Charles DeMorse, a newspaper editor, checked into a room at the Crutchfield House, a modest two-story inn on Dallas’ courthouse square. The year was 1852. DeMorse was crisscrossing North Texas on horseback, covering court cases for his paper. In the morning, he would ride on to Denton, but that evening he wanted to unwind. From his hotel window, DeMorse spotted on the far side of the square something called The Arts Saloon. It was a curious name. “Looking again, I tried to read it ‘The Ark Saloon,’ ” DeMorse later wrote, “not understanding what a gallery of the fine arts should be doing at the city of the Three Forks, but rather supposing that a drinkery had been so termed.”
DeMorse headed over and discovered that The Arts Saloon was, indeed, more salon than saloon. Part art gallery, part dance hall, part photography studio, The Arts Saloon was run by a peculiar Frenchman named Adolphe Gouhenant. Close readers of Dallas history will recognize the name.
Gouhenant makes cameos in a dozen or so Dallas volumes, though his story is often muddled or misrepresented. Gouhenant has been lumped in with the French settlers of the La Réunion colony, even though Gouhenant arrived in Dallas years before the socialist utopians. Some Dallas historians, like DeMorse, mistake Gouhenant’s Arts Saloon for a frontier bar. In Dallas: The Deciding Years, A.C. Greene notes that Gouhenant’s establishment was “something more significant”; it was a daguerreotype studio responsible for most of the earliest photographs of Dallas. But even calling Gouhenant the city’s first photographer sells him short.Read More