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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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

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

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!