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

Advertisements

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s On the Menu?

Many years ago, the junk drawer was where you put your telephone books, menus, random ticket stubs, church bulletins, and other odd bits and pieces that you thought you might need. My grandparents had one that always fascinated and baffled me. Fast forward some 20 to 40 years later and your kids (or grandkids) are cleaning out your house and they toss all that stuff away because it’s yellowed and out-of-date. At first, it’s hard to do because the stuff is full of memories, but this is taking too long, and why on earth is there still a phone book from 1973 in the junk drawer? Or a menu from a restaurant that doesn’t exist anymore? Why would anyone keep that stuff?

So you chuck it in the trash because what’s the point?

Well, once upon a time those things mattered because most people didn’t move and the phone number they had in 1973 was still the same number they had in 1997. Or at least, until they got a cell phone. And those menus, well, memories.

Our Department at the Library collects those treasures, some of which I find exciting and important for various reasons, but mostly because they make me curious and then I get interested and start looking up stuff I NEVER would have had a reason to.

For instance, we have an old menu for El Fenix Café in Dallas, Texas. Now, it is a little worn and dirty looking, but it tells a story. Not all menus do, but this one does. We think it was produced sometime after 1951 for a couple of reasons:

First of all, look at those prices! What the heck is an Alligator Pear? And did I really want to know that? And I’d never heard of Virginia Dare wine and didn’t know that Virginia was the first English born child in the Americas.

The second clue was in the El Fenix history which said that Miguel Martinez retired after his four sons came back from World War II and in 1948 they opened up a new location in Oak Cliff. The location had both Spanish and Mexican influences:

metapth29638_xl_PF-C_282_02_02

The last clue, though was Mr. James J. Metcalfe’s poem on the back of the menu. And this is really the whole reason I started looking at the menu’s history in the first place. It’s not surprising to see a poem, but the fact that the poet’s signature was included meant something. The guy must have been famous, a “regular” who was probably fond of the owners and the restaurant. The El Fenix in Dallas, was, after all, a pretty happening place at one time.

metapth29638_xl_PF-C_282_02_04

But back to James Metcalf. He emigrated from Berlin to the United States in 1913 when he was just a boy and later graduated from Loyola University with a law degree. Well, law firms weren’t hiring at that time, but the Justice Bureau was, so he joined the FBI’s Chicago Bureau from 1931 to 1936. I know this because I called his son, Don Metcalfe, who also became a lawyer and later a judge. He said, “In 1933, all hell broke loose. James was one of the men who ambushed Dillinger (part of the Dillinger Squad) and was across the street when it happened. He even played a part in the apprehension of Baby Face Nelson. That’s Metcalfe below, third guy down on the left-hand side.

dillinger+squad

“We Were The G-Men,” by James J. Metcalfe –http://historicalgmen.squarespace.com/the-faces-of-the-dillinger-squ

Afterwards, he left the FBI and became a reporter for the Chicago Times. He and his brother, John C. Metcalfe, and another reporter, William Mueller, went undercover to infiltrate the German American Bund and investigate Nazi activity in America. The guy had moxie!

But what he really liked was to write poetry and so that’s what he did: he wrote poems and had a column called “Portraits” that became nationally syndicated in 1945, appearing daily in over 150 newspapers through the Chicago Sun-Times until his death in 1960. He and his family lived for a time in Dallas in a house, “that poems built.” And they ate Mexican food at El Fenix in Dallas, Texas starting in the 1940s. The poem, Don said, was written in 1951. He remembers because he was in high school then and they had a discussion about it which made an impression. James wrote the poem for Miguel Martinez, as a favor. And El Fenix kept the poem on their menu for 50 years.

If you click on any of these links, you’ll see what I mean about getting carried away with the history of it all.

~Leslie Couture, Special Collections

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 –

metapth12505_xl_pf_b-17

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