Z. Wiggs Reinvents the Wheel

We just got a letter in the mail from a thoughtful man in Michigan.

A typed letter.

I can’t tell you how rare that is, but to top it off – inside – a copy of a story from the November 1939 issue of Popular Science about a Denton man called, Z. Wiggs and his invention – which either they or Wiggs had coined “The Poochmobile”.

Z. Wiggs and his Poochmobile in Denton, Texas, 1939. -Popular Mechanics, Nov. 1939, p.142

Z. Wiggs and his Poochmobile in Denton, Texas. Note the sign at the top of cage, “All Rights Reserved For Advertising Purposes Consult Builder, Z. Wiggs, 218 Blount St., Denton, Texas.” -Popular Science, Nov. 1939, p.142

Who was this Wiggs and what led him to such machinations of four-legged ambulatory madness?

Haywood Zephaniah Wiggs, otherwise known as “Zeph” or “Z.”, born in Union Co., Illinois in 1859 and grew up farming.  He married Rachel Ann Wilson in 1881 and they lived in Lick Creek, Illinois. I’m going to take a leap faith here to say that they left Illinois (and farming) in search of a different life. They first landed in Bonham, Texas where Zeph worked for the Texas & Pacific Railroad and then gradually made their way to Denton arriving, on Aug. 1, 1888.

Z. got a job with the railroad and was foreman in charge of the track department for 12 years. In 1901, he was appointed Street Commissioner for the City of Denton.1 His job was to keep up the roads and sidewalks in town. Back then, sidewalks were either made from oak planks, flagstones or brick. Wiggs advised the city council that he could have “good durable sidewalks using gravel and oak plank curbing that would cost 10¢ per foot.”2

There was a great need for sidewalks back then, especially after a rain. The photo below is a shot of the Wiggs home, but this one allows you to see the oak plank curbing filled with crushed rocks next to the dirt road. Now, imagine getting to your house in the rain without sidewalks in a sea of mud.

C-055

Portrait of Wiggs’ Family Home at the corner of Blount and McKinney Streets in Denton, Texasphotograph1912; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth14760/University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Denton Public Library.

In his down time, Zeph did things.

For instance, in 1895, he caught an alligator in Pecan Creek and brought it home, but it later died.3

18 July 1895

And in between 1896 to 1903, he filed four patents with the U.S. Patent Office for things ranging from a “Shaft-Tug” to a “Railway Cattle-Guard”. The Railway Cattle-Guard was filed Aug. 19, 1896 and was listed as patent No. 579,507 with the United States Patent Office.

Railway Cattle-Guard

Wiggs, Zeph. Railway Cattle – GuardpatentNovember 23, 1897; [Washington D.C.]. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth513922/University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.

After his 16 years as street commissioner were up, Z. turned in his resignation – several times – but the city refused to acknowledge it and kept him on until finally, “he asked for a leave of absence and never returned, continuing private contract work.”4

pf_b-206

The Justin-Ponder-Krum Road being graveled in 1913 by the Z. Wiggs crew; texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth12462/University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Denton Public Library.

Looking at the photos we have in our collection, I have to say that building roads back then was not for sissies. Nor was it an easy thing to accomplish at that time: materials were very expensive, they could be hard to obtain, and you had to have the means to haul them.

When he started the job, the City only paid for one person to do the work. In 1903, they realized that more help was needed and hired two others to help him out. The “street force” grew as the needs for improvements to sidewalks and roads grew.

Z. Wiggs and unknown crew laying the base for paving on E. Hickory St. in Denton, Texas, 1913.

Photo of Z. Wiggs and his “street force” laying the base for paving on E. Hickory St. in Denton, Texas, 1910texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth12580/, University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Denton Public Library.

By 1920, roads had become a major issue: “On January 1, 1910 there was a total of 52 automobiles in Denton County. Ten years later, January 1, 1920, there were about 2,800. As the number of autos increased, the general demand for good roads increased. In 1910 there was practically not a foot of good roads in the entire county in the modern sense. By 1920 the situation in this respect was not materially changed… not much was done about road improvement until after the close of the war.”6

But enough about roads.

Zeph and Rachel were married for 59 years and had ten children, five of whom died at early ages. Their daughter, Ruth (below, 4th from the left) passed in 1928.

The Wiggs family at the Z. Wiggs  home on Blount Street in Denton, Texas.

Z. Wiggs and family at his home on Blount Street which used to run from McKinney to Mulberry (close to and parallel to Bell Ave.). -Photo Denton Public Library, Special Collections Department

Zeph intrigues me. I picture this man always busy with work and ideas, sketching on pieces of paper that remain tacked to the walls and then taking long drives through Denton County in his Dodge Roadster6, testing out the roads with a grandkid by his side and talking about possibilities.

And maybe that, was how the idea for the dog came about.

 

Leslie Couture, Special Collections

Leslie.Couture@cityofdenton.com

Notes:

1 City Council Minute Bk. 1900 to 1907, p.41.

2 “Civic Improvement League. The Organization Will Make an Effort to Thoroughly Clean Up the City.” Denton County News, 18 June, 1903, p.1.

3“From Whence He Came.” Denton County News, 18 July, 1895, p.5.

4“Mr. and Mrs. Z. Wiggs.” Denton Record-Chronicle, 3 August, 1938, p.3.

5Bridges, Clarence Allen. “History of Denton: From Its Beginnings to 1960.” Texian Press, 1978, p.286.

6 “Diamond Cords Give Good Service.” Denton Record-Chronicle, 27 November, 1922, p.8.

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Finding a Family Legend or a Sly Stone Story

Working in the Special Collections research area can lead to its own set of frustrations and rewards. Sometimes when people contact us they have run up against a “brick wall” while researching their family history.  They have exhausted all their known resources and have reached out to contact libraries and other organizations in the area where their ancestor lived, hoping for help finding more information.  From time to time we are unable to help them. Even though we have checked every resource we have access to – newspapers, birth and death records, land records, local histories, city directories, family histories, census records, and more – we just cannot find any trace of the person in question. (As you might imagine this is really frustrating; it is amazing the number of people who just disappear off the face of the Earth.)  Then there are times that all the pieces fall into place and we are able to find that missing bit of information that helps make the connection.

One such instance happened this spring. I was contacted by Kierra Benson, a UNT student, who needed help verifying a family legend. She said she was going to use it as the basis for a podcast. I was a little unsure about her request at first because family legends are a funny thing. Many times they are based on fact, but occasionally they are proved false, which may, or may not, cause more than a little consternation in a family.  In her own words, here is a description of Kierra’s research into her family legend:

“I am currently a senior at the University of North Texas at Dallas in pursuit of a bachelors in Communication and Technology. This past semester, in one of my classes I was assigned to create a podcast on a subject that interested me. After considering a few other topics for my podcast, one question lingered in the back of my head for years. That question was based on a claim that my grandfather made about famous funk singer Sly Stone being related to our family. I had always had my doubts about my grandfather’s claim, so I decided to use this project as an opportunity to verify (or debunk) this claim once and for all. With the help of professional genealogist Laura Douglas and past accounts from my grandfather, I pieced together information about my family history and Sly Stone’s family history to see if there is a true connection.”

Was there a connection? Did her family legend prove true? You can listen to her podcast here.

Helping Kierra with her research was one of those rewarding experiences that makes working in Special Collections so much fun. Do you have a “brick wall” or a family legend you would like help with? Email us at genealogy@cityofdenton.com and let’s see what we can help you find.

Oh yeah, if you are in the mood for a little funk from a Dentonite, here’s some of the albums you can check out from the library:

 

Laura Douglas
Emily Fowler Central Library

Toponymy and Cartophiles. In The Weeds, 5/24/18.

Did you know that a person who is interested (obsessed? Not me…) in maps is called a “cartophile“? Did you ever wonder who or what certain streets were named after? That study is called “toponymy“. Combining the two is what we’ll do in this blog post. A tiny sampling of names and stories follow.

Piner Street, located just east of Carroll Blvd (named after Civil War-era Judge Joseph Carroll) between Oak and Hickory, was named for another judge from the 1870s, F. E. Piner, who was also a member of the IOOF. ¹

Sawyer Street, located between Locust and Bell south of the Square, was named after the first mayor of Denton, J. B. Sawyer, who was elected in August, 1869. Wait, you ask. Wasn’t Denton founded in 1857? Why so long to elect a mayor? The Texas Legislature granted the City’s charter in 1866 and only afterwards did they get around to electing a mayor, or “daddy”, as he was called in the 1869 Denton Monitor. ²

Hinkle Street, located off University Dr. going north to Windsor St, was named after a prominent local surgeon who helped open in 1949 the Medical and Surgical Clinic at Normal and Scripture Streets and passed away in 1955.  Here is his obit from the Record-Chronicle: Hinkle DRC 20 APR 1955.jpg

Below is a map from 1922 apparently made by the City Engineer, V.G. Koch.  Please ckick on each image to make it larger. In it you will see some oddities and irregularities:

For instance, Egan St. is spelled “Eagan” on the map but nowhere else that we can find. What happened to all the streets named after states? I think I know the reason why but I’ll let y’all take a guess. Personally, I’m kind of sad that “Lula St.” doesn’t exist anymore (now Bryan St. between Fry and Ponder St.). What other differences from today can you see?

Now, about that word “toponymy”. Here is a quote from a Turkish paper from the 2016 International Planning History Society Conference,

“Cities have a multi-layered and living structure, thus they also have a memory. Therefore, actions such as forgetting, recalling or storing information occur in cities as well. Urban memories sometimes change or disappear due to the rearrangement and reshaping of various components in cities. When the components of the urban memory are removed, the interaction is interrupted, and such components are removed from the urban memory and are thus forgotten.”

And…

“Among the interventions on urban space, those carried out on streets are the  most remarkable. The political, cultural, economic and social interventions on streets wipe out or reproduce certain information in the urban memory.”

What people, ideas, or forces made Dentonites name streets the way they did? What made them change names, as well? Some were named for decidedly important reasons and some for the more prosaic.

Notes:

¹ Bridges, C.A. “History of Denton, Texas From the Beginning to 1960”. Texian Press, Waco, Tx. 1978. p. 65.

² Ibid. p. 111.

Written by Chuck Voellinger. chuck.voellinger@cityofdenton.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bradshaw’s Chili Wagon

CVChiliWagon

Drawing by Chuck Voellinger.

Way back in 2014 the Austin Street Truck Stop opened and Denton was pretty excited that we had a place for food trucks to park near the Square. Well, have you ever heard that saying “there’s nothing new under the sun?”  Denton had a place on the square for a food truck back in the 1890’s. Well, that is using the term food truck loosely, it was actually a food wagon.

In the April 15, 1956 edition of the Denton Record-Chronicle William Edward wrote a column about the Bradshaw Chili Con Carne Diner. (You can read the full article at the end of this post.) On a side note, it was Mr. Edwards who consolidated the Denton Chronicle and the Denton County Record to form the weekly newspaper, the Denton Record and Chronicle in 1899.

In the article he describes the chili wagon:

“Probably twenty feet long, eight or ten feet wide, and high enough to provide headroom for patrons of six feet or taller. For light and ventilation it had glass windows on the sides, and there was an opening in the front through which the driver handled his team. At the rear was a door… and Inside was the chili bar extending the full length of the room, behind it a walkway for use in serving the guests with a concoction of ground meat, much grease, beans (optional), chili peppers and other condiments. Scattered along the bar for those who wanted their chili “red hot” were bottles of “pepper-sass” that were the concentrated essence of hotness. At the front end was the stove on which the food was kept warm with its smokestack protruding through the roof.”

While the “house on wheels” was originally pulled by two horses from Mr. Bradshaw’s home in southeast Denton to the square, it didn’t take too long before the chili wagon “became a permanent if somewhat unsightly fixture just outside the hitching chain at the southeast corner of the courthouse yard.”

And apparently the chili was pretty good and the price was right. Mr. Edwards wrote, “You could get a good-sized bowl with either crackers or light bread on the side for a nickel. But if you were really hungry – and what growing boy wasn’t- for a dime you could get a “big bowl” that was a full meal for even the hungriest.”

So who was this Mr. Bradshaw and what happened to the chili wagon?  In the article Mr. Bradshaw was not given a first name and Mr. Edwards stated he was not sure when the chili wagon disappeared from the square.  Of course, I had to see if I could find more information.

My starting point in the search was the 1900 U.S. Population Census. (You can access this via familysearch.org or though the library’s subscription to Ancestry Library Edition.)  I searched for any Bradshaws in Denton in 1900. Among the results was an entry for M.H. Bradshaw,  58 years old, from Virginia and under the Occupation column it read “Restaurant Pro”, which I interpreted to mean “Restaurant Proprietor.”

bradshaw 1900

That was a good sign I was on the right track.  I used census records, Denton County land records, early Denton newspapers and the Library’s death and cemetery records to find out more information.

Mordecai Hawkins Bradshaw was born in Virginia in 1841 (or 1843, depending on the source) and married Mary E. Wimberley in Lafayette, Mississippi on June 30, 1873. They had five children; Mordecai, Ophelia, John, Lawrence, and David. The March 14, 1901 issue of the Denton County News reported his death on page 4.  “CITY PHYSICIAN’S REPORT – DEATHS. March 7, M. H. Bradshaw, aged 57 years; apoplexy.”  Mr. Bradshaw and other members of his family are buried in Oakwood cemetery

While the only mention of a restaurant I found was in the census, there was another clue I had the right person. Mr. Bradshaw’s daughter, Ophelia Bradshaw, married Asbury Goodson Price. The article by Mr. Edwards mentions that Mr. Bradshaw had a relative, Goodson Price, who sold tamales. As for the chili wagon, one can only imagine that it was put out to pasture after Mr. Bradshaw’s death.

And one last-side note- it seems that Bradshaw Street in Southeast Denton was named after this family.

DRC 15 Apr 1956

Laura Douglas
Special Collections
Emily Fowler Central Library

In The Weeds, 2.20.18: Denton Women’s Interracial Fellowship

In 1964, a group of African-American and White women formed a group to meet regularly to get to know and learn from each other. This was the Civil Rights Era and that Act had been passed in the Summer of ’64 after many years of struggle. One of the main reasons for forming this group was to open dialog to see if problems and concerns could be addressed bi-racially and hopefully help smooth the transition from a Jim Crow segregated society to a more integrated one.

Among the projects undertaken by the group were: tutoring for children, voter registration drives, assistance with finding jobs, and, in particular and what we will focus on here, is the 1968 Street Survey of Southeast Denton. Fifty years ago, very few of the streets in that area were paved. Historically, Southeast Denton, also known as Solomon’s Hill, was the location of the Black population after the relocation of the Quakertown community in the early 1920s. In an effort to rectify this situation, the Interracial Fellowship pushed for and conducted a survey of property owners as part of the Mayor’s Committee for Development of Southeast Denton. It is a fascinating document with hand-drawn charts, a copy of the petition, interviews with the Mayor, City Manager, City Planner, and is a snapshot in time:

Street Survey of southeast denton

The alumnae of the Fellowship were profiled in the February 16, 1994 issue of the Denton Record-Chronicle:

Interracial2.16.94

Interracial2.16.94.2

A series of oral histories from members of the group were conducted by the UNT Oral History Project and the Special Collections Department at the Emily Fowler Library has the transcripts, as well. This oral history project was featured in the  Oral History Review, Vol. 19 No. 1/2 (Spring-Autumn, 1991), pp. 31-53  with an article authored by one of the interviewers, Richard W. Byrd. It offers some additional context both locally and in Texas politics at the time.

We encourage anyone who is interested in this group and Denton history to read the oral history transcripts, as the speakers are far more eloquent about their experiences than we are interpreting it.

Please direct questions and comments to chuck.voellinger@cityofdenton.com

Wheeler’s Goat

Back in the 1870s, before barbed wire fences had become the norm and the Courthouse was much smaller, there was this goat who had all sorts of misadventures in-and-around the Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square. I am not aware of his breed, name (although it could have been “That Damn Animal”), nor am I positive to whom he belonged, thanks to the fact that are several versions of the story.

At the time, the Square was a pretty dirty place. Imagine Fry Street at the end of a  weekend, but instead of pizza crusts, beer bottles, and cigarette butts there were goats, produce, and chewing tobacco (and lots of poop). According to Eugene L. Fry, who wrote a small pamphlet book about the early days, called Historical Episodes of Denton,

“The square was just: “… a dumping ground for everybody. The country people would come into town after a day’s work and dump their produce into the town square in front of the place of the merchant’s business house… The eternal botheration of stray hogs, longhorn, cattle, and all sorts of domestic and semi-domestic animals, roaming at will from one pile of rubbish or from store to store, proved quite unbearable and otherwise utterly useless.”

“A man named John Ross, owned an unusual Billy goat who … roamed the square like an army general who had just captured the city… He stole large quantities of groceries (ate) and then went in for calico (ate) and leather saddles (also ate). But despite the serious misdemeanors he was respected around town due to his tendency to charge and never miss.”

metapth12610_xl_pf_c-19

Possible scene of the crime: the J. F. Bell Grocery store on the northwest corner of the Denton square. [photo DPL]

Another rehashing of the goat story appears in the Denton Record-Chronicle in several columns by “The Loafer” (W. H. Browder) that appeared in December of 1928. Among the storytellers were Jack Christal, Jack Fry, Bob Evers, Will Williams, Frank Piner, Mrs. Mattie Hawkins and Mrs. Mattie Farris. According to them the goat belonged to a man named Wheeler and it was followed around by three or four nannies (or maybe none). “They made the business part of town their habitat and subsisted, according to popular belief on rags, paper, and tin cans. Their most famous achievement (or credit) was when they broke in to the County Attorney’s office –

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Denton County Clerk’s Office, c1919 [photo DPL]

– and ate some indictments.

Those indictments were against one man and “the destruction of the true bills prevented the charges against him ever reaching trial.”

I have no idea who that man was, but it sounds like he was pretty lucky!

On another occasion, Bob Evers recalled that: “He heard J. W. Jagoe in his office raising a hullabaloo that we could hear upstairs. I went up to see what was the matter and found Jagoe in his office which looked as if a cyclone had just passed thru. It developed that Wheeler’s goats had climbed into Jagoe’s office from the awning and had made a meal off the lawyer’s papers, documents, abstracts and loose books.”

Mused Browder, “In many ways they [the goat(s)] were a nuisance, but they contributed much to the life of the town and their goatesque way, being privileged characters who were willing to fight for their privileges if any attempt was made to deny them.”

Of course, this couldn’t happen today because the Courthouse is so much bigger and the echoes of a goat clickety-clacking throughout the building just couldn’t be tolerated.  I read later  that the goat retired to the Denton County Poor Farm and spent his last days, no doubt,  in quiet turpitude.

goat-2190007_1920

~Leslie Couture

Special Collections

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 piqued, 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