Shackles and Spats, Rock Dust and Diamonds

They were unlikely neighbors: the well-heeled and the down-at-the-heels, the haves at the top of the bluff and the have-nots at the bottom of the bluff.

In 1907 City Commissioner George Mulkey announced that the city would build a workhouse adjacent to the waterworks on the Clear Fork of the Trinity River. The workhouse would be located just west of the mansions of Quality Hill.

The workhouse, built by a company that specialized in jails, bridges, and vaults, opened in 1908. The workhouse was home away from home for people found guilty of minor offenses such as public drunkenness, vagrancy, gambling, and disturbing the peace who could not pay the fine levied against them. Such offenders were sent to the workhouse, where they received a dollar’s credit against their fine for each ten-hour workday completed.

In this 1952 aerial photo the yellow dot is the location of the workhouse. The area bordered in yellow is the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Penn Street, one of the showcase streets of Quality Hill. In 1908, the year the workhouse opened, those two blocks contained only ten houses: big houses on big lots.

Photo shows the location of the workhouse relative to two surviving mansions of Quality Hill. Just six hundred feet separated the two social strata.

In the river bottom were the drunks and vagrants of the city workhouse. Ninety feet above along the bluff were the bankers and cattle barons of Quality Hill. The city directory of 1908 shows the breadwinners of the workhouse’s nearest Quality Hill neighbors:

Harold Warwick, physician; Newton H. Lassiter, president of Fuel Oil Company and general counsel for the Rock Island railroad; Bernie Anderson, an official of Fort Worth Cotton Oil Company, Alta Vista Creamery, and Fort Worth Compress Company (Bernie Anderson Avenue at Ridglea Country Club is named for him); cattleman Byron Crandall Rhome, for whom the city is named, and son Romulus John, an attorney, banker, and cattleman; Joseph Googins, general manager of the Swift packing plant (daughter Ruth met President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s son Elliott at the Stock Show; Ruth and Elliott were married in 1933 [newsreel footage has no audio]); Willard Burton of Burton-Lingo Lumber Company; William Harrison Eddleman, founder of Western National Bank; Franklin Hayes McFarland, cattleman and husband of Eddleman’s daughter Carrie; Matthew C. Cameron of Wadsworth-Cameron Wholesale Drug Company; Horace Cobb, cattleman and brick baron; and Joseph Pollock, physician.

The Googins house, built in 1906. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.)

Ruth Googins Roosevelt and husband Elliott at the Googins house in 1933. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.)

The Matthew C. Cameron house. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.)

The Bernie L. Anderson house. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.)

The Willard Burton house. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.)

The Newton H. Lassiter house. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.)

Ninety feet below in the city workhouse at various times were the likes of Fred Hamilton, vagrancy; Herb Wright, assault; C. J. McFadden, assault, abusive language, vagrancy; Murphy Jules, gambling; George Bryant, disturbing the peace; Henry Strothers, begging; John McCarty (age eighty), intoxication.

And Paul Perquette, assault with a deadly fruit.

This detail from a 1926 photo shows the workhouse. Even though when the workhouse was built in 1907 it was not yet part of the waterworks compound, the building was designed with similar Spanish mission architecture: curvilinear parapets topped by cast stone at the front and both sides (see next photo).

This is one of the waterworks buildings. The waterworks would become known as the “North Holly Water Treatment Plant” because it was designed and equipped by the Holly Water Works Company of Lockhart, New York.

By 1910 this Sanborn map showed the workhouse (labeled “jail” lower right) as part of the waterworks compound. The workhouse measured just twelve by eighteen feet (216 square feet). That’s the size of a large room in a modern house. But the workhouse had a capacity of sixty prisoners in its six cells: two for white males, two for black males, one for white women, and one for black women. Imagine having fifty-nine of your closest friends that, well, close! Now imagine having fifty-nine strangers that close.

The workhouse provided two kinds of work. Male prisoners were transported from the workhouse each morning to cut weeds and repair streets around town. Chain gang members were shackled and wore highly visible uniforms of white ducking. Among the guards of the chain gangs was one-armed George H. Craig.

Now and then residents of areas where chain gangs worked showed their appreciation.

As chain gangs turned up large rocks while repairing city streets, the prisoners collected the rocks and took them back to the workhouse.

The workhouse and a surrounding yard were enclosed by a twelve-foot stockade fence. In the yard was a rock pile to which the chain gangs contributed. Women prisoners—usually African American—swung hammers to break the large rocks into smaller rocks, which were then used in street repair by the men of the chain gangs. Women prisoners—usually white—also washed laundry and sewed.

If men refused to work on a chain gang or if women refused to work on the rock pile, they were restricted to a diet of bread and water until they had a change of heart.

Commissioner Mulkey wasted no time: Soon after the workhouse opened in 1908 he announced that women would be put to work on the rock pile.

On the first day women were assigned to the rock pile, two women escaped rather than make little uns out of big uns.

And in August 1908 the fact that a white woman was put to work on the rock pile earned an exclamation mark in a headline. The news report mentions the proximity of the workhouse to Quality Hill.

Workhouse prisoners were served three meals a day. In 1913 the Star-Telegram wrote that the two main meals consisted of soup, beans, beef, bread, and coffee. The city paid a contractor twelve cents a meal. The contractor delivered meals to the workhouse and to chain gangs in a horse-drawn wagon.

The Star-Telegram wrote of the workhouse: “A variety of vocal music at night, cards, craps, and literature fill the time of the wayward ones . . . in the house of penance.”

Prisoners had access to a runway in the enclosed yard until 9 p.m., when they were locked in their cells.

The warden provided newspapers and magazines.

Prisoners also had access to religious guidance.

In addition to the workhouse, the waterworks grounds over time expanded to include the city pound and the stables of the street department. The pound kept not only stray dogs but also stray livestock: horses, cows, mules.

Imagine the marriage of sounds on a warm summer day early in the twentieth century: the whack of racquet on ball from the tennis courts of Quality Hill cascading down the limestone bluff to mingle with the dull clang of hammer on stone on the rock pile, at night the barking of dogs, the bawling of cattle, the “variety of vocal music” by prisoners in the workhouse rising from the river bottom to mingle with the music on dance floors, the laughter and jingle of jewelry on verandas on Quality Hill just six hundred feet away.

Workhouse amenities notwithstanding, one of the favorite pastimes of prisoners was escaping.

One prisoner enjoyed escaping so much that he did it three times.

Comanche chief Quanah Parker had been dead three years when his namesake son-in-law was sentenced to the workhouse—and not for the first time. A misplaced line of type in the story prevents us from knowing more about how Quanah Parker pleaded.

He, too, soon escaped.

Like most places of incarceration, now and then the city workhouse was the subject of an investigation into allegations of ill treatment of prisoners.

In fact, in 1912 Police Chief J. W. Renfro said “the chain gang and the workhouse should be abolished and city misdemeanor prisoners turned over to the county.”

Six years later, after civil and military authorities became concerned about the risk of “vice” and “immoral women” to soldiers at the Army’s Camp Bowie, the workhouse was converted into a detention hospital to treat prostitutes with venereal disease.

But later that year the city renovated the hotel of serial killer Dr. Henry Howard Holmes for use as a detention hospital for women with social diseases. Also in 1918 the city replaced the workhouse at the waterworks with a workhouse camp at Lake Worth, where prisoners tended more than forty acres of crops.

By 1919, as Police Commissioner Oscar Montgomery detailed a decrease in arrests, he said, “We haven’t got a workhouse now.”

In 1926 the workhouse building became a warehouse, and a prosaic addition at the rear detracted from the 1908 building’s mission architecture. Later the workhouse building got squeezed from the other side as a metal building (which still stands) was built just feet in front of the workhouse building.

The workhouse building was torn down in 1986.

Today, ninety feet up on the bluff, all but two of the Quality Hill mansions of Penn Street also have been torn down. The Pollock-Capps house and Ball-Eddleman-McFarland house survive, perhaps yearning to hear once again, through an open window, the jingle of jewelry and the rhythm of the rock pile.

(Thanks to retired Fort Worth police Sergeant Kevin Foster for the tip and for his help and photos.)

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This entry was posted in Architecture, Downtown, Downtown, All Around, Life in the Past Lane, Southwestern, Water Works. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Shackles and Spats, Rock Dust and Diamonds

  1. Nickiey says:

    Great Article! I’m sure if we made jail that way again the crime would go down. What a thought?!

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