Poet Stephen Vincent Benet wrote, “The ant finds kingdoms in a foot of ground.” Historians—even we amateurs—are a lot like ants. In fact, all of us can find history in a foot of ground under our very feet—in the lots our houses are built on. Sometimes we can learn that history in history books, sometimes in family genealogy.
And sometimes we can learn that history in a title abstract. A title abstract shows the history of ownership of a parcel of land. I have been studying the abstract of a parcel of land that the Tarrant County tax assessor calls “Lot No. 8, Block No. 9, Englewood Heights.” But for fifty-two years my family and I called it “home.”
The abstract of our lot at 3230 Burton Street in Poly is seventy-two yellowed, brittle pages containing plats, affidavits, deeds, liens, court cases, and other dense legal documents pertaining to the chain of ownership of the property.
The abstract is also peopled with several figures from Fort Worth history.
The abstract’s chronology of the Burton Street lot begins on May 16, 1840. In the mid-1800s Texas was mostly wilderness and plenty of it. A man could acquire a piece of that wilderness in several ways. He could buy land; he could be given a grant to settle on land, as in Peters Colony or Robertson Colony; he could take land as payment for performing a service, such as surveying land; or he could be given land for his military service. Tarrant County pioneer Middleton Tate Johnson (1810-1866) used all four methods to acquire land.
Robert R. Ramey also was given land for his military service. But he earned it the hard way: He died for it. The abstract states that in 1840 the secretary of war for the Republic of Texas, Branch Tanner Archer, issued an “augmentation and bounty land warrant” for 1,920 acres of land to the heirs of Robert R. Ramey for his military service.
Ramey (also spelled Rainey and Raimey) was a member of Colonel Burr Harrison Duval’s Kentucky Mustangs long-riflemen. Under Duval, Ramey fought under Colonel James Fannin in Tennessee and went with Fannin to Texas, where Ramey, Duval, and Fannin died at the Battle of Goliad shortly after the Alamo fell in 1836.
1851: Just two years after the Army established Fort Worth, Ramey’s heirs hired Middleton Tate Johnson to survey their land. For his services, the heirs gave Johnson one of four sections (1 section = 640 acres) of land. The Johnson section of the Ramey land contains the Burton Street lot.
The R. R. Ramey survey is about one mile square. It stretches approximately from Ada and Ramey Avenues south to Baylor Street and from Vaughn Boulevard east to Pate Drive. The Burton Street lot is indicated in yellow.
1874: The heirs of Johnson petitioned the court to have the Ramey land partitioned. A commission was appointed to partition the land. Commission members included Major Khleber Miller Van Zandt, Julian Feild, John S. Hirshfield, and Martin Bottom Loyd. The Ramey survey was appraised at $8 an acre. Johnson’s heirs soon sold the Ramey survey land, in sixteen forty-acre tracts, to, among other speculators, Van Zandt, Walter Ament Huffman, W. D. Hall, and brothers George E. and A. H. Tandy—of the pioneer Hall and Tandy families. Van Zandt and A. H. Tandy bought tracts 4, 5, 6, and 7 (light shaded on map) for $1.30 to $5.25 an acre. Tract 5, bought by Van Zandt, contains the Burton Street lot (located in yellow).
1876: Van Zandt sold his Ramey land to A. H. Tandy, giving Tandy ownership of tracts 4, 5, 6, and 7.
1909: A. H. Tandy sold his four tracts of Ramey land to American Realty Company for $12,000.
1910: American Realty Company sold the tracts to Polytechnic Heights Investment Company for $47,400. The year 1910 was also the year the community of Polytechnic Heights incorporated. Fort Worth would annex Polytechnic Heights in 1922.
1914: Polytechnic Heights Investment Company named tracts 4 and 5 the “Englewood Heights” subdivision and, after streets were cut, dedicated the streets for public use.
The boundaries of Englewood Heights subdivision were Hanger Street south to Tarrant Road and Vaughn Boulevard east to Little Street. The Burton Street lot is indicated in yellow.
1921: Polytechnic Heights Investment Company sold Lot No. 8, Block No. 9, Englewood Heights to Mrs. Etta Newby.
1922: Mrs. Etta Newby sold the lot to Ida Williams. The notary public for the transaction was real estate agent C. R. Vickery, son of Glenwood developer Richard Vickery.
1927: A Sanborn map shows that in 1927 the Fort Worth city limits ran along Tarrant Road (just south of Burton) and along Miller Street. The Burton Street lot is indicated in yellow. Notice that Burchill Road was called “Bowman Springs Road,” which today exists only in Arlington. Just above Sunshine Drive (now Littlejohn Avenue) also notice the street named “Ramey.” By 1927 the lot had a house on it.
1930: Ida Williams sold the lot and house to R. M. Chitty. The 1930 map shows the Ramey survey outlined in yellow.
1935: Chitty built “our” house, replacing the earlier house.
1948: Chitty sold the property to Willie Mashburn.
1950: Willie Mashburn sold the property to A. E. Busby.
1951: A. E. Busby sold the property to my parents, S. D. and Margaret Nichols. We left the North Side, where my family had lived for fifty years, working for the packing plants and the Stockyards.
2003: The heirs of S. D. and Margaret Nichols sold Lot No. 8, Block No. 9, Englewood Heights to Matilde Lopez, thus ending fifty-two years of family ownership and adding another link to a chain of ownership dating back 160 years in history—history shared by the hundreds of other families whose little city lots were carved from 640 acres of prairie whose (white) history began with the Battle of Goliad.