It was a tax dodge. Pure and simple. Well, maybe not so simple.
In 1909 Fort Worth created a tax dodge to help itself by helping others, then in 1911 changed its mind and tried to uncreate the tax dodge, creating instead “the richest city in the world.” In 1921 Fort Worth began trying to swallow the aforementioned richest city in the world. By 1923 Fort Worth had indeed gulped down a mouthful of money but not without first getting a taste of its own medicine.
To see how all this started, let’s back up to 1901. That’s when two of the Big Four meatpackers—Swift and Armour—agreed to build plants at the Stockyards (see Part 1). This coup d’cow changed everything on the other side of the Trinity River north of Fort Worth. Suddenly that unincorporated area of middle-class homes, small businesses, and even farms needed more of everything: housing, streets, schools, public transit, public utilities—in a word, government.
J’Nell Pate in North of the River writes that the Fort Worth Stock Yards Company, of which Swift and Armour owned two-thirds, urged residents of the Stockyards-packing plants area to incorporate. This tactic had been a common practice at other packing plants.
So, in November 1902, just four months before the new packing plants opened, the city of North Fort Worth was incorporated by a vote of 170 to 1. The new city contained the Stockyards and packing plants. When the new town of three hundred held its first election in December, the electorate—all men—voted at the schoolhouse. A cigar box served as the ballot box. Most of the winning candidates ran unopposed, and most had ties to the livestock industry, including Mayor James D. Farmer of the Fort Worth Live Stock Commission.
Somewhere in Chicago, J. Ogden Armour and Edward Swift smiled.
The new city of North Fort Worth also smiled. The Stockyards and packing plants were literally a cash cow. North Fort Worth came to be called “the Chicago of the Southwest.” The Livestock Exchange Building became known as “the Wall Street of the West.” In 1907 the Fort Worth Telegram reported that the population of North Fort Worth had exploded from two hundred to ten thousand in just five years.
By 1909 a north wind had carried the smell of money south to Fort Worth. Civic leaders of Fort Worth had begun to dream of “greater Fort Worth.” To create greater Fort Worth they wanted to annex some ’burbs: unincorporated Glenwood and Polytechnic and the city of North Fort Worth.
You might think that Fort Worth’s plan to annex North Fort Worth was just a way to get its hands—or at least its tax collector’s hands—on the Stockyards and packing plants.
But Fort Worth was not that direct.
B. B. Paddock later recalled that Fort Worth intentionally did not annex the immediate area containing the Stockyards and packing plants: “The committee on city boundaries [of which Paddock was a member] . . . conceived an idea of leaving, as far as practicable, a large area of trackage property outside of the city. Their idea was that it would be an inducement to factories to locate near the city, where they could be exempt from city taxes.”
Fort Worth aimed to have the best of both worlds: By annexing all of North Fort Worth except the Stockyards and packing plants, Fort Worth would acquire the smaller town’s economy but leave a tax-free area to lure still more industry from which greater Fort Worth would benefit.
So, in 1909 Fort Worth became “greater Fort Worth” by annexing Glenwood and North Fort Worth except the latter’s immediate Stockyards-packing plants area. (Polytechnic would not be annexed until 1922.)
Fast-forward to 1911. Once again a north wind carried the smell of money south to Fort Worth. Fort Worth realized that the tax dodge it had created by not annexing the Stockyards-packing plants area had not met expectations. Not enough industry had been lured to that tax-free “trackage property.” So, Fort Worth wanted a do-over: This time it would annex the Stockyards-packing plants area.
At the urging of Fort Worth city leaders, in 1911 state Representative Louis J. Wortham of Fort Worth (who was also publisher and president of the Star-Telegram) introduced a bill asking the state legislature to approve annexation of the small area of North Fort Worth containing the Stockyards and packing plants.
In response, the wealthy absentee property owners of the Stockyards-packing plants area urged residents to incorporate to avoid being governed—and taxed—by Fort Worth.
What to name the proposed new city? Some suggested “Carson City” after T. E. “Dad” Carson (pictured), who had been a city council member in North Fort Worth and was a major force in the current effort to incorporate the Stockyards-packing plants area. But Carson insisted that the new city be named “Niles City” after the man who was largely responsible for bringing Swift and Armour to town (see Part 1) and for the success of the Stockyards.
We are a contentious people. Every force meets a counterforce. The move to incorporate had opposition. State law required that an area have a population of at least five hundred to incorporate. Opponents of incorporation counted noses in the area to be incorporated and claimed that they counted only 483 people—seventeen noses short. When the incorporationists claimed to have counted more than five hundred noses, the anti-incorporationists claimed that the Stockyards company had built tenement houses on its property and lured residents from Diamond Hill and other areas with the promise of low rent in order to get the area nose count to five hundred.
A judge allowed the election to be held.
On February 21, 1911 thirty-three men—remember: only adult males could vote—walked into the polling place: Dad Carson’s saloon on Decatur Avenue east of the packing plants. The vote to incorporate Niles City was unanimous.
Three weeks after Niles City incorporated, the new city welcomed its first distinguished guest: Former President Theodore Roosevelt, after being honored at a breakfast hosted by Burk Burnett at the Westbrook Hotel, was guest of honor at the stock show.
On April 4 the new city held its first election. Fourteen of the city’s forty-three eligible voters were candidates. Dad Carson was elected the city’s first mayor.
Niles City was a bit like Vatican City. Just as Vatican City, with an area of only 110 acres and a population of only 842, has disproportionate religious influence, so Niles City, with an area of only one square mile and a population of only about five hundred, had disproportionate wealth.
Niles City from the beginning was hailed as “the richest city in the world” (per capita) because despite its small area and small population, in 1911 its property value was $12 million ($313 million today). In addition to the packing plants and Stockyards, Niles City contained Fort Worth Cotton Oil Company, Gulf Refining Company, Southwestern Mechanical Company, two grain elevators, and several livestock commissions. Five railroads ran through the city.
Niles City was a company town: Most of the land was owned by the Fort Worth Stock Yards Company; most of the residents worked for the Stockyards, packing plants, oil refinery, cotton oil mill, or grain elevators or provided goods and services to those residents. Although only about five hundred people actually lived there, eight thousand worked there. Niles City may have been “the richest city in the world,” but most of its residents were working class. Many lived in low-rent housing provided by the Stockyards and packing plants. The wealth of Niles City resided elsewhere: in places such as Boston and Chicago, where the company owners lived.
Niles City may have been a company town, but minutes of city council meetings also show that, at street level, the city government more than once paid the grocery bills and other debts of the town’s sick residents.
Originally the boundaries of Niles City were from Northeast 29th Street south to Marine Creek and from about one block east of Decatur Avenue west to North Main Street.
Niles City built its city hall next to Carson’s saloon on Decatur Avenue. Niles City had a fire department, artesian wells, all public utilities, five schools (in the Diamond Hill school district), three grocery stores, and one drugstore. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)
Niles City also had one of the first woman mayors in the country. Georgia Croarkin was appointed to replace her husband, E. P. Croarkin, when he died in office in 1920. (Photo from Tarrant County College Northeast, Heritage Room.)
Niles City also had a police force (photo from Tarrant County College Northeast, Heritage Room) . . .
armed with stopwatches. Decatur Avenue, where Carson’s saloon and city hall were located, was the main street of Niles City.
By the time Louville Veranus Niles of 45 Walnut Street, Somerville, Massachusetts returned to Texas in 1914, Texas had “the richest city in the world”—and it was named after him.
With so much crammed into a small area, Niles City was a lively place. Some say the first indoor rodeo was held at the coliseum (see Part 1) in Niles City (or in Wichita, Kansas) in 1918. But during the stock show a year earlier the coliseum had hosted a “round-up” that sure ’nuff looked like a rodeo, with standard rodeo competitions. The round-up featured bronc rider Samuel Thomas “Booger Red” Privett.
The round-up was organized by—and starred—Oklahoma cowgirl Lucille Mulhall. (Black and white photo from Wikipedia.)
In 1920 the coliseum hosted a different kind of hombre: Enrico Caruso. The “genius-tenor” was delighted with the audience of eight thousand. “’Tis the first time I have been stampeded,” he said. The Star-Telegram observed Caruso “smiling and dancing about like a school boy.”
A year later Niles City got some more publicity but of a negative nature when Fred D. Rouse was pulled from his hospital bed and lynched during a strike by packing plant workers.
In fact, 1921 was an ominous year in general for Niles City. In 1921 a north wind, just as it had in 1909 and 1911, carried the smell of money south to Fort Worth. Ten years after Niles City incorporated, the Stockyards, packing plants, and other industries had made the richest city in the world even richer.
Fort Worth, like Shakespeare’s Cassius, had “a lean and hungry look.”
So, state Representative Wallace Malone of Fort Worth introduced a bill in the House that would allow a city of 50,000 (e.g., Fort Worth) to annex a neighboring city of less than 2,000 (e.g., Niles City) without the consent of the smaller city. Niles City Mayor Georgia Croarkin vowed to fight being gobbled up but was not hopeful: “I don’t think we’ll have any chance, as Fort Worth votes on the question and not Niles City.”
But Niles City fought the bill by doing some annexing of its own: It annexed—by petition—land on three sides, doubling its area and, more important, increasing its population to 2,500. State law allowed annexation by petition if a majority of residents in the area to be annexed approved by petition. The vote was 252 to 8 to be annexed by Niles City.
Niles City breathed the proverbial sigh of relief.
But Niles City sighed too soon. Fort Worth upped the ante: Representative Malone rewrote and reintroduced his bill in the Texas House. This time his bill allowed a city of 100,000 (e.g., Fort Worth) to annex a city of 5,000 (e.g., . . . uh-oh).
Niles City in 1921, like Birdville in 1856, had been “gotcha!”ed by Fort Worth.
In 1922 Niles City was annexed by Fort Worth.
Nonetheless, Niles City vowed to resist.
But in 1923 Niles City reluctantly offered to stop its fight against annexation if Fort Worth would assume Niles City’s debts of $400,000 ($5.7 million today).
Fort Worth didn’t have to think twice.
Niles City attorney Samuel F. Houtchens, who represented Niles City in its fight against annexation, estimated that Fort Worth gained $30 million ($429 million today) by the annexation.
“The richest city in the world” ($30 million would be $430 million today) was no more.
In 1923 the Fort Worth Stock Show (formally the “Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show”) for the first time was actually held in Fort Worth.
And “the Wall Street of the West,” with its connections to Walnut Street in Somerville, Massachusetts, had a new address: Cowtown.
Well done Mike and well worth the wait.
Thanks, Dan. Darned interesting passage in our history.