The ’Burbs: “Evil Influences,” Typhoid, and Race a Century Ago

During the week of April 19-26, 1914—103 years ago this week—the developer of Turner’s Subdivision ran a series of newspaper ads promoting a big sale of “suburban” lots in the Beacon Hill Addition. (Local newspapers had been referring to Fort Worth “suburbs” since the early 1880s.)

In this ad of April 26, 1914 the developer boasted of cement sidewalks, “pure artesian water,” “city conveniences” but no city sweltering. The “Fort Worth, Handley, and Dallas paved boulevard” through the subdivision (“finest paved boulevard in state”) is now Lancaster Avenue. And the “Fort Worth and Dallas Highway” is now Panola Avenue.

(Note that the Turner Land Company sales manager was Will L. Sargent and that one of the streets in Beacon Hill is Sargent Street—a perk of the job.)

Beacon Hill, located in today’s west Meadowbrook neighborhood, in 1914 was two miles east of the Fort Worth city limits, which was Sycamore Creek. It was of irregular shape, its boundaries roughly from Ayers Avenue east to Sargent Street and from Panola Avenue north to Mount Vernon Avenue.

Beacon Hill, subdivision developer Gaines B. Turner furthermore boasted, was “the beauty spot on the interurban”: No lot was more than seven hundred feet from the double-track interurban line. Fifty-eight interurban cars a day would whisk homeowners to Fort Worth or Dallas.

Indeed, as this 1920 Rogers map shows, the Virginia Place interurban stop was at Mount View Avenue. (Map from Pete Charlton’s “The Lost Antique Maps of Texas: Fort Worth & Tarrant County, Volume 2” CD.)

In another ad Turner boasted that Beacon Hill had “no city taxes, no typhoid fever, no city evil influences to make you ask where is my wandering boy or girl tonight” (mercy!). But the “no city taxes” boast didn’t last long. By 1920, as the Rogers map shows, Beacon Hill was in the city limits.

And why, you ask, was “no typhoid fever” such a selling point in 1914?

 

Because, as the Star-Telegram had reported just days earlier on April 7, 1914, a recent typhoid epidemic had been blamed on polluted water from the Trinity River distributed by the Holly city waterworks. The city pumped both artesian water and river water. Artesian water was thought to be safer.

Shelley’s “Ozymandias” mentions “two vast and trunkless legs of stone.” For years two trunkless legs of stone—columns—flanked the formal entrance to the north half of Beacon Hill at the intersection of Mount Vernon and Newark avenues (see blue dot on the plat; Newark Avenue is mislabeled “New York” on the plat). By 2013, when this photo was taken, only one column survived. By 2016 that column had been toppled.

Alas, the first homes built in Beacon Hill, “the beauty spot on the interurban,” fared no better than its entrance columns: A search of Tarrant Appraisal District’s database shows that few pre-1920 homes in Beacon Hill have survived. In fact, many of the lots were not built on until after the war.

april 26 1914 beacon hill mapLet’s look again at the detail from the 1920 Rogers map. It has several stories to tell beyond Beacon Hill. See the circle on the map labeled “Tandy Lake  Stop” north of Polytechnic Cemetery? That unlabeled squiggle just to the right of “Stop” probably was what was left of Tandy Lake, which had been a popular recreation area since the late nineteenth century but was greatly reduced in area by 1920. The lake was just south of Lancaster Avenue and the interurban line and just west of Ayers Avenue. Today runoff that once fed the lake is channeled west to  Sycamore Creek.

And see the dashed line zigzagging east along the “Pike” (Lancaster Avenue) and then southeast along the Texas & Pacific track and then south along the cemetery and then east on Avenue E and then south again on Ayers Avenue? That was the city limit of Polytechnic Heights in 1920 before annexation by Fort Worth in 1922.

And note that via connections, you could travel from Fort Worth (or Cleburne) to Sherman, Corsicana, and Waco on the interurban.

On the 1920 Rogers map, see Jeanette Street near Tandy Avenue?

poly cem jenette 10-2-05 teleSurely Jeanette Street was named for the daughter of George Tandy. She died in 1905 and is buried in Polytechnic Cemetery. Ben, Giles, and Lewis avenues and probably Marguerite (Margret) and Rachel streets also are named for Tandys. Only Ben, Tandy, and Lewis avenues survive as named.

And see the Tarrant County Orphans Home in the upper-left corner at Collard and Lancaster?

Just a few weeks before the Turner’s Subdivision ads ran, that orphanage, built in 1908, had burned. There were no fatalities. Firemen laid 2,200 feet of hose from Tandy Lake to fight the fire. The orphanage had moved to the East Side location from its previous location on Cold Springs Road in the former brothel of madam Frankie Brown.

And see “Texas Woman’s College” on the Rogers map? A few weeks after Turner’s ads ran, on June 1, Polytechnic College, opened in 1891, would confer its last degree under that name.

Later in June 1914 the school would become Texas Woman’s College. In 1934 Texas Woman’s College would become Texas Wesleyan College, which in 1989 would become Texas Wesleyan University.

Look again at the 1920 Rogers map. See that oval near the center? That was the race track on the farm of William Bailey Fishburn. Fishburn bought those twenty acres in 1917 and built a “fine new home” and a stable for thirty-six horses. “Short Ship” apparently refers to the distance that horses were transported to races by rail. The Star-Telegram clip is from 1919.

According to the 1921 obituary of East Side civic leader George Tandy, his father, East Side pioneer Roger Tandy, had built his home on the future site of the Fishburn race track when the elder Tandy arrived here from Kentucky in 1855.

april 26 1914 beacon hill fish mug 1913Remember the Fishburn chain of dry cleaning stores? Same guy. Fishburn had been in the dyeing and cleaning business in Fort Worth since 1901. See that “We are for more smoke” at the bottom of the Fishburn ad? About 1911 Fort Worth began a campaign to bring more factories to the city. “More smoke” was the city’s pro-industry slogan. Mind you, as a railroad hub in the age of steam, Cowtown had a lot of smoke even without factories.

more smokeThis pro-smoke editorial is from the Star-Telegram, 1911.

virginia place adPostscript: Fast-forward two years from 1914. Apparently city folk did not flock to the ’burbs of Beacon Hill and the rest of Turner’s Subdivision in 1914 to buy lots of lots because in 1916 developer Gaines B. Turner was back with this full-page ad in the Star-Telegram. And this time Turner was determined to shift some real estate: He hired Professor Edwin Wilson, “the world-famous balloonist,” to drop bags of money by parachute “from the clouds” to “the waiting thousands on Mother Earth.” The professor would then execute a “daring parachute leap” from his balloon.

Bags of money, a parachuting professor, and lots of lots in the typhoid-free ’burbs. Oh, and “big tent; free ice water; plenty of chairs.” Who could ask for more?
Note that the ad, which was published just 101 years ago, had a disclaimer:

“Here are the only rules of contest

All persons trying to capture the bags of money must be white and on foot.”

I think I need some of that ice water.

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2 Responses to The ’Burbs: “Evil Influences,” Typhoid, and Race a Century Ago

  1. Joe says:

    Great site just found it while looking for address of the Cobb clinker brick arts and craft house.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Joe. I grew up in Poly not far from that house, went to church near it but was not aware of it until maybe ten years ago.

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