Paul Waples (Part 2): At the Foot of the Hill, a History Mystery

While we’re out here at the Paul Waples (see Part 1) estate at the top of the hill on West Division Street in Arlington, can we detect yet more history?

I think we can.

But the history is at the foot of the hill, along the front of the Waples estate.

Along the front of the estate in 1916 ran in a narrow transportation corridor that consisted of three parts: the Fort Worth-Dallas Pike, the Texas & Pacific railroad tracks, and the Fort Worth-Dallas interurban track.

When Paul Waples’s car was hit by an interurban motorcar, his chauffeur was driving him down his driveway to the pike. So we know that to reach the pike, the Waples automobile had to cross the interurban track. And possibly the T&P tracks.

We know where the T&P tracks are relative to the Waples estate because the tracks are still there.

But where was the interurban track relative to the Waples estate?

For that matter, where was the Fort Worth-Dallas Pike relative to the Waples estate?

To the latter question you might say: “The answer is as clear as crystal, Hometown: The old pike is today’s West Division Street/U.S. 180.”

A logical deduction, Dr. Watson. But look at this photo from 1947. It shows today’s U.S. 180 being cut parallel to and above the Fort Worth-Dallas Pike between Arlington and Handley. The pike was still in use as its replacement was being built alongside it. To the right of the pike are the T&P tracks. A higher-resolution version of this photo shows that there were power lines running along both sides of the railroad tracks. We’ll come back to those power lines later. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

Coincidentally, as the new Highway 180 was being cut, the Pike Drive-In Theater was opening at 7500 East Lancaster Avenue.

Although today the highway department has covered much of the old Fort Worth-Dallas Pike with stockpiles of road material, east and west of the Waples estate crumbling, weed-choked sections of the pike can still be seen parallel to and below East Lancaster Avenue/West Division Street/U.S. 180.

Here’s another view showing the new highway and the old pike. (The road connecting Fort Worth and Dallas was referred to as the “pike” by the 1880s. In the early 1920s the pike became part of the Bankhead Highway.)

And here’s a section of the old pike in front of the Waples estate. The top of the Waples home can be seen above the trees in top center. Between the pike and the estate are the T&P tracks.

So, I deduce that we have found the Fort Worth-Dallas Pike that Paul Waples never reached on November 15, 1916. And we can see that his chauffeured car had to cross not only the interurban track but also the T&P tracks to reach the pike.

But where was the interurban track?

Ah, good question. Locating the interurban track relative to the Waples estate is quite a three-pipe problem. That rural area was not mapped or photographed in much detail during the time of the interurban (1902-1934).

But to begin our investigation, let us take a magnifying glass to that yellow circle at the foot of the hill.

Inside that yellow circle are these concrete steps below the Waples house at the front edge of the property. They seemingly are steps to nowhere.

Why would Paul Waples install steps at the front of his estate 150 feet from his driveway and gate and 200 feet from the Fort Worth-Dallas Pike, which was on the other side of the T&P tracks?

To solve this history mystery we have a possible clue with which to start: One newspaper account said the steps led to Paul Waples’s private interurban stop.

When I read that, I was skeptical. I had never heard of the interurban having private stops. There was a stop 14 on the interurban in rural west Arlington that apparently was near the Waples estate, but as far as I know stop 14 was (1) a public stop and (2) not in front of the Waples estate.

I suppose Paul Waples had enough clout to be given his own interurban stop. He was an influential mover-and-shaker, had presided over the dedication ceremony when the interurban opened in 1902.

But why would a man who was driven to his office in a chauffeured automobile via the pike in 1916 need an interurban stop?

An excellent question, Dr. Watson. Perhaps originally he had commuted to his office by interurban trolley, not chauffeured automobile.

Or perhaps the stop was for the use of visitors to the Waples estate. When Waples moved to his estate about 1912, not everyone owned an automobile. Not even all affluent people.

Let’s zoom out and get the bigger picture. This 1925 Rogers map shows that the interurban track in Fort Worth ran down Main Street to Lancaster Avenue and then down Lancaster Avenue/Fort Worth-Dallas Pike east to Handley. The circles are stops on the East Side.

At the last interurban stop in Fort Worth—at Tierney Road in Meadowbrook—the track was still running along the pike. The T&P tracks were now more than a half-mile to the south. The next interurban stop was in Handley. Handley was the home of the interurban’s power plant and its Lake Erie trolley park. The Waples estate was 2.5 miles east of Handley.

Now let us return to the estate. What other clues can we find? Let us stand on the steps to nowhere and look around. What do we observe, Dr. Watson?

First, running overhead past the steps and one hundred feet south of the T&P tracks are power lines (two sets of three lines each) strung along utility poles that run east and west along a right-of-way. Remember that the 1947 photo shows power lines on the south side of the T&P tracks.

And remember that the electricity to power the interurban trains was supplied by overhead lines that originated at Northern Texas Traction Company’s power plant on Lake Erie in Handley. After the interurban closed in 1934, Texas Electric Service Company took over the power plant and probably the interurban track ROW. (The plant is now owned by Exelon.)

Here is the power line right-of-way from the ground, looking east toward Dallas. The power lines can be traced west to the Exelon power plant in Handley.

Certainly an electric interurban track that had a stop near the Waples steps would need power lines such as those that today pass over those steps.

Let us explore farther afield—1,400 feet east of the Waples steps. There Forest Edge Drive runs parallel to the power line right-of-way. The power line right-of-way along Forest Edge Drive has a curious feature: The center of the right-of-way is flat and elevated about five feet above the surrounding terrain. (My tape measure was extended only three feet—at five feet it went all floppity and fell over.) I say, Watson, the center of that right-of-way looks like an . . . elevated roadbed. Power lines and utility poles don’t need an elevated roadbed.

But an interurban track does.

An interurban track needs an elevated roadbed especially when running through an area liable to flooding (Village Creek, which once swallowed a locomotive, is 3,200 feet away; Rush Creek is 600 feet away).

These photos of the 1916 Waples accident scene show that the interurban roadbed indeed had an embankment in front of the Waples estate. (There is no embankment there today.) The interurban’s power line ran overhead on poles alongside the track.

Likewise, this postcard shows the elevated roadbed of the interurban and the power lines overhead. (Postcard from Arlington Historical Society’s Fielder House Museum.)

A similar elevated roadbed of the Cleburne interurban track can be found parallel to Wichita Street.

“But confound it all, Hometown,” I hear you say with no small degree of exasperation. “The 1925 Rogers map shows the interurban leaving Fort Worth more than a half-mile north of the T&P tracks. If today’s power line right-of-way is the old interurban right-of-way, how in the name of all that is wonderful could the interurban track end up south of the T&P tracks at the Waples estate?”

Excellent, Watson! You scintillate today. It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. The assumption that the interurban track ran north of the T&P tracks for its entire route makes those steps south of the T&P tracks appear less likely to have led to an interurban stop.

Herein lies the solution: the Handley switcheroo. The interurban track, after running north of the T&P tracks through Fort Worth, in Handley veered southeast, passing under the T&P tracks and Handley Road between today’s East Loop 820 and the Dixie House on East Lancaster, and passed near the interurban power plant and Lake Erie trolley park. From that point on the interurban track ran south of the T&P tracks on its way east to Arlington. The yellow line on each map shows the crossing in Handley. The blue W on the top map is the location of the Waples estate.

Top photo views the Handley Road interurban overpass from the T&P tracks. Bottom photo views the mouth of the interurban tunnel under the T&P tracks from the Handley Road overpass. A trickle of water flows through what is left of the tunnel toward the power plant in the distance.

Finally, from two newspaper articles we can confirm the fact that the interurban track ran south of the Texas & Pacific tracks in Arlington. The 1957 article says the northern boundary of the townhouse project in west Arlington was the interurban right-of-way. If the interurban track had been north of the T&P tracks, the townhouse project could not have extended to the interurban ROW. The contemporary aerial photo shows that the interurban ROW would have been about where West Abram Street is today. And the 1989 article confirms that the interurban track came through Arlington on Abram Street.

A half-mile west of the Waples estate, this 1952 photo show that all four roads were still visible, although the interurban rails probably had been taken up.

So. We have uncovered evidence that the interurban track ran south of the T&P tracks and possibly along today’s power line right-of-way, which would put the interurban track very close to the Waples steps. Can we find more tangible evidence? Let us return to Rush Creek. Creeks can be most instructive. While studying satellite photos of the power line right-of-way where it crosses Rush Creek east of the Waples estate, despite the poor resolution and thick tree cover I saw something interesting under the southern set of power lines.

Quick, Watson! Will your scruples countenance trespassing?

By Jove! Sure enough, on each side of Rush Creek at the power line right-of-way are slabs of concrete: foundations for piers that supported a bridge across the creek. Power lines and utility poles don’t need a bridge across a creek.

But an interurban track does.

These foundations are under the southern set of overhead power lines. So are the Waples steps 1,400 feet down that right-of-way.

The interurban line eventually was double-tracked between Fort Worth and Dallas. The width of these foundations and the spacing of two pairs of holes where piers were embedded in each foundation might indicate that. Similar concrete foundations survive at a creek on the interurban right-of-way to Cleburne.

(This site has more significance: According to J. C. Terrell, at the Battle of Village Creek, John Bunyan Denton “was killed by the Comanche Indians on Rush Creek, this county, near where the Texas and Pacific Railroad crosses that stream.”)

Here are the two surviving roads and the paths of the two defunct roads in front of the Waples estate today.

So. Am I now convinced that the interurban track passed within a few feet of those steps in front of the Waples estate? Quite so. Ah, but does that prove that the steps to nowhere were once the steps to Paul Waples’s own private stop on the interurban?

Alas, no.

But as the great detective himself said in The Hound of the Baskervilles, “At least I might go the length of saying that there is some evidence that this may be so.”

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2 Responses to Paul Waples (Part 2): At the Foot of the Hill, a History Mystery

  1. Chris Bellomy says:

    A little more supporting evidence for you can be found at the TXDOT Highway Designation Files. Here’s the original entry for Spur 303:

    “STATE HIGHWAY SPUR NO. 303

    “Minute Order 039711, dated 02/23/1956; Adm. Cir. 020-1956, dated 04/01/1956

    “Fort Worth Spur – From Rosedale St, south of the T&P Underpass at Handley, eastward in the vicinity of the old interurban right-of-way, and in the vicinity of Park Row St in Arlington to the proposed extension of SH 360, a distance of approximately 10 miles. (Tarrant County) New Designation.”

    So here, TXDOT verifies that the interurban crossed south of the T&P as far south as current-day East Rosedale — right next to Lake Erie and the power plant.

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