McCart: South Side Street, West Side Story (Part 2)

After 1894, when Humphrey Barker Chamberlin—the original developer of Arlington Heights—went bankrupt (see Part 1), growth of Arlington Heights slowed, but life went on for its scattered residents, including civic leaders such as Robert McCart. McCart, who had been appointed receiver of several of Chamberlin’s companies, recovered much of the real estate he had sold to Chamberlin, as did others who had sold land to Chamberlin from 1889 to 1894.

McCart and other early residents of Arlington Heights ended the nineteenth century with a supper and dance at the Lake Como boathouse. Among the attendees were several whose names have long been associated with the West Side: Sanguinet and Staats, Bunting, Modlin, Mattison, Bryce, Allison. (A german was a dance.)

Early in the new century the packing plants opened, spurring growth in all parts of town, especially, of course, the North Side.

The year 1903 brought more good news to Arlington Heights: In 1902 Northern Texas Traction Company had taken over the Arlington Heights streetcar line but had abandoned it as not being “self-supporting.” Now the void was filled by a horse-drawn “rubber-tired wagonette.”

In September the Fort Worth Register wrote that Robert McCart, as head of the “Arlington Heights Company,” wanted to reopen streetcar service to Arlington Heights and also “make a beautiful resort at Lake Como” with a “floating palace, fitted up for parties and . . . dances.”

While trying to reestablish streetcar service, McCart turned to a newfangled contraption—the automobile. In December McCart was expecting delivery of a “twelve-seated auto” to carry passengers between Fort Worth and Arlington Heights for ten cents each way.

Busy though McCart was, the new century brought a new leader in the development of Arlington Heights: James Stanley Handford was president of Inter-State Investment Company and Arlington Heights Realty Company. Between the two companies, Handford in 1905 controlled eight thousand lots in Arlington Heights and Lake Como.

Handford began an advertising blitz not seen since Chamberlin’s blitz of 1890: “Beautiful Arlington Heights where nature has been lavish with her gifts,” “Fort Worth’s most fashionable suburb,” “smiling Lake Como,” “coolest of breezes,” “highest elevation.”

Houses pictured included William Bryce’s Fairview and Robert McCart’s house and carriage house.

Also pictured was Fort Worth’s first country club, chartered in 1898 as “Arlington Heights Country Club.”

Lake Como during Chamberlin’s era had few formal features, mainly a boathouse. The lake and its grounds were popular mostly for rowing, picnics, parties, band concerts.

But under Handford’s ownership, Lake Como would become a full-fledged trolley park, eventually featuring a pavilion, gazebos, a roller coaster, and other rides.

The Telegram in 1906 wrote that a boardwalk twenty feet wide and ten feet above the water would cross the lake from the streetcar terminus to the two-story colonial-style pavilion, which would measure eighty by one hundred feet. The pavilion would have a boathouse under it, a stage/dance floor, a restaurant.

The pavilion was not Robert McCart’s “floating palace,” but the pavilion, the Telegram wrote, would extend over the water. (Photo from Amon Carter Museum.)

Although not all of its amenities were in place by 1908, Lake Como was competing with the other two trolley parks: Lake Erie and White City.

Also in 1906 the Arlington Heights streetcar line was rebuilt and service restored, cars running every forty minutes from downtown to Lake Como.

Handford was moving more deeds and dirt, but Robert McCart was still active in selling what had been his neighborhood now for more than ten years. (F. E. McCart was Robert’s wife Frances Electa McCart.)

But even as the West Side began to fill those long-vacant lots, the rest of the city also was growing, drawing away some of the development that might have gone to the West Side. For example, on the South Side George C. Clarke and the Shaw brothers were developing Shaw Clarke and Shaw Heights additions.

In 1907 Arlington Heights finally got a college—a boarding and day school for girls.

Fast-forward ten years. On April 6, 1917 America declared war on Germany. As the Army began planning to build mobilization camps, the Fort Worth chamber of commerce, led by Ben E. Keith, promoted Arlington Heights as the ideal location for a camp: relatively flat, sparsely populated, served by a streetcar line. Two railroad lines were less than a mile away.

The chamber acted as a middleman between Arlington Heights landowners and the government, offering the government the free lease of more than two thousand acres.

On June 11 the Star-Telegram announced that the Army indeed would construct a National Guard mobilization camp on fifteen hundred acres between Arlington Heights Boulevard and Stove Foundry Road.

Historians Atkinson and Wood in Fort Worth’s Huge Deal write that in a separate agreement, Robert McCart leased ninety-two acres to the government for the camp’s hospital near Lake Como.

Camp Bowie was not a discrete, military-only compound. The camp essentially occupied the unoccupied areas of Arlington Heights. Oh, a few residents moved out for the duration and allowed the Army to occupy their homes, but most residents remained, making Arlington Heights an odd mix of soldiers and civilians.

This photo from the National Archives shows bayonet training near a civilian house.

The camp was not a fenced, tightly secured installation. Arlington Heights Boulevard and the streetcar track ran through it. (In the photo the destinations on the streetcar are “Army Camp” and “Country Club.”) Shops along Arlington Heights Boulevard continued to do business.

Even after the hammers and saws of camp construction abated, for the scattered residents of Arlington Heights, the sights and sounds of an Army camp in their midst—thirty thousand men marching, barking orders, firing guns, thrusting bayonets as they trained for trench warfare—must have been both a reassuring reminder of America’s response to aggression but also a sober reminder that they had loved ones at risk overseas. (Many of the street names on this 1918 map have been changed. Reika Avenue today is Montgomery Street. Granbury Road today is West Vickery Boulevard.)

As Fort Worth merchants welcomed their new West Side neighbors, Robert McCart continued to market lots in Arlington Heights as best he could under the circumstances, insisting that “now is the time to buy” and that life amid the bullets and bayonets would be “ten degrees cooler” than in the city.

Occupation by the Army certainly hindered development in Arlington Heights, but after the war ended in 1918 and the Army abandoned the camp, the land reverted to its owners, and the camp’s infrastructure—streets, water and sewer, gas, telephone, electric—remained in place, giving a head start to resumed development.

Meanwhile, eighty miles west of Fort Worth, William Knox Gordon had struck oil at Ranger in 1917. Fort Worth, as the big city closest to the booming oil fields, also boomed, becoming a major oil field supplier and oil refiner. Arlington Heights Boulevard was part of U.S. 80, which led to the oil fields. Just as the packing plants had been a boon to the North Side in 1903, the oil rush was a boon to the West Side as middle-class workers, professionals, and even executives built homes.

In 1919 the Star-Telegram reported that Arlington Heights was “growing, and growing fast.”

Robert McCart, seventy-five years old in 1919, was part of that growth. He continued to wheel and deal in Arlington Heights as the 1920s brought more change:

In 1922 Fort Worth gobbled up suburbs on all sides, including Arlington Heights.

An elementary, high school, and junior high school were built in Arlington Heights in the 1920s.

In 1927-1929 Camp Bowie Boulevard was paved with Thurber brick, replacing creosoted wooden blocks.

In 1932 Mr. and Mrs. McCart celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in the clothes they had worn at their wedding in 1882.

In 1933 Robert Lee McCart died in the house he had acquired in 1894 after H. B. Chamberlin’s bankruptcy: the 1890 Victorian mansion built as the model house for Arlington Heights.

By 1933 McCart had outlived Chamberlin, Fort Worth University, Ye Arlington Inn, Camp Bowie, Lake Como trolley park (and trolleys themselves).

And he had lived to see the West Side of Fort Worth become the tree-shaded, fashionable addition that he and Humphrey Barker Chamberlin had envisioned a half-century earlier.

And yet McCart’s obituary says nothing about his role in the development of Arlington Heights.

Robert Lee McCart is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

His wife, Frances Electa McCart, died in the house in 1942.

Here are some views of the McCart house:

(Photos from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

By 1971 the grand old house, after being in the McCart family since 1894, belonged to a real estate developer. He planned to demolish the house and build “multiple housing units.” Mrs. Clay Hoskins and others wanted to save the house. The developer offered to let Mrs. Hoskins have the house for free if she’d pay to have it moved.

But that huge house was not meant to be moved.

I think you can guess how that preservation effort turned out.

In fact, only a few houses from the early settlement of Arlington Heights survive, among them Sanguinet (1894), Bryce (1893), Arthur Albert Messer (1893), and Lillie Burgess Smith (1893).

What other tangible reminders of its early days does the West Side retain? Well, there are the streets named after men who helped develop Arlington Heights. In addition to McCart Street in the Hi Mount section the West Side has Sanguinet, Mattison, Byers, Clarke, Bunting, and Modlin streets. And Belle Place and Virginia Place were named for Bunting’s daughters.

Right about now I hear you say, “Hold your horses, Hometown. There is no McCart Street on the West Side. There is a McCart Street on the South Side. What gives?”

Glad you asked. Robert Lee McCart, like most Cowtown land barons, did not confine himself to one part of town. Although most of his land was on the West Side, he bought and sold where the buying and selling were good. By 1909 he and Andrew T. Byers had developed an area on the South Side just south of Paschal High School: Byers & McCart addition.

McCart Avenue bisects that addition. (Byers also helped develop Hi Mount and financed construction of Byers Opera House, which became the Palace Theater.)

The city of Fort Worth’s annexation of Arlington Heights and several other suburbs in 1922 resulted in dozens of duplications of street names in the expanded Fort Worth. Arlington Heights had a McCart Street in Hi Mount. But Fort Worth already had a McCart Street on the South Side. So, in Arlington Heights, McCart Street became part of Belle Place.

McCart the man came out ahead in the long run. Whereas the Arlington Heights McCart Street was a residential street only a few blocks long, the South Side McCart Avenue—which also had begun as a modest residential street—grew with the city to become a major artery eight miles long—a length befitting the godfather of Fort Worth’s West Side.

Further Reading

Fort Worth’s Huge Deal by Jim Atkinson and Judy Wood

Fort Worth’s Arlington Heights by Juliet George

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