On September 23, 2013, one year after its centennial, the Dillow house in Poly was destroyed by fire.
The house at the time was a bone of legal contention between Texas Wesleyan University, which owned the house and wanted to demolish it to build a conference center on the site, and Historic Fort Worth, a preservation group that had filed suit to have the house spared.
The house had been unused by the university since 2007 and had been damaged by two previous fires and by vandalism. Cause of the final fire was not determined.
Now let’s turn off the fire alarm and turn back the clock. For the first quarter of the twentieth century Samuel Selkirk Dillow was a civic leader and businessman in Poly. And for most of the twentieth century his house was a landmark in Poly on Rosedale Street, along which developed Poly’s modest central business district. S. S. Dillow built the 3,500-square-foot house in 1912 at 3216 Avenue F (now Rosedale) across from Polytechnic College (now TWU).
On the house, note the stepped eave brackets, the metal support bracket on the chimney, the three white stone slots to drain rainwater off the porch.
One of the drainage slots.
At the rear of the house, the clean-out door for the fireplace.
S. S. Dillow was born in Illinois in 1865. He came to Poly in 1892 from Grapevine and that year opened the first grocery store in what became the city of Polytechnic. Dillow had made his home and his business on Avenue F since at least 1896, as this clip from the city directory shows.
At 3202 Avenue F, S. S. Dillow’s grocery store (and post office substation) was almost next door to his house. Aerial photo is from 1952.
In 1906 Dillow built a new building at 3202 Avenue F. Clip is from the August 2 Telegram.
S. S. Dillow was president of the Polytechnic school board. Image is from the 1921 Poly High School yearbook.
And when Polytechnic Heights voted to incorporate on November 5, 1910, Dillow was elected a city commissioner. He later donated land for Poly’s city hall (1914) just behind his store. Clip is from the November 6 Star-Telegram.
Dillow also founded First State Bank of Polytechnic at 3100 Rosedale in 1919. Clip is from the November 23, 1920 Star-Telegram.
In 1930 the bank was robbed again in a combination robbery/frame-up that turned deadly.
S. S. Dillow and wife Cornelia (or Cassie) had three daughters—Mary, Ina, and Audrey—who commuted to college by walking across the street. Son Sam attended Baylor.
The front porch of the Dillow house was large. Good thing, too. Because for years the Dillow house was a center of entertainment as the Dillows frequently hosted school, civic, and social groups.
For example, in 1914, after Polytechnic College became Texas Woman’s College, Ina Dillow, who had been a member of the Susan M. Key Literary Society at the college, hosted one hundred students from TCU and TWC. “A good time was had by all.” Chaperoned, of course. Clip is from the October 4 Star-Telegram.
And on October 31, 1915 the Star-Telegram reported that Mrs. Dillow had hosted a Halloween party. Among those attending was Duncan C. McRae. McRae was chairman of the county school board. S. S. Dillow Elementary and D. McRae Elementary schools were named for the two educators. The two schools, located six blocks apart on Avenue N, were dreaded rivals whose partisans taunted each other with cruel chants with which we need not cloud the air by repeating here today. Suffice it to say, those of you who attended either school may chuckle at the “innumerable Halloween pranks” possible when a Dillow and a McRae attend the same Halloween party.
Daughter Ina also gave music lessons in the house. Ad is from the September 2, 1917 Star-Telegram.
“Good fences make good neighbors,” Frost wrote. Dillow’s neighbor disputed that adage in this clip from the April 21, 1920 Star-Telegram.
On January 8, 1922 the Star-Telegram announced the retirement of S. S. Dillow.
S. S. Dillow lived in the house until his death on June 24, 1931. Note that the obituary of 1931 refers to “the old S. S. Dillow grammar school.” The S. S. Dillow Elementary School that most of us remember on Avenue N was not built until 1937.
Sure enough: The 1923 city directory lists S. S. Dillow School at 1101 Nashville Avenue. That is where the original Poly High School was located and where William James Middle School is located today. Perhaps after the high school moved to its new building at 1201 Nashville in 1922, the old high school building became the Dillow school.
Daughter Audrey Dillow donated the family house to TWU in 1979 but lived there until her death in 1981. The house lived another thirty years—until September 23, 2013.