Shopping, Streetcars, and Sleuthing

One of my favorite places in Denton is the Mini Mall on the Square. Many times a visit evolves from a shopping trip to a trip down memory lane. A few weeks ago, as I was browsing through old books and digging through antique photographs, I came across a snapshot of a group of people in, and on, an electric streetcar. Across the side of the vehicle was written “The Denton Railroad C”.  I was pretty sure the word Company would follow the C if the photograph was larger. Despite the little hand written sign next to the photo which stated, “Denton Items”, I had my doubts about this picture. We did have a streetcar line in the city, but I knew it as the Denton Traction Company, not Railroad Company.

201702Dec004

Now that my curiosity was peaked, I had to purchase the photograph. Time to put the librarian research skills to work to find out if the photo was really from Denton. It didn’t take long to prove that it was. The first thing I did was to compare it with other photographs of our streetcars on the UNT Portal of Texas History. Sure enough, there along the side of the cars in two of the photographs was emblazoned “The Denton Railroad Company”, but in a third the streetcar bore the name “Denton Traction Company”.

Of course the next question was what caused the change in name? Using the early issues of the Denton Newspapers on the Portal, and issues of the Denton Record Chronicle available through the Library’s subscription to Newspaper Archives, as well as articles in the local history/genealogy vertical files and other books in our collection. (Along with emails to Kim Cupit at the Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum and Dr. Terry Pohlen at UNT.) I was able to learn more about Denton’s streetcar system.

A very short overview of Denton’s street railway system:

The Denton Interurban Railway and Power Company (I also saw it listed as the Denton Street Railway Company) began operation in 1907. The railway was closely tied with the development of the Highland Park Addition.  A group of men, Newt M. Lee, C.M. Simmons, Richard J. Wilson, and Wiley W. Wilson of Denton, Donald Fitzgerald of New York, and H.M. Griffin of Battle Creek Michigan, invested in both the land development and the establishment of the railway.  The line originated near the Denton Union Depot, traveled along Hickory Street, Elm Street to Oak, and on through the North Texas Normal campus, now UNT, to the Highland Park addition.  The company was sold in 1909 after the death of H.M. Griffin, in 1908, and a number of lawsuits that were filed shortly thereafter.  R.J. Wilson and his brother W.W. Wilson assumed ownership of the company in September 1909 and regular service was once again established as the Denton Traction Company.

routeIn 1911 a second line was added to the streetcar route, extending service to the College of Industrial Arts, now TWU. Denton also received two new streetcars in 1911. Unfortunately, The Denton Traction Company service ended 1918 and the lines sold for junk.

Streetcar Line 4 Apr 1918 p1

If you discover a photograph that makes you curious, come visit Emily Fowler Central Library’s Denton history and genealogy collections. Perhaps we can help you discover the “rest of the story.”

Laura Douglas
Emily Fowler Central Library

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In The Weeds 11.8.17: Mid-Century Modern in Denton

In the past decade or so, Mid-Century Modern (MCM) style and architecture has experienced a renaissance for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the popularity of the Mad Men TV series. If you have been bitten by the bug, this blog post will help you find some houses and commercial properties that you may not know existed in Our Fair City. This blog post is also a companion to the exhibit we currently have up in the Special Collections Department at the Emily Fowler Library.

Before we start our virtual tour, what is Mid-Century Modern? At least as far as architecture and this blog is concerned, examples of this style exhibit: flat roofs, lack of ornament, use of rectangular forms with vertical and horizontal lines, emphasis on open floor plans, use of traditional materials (wood, stone, etc) in new ways, liberal use of glass and natural light, and use of modern materials (steel, aluminum) in novel ways. (1)

An excellent overview of the styles associated with MCM is the City of Denton’s Historic Resource Survey of the Idiots Hill Neighborhood which can be read here.

Two architecture firms with extensive examples in Denton are Mount-Miller (M-M, Denton-based) and Ford, Powell and Carson, O’Neil Ford’s firm based in San Antonio. The latter is very well known locally and nationally while the former is less so, but nevertheless contributed greatly to our visual and architectural landscape. To whet your appetite, here are two Mount-Miller examples, the first of which is the former Joe Alford Florist building  on North Elm St., from the 11/28/65 Denton Record-Chronicle:

Joe Alford Florist 28 Nov 1965

The second is a really groovy house located at 1717 Mistywood Dr.:

IMG_7617

They also redesigned the former Voertman’s Book Store on West Hickory and we did a blog post on that last year. More about Isabel and Tom Polk Miller can be found in the Images of America Series of books on Denton by Georgia Caraway and Kim Cupit (2009).

Without further ado, slip into your cardigan sweater, pour a martini, put some Keely Smith and Frank Sinatra on the hi-fi, and let’s get going!

606 Roberts St. (with Martha and Beau Mood ceramic lamps over front entrance-more on them below):

EnhancedFordHouse1.jpg

A little further west on Roberts St:

IMG_7621

The Mount-Miller designed Unitarian Universalist Church at 1111 Cordell St.:

DentonUU

At 711 Ector St.:enhancedEctorHouse1

On Kendolph St, there are several unique houses including this M-M designed at 1220:

IMG_7641

and this personal favorite at 1403 (possibly a Mount-Miller?), front:

EnhancedMondrian2

…and south-facing:

EnhancedMondrianHouse3.jpg

A related commercial architectural style originating in Southern California in the late-40s and lasting through the 1960’s known as “Googie” has a few possible examples in Denton.(2) These aren’t strictly Googie but seem reminiscent of that era and possibly influenced by it. For example, the Holiday Lodge sign on E. University and the E-Z Chek sign on Eagle Dr.:

IMG_7651

There are many more examples of MCM to be found in Denton in the older areas (Idiot’s Hill, just south of I-35, old Central Denton, etc.). Mount-Miller deserve a book by themselves and then there’s the fantastic ceramic lighting created by Martha and Beaumont Mood which can be seen at City Hall, the Civic Center, Fowler Library and, until recently, at the old Selwyn School campus. So much research yet to be done! Drop by the Emily Fowler Library and we can help you find and learn about these places.(3)

Don’t forget to lift the needle from your vinyl album on the hi-fi and turn it over!

Written by Chuck Voellinger. I can be reached at chuck.voellinger@cityofdenton.com

Notes:

  1. a2modern.org: http://www.a2modern.org/2011/04/characteristics-of-modern-architecture/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Googie_architecture
  3. Mount-Miller vertical file: https://denton.bibliocommons.com/item/show/1463157127

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Dunn’s (Smalltown) Mythic Proportions

About 110 years ago, a man named John Dunn lived in a one-room cabin out on E. McKinney, just past the “old wire bridge” in Denton. He was a single man in his 60s, who made a meager living by cutting wood, doing odd jobs, and was a “fortune teller” who was popular with college students and locals.

Known for being eccentric, John had a “peculiar manner of dress”; he possessed an old rabbit’s foot, “supposed to have come from a rabbit killed in a cemetery in the dark of the moon, and with the aid of that “conjure” he would essay to answer any questions propounded to him by means of the foot swinging pendulum-like on a string.” [Denton Record-Chronicle, Dec. 1, 1925, p.1]

John Dunn's home

John Dunn note

Students would visit his cabin to get their fortunes told, something that must have been a “lark” back then. Imagine, if you will, the sound of the prevailing winds blowing through the fields and once inside, the creaking of the boards, the tinkling of bones, or bits of metal hanging from string. Being a conjurer would require some kind of acting skill especially for one who hones their craft. And there would need to be props. The cabin would be lit by lantern light unless the travellers were there in the daytime and then there would be the dust motes and shadows.

John Dunn at home

Chief John Dunn, collector of rabbits’ foots and hoodoo. 08/08/1900 -Inscription on back of photo, Denton Public Library Archives

Speculation aside, what we do know about John are bits and pieces: He was described in two census records as a “black man,” and then, as a “mulatto” who had been born in Texas, somewhere ranging from 1847 to 1854. His father was born in Ireland, mother in Tennessee, and like many other people, John could not read or write. From several newspaper accounts, we know that he collected “curious trinkets, pieces of jewelry, old coins” [DRC Aug. 28, 1912], and that his job could be quite dangerous:

John Dunn 22 Oct 1909

Denton Record-Chronicle, October 22, 1909

As an “official local character” he was targeted by hooligans (my word) who broke into his home and stole some of his precious objects. Later, in 1917, an injury to one of his feet became gangrenous and had to be amputated.  One can only imagine what this lonely man had to go through.  A couple of years before, he moved from his home to another cabin located eight miles east of town out on the Jagoe farm.  One bitter cold night, on January 18, 1918,  the cabin caught fire. Neighbors found the structure in flames and made a search for him, but it wasn’t until the following day that the Sheriff found his body buried beneath the remains of the fallen chimney.

The tale should end there, but it doesn’t because of another story which was done about John and other “Peculiar Characters” in 1954. The editor of the DRC at that time decided to rerun the same story from 1925, but he spiced up the wording and added more details which came from another set of “old-timers” (“sons of the old-timers”?).  Anyway, these men described John as a “tall gaunt man whose long, straight hair proved his Indian blood.” This “newer” modern story was both vile and racist. It targeted the weakest and most unfortunate members of the community who it was suggested, were freaks.

What a lack of imagination (to say the very least).

John Dunn in Field

John Dunn, standing in a field near his home on E. McKinney Street. – Photo, Denton Public Library

I find myself thinking about that 1954 description of John and then looked at the photos above, but gol-darn it, they just aren’t clear enough! I picture some college students sneaking out and taking the unposed photos of this private man and sharing them with their friends. Who was he really?

It has been suggested by one of my co-workers that maybe John’s mother was one of the Cherokee or Chickasaw Freedman (someone of Indian and African American ancestry).  That could explain the odd clothes, the bones, and perhaps the storytelling.  As for his father, there is too much to speculate.

I have looked in the census for a child or young man by the name of John Dunn who might fit the description and in the 1870 census, found a 15 year-old boy named John Cook Dunn living in Coryell County, Texas, who, along with numerous brothers and sisters were listed as being “Servant” as their occupation. In a nearby prosperous farm, a white family by the name of Dunn, lived, along with a 33-year-old black woman (also with the last name of Dunn) who was their “House Keeper” and maybe the mother of the other of the young Dunns. But I am being hopeful.

I think John Dunn had a very important story to tell; I just can’t ask him any questions, only photos.

But at least I can tell a better story than the one from 1954.

~Leslie Couture, Special Collections Department

 

A Road By Any Other Name

Is still a road.

That stunk, I apologize.

Someone called a while back and wanted to know if Bonnie Brae Street had once been called Avenue I. They were looking for the place where someone once lived, but couldn’t find the street.

Guess what? It was.

Once upon a time, the name for the road was split with Scripture dividing the two names. The northern part of the road was – and still is – Bonnie Brae and the southern part was Avenue I. The people who lived along the length decided, and rightly so, that they would like their street to have one name and went to the City Council. The Council passed an ordinance to get rid of the dual names in 1961. So, Avenue I was no more, except in people’s memories which can be rather long.

Sadly, no song exists about Avenue I – or its’ glory days – although there are some who might remember the way it used to look. I would like to hear a description of that from someone (drop me a line?).

The first mentions – that I can find – of Avenue I are in 1919. As for Bonnie Brae – other than the literal term for a “a pretty hillside” –  it was once known as the Bonnie Brae Stock Farm. The 30 acre homestead, located “1-1/2 miles west of the courthouse on the turnpike” was owned by Chas. H. Smoot. This farm raised prize-winning Jersey cows, Hampshire and Shropshire sheep, and Broughton rams. Mr. Smoot purchased the land in 1914, but put the farm up for sale in 1920 and by July of 1925 had started the “Bonnie Brae Addition” with his first open house prominently advertised in the Denton Record-Chronicle.

1940DentonMap002

1940 Map of Denton, Texas, Denton Chamber of Commerce.

As subdivisions were added, a new arterial road was needed to reach State Highway 24 – something we all know now as University Drive, or US380 – and Bonnie Brae was lengthened, but it needed some serious straightening out first – judging by the map below.

1958 map of Denton, Texas.

Part of a 1958 map of Denton, Texas

And here is a aerial photo from our collection of the same road taken in 1964 looking west over UNT. If you look just in the background, just left of the middle you can see the strange configuration of the road and the still open fields. To see a larger copy check it out on the Portal to Texas History.

metapth15481_xl_pf_d-25

View of UNT campus in 1964 with Avenue I/Bonnie Brae in the background.

I swear, the excitement in this town never ends.

-Leslie Couture

Special Collections

 

In The Weeds 8.16.17: We’re Hungry!

We have four old menus for local businesses here in the Special Collections Dept at the Emily Fowler Library: The Flying Tomato, The Duck Inn and Jim’s Diner. We think “The Tomato” example is from the early 2000s after they were no longer franchised and the “Flying Tomato” menu is from the mid-to-late 1990s. The Duck Inn menu is probably from the early 2000s, as well. Finally, the Jim’s menu is maybe from the early ’90’s? We would love to hear from anyone who knows who worked at any of these establishments. Contact us at the email below.

The Duck Inn existed for nearly 60 years at the same location in Lake Dallas from 1945 to mid 2000’s and were known by the famous and funny motto, “Duck Inn and Waddle Out!” The Flying Tomato was established in 1984 at 1226 West Hickory Street on a location formerly occupied by The Crossroads Club and Bullwinkle’s. Jim’s Diner existed at 110 Fry Street from 1980 to approximately 1997 and was the sight of many a performance and poetry reading from some folks you may have heard of like Brave Combo, Little Jack Melody, and Norah Jones.

Now, without further ado, here they are and we cannot be held responsible for your hunger pangs…

DuckMenuOutside

DuckMenuInside

Here’s an ad from the January 2, 1958 Record-Chronicle advertising the newly “Rmodeled” (oops!) Duck Inn:

DuckAd

Two Tomato menus, donated by Melinda Rule:

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TomatoMenuInside

TomatoMenuBWoutside

TomatoMenuBWInside

Here’s a 1986 Alec Williams photo of the Flying Tomato during the Fry Street Fair of that year:

Tomato

Finally, the piece de resistance: a hand drawn menu from the late and much lamented Jim’s Diner at 110 Fry Street followed by a Denton Record-Chronicle photo, both courtesy of Martin Iles:

JimsMenu

JimsDRC

Many thanks to Melinda Rule, Martin Iles, and Alec Williams for their contributions.

(I had too much fun tagging this blog post with words like, “Gutbuster”, “catfish”, “hushpuppies”, etc.)

Written by Chuck Voellinger. For questions or comments please email me at chuck.voellinger@cityofdenton.com. Thanks for reading!

Wear Them Shoes

The title refers to one of my favorite Patrick Sweany songs, the lyrics of which keep popping up in my head whenever I think about my two jobs: being a municipal employee and working in the part of the library where preserving the past is in the job description. The image is relevant for both jobs.

Employing 1,383 people, the City of Denton is one of the top five major public employers in Denton, Texas. After working for the City for 20 years, I visualize it as a gigantic puzzle with many missing pieces as employees retire, leave, or die. The collective memory of numerous individuals who might be able to provide the answers to those questions that each and every person who lives in a city or works for a city has (or might have had).

The Denton Public Library keeps some of that history of which many items are on the Portal to Texas History website. Our newest collection, the Denton Municipal Collection, features various photos, newsletters, and documents from the early 1900s to the present. The collection is still growing and we will be adding new items each year as we “harvest” items from the different departments and individuals as they retire. We also encourage former City of Denton employees to contact us with items they would like to preserve or have added in this collection.

The newsletters are a wonderful addition and provide helpful context to these bits of historical and government happenings, such as this article that was in the Spotlight in Dec. 1966. It discusses the framework for the round room in the Civic Center, which was originally known as the Community Center.

Spotlight Dec 1966

The photos on the Portal cover the 1910s and upward, although we have yet to upload all of them. The photo below is one that will be added next year. According to the stamp on the cardboard holder, the negative was developed in October of 1973. I  used the library’s subscription to Newspaper Archives to search the Denton Record-Chronicle for apartment fires in 1973 and came to the conclusion that this fire took place on Tuesday, October 2, 1973 at the Cedar Crest Apartments located at 223 Avenue G – these apartments still stand, but are now called Vendi Place.  In the article, a student had a cooking fire, put it out and went to class, however the flames traveled up the vent and started burning in the attic.

Fire at Cedar Crest Apartments, October 2, 1973 in Denton, Texas.   (Courtesy of the Denton Public Library)

Many of the people in these photos have no information written on the back and there are no accompanying notes, so if you know the name of someone in a photograph, or have something to add to the content, please contact us at genealogy@cityofdenton.com.

COD_Slides030Carroll Boulevard at Hickory Street, looking south – before it was widened to 3 lanes.

COD_Slides024

Looking at the corner of Locust and Hickory when Craven’s used to be behind the Denton County National Bank (now Wells Fargo).

 

For items that are on the Portal, their website has a link in the record of each item that says, “Corrections & Problems,” which allows you to add comments that they forward to us.

Thanks for reading and please take a look at the collections. Or come by the library and take a look at some of the items in our display case at the Emily Fowler Central Library. We’re open 7 days a week.

Oh no, now I’ve got a Beatles song stuck in my head…

Leslie Couture, Special Collections Department

Hidden History: Betty Jane Blazier Memorial Play Wall

Nestled in Quakertown Park between the Civic Center Pool and the Senior Center stands a rather unique, large, concrete wall. There are no clues on the structure as to its purpose, only a plaque that reads “In Memory of Betty Jane Blazier, 1915-1964, Teacher and Friend of Children”.

Incorporated into its long length are what appear to be tunnels, stairs, and random geometric shapes.  Is it an outdoor sculpture that should be admired from afar but not touched?  That description just does not feel right. The structure seems to extend an invitation to come and play, and in actuality that is what it is, a play wall.

Blazier 1962 Dadilian2

The play wall was built as a memorial to Miss Betty Jane Blazier, who was an instructor for the College of Household Arts and Sciences at Texas Woman’s University for 18 years. She specialized in child development and nursery education and served as the director for the on-site nursery school. She was also one of the founding members of the Denton Unitarian Fellowship. Miss Blazier died on July 20, 1964, at 48 years old, after a five year battle with breast cancer.

Funding for the project was organized by the Unitarian Fellowship who commissioned Dr. Richard Laing, then a member of the North Texas State University (now UNT), art faculty to create something that children would enjoy as a memorial to Miss Blazier. The play wall was specifically designed to help children develop a sense of mass and form and to encourage children to participate in active play.

The City of Denton Parks and Recreation Department built the foundation and the sand enclosure for the memorial. The structure itself was constructed by Alvin Ellis, under the supervision of Mount-Miller Architects. The project had the approval of the Municipal Complex architect O’Neil Ford. The play wall was dedicated in a public ceremony on December 13, 1970.

DRC 06 Oct 1970

So, the next time you are at Quakertown Park, take a moment, and yield to the call of the wall, just stop and play.

Are you curious about the history of any other places in Denton? Stop by the Genealogy and Local History Department at the Emily Fowler Central Library and let’s see what interesting information we can find.

Laura Douglas
Emily Fowler Central Library