It is fascinating enough to imagine the experiences of the people from “back east” who packed up, scrawled “Gone to Texas” on their front door, and lit out in the 1800s—by wagon or saddle or shoe leather—to untamed Texas and, specifically, to Fort Worth to build a new life from scratch, hardscrabble, and spit on the surrounding prairie or in the young town. But imagine the experiences of those pioneers who scrawled “Gone to America” on their doors and came to Fort Worth from foreign countries—for example, Canada, Scotland, England, Russia. Imagine their culture shock, their many “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Cornwall anymore” moments as they sweated through their first Texas summer, saw their first jackrabbit or armadillo, heard their first locust or coyote, pulled their first goathead sticker, tasted their first jalapeno, smelled their first cattle drive.
Such immigrants were, like Moses in Midian, strangers in a strange land. That we know their names decades later is itself proof that they persevered and prospered.
Perhaps the immigrants who faced the greatest challenge in moving to Fort Worth came from non-English-speaking countries. Here are two:
Charles J. Louckx (1846-1913) was born in Belgium (photo from Mack Williams’s In Old Fort Worth). When he was ten his family sailed to America from Antwerp. They were bound for La Reunion, the utopian commune begun west of Dallas about 1855 by French, Belgian, German, and Swiss immigrants. Colonists arrived first in New Orleans and then made their way to Galveston and Houston. From Houston, some of the first colonists walked to Dallas. That hike took fourteen days. One of the colonists wore wooden shoes.
The lifespan of La Reunion was short. The commune dissolved. Louckx moved to Fort Worth. During Reconstruction Louckx was appointed Fort Worth postmaster in 1867. He was only twenty-one years old. He was succeeded in 1869 by Joseph A. Clark, father of Addison and Randolph Clark, founders of TCU.
Sam Rosen (1868-1932) came to America from Russia at the age of twelve. About 1882 he began his business career in Fort Worth modestly: as a peddler of tin goods and jewelry. Then he opened a clothing store on Main Street downtown. All the while he saved his money. In 1901 Fort Worth enticed Swift and Armour meatpacking companies to build packing plants in today’s North side. That began a boom, and Sam Rosen was ready. He bought hundreds of acres of farmland west of where the packing plants would be built and in 1902 developed his Rosen Heights addition, complete with a streetcar system (pictured), electricity and water systems, and a trolley park with a small lake. He also donated land for Sam Rosen School (1903) and for churches in Rosen Heights (photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries).
Many immigrants came from the United Kingdom. Richard L. Vickery (1850-1914) was born in Devonshire, England, and moved to Fort Worth from Waxahachie. He was the largest landowner in the Glenwood community southeast of downtown and a major real estate developer in Glenwood and Poly, where he lived—and died—at 867 Conner Avenue. He also was vice president of the Glenwood and Polytechnic College streetcar line, which ran along the boulevard named for him. R. Vickery Elementary School on that boulevard and Vickery Place in Dallas also are named for him.
Architect Arthur Albert Messer (1863-1934) was born in England and came to Texas about 1888. Arthur designed the ill-fated Texas Spring Palace, which was built in just thirty-one days on the Texas & Pacific railroad reservation. The Spring Palace opened in 1889 but burned the next year.
About 1892 Howard Messer was joined by brother Howard, also an architect. In 1892 the Messer brothers partnered with Marshall Sanguinet, the most prominent architect in the city’s history. Howard designed the Ball-Eddleman-McFarland house and possibly the Pollock-Capps house next door.
William J. Bryce (1861-1944) was born in Scotland and came to Fort Worth in 1883. A brick mason by training, he later operated a construction company that built, among other Fort Worth buildings, his company headquarters, the Bryce Building (1910). It’s that little clip-cornered building on Throckmorton that once was hidden behind the Carnegie library (supervising architect: Howard Messer). Bryce also built the Knights of Pythias Hall (1901). Bryce was mayor from 1927 to 1933.
In 1890 Manchester-born Humphrey Barker Chamberlin (1847-1897) bought two thousand acres of prairie west of downtown and began developing Chamberlin Arlington Heights, envisioning it as an upscale suburb similar to his development in Denver. In the early 1890s he commissioned for Arlington Heights a model mansion, a grand hotel (which burned), a streetcar line down Camp Bowie Boulevard to Fort Worth, and a water system. He impounded Lake Como, around which a trolley park—the Six Flags of its day—developed. But the silver panic of 1893 ruined Chamberlin’s finances, slowing development of Arlington Heights. (Bonus trivia: Chamberlin was president of the national YMCA, died while bicycling in his native England.)
William Alfred Sanderson (1819-1904) of England settled in Tarrant County in 1847 (two years before the fort was established), claiming a republic of Texas land grant on the East Side near the confluence of the Trinity River and Sycamore Creek. He became a justice of the peace and was a charter member of First Christian Church (1855). He married into the Ayres family and is buried in tiny Ayres Cemetery, once part of the Ayres farm. The cemetery is now enclosed by the parking lot of Hotel Trinity Inn Suites on Beach Street. Sanderson and Benjamin Ayres have streets named after them on the East Side.
Al Hayne, a civil engineer, was born in London in 1849 and had been in Texas, working for various railroads, maybe ten years by the evening of May 30, 1890. The Texas Spring Palace exhibition was ending a successful second season. The exhibition was devoted to all things Texan. Among the highlights were exhibits from every county, a prairie dog village, a miniature lake with fish, and Sam Houston’s walking cane. The sprawling, exotic structure was, in the modest assessment of exhibition ramrod B. B. Paddock, “easily the most beautiful structure ever erected on earth.” And perhaps the most flammable. As a grand ball ending the evening was about to begin, with seven thousand people present, fire swept through the wooden structure. As decorations disintegrated in flames, people were trapped inside. Men and women jumped from the upper floor; children were thrown out windows to be caught by men standing below. The palace burned to the ground, Paddock said, in fifteen minutes—so quickly that firefighters could not save any part of the building. Several hundred people were injured but only forty-three seriously.
And there was only one fatality. Al Hayne refused to escape the burning building and instead rescued trapped women and children. Only after he, too, was on fire did he abandon his mission. He jumped from the second floor but died of burns the next day.