City Life Mudville, USA

One hundred years ago, Dallas was buggy-whip capital of the world. And you know what happened to buggy whips.

WE DON’T WANT TO ALARM YOU, BUT your computer may decide to indulge in time travel at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. When the date’s double digits go from 99 to 00. the little mind inside the box may interpret the (win zeros not to mean 2000, but 1900. (If this is news to you, perhaps you ought to consider reading more than a monthly city magazine.)
This impending nondisaster led us to wonder: Were our computers dumbenough to misread an entire century and send us backward id 1900. what kind of place would we find ourselves in?
The short answer is: a muddy place.
Dallas in 1900 was a boom town -naturally-of 42,638 hardy-souls that could boast of only one paved street. Asphalt was poured for Elm Street in early 1899. just in time to welcome the first automobile driven into town later that October.
The horse-and-buggy era was still in full swing, which was a good thing for Dallas since it was the world’s leading center for the manufacture of saddlery. Buggy-whip makers may be a synonym today for obsolete businesses, but while they were going, the going was good.
To avoid the mud ruts that passed for streets, most commuters and shoppers took advantage of the latest convenience, electric-driven streetcars. This revolution in public transportation was invented in Richmond. Virginia, in 1888 and soon swept the nation; by 1900 Dallas had an extensive grid connecting residential areas along such streets as Ross Avenue to downtown. By 1902 four electric interurban railways would connect downtown Dallas with outlying towns such as tiny Piano all the way north to Sherman, as well as to bigger towns such as neighboring Fort Worth.
Dallas in 1900, of course, wasn’t quite yet the Dallas we know today, Cedar Springs in the Oak Lawn area was an independent town, boasting its own blacksmith, general store, grist mill, community school and. most important of all, a Gold and Donaldson Distillery.
The annexation of Oak Cliff was the hot political topic of the day. The town had been called Hord’s Ridge when it lost the election for county seat to Dallas 50 years before by a vote of 244 to216. In 1887 the original Hord’s homestead and the surrounding acreage was bought by Thomas Marsalis and John S. Armstrong, who renamed the town Oak Cliff. Armstrong had a penchant for naming things, hi 1906 he bought a tract of 1,326 acres north of Cedar Springs and named it Highland Park. Oak Cliff would vote to join its 3,835 residents with Dallas in 1903. Cedar Springs would follow in 1926, and Highland Park would forever remain aloof.
Even by itself by 1900 Dallas was the wealthiest and the most populated city in the state, even though it ranked only 88th in size nationally.
Cotton was king in 1900, and as befits the city that was home to the nation’s Cotton Exchange, Dallas was the leader in the production of cotton gin machinery. Locally, however, the handwriting was on the wall if anybody could read it: Cotton production peaked in 1900 at41,012bales. If that and the buggy whips weren’t enough. Dallas was also the world market center for the leather and buffalo hide trades. You may now understand why the 1894 discovery of oil in nearby Corsicana made everyone positively giddy.
Dallasites in 1900 loved to pray even more then than we do now. White people worshipped al approximately 95 churches and missions. While we have plenty of churches today, to reach the same ratio to total population we’d need about 4.000 more. “Colored people” had their own churches, of course, but they weren’t counted with the same precision. About 21 percent of the population. was African-American, which remains consistent today.
Segregation in 1900 was becoming more entrenched. The easy-going mingling of the races of previous years was being replaced by a hard-line ideology of racial separation (although die first city ordinance requiring segregation wouldn’t he passed until 1926). On December 28 white women prisoners would win their petition to the county commissioners lor separation from colored women in the county jail, and things would only go downhill from there.
The Confederacy was not a distant memory, but a recent and tragic loss. A Confederate supply depot during the war. Dallas after Appomattox was the destination of choice lor many Con federate officers. who picket! it to start life over again. Thim -five > ears later they were aging but, nevertheless, loyal to the cause. Downtown was the scene of many Confederate parades, and in 1902 the Confederate National Convention was held in Dallas. Veterans camped out on the grounds of Fair Park, proving that Dallas was still very much a Southern town. But the other side of the story wasn’t forgotten either. The annual Juneteenth celebration that year featured mounted police, a drum corps called the Dallas Express Zouaves, a Fou Worth band, and the Happy Town Girl Minstrels. No Yankees are recorded as attending either event. Infact, no Yankees are recorded being anywhere near Dallas, which, given the temper of the times, was probably just as well.
By the turn of the century, Dallas had the basics-water, sewer, and electricity-not to mention a booming economy. So the city had time to develop its arts, education, and culture. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra put on its first performance at Turner Hall near the intersection of Harwood and Young in May 1900. Though that lodge building is long gone, the Dallas Symphony is still around and celebrating its 100th birthday this year. The first Dallas Public Library was under construction in 1900. thanks to funding from Andrew Carnegie, and would open the following year. The original building, located on the comer of Commerce and Harwood. was torn down in the early 1950s. In tact, while we’re at it. we might as well mention the construction of the Linz Building downtown. Its seven stories made it Dallas’ first skyscraper and the tallest building around. Tie Linz Building, amazingly, still stands on Elm Street and is part of Post Properties’ Wilson Building renovation project.
Anyone who browsed the front page of the Daily Tunes Herald on January 1,1900, learned that John A. Kettle had arrived back home from Hot Springs, Arkansas, on one of the nine railroad lines that ran down today’s Central Expressway. Mr. Kettle had to travel all the way to Hot Springs in the first place to seek treatment for his brother Joe. The ailment? Rheumatism. How was the trip? We’ re not saying it was a slow news day, but the paper’s “City News Notes” section reported. ’’He says there was about six inches of snow on the ground there.”
Mr. Kettle should have realized that the trip was a needless expense anyway. Just two years before, St. Paul Hospital had been established by the Sisters of Charity, and the nuns had demanded only the best: a solid brick building, running hot and cold water, and even a fancy new elevator. (In 1900 their bishop, Edward Joseph Dunne, was just beginning construction of his new cathedral, now known as Catedral Santuario de Guadelupe.) Of course. Parkland Hospital had been around since 1892, but the wood-built county facility on the corner of Oak Lawn and Maple wouldn’t cure your rheumatic bones in style.
Other issues in the news for the first day of that new century told Dallasites that the annual masquerade ball of the local Leather Workers’ union would be held that night. (This New Year’s Eve will probably host leather parties of a different variety.) The newspaper also advised farmers to plant their sweet peas now or never, advice that still holds tip for city gardeners. Ellen Hjgginbotham. colored and 87-years-old, had died the night before at No. 649 Bryan Street of double pneumonia. On a lighter note, two centimeters over, one could read dial Miss Lizzie Carnes of West Dallas gave a watch party the night before and served cake,chocolate, and nuts.
But the biggest news of the day was that the police department had purchased a new register that morning, and Station Keeper Dean S. Arnold made the first two arrests of the new-year a few hours later. He caught “two negro women trying to pound each other’s face off as a New Year’s gift.” as the reporter colorfully phrased it. The paper also ran a promotion urging readers to “smoke the Daily Times Herald’ by purchasing the five-cent Daily Times Herald Cigar. Such promotions may be inexplicable now. but under the four-year-old ownership of Edwin J. Kiest, they boosted circulation to a record 12,653. Kiest’s marketing skills attracted such advertisers as “Dr. Harter’s Iron Tonic,” which promised to make “pale, weak people strong and healthy.” Apparently, they used the same advertising copywriters.

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