Bringing the Background into the Foreground

Recently local historian and Samuels Avenue preservationist John Shiflet and I were looking through the late Leonard Sanders’s How Fort Worth Became the Texasmost City for a photo of B. B. Paddock’s house when we came across an 1898 photo of the funeral of local merchant David Linsky (born 1850) at “an early cemetery.”

metapth38770_xl_0018That “early cemetery,” given the date of the photo, the isolation of the cemetery, and the cemetery’s small area, could be only Emanuel Hebrew Rest on South Main. John Peter Smith donated about one acre—then beyond the city limits—for the cemetery in 1879, two years after he donated adjacent land for a hospital. (His hospital would not be built until 1939.) The photo shows how sparsely settled the South Side was in 1898. (Photo from Beth-El Congregation Archives.)

funeralJohn Shiflet pointed out three hazy structures (under the white circles) in the distant background. We wondered if the two structures on the left were part of E. E. Chase’s estate in the 1700 block of Hemphill Street, if the middle structure was a church steeple, if the building on the right was part of Fort Worth University on Cannon Street, etc. We were not sure of the orientation of the photographer because the photo has so few landmarks as points of reference.

chase angleThen I noticed the arched entrance in the left corner of the cemetery. If that entrance was Emanuel Hebrew Rest’s current entrance on South Main, that meant the photographer was looking southwest from just east of Main Street. And lying to the southwest, four-tenths of a mile from the cemetery, would be today’s Chase Court, developed in 1907 from the Chase estate.

I asked local historian Michael McDermott, author of Fort Worth’s Fairmount District, for his opinion.

funeral with insetMcDermott got out his historian-strength magnifying glass and confirmed that under the left circle is the opulent stone stable (with cupola) of the Chase estate and that under the middle circle is the equally opulent stone windmill of the Chase estate.

chase-fire 7-25-93 gazNot discernible in front of the windmill is the rubble of the Chase mansion, which burned on July 24, 1893. The Gazette said the house, “said to have been the finest private residence in northern Texas,” cost $90,000 ($2.2 million today) to build, $30,000-$40,000 ($760,000-$1 million today) to furnish, and was heavily insured. Clip is from the July 25, 1893 Gazette.

chase-swartzThis image of the house is from D. H. Swartz’s Photographs of Fort Worth (1890-1899). The stone stable is in the left background.

second house UTAMcDermott says the shell of the burned house continued to stand after the fire. About 1900 the three-and-a-half-story mansion was rebuilt as a smaller (but still substantial) house. Windmill vanes can be seen behind the roof to the right of the turret. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

windmill bakerT. Lindsay Baker’s book A Field Guide to American Windmills shows the fancy windmill with the Chase house in the background.

baker textBaker described the windmill as “the most ornamented of all the windmill installations in America” in his A Field Guide to American Windmills. The windmill atop the four-story tower was sixteen feet in diameter.

funeral with insetAnd what about that big house on the right of the horizon? Now that we have some idea of distance, that house was located perhaps two blocks north of the Chase estate—in about the 1500 block of Hemphill, three-tenths of a mile from the cemetery. And who lived in the 1500 block of Hemphill?

jake johnson 1-29-09 stJake Johnson, a gambler and businessman, owned perhaps the second-biggest house on the South Side at that time. In 1887 he had built an “immense residence” at 1520 Hemphill near the immense residence of his fellow businessman E. E. Chase. Johnson in 1887 had been the only witness to the Short-Courtright shootout. Faded ad is from the January 29, 1909 Star-Telegram. Johnson would die in that house on August 29, 1909.

In the 1898 photo that began this little investigation, the funeral of David Linksy was the subject and rightly in the foreground. But sometimes the background also has a story to tell.

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