In The Weeds 2.8.17: Frederick Douglass School

In honor of Black History Month, this week we will be highlighting the Fred Douglass School. The first “Colored School” was established in 1876 in Quakertown, the African-American community located in what is now known as Quakertown Park just a few blocks northeast from the Square. Located at the corner of Terry and Holt Streets until it burned in 1913, the school was named after famed abolitionist, statesman, social reformer, and writer Frederick Douglass. After the mysterious fire, the school was rebuilt at its current site in Southeast Denton and retained that name until the late 1940s when it was renamed for longtime principal and community leader Fred Moore.

Here is early principal J. T. McDonald:

mcdonald Next we have Mr Fred Moore:

fred-moore-portrait

Finally, here is a class photo from 1941 showing the exterior of the building which is still extant at 815 Cross Timber St in Southeast Denton:

1941 Fred Douglas School

Sources:

“The Quakertown Story”, The Denton Review, Denton County Historical Society, Winter 1991.

“Quakertown: 1870-1922”, Denton County Historical Commission, 1991.

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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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