Say the word McCart to any Fort Worth resident today, and odds are that person immediately will think of the thoroughfare on the South Side.
But the South Side street’s namesake, Robert Lee McCart, should be remembered as the godfather of the West Side.
McCart was born in Kentucky in 1844 but raised in Bloomington, Illinois. He earned a law degree from the University of Michigan and began his practice in Bloomington in 1866, eventually being elected city attorney.
In 1877 McCart moved to Fort Worth.
He quickly became known here as an able attorney and a man of refinement, interested in literature and music, a splendid orator and singer.
He also was interested in horse racing. When the Fort Worth Driving Park Association formed in 1883, he was elected president.
He also was interested in real estate, both urban and rural. In the early days, what Fort Worth’s movers and shakers moved and shook most, arguably even more than cattle, was land. Land was the currency of the capitalist.
After all, there was so much of it in wide-open north Texas in the 1880s.
And it was so cheap.
McCart bought raw rural land, well aware that an acre of prairie that supports two jackrabbits and a prickly pear cactus today can be sold as a dozen town lots at a handsome profit tomorrow.
And Robert McCart was planning for tomorrow.
Meanwhile, in 1881 McCart was elected city attorney.
Indeed, according to historians Jim Atkinson and Judy Wood in Fort Worth’s Huge Deal, during the 1880s Robert McCart, sometimes buying alone, sometimes buying in partnership with Henry C. “Tobe” Johnson, had been buying raw land west of town—a total of perhaps five thousand acres or more.
Robert McCart continued to plan for tomorrow.
And by 1887 tomorrow was almost here.
Fort Worth began the year 1888 with promise. Foremost on the minds of many civic leaders was the “deep-water scheme.” This was a proposal to dredge a deep-water harbor on the Texas gulf (probably at Galveston) and via railroads connect that harbor to cities across the country, giving them access to a deep-water terminus in Texas rather than in New Orleans. Fort Worth’s leaders wanted to be part of that deep-water scheme. (An “air line” is a straight line.)
In fact, “deep water” was mentioned in a song in The Texas Mikado, a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan that the Fort Worth board of trade commissioned in 1888 to promote Fort Worth.
The year 1889 brought even more promise. In addition to promoting Fort Worth with The Texas Mikado, Fort Worth leaders were planning the biggest wingding in the town’s history: the Texas Spring Palace exhibition, which would open in May. On January 31 Robert McCart was appointed to the Spring Palace soliciting committee.
Two weeks later a stranger stepped off the train from Denver with a fist full of money and a head full of ideas. British-born Humphrey Barker Chamberlin had a look-see at Fort Worth, then went over to Dallas for a look-see. Then he came back to Fort Worth and began buying land both urban and rural: $80,000 ($2.2 million today). One of Chamberlin’s deals was with Robert McCart. Possibly Chamberlin instructed McCart to act as his local agent for future land purchases. Possibly Chamberlin told McCart his plans for future land purchases. Possibly McCart told Chamberlin that he knew of some very desirable tracts of land west of town (cough cough).
Tomorrow had come for Robert McCart.
And the future had come for Fort Worth’s West Side.
In early July McCart went to Denver for a week. Surely the Gazette asked McCart the purpose of his trip. Either McCart would not answer or answered off the record.
But three weeks later the Gazette breathlessly disclosed what it had known about “for some time”: “great plans maturing for the good of Fort Worth.”
“The Largest Transaction in Real Estate Ever Recorded in Texas,” shouted the headline.
Humphrey Barker Chamberlin, who had developed an upscale suburb in Denver, now hoped to replicate his success here on land west of Fort Worth. Just how much land he eventually bought is still debated—2,000 to 5,000 acres.
But according to Atkinson and Wood, there is little debate about who sold Chamberlin most of that land: Robert McCart.
The Gazette said “realty to the amount of $535,000 [$15 million today] has gone into the possession of the American Land and Investment Company . . . These lands are situated west of Fort Worth, across the Clear Fork of the Trinity River, on and in [the] vicinity of what is known as the McCart tract of land.”
American Land and Investment Company (ALICO) had been organized in May with Chamberlin as president and Robert McCart as a director.
On that same page of the July 28, 1889 Gazette is a list of real estate transfers recorded the previous day. Most of those tracts of land were west of town, where McCart had been buying land for years.
Those men highlighted in yellow were financially connected to Chamberlin and his ALICO. Remember that H. C. Johnson was McCart’s partner in real estate.
(Incidentally the list contains two other threads of Fort Worth history: In blue, Will McLaury of Fort Worth was the brother of Frank and Tom McLaury, killed at the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Will McLaury, a lawyer, served as “associate counsel” of the prosecution against the lawmen accused of killing his brothers. In red, Annie F. and Minnie A. Williams would be victims of serial killer Dr. Henry Howard Holmes.)
The Gazette said that Chamberlin’s addition would be named “University Heights.”
Why “University Heights”?
Because Chamberlin planned to persuade Fort Worth University, then located on the near South Side, to relocate and become the centerpiece of his new West Side addition. He set aside four square blocks for the campus near today’s Merrick Street at Camp Bowie Boulevard, according to Atkinson and Wood. He promised the university that it would receive money to finance its relocation from the sale of selected lots in University Heights. He and McCart and others also promised to donate money to the university upon completion of the first buildings on the new campus.
(Note that those promises of money were contingent on events beyond the control of the promisers.)
In Chamberlin’s first filing, University Heights would encompass nine hundred acres of Robert McCart property.
The Gazette report included a sketch of a proposed FWU building “to be erected in 1889-90” in Chamberlin’s University Heights.
University Heights, the Gazette said, would be connected to Fort Worth by “two grand boulevards” 150 feet wide. Chamberlin planned to bridge the Clear Fork and lay a six-mile-long “rapid transit railway” to downtown Fort Worth, install a waterworks, sewer system, and electric generating plant, grade streets, sell lots, build houses.
And why did Chamberlin pick Fort Worth to replicate his success in Denver?
Good question. I suspect that two major factors were Robert McCart and railroads.
Chamberlin and McCart must have liked what they saw in each other. Chamberlin not only bought McCart’s land but also made him a director of his new real estate company.
Also Chamberlin appreciated Fort Worth’s position as a railroad hub, now linked to his own base of operations by the Fort Worth & Denver City railroad. Chamberlin himself was an investor in at least one railroad in Colorado.
Capitalists in Denver such as Chamberlin, just like capitalists in Fort Worth such as Robert McCart, were interested in the deep-water scheme that Fort Worth hoped to be part of.
Fort Worth was booming in 1889, as evidenced by the Texas Spring Palace exhibition, its first season so successful that a second season was planned.
Chamberlin had become a millionaire by trusting his intuition. His intuition surely told him that Fort Worth would jump the Clear Fork and grow westward to University Heights.
Fast-forward to March 1890. Chamberlin had begun promoting his addition. He promised “electric rapid transit railway,” “grand macadamized boulevard,” “electric lights,” “a large and attractive hotel,” a “hundred thousand dollar college,” and “an artesian lake.” But note that now the addition was named “Arlington Heights,” not “University Heights.”
Why? The relocation of Fort Worth University to Chamberlin’s addition was to be financed by proceeds from lots sales in the addition. In 1890 Chamberlin changed the name of the addition and stopped mentioning the university in ads, perhaps because sale of lots had been insufficient to finance FWU’s relocation.
In this 1890 Gazette report on progress at Arlington Heights, note the references to “Lake Como,” “street railway,” and “grand boulevard.”
Now look the other way and don’t peek while I turn back the clock three years.
Remember the March 26, 1887 clip about the 2,700 acres west of town that Robert McCart and others owned? On April 1, 1887 the Gazette had been more explicit about McCart’s plans for his land. This article is tattered and requires filling in some gaps, but it is most revealing in its details of the “city” that McCart envisioned “three miles to the west”:
The “city” would be connected to Fort Worth by a “grand boulevard.” Down the center of that boulevard would run a streetcar line.
A park would be built, and it would feature “Lake Como.”
That sounds as if H. B. Chamberlin was buying not only McCart’s land but also some of McCart’s ideas for development of that land, right down to the name of the lake in the addition. Remember: In 1887 when McCart was envisioning Lake Como, H. B. Chamberlin had never been to Fort Worth or met Robert McCart.
Meanwhile, McCart continued to buy land for Chamberlin’s addition. McCart sold to ALICO for $110,000 ($3.1 million today) two hundred acres in four surveys that would become the core of Arlington Heights. (E. Crockett was Davy’s widow. Today’s Montgomery Street is named for John P.)
Even in 1895 Arlington Heights was connected to Fort Worth via only what had been until recently the wagon road to Weatherford. That road became Arlington Heights Boulevard and then Camp Bowie Boulevard. The Arlington Heights streetcar track ran down the middle of the boulevard from downtown Fort Worth, serving Ye Arlington Inn (see below) and eventually Lake Como trolley park.
The concentric circles on the above map are two miles apart, so Arlington Heights as shown in 1895 was about one square mile but very sparsely populated.
According to Tarrant County Historic Resources Survey, the original area of Arlington Heights was bounded by today’s Crestline Road on the north, Locke Avenue on the south, Hillcrest Street on the east, and Lake Como on the west: about one mile square.
In 1890 Robert McCart—and H. B. Chamberlin’s brother A. W.—were elected to the board of trustees of Fort Worth University under a new charter.
But H. B. Chamberlin himself spent very little time in Fort Worth, although he had a large presence here through his local realty companies, which by 1894 would total fifteen. In 1890 one of them published a booklet touting Fort Worth’s assets, including the Spring Palace (then in its second season), railroads, deep water, and, of course, Arlington Heights.
Construction of the infrastructure of Arlington Heights began in 1890 as the powerhouse was built to provide electricity for the homes and streetcar line. The Gazette reported that “Messrs. Tallant, Sanguinet, Burbridge, McCart and others will build elegant residences on the Heights. Plans for the magnificent hotel have been submitted.”
The first house built in Arlington Heights was a mansion on today’s Bryce Avenue designed to serve two purposes:
- Be a model house for the addition
- Be the residence of Chamberlin’s overseer in Fort Worth, Henry W. Tallant
The Tallant mansion was the face of Arlington Heights, making a great first impression as Tallant entertained prospective buyers.
The house featured French hand-wrought brass, crystal chandeliers, a fireplace in each of the twelve rooms, damask wallpaper, a grand staircase, and indoor plumbing (not a standard feature in homes in 1890).
The property also had a two-story carriage house.
Although development of Arlington Heights was slow, in the early 1890s several prominent men built fine houses there. Among them were capitalist Andrew T. Byers and future mayor William Bryce, who as a masonry contractor built some of the first houses in Arlington Heights.
Architects Marshall Sanguinet and Arthur Messer also designed and built homes for themselves in Arlington Heights.
Meanwhile, as hammers had been ringing on new houses, hammers also had been ringing on Chamberlin’s Ye Arlington Inn. In 1892 the showcase hotel opened at the intersection of today’s Merrick Street and Crestline Road.
“Every Promise Has Been Kept”: Yes, Chamberlin had kept his promise to build a showcase hotel, waterworks, generating plant, and streetcar line. But Fort Worth University was still located on the near South Side four years after the announcement that FWU would relocate to Chamberlin’s addition. In this 1893 ad, even though the label “University Heights” appeared on the plat, and the main thoroughfare was labeled “University Boulevard,” the map’s legend and promotional text were for “Arlington Heights,” and no campus was shown or mentioned.
The year 1893 held more disappointment for Chamberlin: His overseer in Fort Worth, Henry W. Tallant, resigned and moved back to Denver.
Worse yet was the national economic panic of 1893. One biographer wrote that Chamberlin was rendered “severely overextended.”
Then came the year 1894. Chamberlin’s bankruptcy in June was news from coast to coast and a severe setback to development of Arlington Heights. It also killed any lingering hope that Fort Worth University would relocate.
And in November 1894 Ye Arlington Inn was destroyed by fire.
Meanwhile, Robert McCart was appointed receiver of several of Chamberlin’s companies despite a blatant conflict of interest: McCart was financially entangled with the bankrupt developer.
Now real estate investors—including McCart and others who had sold land to Chamberlin—were able to buy that land (back) at a deeply discounted price. As development of Arlington Heights slowed, for several years wheeling and dealing in Chamberlin’s foreclosed property, not building houses, would constitute the bulk of activity in Arlington Heights.
About 1894 Robert McCart moved into the model house vacated by Henry Tallant. McCart’s family would remain there for four generations.
Fast-forward three years. The waning century had one more blow to deal. On May 17, 1897 Humphrey Barker Chamberlin was killed while riding his bicycle near London. He was fifty years old.
Resignation, bankruptcy, fire, death—what else could go wrong for Arlington Heights?
Hmmm. How about a world war?