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. 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.
That we know the names of these pioneers decades later is itself proof that they persevered and prospered. Here are four pioneers who were, like Moses in Midian, strangers in a strange land:
Architect Arthur Albert Messer (1863-1934) was born in England and came to Texas about 1888. Four years later his brother Howard, also an architect, joined him. Arthur designed the ill-fated Texas Spring Palace, which was built in just thirty-one days on the site of a Texas & Pacific railroad landfill. The Spring Palace opened in 1889 but burned the next year. In 1892 the Messer brothers partnered with Marshall Sanguinet, the most prominent architect in the city’s history.
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. He also built the Knights of Pythias Hall (1901). Bryce was mayor from 1927 to 1933.
Some immigrants came to Fort Worth from non-English-speaking countries. Thus, they faced the added challenge of a language barrier.
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. In 1895 he began his business career in Fort Worth modestly: as a peddler of tin goods and jewelry. Then he opened a dry goods store in Hell’s Half Acre. Then a clothing store. All the while he saved his money. Then he gambled: He bought one thousand acres of farmland north of Fort Worth city limits as the new Stockyards and packing plants began a boom in what would become the city of North Fort Worth. In 1902 he developed the Rosen Heights subdivision, 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 Elementary School (1909) and for churches in Rosen Heights (photo from University of Texas at Arlington Libraries).