The Year Was 1876: Prosperity Is Just Around the Cornerstone

What was going on in America in 1876? The United States celebrated its centennial, of course. Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. Tom Sawyer was published. Custer and his men were wiped out at Little Bighorn. Santa Anna and Wild Bill Hickok died. Dewey invented his decimal system. New York Governor Samuel Jones Tilden, Democrat, ran against Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in a presidential election that was disputed and would not be settled until early 1877. (Tilden received 51 percent of the popular vote but lost the electoral college vote after a special election commission awarded the presidency to Hayes.)

And what was going on in Fort Worth in 1876? G. H. Day was mayor; Timothy Isaiah “Longhaired Jim” Courtright was city marshal. Fort Worth may have crowned itself the “Queen City of the Prairie,” but it was also Cowtown and still very much a “wild West” town and would remain so for several years (the “gunfight” between Courtright and Luke Short was still eleven years away.)

In 1876 Fort Worth had a population of about six thousand, less than 1 percent of today’s population. It was a big year for news: In April the courthouse and most of the records therein burned. In July the Texas & Pacific Railway brought rail service to Fort Worth.

This 1876 bird’s-eye-view map of Fort Worth shows a town with a lot of wide, open spaces between the courthouse and the T&P depot to the south. The courthouse depicted is the one that burned in April.

In 1876 B. B. Paddock’s Fort Worth Democrat newspaper had a competitor: the Daily Fort Worth Standard. The few surviving issues of the Standard from late 1876 show us life in Fort Worth 137 years ago and put some flesh on the bones of history.

Fort Worth had been hurt by the depression of 1873 (its population had decreased to five hundred), but the city was catching up in 1876. Here the newspaper ticks off signs of recovery, beginning with plans for a gasworks.

Construction of the new courthouse began.

Fort Worth’s buildings and streets did not yet have address numbers. But the need for them was increasing.

Fakes & Co. would sell furniture into the 1960s. In 1876 the store also sold coffins.

Fort Worth, like the rest of Texas, was still very rural. The Standard listed more Grange lodges than churches. The Grange is a fraternal organization that supports agriculture.

Whereas most voters in 1876 cast a paper ballot in the Tilden-Hayes presidential election, one Fort Worth voter also cast a birth certificate, naming his new son after Tilden.

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