the same unit which apparently mustered into service Sept 25, 1845 comprised of men from Victoria and Goliad Counties primarily. Note that his name is spelled with a “y” at the end. Soldiers could recieve grants based on their service, so it made sense that he might apply for and be granted a deed ten years later in 1856. Still, it seemed strange not to have him listed in any census indexes anywhere in Texas or in the country, for that matter.
Then, two very interesting parallel paths revealed themselves.
1. A mention of a “Pucholasky, E, Texas, 1836″ in “Passenger and Immigration Lists Index“, which references “New Homes in a New Land: German Immigration to Texas 1847-1861“. The latter mentions this man as a “German in the Texas War for Independence”. Whoa.
When typing in this variant spelling, this index card was found in Ancestry:
The translated index card indicates that it was possibly a commemorative issue of a book or journal for or about Fredericksburg, Tx.
2. Trying the Texas General Land Office website itself, which includes statewide records, I found a document from Harrisburg, Texas. Where’s that, you ask? Harrisburg was possibly the temporary capitol of The Republic of Texas for a minute while Houston was being planned and established very close by near Buffalo Bayou during 1837-1839. At the very least, the Board of Land Commissioners for Harrisburg County (later Harris Co.) issued Mr. Puchalski 1/3 of league of land with his service as “soldier” listed in parentheses.
And, finally, here is the coup de grace: a letter from the War Department with dates and military unit information. Apparently, he volunteered in the Texas army about a month after the Battle of San Jacinto where the fighting had ended with Santa Ana’s capitulation and capture but, reading about that time period, Sam Houston and the government were by no means positive that the Mexican Army wouldn’t wait and reattack the Texans. It was a fluid period when Texas had won the war but the large Mexican army might’ve decided they weren’t done. Calls were made for volunteers, especially from New Orleans, to beef up the army *just in case*. Was Private Puchalski a newly arrived immigrant who was in the right place at the right time to enlist with the thought of getting land after his service?
Other questions: he was granted land for his service in 1836-37, but where was it? Harrisburg County, I assume, but there are no other records in the Land Office Archives. Did he ever set foot in Denton County?
Thanks for joining me on this journey. It seems safe to say that he served two countries: The Republic and the United States. Any additional information, corrections or comments are always welcome. Special thanks to Fritz Schwalm, Sr. for the German translation of the index card. I can be reached at email@example.com.
It’s no surprise that frequenters of the library have their own libraries at home; book lovers love books. So, when those home libraries outgrow their confines or someone leaves you their collection, where do you take the surplus? Your local public library, of course.
We receive boxes and boxes of donated books at all three branches of the Denton Public Library. We are grateful for them and many find their way to the Friends’ of the Library Booksale. Mark your calendars; the next booksale is on February, from 10am – 4pm, at the North Branch Library. Other books leave us for Better World Books, which is an organization that promotes literacy worldwide through sales of donated books. Check them out at: www.betterworldbooks.com. They do good work.
What you may not know is that the variety of other items which show up as donations is staggeringly odd. What follows is a condensed list of some of the weirdness I have personally received as donations over the past decade and a half:
- a toaster
- various stuffed animals
- a tiny disco ball
- numerous action figures
- a Saturday Night Fever soundtrack on 8-track tape
- a single alabaster bookend
- an entire shoebox filled with dried out markers
- a desktop American flag
- a compass
- a Kodak Brownie camera
- a dilapidated copy of the book Pollyanna inscribed, “To Virgina, From Daddy, Xmas 1923”
- Shrinky Dinks (already shrunk)
- a typewriter (not working)
- a 6” carboard cutout of Larry King
- too many records (mostly Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass) to mention, except for this one – ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres complete with a desiccated roach squashed inside the gatefold photo of a colossal Mexican feast
One of the most famous (or notorious) neighborhoods in Denton, Idiot’s Hill, is bounded by Sherman, Windsor, University (U.S. 380) and Nottingham Drives. I say notorious because many who have owned homes there have endured the sandy loam soil and their resulting problems. There are also at least four possible origins of its distinctive name:
1. That anyone who would build/buy a house there must be an idiot.
2. Ironic name for an area where many professors and academics from the two universities lived.
3. The houses were thought to be overpriced at the time of construction.
4. Dr. John Ed Allen of UNT Mathematics Dept. is quoted in a recent NT Daily article stating that, “‘It’s called Idiot’s Hill because, at one point in time, this was considered too far from town and only an idiot would live so far from where they worked.'”
This area was and is still known for tax and surveying purposes as the Crestwood Heights Addition to the city of Denton. If you visit any of the three DPL locations, you have free access to Newspaper Archives where all issues of the Denton Record-Chronicle from 1909 to 1977 can be searched by date, name, phrase or keyword and there you can find many old classified ads for the various lots and homes in the area. Also helpful are County Court notes where deed transfers with dollar amounts are mentioned and this leads me to a connection I wasn’t aware of between Joe Skiles, the Park named for him and Idiot’s Hill.
Here is Mr. Skiles’ obituary from the May 4th, 1981 DRC (click on all images for larger size):
Ads and short article on new development ca. late ’50s. Interestingly, it was also known informally as the “Skiles Addition”:
Those County Court records have numerous mentions of Mr Skiles and property transfers to various individuals. Interesting to see the prices listed back in the 1950s. Idiot’s Hill has had a bit of a local renaissance of late with younger “Gen X” homeowners. In fact, there is at least one music studio located there and a local coffee roaster has named one of its products after the area.
Laurie R. King’s most recent entry in her Russell and Holmes series continues to develop their relationship and gives readers a glimpse of yet another land and its culture. This adventure centers around Japan in the time of Prince Hirohito, regent for his father. The prince had given a gift to the king of England without knowing its true value to his country. Russell and Holmes are drawn into the plot when a blackmailer writes to exchange the gift for money. They must not only discover the blackmailer’s identity but find and recover the gift before its loss is discovered in Japan.
The character of Holmes in this series is true to Doyle’s creation, given the introduction of King’s character of Mary Russell. The interactions between the two play out in a realistic manner, and alternating viewpoints of the action give the reader insight to the thought processes of both. The culture and landscape of Japan is described as they were in the time of the story, and the reader learns something of these as Holmes and Russell make their way through the countryside to prove their abilities to the prince.
Mary Cresson, Librarian (Ret.)