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

 

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A Road By Any Other Name

Is still a road.

That stunk, I apologize.

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

Guess what? It was.

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

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

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

1940DentonMap002

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

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

1958 map of Denton, Texas.

Part of a 1958 map of Denton, Texas

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

metapth15481_xl_pf_d-25

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

I swear, the excitement in this town never ends.

-Leslie Couture

Special Collections

 

Death and Dessert Book Club

Our Death and Dessert Book Club has been active for almost 10 years!

This mystery book club does not choose a specific book every meeting but a fun topic. The members can read any book that falls in the category and then share their thoughts at the meetings. It is a wonderful way to find new authors and share your favorites.

With our new catalog we can now share lists of recommended books (and so can you!). We are now adding the Death and Dessert Book Club Lists to the catalog.

To find these go to the library catalog at http://library.cityofdenton.com/

Log in

Choose “List” in the dropdown menu and enter “Death and Dessert” you should then get mystery lists from the book club.

Here are a few of the favorites:

Senior Sleuths

I’ve Been Framed (Art Mysteries)

Rue Morgue (Forensic Mysteries)

Kilt Dead (Scottish Mysteries)

The Death and Dessert book club meets at Emily Fowler at 7PM on the first Thursday of the month. The next meeting is on August 3rd.  We will be discussing “Do Not Disturb (Vacation Mysteries)”

If you have any questions about the book club (and first time members are always welcome) please call Kimberly Wells at 940-349-8796 or Reka Reynolds at 940-349-8257.

The Library Brings The Rock!

I love Rock and Roll! I love Dave Grohl. I love the fact that he survived Nirvana and Rock when most of his peers either bailed out or died. It was his mom. Her fortitude. He had a place to come home to when the wheels came off. There was a room waiting, a warm smile, a meal, home cooked, or not. It doesn’t matter what you’re into, if your mom is there, you’re lucky; even if you’re a Rock Star. Read the book and learn about love.

WJS, aka, Library Lackey

 

Grohl

Small Business Owner? The Denton Public Library has your back!

The Denton Public Library is pleased to have a number of excellent resources (FOR FREE) to help you succeed in starting your own business:

Reference USA: This is a database of 49 million businesses and 274 individual consumers to help you identify the perfect potential customer for your business.

Lynda.com: Need a refresher on using QuickBooks? Have a staff member who needs training on Blender, but no money in the training budget? Lynda.com is the database for you. Thousands of webinars on every topic a business owner can dream of!

Small Business Support Group: Have you ever stood up and given your 30-second business introduction (AKA elevator speech) to a group of other business people? The Small Business Support Group is a friendly, nurturing environment to practice your networking skills and learn from others.
North Branch Library
2nd Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m.

Image result for business meeting

SCORE (Service Core of Retired Executives)
Make your free appointment with a business mentor! Start working on your business plan or find funding.
Call Kerry Montz at 940-349-8757 to make your appointment.

Questions?
Call Kerry Montz (Business Outreach Librarian) 940-349-8757 or Randy Simmans (Small Business Marketing Expert) 940-349-8741

Vacation Resources at the Library

I just had a week long vacation back in March, but I’m already craving my next one. Though I don’t know when that will be, or where it will be to just yet, I’m satisfying my current craving by looking through some of the library’s vacation resources. Whether your plan is flying out of country and you need to learn a new language, need a guide book of restaurants, hotels, and attractions, or want to know the history of the location you’re visiting, the library gives you access to a plethora of resources, both physical and digital.

In-Flight French     Costa Rica     Mannahatta

If you’re like me, you want to keep your vacation as cheap as possible. For me, that means taking advantage of roadside attractions, camping, and keeping a cooler full of food for all my meals. Keeping things low budget like this allowed me to take a great trip from Oklahoma City to Santa Fe traveling along Route 66. This adventure stands out in my memory because of the many quirky and unique roadside attractions along the way. I never needed to spend money on entertainment when I was looking at a giant spider made out of trash and an old VW Bug or a 30 foot tall soda bottle.

Route 66     Road Trip USA     Adventure Handbook

Visiting National Parks, National Forests, or State Parks is another way to keep expenses down. There is only a small entrance and camping fee, but once you are in the park, there are indefinite opportunities for adventures. Whether you prefer day hikes, multi-day backpacking trips, fishing, birding, swimming, off-roading, or biking, state and national parks hold adventures for all types of travelers.

Hiking     Camping     Day Hikes

I know that my ideal vacation is not the most preferable, but using the library’s resources can help you plan your ideal getaway. Next time, when you need help planning your vacation, check out one of the many resources that the Denton Public Library has to offer!

Sara Davis
Library Assistant I
Emily Fowler Central Library

Wear Them Shoes

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

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

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

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

Spotlight Dec 1966

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

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

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

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

COD_Slides024

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

 

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

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

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

Leslie Couture, Special Collections Department