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

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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

 

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!

In The Weeds, 5.9.17: Victoria Ebbels

In the early 1920’s, a young New York-trained artist moved to Denton to teach at the College of Industrial Arts, now known as TWU, and apparently became an assistant professor in Fine Arts. There is a bit of a mystery here, something in which we like to delve here at “In The Weeds”. Nowhere is she mentioned in the Daedalian yearbooks from 1921-1923. She is however listed as a faculty member from those school years in the College Bulletin, Historical Sketch of TSCW, The First Thirty Three Years 1903-1936 by E.V. White, Dean of the College. Why wasn’t she listed as an Assistant Professor in two editions of the yearbook?

Searching the 1923 Denton City Directory, she is found living at 1213 Carrier Street, which real Denton History geeks will recognize as the former name of the current Austin Street. Here is a photo of the house that occupies that address but we are not sure of its date of construction:

Ebbels 095

Interestingly, in the 1921 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Denton, the lot for that address appears to be empty: dentonjune1921sheet15. Was the house pictured above brand new when she lived there?

Here is the page from the City Directory with another mystery:

EbbelsDirectory002

Who is “Grace Ebbels” also living at this address? According to the 1920 census, she was Victoria’s mother.

Ms. Ebbels went on to have a fairly high profile career in art under the professional name of “Victoria Hutson Huntley” with her work in the collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Metropolitan Museum in New York, The Chicago Art Institute, etc.  The Smithsonian American Art Museum website has some examples of her work. She went on to have a long career and passed in 1971.

Written by Chuck Voellinger. Questions and comments can be directed to chuck.voellinger@cityofdenton.com.

 

 

 

Letters to Santa

SantaTranscribed from the Denton Record Chronicle (1909-1923)

Writing letters to Santa Claus is a delightful childhood tradition. Most of the time the letters are simple lists of toys, candy, or other much dreamed of items. But mingled among the requests for dolls and firecrackers one can find a glimpse into history.

Letters to Santa, published from 1909-1923 in the Denton Record-Chronicle, have been transcribed and are now available on the library’s  Genealogy and Local History resources page. The project was started by retired Librarian Kathy Strauss and completed by Ethan Seal as his Eagle Scout project. The index lists: the name of the child who wrote the letter, their address (if given), the content of their letter, and the citation for the issue of the DRC in which it was printed.

Each December the children of Denton would write their letter to Santa and send it to the Denton Record-Chronicle. The editor would then publish the letters and “send a copy of the paper to the North Pole for Santa to read.” The DRC was not the only business in town to support and encourage the letter writing program.  In one example from 1913 Evers Hardware hosted Santa himself in a visit to the store with candy and a present for every child that wrote a letter in care of Evers Hardware.

The letters are both predictable and surprising.  The children ask for items for themselves, but many also include family members and friends in their wishes. Events in the community or world-wide troubles are also mentioned in the children’s letters.

In 1915 the children were not only writing letters to Santa, but actively campaigning to have sidewalks installed by the Sam Houston School. A number of the children’s letters ask Santa for the sidewalks. Miss Elsie Wynn’s request put it quite nicely:

“Dear Santa Claus: Please bring the Sam Houston School some sidewalks. Better bring them in a boat so you won’t sink in the mud. Bring them from the Sam Houston School to Oak Street, and if you have any left, lay one on the south. Your friend, Elsie Wynn.”

Interestingly, also in 1915 there must have been a Scarlet Fever outbreak in Denton. Quite a few letters from that year mention that they, or someone they know, has had the disease. Annie Laura Cannon wrote:

“Dear Santa Claus: please bring me a bottle of perfume, a pretty doll, a little umbrella, a little sewing machine, a popcorn popper, a little piano, beauty pins, crochet hook, two packages of sparklers, oranges, apples, bananas, nuts of all kinds. Your little friend. P.S. – You need not bring us any candy. We are going to make our Christmas candy. We have the scarlet fever, and if you are afraid to come in, just leave the things on the front porch.”

Many of the letters ask Santa to “remember the orphans”. This is especially evident in the letters from 1916-1920, as the children recognize the communities ravaged by WWI.  There are many letters that ask for Santa to remember children without families closer to home. Bennie Margaret Klepper wrote in 1914:

“I want you to go to Buckner’s Orphan Home and take all the little children something, and be sure and go where they are playing war, and take all the little children something. I have three brothers. Be sure and come to see them. One of my brothers is in heaven. Bring me something to go on his grave, and don’t forget my mamma and papa, and if you have anything left, I would like a cow-girl suit and a sleepy doll. I go to Sunday school every Sunday and help mamma work. I thank you ever so much. You are so good, I know I will get all I ask for.”

Not only do the letters provide a glimpse into history, they may also have clues for people researching their family history. Occasionally people disappear leaving no trace about what happened to them. Did they move away, did they change a name, or did they die? Sometimes these questions are never answered. The children often write about their life in the letters, like in the one written by Cate and Robert Maples in 1914 which provides a clue about the death of their mother.

“We are two little orphan children. Our mamma is dead. She died not long ago. Send us anything you have for us. I guess Christmas will be dull with us so bring us some candy, fruit and nuts and anything else.”

Since the index transcribes letters from multiple years, for some children there are letters published in sequential years.

During December, the Emily Fowler Central Library is hosting a display  in the Special Collections Department featuring Letters to Santa. Come by and visit, or take a look at the document online. You just might find someone you know.

Laura Douglas
Special Collections – Emily Fowler Central Library

 

 

 

 

 

A Fountain of History

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Every community has its little bits of history hidden away in plain sight. Have you ever noticed the unassuming monument at the North end of the Emily Fowler Central Library parking lot?  It has an odd utilitarian look because it was originally designed to be a drinking fountain for animals. In fact, Denton was one of only six cities in Texas to receive a coveted Ensign Fountain. The plaque mounted to the central column reads: “1911, presented by the National Humane Alliance, Hermon Lee Ensign, Founder.”

The National Humane Alliance was established by Hermon Lee Ensign in 1897.  An entry from the 1898 World Almanac Encyclopedia describes the organization; “While the Alliance is not exactly a charity, it is founded on humanitarian ideas.  It desires to educate people, particularly the rising generation, to be kind and gentle among themselves and to treat all dumb animals humanely…”  Mr. Ensign died in 1899 leaving most of his considerable wealth to the Alliance. After the bequest, the organization shifted its primary focus from education to the distribution of the fountains.   Between 1906 and 1912 the National Humane Alliance donated over 125 drinking fountains for animals to different cities across the United States and Mexico.

Denton received its fountain in the summer of 1911. The Denton Record and Chronicle credits Mrs. R.H. Garrison and the Woman’s Shakespeare Club for the “persistent solicitations” which put Denton in the running as a prospective site.  This led to a visit by Mr. Louis A. Servier, secretary of the National Humane Alliance, in May 1911.  Mr. Servier approved the placement of one of the fountains in Denton, with two conditions. The first condition was that the new fountain be placed on the Southeast corner of the Courthouse Square and be properly maintained. The second was the old horse trough/fountain on the Northwest corner be repaired and kept in good working order. If you look really, really hard you can just make it out in the center of the postcard (just to the right of, and a little behind, the cow) on the cover of the book Denton County.

CityFedofWC1914

From the book “City Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1914”

Courthouse 1917-DCOHC

Photograph courtesy of the Denton County Office of History and Culture

The granite fountains were constructed by the Bodwell Granite Company in Vinalhaven, Maine and transported to the various cities by ship, then railroad.  The Bodwell Company produced two styles of the fountains – a larger version with a square central column and a smaller fountain with a round column. Denton received the latter type.  Denton’s also had a light fixture for the top. The Denton Record and Chronicle reported that it arrived in November 1911, but I am unsure if it was ever installed.

The fountains weighed over 5 tons and were 4 to 5 feet high.  The trough for horses was about 3’ in diameter, fed by spigots each decorated as a lion head. The base of the fountain had small bowls intended for dogs and cats to drink out of.  An article from the June 8, 1911 edition of the Denton Record and Chronicle valued the fountains worth to be between 750 and 1200 dollars.

I found an article stating that the Ensign fountain was installed on August 23, 1911. Unfortunately we do not have a newspaper from that day so I was not able to discover what pomp and circumstance was planned for the unveiling.

DRC 28 Mar 1928

Denton Record-Chronicle, March 28, 1928 pg. 1

By 1928 it had been moved from it’s place on the square to the City Park, now Quakertown Park, and refitted so it was no longer a fountain for animals.

Before the 1981 expansion of the Emily Fowler Central Library, the fountain was just to the east of the library building in the park. When the library was enlarged, the fountain was moved to its present location. In 1984 the fountain was restored by the City Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Denton Historical Commission.

When I was a child we used to visit the fountain on our trips to the library. The odd shape intrigued me and I always wondered why it was designed that way. To my child’s eyes the fountain looked like a very big bird bath. It was a pleasant surprise to discover its true history is much more vivid.

Laura Douglas
Senior Librarian – Special Collections
Emily Fowler Central Library