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.
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A Map, a Mural, & a Mystery

Here at the Emily Fowler Central Library, there is a large historical map hanging on the wall over the fireplace. It is a pretty unique work of art but we had limited knowledge of its history. I figured it would be an easy project to research. Little did I know I would uncover a mystery. The painting of the historical mural we see today is actually the second adaptation of a map created by Sena Mounts Wright* in 1936. (But that’s not the mystery.)

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Historical pictorial map of Denton County drawn by Sena Mount Wright in 1936

The map drawn by Ms. Wright is a historical pictorial map of Denton County.  She based her map on one made by W.H. Pierce, an early surveyor.  Ms. Wright added artwork that identifies the four sites of the county seat, the early settlements with dates, trails, schools, wildlife, and the streams and creeks. A few other samples of her work can be found online on the Portal to Texas History.  

Ms. Grady’s mural, based on Sena Mount Wrights map, on the wall behind the
front desk in the Denton Library opened 1949.
From the Denton Public Library collection on the Portal to Texas History.

Close up of the mural painted in 1949.
From the Denton Public Library collection on the Portal to Texas History.

When the first stand-alone library building was being built in 1949 one of the unique features planned for the building was a mural, which featured a color replica of Ms. Wright’s map.  According to an article from the January 26, 1949 issue of the Denton Record-Chronicle, the mural was commissioned by the Parent-Teacher Association and was painted by Mrs. Irene Grady on the wall behind the front desk in the main foyer of the library. Ms. Grady added a border to each side of the map depicting the old cattle brands of Denton County. These brands are listed on the front of The Geography of Denton County which was written in 1936 by Mary Jo Cowling, a faculty member at North Texas State Teachers College (NTSC), which is now called the University of North Texas.

For those readers who are railroad aficionados, Ms. Grady and her husband, Seymour, also painted the murals on the interior of the remodeled Texas and Pacific passenger depot in 1948. The Grady’s owned a furniture renovation business in town, The Denton Color House.

Ms. Noel’s painting, based on Sena Mount Wright’s map and Ms. Grady’s mural,
on the wall behind the front desk in the Denton Library, remodeled in 1969.
From the Denton Public Library Collection.

Well, progress waits for no one, or in this case, for artwork. When the library was expanded in 1969 the mural was on a wall that had to be demolished. The library explored different ways to save it: from removal to a photographic reproduction; all were cost-prohibitive. Miss Tommye Noel repainted the map and brands featured in the mural and donated her work to the library in memory of Otis Fowler, Emily’s husband. The new painting was not done on a wall but on a board and framed in a bookcase which held materials and books about Denton and books by Denton authors. As before, the historical map welcomed visitors to the library from behind the front desk in the main foyer. Interestingly, upon close inspection, Ms. Noel’s interpretation of Ms. Wright’s map is truer to the original than Ms. Grady’s.

As the library has gone through various expansions and remodeling, the painting of the historical map has been located in different areas of the building. After the 1981 expansion of the building, it hung on the wall in the Texas Room, which at the time housed the Texas and Denton historical materials. It is now once again in the lobby of the Emily Fowler Central Library visible to all on the wall above the fireplace.

Miss Tommye Noel’s painting. Photograph taken in 2019.

As a side note, in 2007 Christie Wood created a stained glass fireplace screen featuring the Denton County Courthouse on the square and echoing the early county cattle brands as a companion piece to the painting of the Historical Map. 

So where is the mystery in all this? It is way back in that January 26, 1949 article from the DRC. The article contains the following statement:

“This historical mural is one of four planned by several Denton artist in 1935. Included in this group were Mr. and Mrs. Crow Wright, Rudolph Fuchs, Alexandre Hogue, now of Dallas, Milton Martin, now of California, Myron Stout, now in Hawaii, and Mrs. Margaret Paterson. Designs of mural number three were made by Martin. Later these designs were scaled by measurement by Mrs. William W. Wright, 403 Mounts (Street), to a Denton County map made by W. H. Pierce, who was one of Denton’s early surveyors and printed as a historical map of Denton County. All four murals made by the artist were creative designs drawn from readings in Bates’ Denton County History.”

I have yet to find any other mention of this series of four historical murals. Not in the newspapers nor in the written histories. Local historians haven’t heard or seen them. The article makes it sound like they were actually created, and Ms. Wright used elements from the murals to create her pictorial map, but what happened to the originals?  Have you seen them? Could they be in your attic?

Notes:

*Sena Alleen Mounts was born in Denton on December 13, 1875, to Martha Elizabeth Haynes and William Henry Mounts. She was salutatorian of Denton High School’s class of 1892 and continued her education on scholarship at Sam Houston Normal in Huntsville. She was a teacher before she married William Wesley Wright in 1896; worked with Miss Beulah Harris of NTSC to establish the first Girl Scout commission in Denton; and was a charter member of Denton’s first parent-teachers’ organization, the Denton Historical Association and the Benjamin Lyon Chapter DAR. Ms. Wright died in Denton on December 22, 1952, and is entombed in the Wright Mausoleum at I.O.O.F. Cemetery. 

*In 1936 Texas celebrated its Centennial

  • Behind the Murals: Depot Decorated by Artist Couple. Denton Record-Chronicle. September 19, 1948, Page 6-3.
  • County Library to Have Mural of Historical Map, Denton Record-Chronicle. January 26, 1949, Page 7.
  • Library Notes, Denton Record-Chronicle. July 30, 1967.
  • Library Notes, Denton Record-Chronicle. February 2, 1968, page 2-7.

Laura Douglas
Special Collections Librarian
Emily Fowler Central Library

In The Weeds, 7.15.19 T&P railroad bridge.

Many of you will have probably noticed by now the construction and widening of US 377 south of I-35 in the last few months. One piece of Denton history is likely to be removed in the process: the Texas and Pacific/Missouri Pacific/Union Pacific railroad bridge.

In 1881 the railroad came to Denton, forever changing our town as this event did to thousands of others. What you are looking at, and probably didn’t realize when you see the trains and the tracks, is a 138 year old footprint. Sure, the technology has changed but the right-of-way and grade is basically the same as when Oran Roberts was governor of Texas and Rutherford B. Hayes was president.

Looking at the first three pictures below, one can barely see the outline of the T&P logo; the words “Texas” and “Pacific”; the names of two cities it served via connections with parent company Missouri Pacific (“St. Louis”, “Memphis”), “New Orleans”, and “California”. We’re not sure of the exact date of the lettering, but, it’s a good guess that it was done in the 1940’s-1960’s range.

“St Louis” and “Memphis” can be seen at far left.

In the picture below, folks with hawk eyes will notice “76” painted on farthest right of the bridge; likely remnants of the Denton High School Senior Class of our nation’s bicentennial. (Sorry, kids, I think your senior prank is finally going away. Pretty good run, though.). And, for the truly train-obsessed, if you blow up the same picture, you will see an engraving or stamp that says “Lancaster Shops” in the second to last panel. This undoubtedly refers to the T&P railroad shops at their main facility in Fort Worth: Lancaster Yard.

“New Orleans” and “California” barely visible to the right.

Located on the eastern abutment is a construction date stamped in the concrete, 1933, which is the same date and font as used for the T&P bridge over Dallas Drive where it becomes Bell Avenue in downtown Denton.

This is what the T&P “diamond” logo might’ve looked like when new:

It wouldn’t be a true “In The Weeds” blog post if we didn’t get into some more minutia so, to fulfill the mission, this bridge appears to be of the “steel plate girder” type. Also, while this construction is going on, the Union Pacific is building a temporary “shoofly” track to accommodate rail traffic while the new longer span is put in place. This is a common thing for railroads to build and has about the greatest name!

So, before this old bridge is replaced, take a short trip down US 377/Ft Worth Drive to see 86 year-old infrastructure.

Who Built That? Bert Moore & Dencrete

Have you ever wondered about the various structures around Denton – or other places – that were constructed using concrete blocks? Some have been spruced up in the past few years, such as a couple of brightly painted homes (yellow, teal, and white) on Crescent Street, while others may have been covered with some type of siding.

It wasn’t until recently that I found out a little about them when someone asked about the history of a home and who the builder was.

The builder’s name was Bert Moore who built many businesses and homes in Denton and surrounding areas during the late 1940s through early 1970s. Mr. Moore was rather unique because he also manufactured his own concrete masonry units1 which were used by other builders. He dubbed his product “Dencrete” and advertised them as being “lightweight, sturdy, fire and rodent proof.”2

Denton Record-Chronicle, October 10, 1955

I read up a little bit about concrete masonry units because I was curious to know just why they seem to show up around the same time period. For those who are interested, there is a thesis by James P. Hall that is very informative. He explained that their popularity arose in the first decade of the 20th century – not because of the first successful commercial machine [to make concrete blocks] – due to the marketing ingenuity of the Portland cement industry and other concrete subsidiaries. But it was after WWII that manufacturing of cement in Texas really peaked as there was a need for building materials. And that is why concrete building blocks became part of postwar Texas architecture.

But back to Mr. Moore.

Bert Riner Moore was born on 28 April 1912 in Tucumcari, New Mexico. He attended UNT and graduated in 1937. Later he owned his own filling station called Bert Moore’s Service (Station). He joined the Texas Defense Guard and before serving in World War II as a lieutenant (junior) in the Navy from 1942 to 1946.

After the war was over, Bert and a man named Ray Hunt organized and opened Moore Building Products in 1945. And in December of 1946, Moore bought Hunt’s interest. The plant was originally located at the old fairgrounds which was (at that time) just east of the railroad tracks on Exposition Street.

The company made a general purpose masonry for all types of buildings, as well as a pumice aggregate material that formed a light-weight building block (Dencrete). They also made ventilators for use underneath houses. The sand and gravel were obtained from a pit in Carrollton, Texas and the pumice from New Mexico.

In 1954, Bert built a larger and more modern plant at 420 Bell Avenue. The site was convenient because the back faced the railroad tracks which allowed them to deliver sand and gravel right to their back door.3 The building is still there today and is now the current location for SCRAP Denton.

Inside Moore Construction Co. which was located at 420 Bell Avenue. This building is now being used by SCRAP.
Inside Moore Construction Co. at 420 Bell Avenue.

Bert also worked with Tom Polk Miller of Mount-Miller Architects. The architectural firm was the pairing of a husband-and-wife team, Abigail Mount and Tom Polk Miller designed many mid-century modern homes and buildings that can still be found around Denton. But Bert and Tom worked on a lot of projects together also. They were, according to Bert Moore’s son, “both extraordinary men who built out of conscience and were creative together. They could read each other.”4

Here are some of their projects:

The Davis Office Building at 531 N. Elm (formerly Joe Alvord Florist); the newspaper plant of the Denton Record-Chronicle; Jim Stone’s and the Collegiate Shop at 1320 W. Hickory (which since then has been many other things); the Denton City-County Day Nursery at 1603 Paisley Street; Denton City Fire Station No. 3 on McCormick Street; and a home on 403 Mimosa Drive. And many, many Piggly Wiggly grocery stores.

This home at 2002 Misteywood Lane was featured in the Denton Record-Chronicle as part of the DHS “Home Pilgrimage Tour” on April 24, 1960.

According to Mr. Moore’s son, Dr. Louis Moore, his dad had stiff competition from Dallas companies who would come to Denton and try to undercut his prices. His other memories of his father’s business included working at the old fairgrounds and that in the early days, they made the concrete blocks by hand. Louis also said that his father had built about (no more than) ten homes made from Dencrete in the African-American part of town and offered them as rent-to-buy, something that was unheard of at that time and it gave people an opportunity for home ownership. Many of the houses (in that area) at that time period, were “just awful” he said, so people were glad to have something new.

Mr Moore was one of many business owners in Denton during the post-World War II and pre-Dynamic Denton period. And you can’t help but run into their name on the side of some of the older businesses, find their names underneath the paint, or displayed on a street sign. And sometimes, we live in their old homes. Such as the case of one of the masonry contractors used by Mr Moore: R. B. Trotter, who lived at 614 W. Parkway Street and was the father of a man I interviewed for an oral history a few years back: Dr. B. B. Trotter.

It is a small world.

With thanks to David Morton of Tim Beatty Builders and Dr. Louis Moore.

Leslie Couture, Special Collections

[1] Conversation with David Morton of Tim Beatty Builders, May 2019.

[2] Advertisement for Dencrete home. Denton Record-Chronicle, Feb. 1, 1948, sec. 10-7.

[3] Phone conversation with Dr. Louis Moore concerning his father’s business, May of 2019.

[4] Ibid.

Leslie Couture, Special Collections Department

Is That You, Frank?

Did you go to the library as a kid in the 1980s, 90s, or early 2000s?

Do you remember storytime and watching a puppet show? And later did you hang out in the junior-teen area where you got to hold a hedgehog for the first time? Or perhaps witnessed some knights reenact a sword fight out front of the library while you wore a paper crown?

And maybe a couple of librarians come to your school and acted goofy, just to get you to read a book. See Chuck & Stacy in a Summer Reading Club skit at Newton Rayzor Elementary.

Photo of a bonafide Denton Public Library librarian attempting to convince children to read a book.

If this sounds like you, then please take a look at some of our historical library videos. We are almost halfway through digitizing them using equipment that can be found in our Legacy Lab.

I would also like to thank our volunteer, Nily, for helping out with this because it is pretty tricky watching 95 VHS tapes while at work. Our volunteers are awesome!

For those of you who want to delve into further nonsense, please take a look at some of my favorites: a former mayor , and a couple of wacky programs the youth services staff performed in over the years such as a book cart ballet and a short clip in which a local cable news station covered a mock murder trial of “The Wolf”.

They are quite a hoot.

If you have any comments or would like to add your information to one of the videos in the collection, please email me. This is a work in progress and we would love to have more information.

Thanks for watching,

Leslie Couture

Special Collections Department

In The Weeds 06.05.19 Hot Tub Time Machine, Denton Edition

We discovered some photos taken by Alec Williams in the mid 1980s of the Water Works Spa/hot tub rental company at 537 South Locust Street. Sounds like a great idea in a college town, right? It didn’t last long, in spite of the ferns and potential clientele-it is only found in the 1986 city directory.

On first blush, this type of business seems like it was of a certain time, like disco, polyester and the swinging ’70s. I had visions of mustachioed men with their girlfriends in feathered blond hair pulling up in a Chrysler Cordoba (“fine Corinthian leather”) and Eddie Murphy’s “Celebrity Hot Tub” skit on Saturday Night Live. Turns out there are still many such businesses around the country today providing health benefits to thousands.

Denton Water Works: Hot Tub Rentals By the Hour
Opening Night
Hot tub for rent at the Denton Water Works hot tub rental.

Written by Chuck Voellinger, Special Collections Librarian, Emily Fowler Library chuck.voellinger@cityofdenton.com

Denton Municipal Archives

Emily Fowler Central Library. Abernathy, 2005.

In October of 2018 The City of Denton established a Municipal Archives operating out of the Emily Fowler Central Library. While the remainder of 2018 was spent drafting collection development policies, forms and procedures, and processing manuals, the processing of collections began in earnest in January of this year. In order to validate procedures and identify changes, it seemed prudent to begin with our smallest collections and work our way up. The library’s archival holdings are rather modest at the moment but are steadily growing.

List of Articles, 14 May 1927, Box 4, Folder 10, City Secretary Records 1892-1976. Denton Municipal Archives, Special Collections, Denton Public Library

The library’s holdings consists of, the Denton Municipal Archives with materials transferred from city departments and employees and the Denton, Texas Collection with materials donated by citizens of the City of Denton. The Denton Municipal Archives is currently made up of the City Secretary Records 1892-1976, Parks and Recreation Department Collection 1876-2006 and Water Utilities Records 1947-2012. The City Secretary Records, contain reports from city departments, financial and administrative records, correspondence, clippings, maps and subject files. Of note, while processing this collection it was discovered that City Hall West, a Spanish Colonial style building erected in 1927 and in the planning stages of a possible restoration, had a time capsule, for lack of a better term, placed in its cornerstone (see image above). The Parks and Recreation Department Collection contains the Sexton’s records for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery beginning in 1876 and the Oakwood Cemetery beginning in 1954. The collection also contains photographic materials with further accretions expected. The Water Utilities Records contain work orders with hand drawn maps, reports, bond ledgers, drawings and plans.

Claudette Yancey, 1954. Box 1, Folder 7, Miss Denton Pageant Collection 1953-1981. Denton, Texas Collection, Special Collections, Denton Public Library.

The Denton, Texas Collection is currently made up of the KDTN Channel 2 Collection 1977-2013 and the Miss Denton Pageant Collection 1953-1981. The KDTN Channel 2 Collection, contains documents regarding the establishment of an educational television station on the VHF frequency designated for Denton, Texas which would later become a part of KERA. The Miss Denton Pageant Collection, contains souvenir pageant programs, photographs and negatives, clippings and ephemera that chronicle the Miss Denton Pageant, an official preliminary to the Miss America Pageant. There have been three holders of the title Miss America that have hailed from Texas and two of those also held the title of Miss Denton, Phyllis George (1971) and Shirley Cothran Barret (1975).

There are still a number of collections to be processed including Denton Public Library Records and History and the Mayor Euline Brock Papers. The Engineering Department Records have also been identified for processing which contain nearly 20 cubic ft. of maps, plans and drawings.

Completed collections are open for research and the finding aids have been published online and can be found through the Denton Public Library’s online catalog or by following this link: https://denton.lyrasistechnology.org/repositories/resources. Select digital objects chosen to be representative of their specific record series are also available to view through the archives website.

For additional information regarding the Denton Municipal Archives contact:

Matthew Davis
Archivist
Special Collections
Denton Public Library
502 Oakland St.
Denton, TX 76201
940-349-8782
Email: matthew.davis@ciytofdenton.com