In The Weeds, 11.9. 16: Swing, Ken Lasater, Swing!

From the 1930’s to the early ’60s, Honky Tonk music in Texas, to a large degree, resembled Western Swing in its harmonies, rhythm and instrumentation. A man and an instrument collided in the mid-’30s to create a sound that would influence Country and Western Music for decades to come. The man was Bob Dunn and the instrument was an early prototype of the “steel guitar”. That is to say, he wanted to incorporate an electrified Hawaiian guitar into the Western music he was playing. Leon McAuliffe of  Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys made this concept famous with the “Steel Guitar Rag” in 1936. Suddenly, there were hundreds of innovators and imitators of this style and one of the folks who came along in the aftermath of that musical Big Bang was Ken Lasater.

Bob Dunn was making his name with Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies in the 1930s when Ken first heard him.

First page tease from biography in “Lake Cities Legacy” which we have at the Emily Fowler Library:

lasater002

Ken worked with many bands over the years and finally settled in Lake Dallas. The work linked above is from 1986 and likely one of the dozens of Texas Sesquicentennial commemorative publications available at that time. Here are a couple links that go into more detail:

http://wired-for-sound.blogspot.com/2010/11/homer-zeke-clemons-on-imperial-8091.html

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeke_Clemons

https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xgm01

Written by Chuck Voellinger, Special Collections Librarian, Emily Fowler Library
chuck.voellinger@cityofdenton.com

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Chessboards, Fretboards, and How to Milk a Cow

My father is a wise man. He once told me that when you milk a cow, you need to have a stool and a milk pail. And while having the right tools is essential, it’s even more important to understand the basics. He said if you put your stool under the bull instead of the cow, you’ll never get any milk. In fact, there’s a high likelihood you’ll get kicked in the face instead. Like I said, my father is a wise man.

When I first learned to play guitar, I played with friends who already knew the basics. They taught me things like how to string the guitar, how to tune it, and how to play a few simple chords. Later, I learned music theory on my own from books that I checked out (you guessed it) from the library. Knowing the difference between Lydian and Mixolydian modes is important, but if you can’t tune your guitar, you’ll never be able to play On the Road Again.

So when I started playing chess, I knew I needed some expert help. I had played chess a few times, but badly. In fact, until I started assisting with chess programs at the North Branch Library, I didn’t know how woefully ignorant I was. I didn’t know that the white pieces always started the game. I didn’t know how to do the castling move. It turns out that sometimes I was even setting up the chess board backwards! In other words, I was trying to get milk from a bull with a guitar that was out of tune. How’s that for mixed metaphors?

Luckily for me (and for you), there is the Monday night Chess Club at the North Branch Library. Every Monday evening from 6:00-9:00, you can learn to play chess with folks who really know what they’re doing. Under the expert and affable leadership of Ben Kemna, the Chess Club welcomes all ages and all skill levels. And it’s free. What a deal!

The library also hosts special chess events from time to time, like a recent “simul” with Women’s International Master Dr. Alexey Root. She played a group of 10 people simultaneously, rotating new players in as she won games. She offered a copy of her new book Prepare With Chess Strategy to anyone who could beat her, but after 20 games, no one did. Though I didn’t learn any new moves from this frenetic exhibition, I discovered that chess really can be exciting to watch.

My advice: give chess a chance. Once you’ve learned the basics and beyond from the friendly folks at the Monday night Chess Club, check out some books from the library and see how far you can take it. Below are just a few titles that can help you go from making a fool out of yourself (like me) to making all the right moves:
prepare-with-chess chess-for-children

 

 

 

 

 

10-most-common-chessus-chess-fed

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerol Harrod

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

In The Weeds, 8.10.16: A Square By Any Other Name…

….is still called a “square”. There are 254 counties in Texas and, much like the state itself, their squares represent the varied cultural and architectural influences of over 300 years of Spanish/Mexican, European and early American settlement. We have a volume in our Texas Collection that offers a very detailed and “in the weeds” analysis of them entitled “The Courthouse Square in Texas” by Robert E Veselka.

Denton’s Square falls under the “Shelbyville-related” plan. That is to say, it has a square lot in the center of a grid with nomenclature based on a system developed in 1968 by E.T. Price in his study of courthouse squares from Pennsylvania to Texas and named after a prototype in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Here you can see that plan juxtaposed with others:

shelbyville2003

Denton shares similarities with Archer City, Brownwood, Cleburne, and Jacksboro in that they all feature a symmetrical arrangement of smaller partial blocks on the periphery. Here is a Sanborn Map of Denton from 1926:

Denton1926

 

Shelbyville squares and their variants are the most prevalent in Texas and can be found in 157 counties, or 61% of the total. This style was first adopted in the northeast corner of the state in Clarksville and San Augustine and were familiar to settlers from the eastern United States with their simple grids and focus on the courthouse.

There are three other major influences on the square design in Texas: Spanish/Mexican, German and Railroad. Briefly, in the Hispanic tradition, town squares allowed for a plaza that was not to include any building with nearby locations for the Catholic Church, a military plaza and a courthouse. A quarter of Texas’ squares are based on this influence and naturally include such towns as San Antonio de Bexar, Gonzalez, Goliad, Refugio, etc. Here is a map of San Antonio de Bexar from 1896 showing the Military and Main Plazas:

SanAntonio

 

 

The many thousands of German immigrants in the mid-to-late 19th Century to the Hill Country left their mark as well. Both New Braunfels and Fredericksburg have central squares for public use without buildings and in some ways resemble Anglo design otherwise.

newbraunfels006

Finally, the importance of the railroad in settling and development of vast areas of Texas meant that their planners had no little influence in how towns were laid out. In some instances, the railroad “split” the town with the court house very near the tracks:rr005

If you’ve made it this far in our little trip around Texas court house squares, thanks for joining us. We won’t think you are “square” for peeking around these court house areas on your next trip through Texas.

Written by Chuck Voellinger, Emily Fowler Special Collections Dept. Questions or comments can be directed to chuck.voellinger@cityofdenton.com.

The DHS Bronco Goes Digital

1946 Bronco

We are so excited to announce the addition of The Bronco, Denton High School’s yearbooks, to the Portal to Texas History.

The yearbooks, ranging from 1905 to 1950, have been digitized and added to the online collection in the Portal to Texas History, a gateway to rare, historical, and primary source materials from or about Texas. The website is created and maintained by the University of North Texas Libraries. With the digitization of The Bronco the books are keyword searchable by name so if you are searching for someone who attended Denton High School during that time span it is much easier to find them.  The yearbooks are a valuable addition to the growing digital repository of Denton County history that is freely accessible on the Portal.

We began contributing materials to the Portal in 2007. Since that time we have added 1,956 items from Denton Public Library’s historical collections. The majority of those items are photographs, but also included are old newspapers, documents, books, and various articles of Denton memorabilia.

1922 Bronco1937 Bronco1948 Bronco

The addition of items to the Portal is an ongoing project for the Denton Public Library, as we endeavor to preserve and share elements of Denton’s history. In addition to the yearbooks that have been digitized, the Special Collections at the Emily Fowler Central Library has almost every year of The Bronco, and yearbooks from the Junior Highs, Colleges, and other High Schools in Denton.  The library’s early yearbooks came from generous donors throughout the community and we are continually seeking copies of the books for the missing years.  We have a small collection of Elementary school yearbooks that we would love to expand. So if you have an old yearbook laying around, the Special Collections Department will gladly accept donations of yearbooks, as well as city directories or other items pertaining to local history or genealogy.

Laura Douglas,
Emily Fowler Central Library

Wildlife in Denton: What’s in Your Backyard?

Moving to Alpine, Texas after high school was a big change, sure Denton was a small town, and having lived in a string of small towns and preceded by one very large one (Phoenix), this was nothing new, but the combination of vast outdoor spaces, colors, and abundant wildlife reminded me a lot of Arizona.

Instead of horse ranches, you saw a herd of pronghorn on the side of the highway. Taking a walk, or better yet a hike, you saw lizards, snakes, raptors, javelina, mule deer, and – if you were lucky (and I was) –  a mountain lion.  One Christmas morning I went for a walk up Hancock Hill. The top was covered in fog and when I reached it, I discovered a herd of pronghorn which immediately disappeared.  No matter where I went, there was always something: raptors, snakes, javelina (men with shotguns telling you to get off their property – something that happens when you move to a new place and get lost).

Wildlife in Denton – I can only speak from my experience of the last 25 years here – but it has changed and unless you have property on the outer edges of town or out in the County somewhere else, you don’t see many creatures like that. But, some are still here, especially along the creeks, sewers,  parks, and in some cases, a red fox in a late night parking lot.

Taking a bike ride out of town can provide one with glimpses, along with a few perks, both good and bad: the smell of roadkill,  skunks, bored dogs, fast rabbits, tarantulas, and the annual flocks of Canadian Geese. One of my greatest pleasures was being followed by a herd of cattle (does that count?) back-and-forth out on FM 428/Sherman Drive on my way to the Greenbelt.  When I noticed them, I wondered: “Are these guys following me?” So yes, I did turn around and rode the other direction just “to check.” And yes, I nearly fell off my bike laughing because it turns out they followed me back-and-forth many times. I am thinking that this had something to do with dinner, but I’ll never know for sure.

The closest I’ve ever come to anything potentially frightening was when I was commuting to work by bike to Denton: some faceless howling creature one dark night along Cowling Road in Sanger – this was before the beautiful canopy of trees lining the road was cut down – on this particularly dark night, those trees morphed into a black cavern of shadows and I heard a howl before I got to the bridge. It was one of those, “I think I’m going to wet my pants moments,” that luckily did not happen and made me realize that I had read the Legend of Sleepy Hollow one too many times.

Tarantula on N. Bonnie Brae Street.

Larry, a tarantula on North Bonnie Brae Street near Ganzer.

This meandering bit of nonsense occurred because last week, Sandy Shepard came by and brought some neat stuff. He has a bit of property along Milam Creek and a wildlife camera that captures some of the daytime and nighttime critters that traverse it. Some, do more than that: feral hogs tear up his property and trash it.  Feral hogs can be dangerous and a serious nuisance throughout Texas, but perhaps this is balanced by the beauty of the deer that hang around his property, some of which are are very tame and will let you pet them.

The images he brought by echo stories told by settlers from the 1850s. You can read some of them in earlier issues of the Denton County News or History and Reminiscences of Denton County by Ed. F. Bates tales of catching wild turkeys, deer aplenty, buffalo, coyotes (well, we’ve still got ’em), bobcat, raccoons, and squirrels! Keep this in mind the next time you decide to take a walk out on the Greenbelt Trail and read up on it: boost your imagination!

We have a little display in Special Collections at the Emily Fowler Library if you’d like to visit, otherwise here’s a little something from Mr. Shepard.

Coyote near Milam Creek.

Coyote near Milam Creek.

Feral pig near Milam Creek.

Feral pig near Milam Creek.

 

A bit more exciting than the red-winged blackbirds, acrobatic squirrels, possums, field mice, and the occasional skunk or hawk I get, although I’m working on my own little bit of wildlife habitat.

What is in your backyard?

Leslie Couture, Library Assistant, Special Collections

 

In The Weeds 5/11/16. Voertman’s Teachers College Store

Voertman’s College Store has to be one of the longest operating businesses on the same location in Denton. According to an oral history done by UNT in 1977 with Paul Voertman, they have been at the same location on West Hickory since his father Roy opened the store in 1925, 91 years. Here is an ad from the 1925 NTSTC Yucca yearbook:

vcs002

Here it is in 1942, long before the renovation by Mount-Miller architects in 1968:

Voertman's1942

Picture courtesy of the UNT Photo Archive.

Who were “Mount-Miller”? We’ll do an extended blog post and exhibit at the Emily Fowler Library about them later in the year, but for now, Tom Polk Miller (1916-2000) and Mary Isabel Mount Miller (1916-2007) owned an architecture firm that designed or renovated between two and three hundred homes and commercial spaces in town. You’ve probably seen their work but didn’t realize who was responsible. Their work in many cases could fall under the Mid-Century Modern era of design. Some notable examples are: The Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church at 1111 Cordell St., the former Yarbrough’s Pharmacy (now Denton Camera Exchange) on 117 Piner St., the small shopping center at 531 North Elm that formerly held Joe Alford Florist, etc.

Here is a scan of a slide taken by Isabel Mount-Miller in 1972 given to us by their daughter Abigail:

Voertman's at North Texas 1972

Roy Voertman passed on Sept 20th, 1951 at his home while his son Paul was in the Army. Obituary from the Sept. 21, 1951 Denton Record-Chronicle:

Voertman1Voertman2

The business was sold to the Nebraska Book Co. in 1990 and further changed hands in 2013 when it was bought by out-of-state investors, The Weitzman Group.

Written by Chuck Voellinger, Special Collections Librarian, Emily Fowler Library. For questions please contact chuck.voellinger@cityofdenton.com