Van Zandt: Father and Son, State and City (Part 2)

Isaac Van Zandt

After the death of Isaac Van Zandt in 1847 (see Part 1) his widow Frances Cooke Van Zandt and children continued their lives in Harrison County.

Khleber Miller Van Zandt

In 1850 son Khleber was fourteen; son Lycurgus was eleven; daughter Frances Cooke was nine. (The Cloughs were related by marriage.)

As Mrs. Van Zandt’s children grew, they all attended college in Franklin, Tennessee, where the family had lived earlier. Khleber graduated with honors, delivering his salutatorian speech in Latin.

Upon returning home to Marshall, Van Zandt helped his mother by working in the local dry goods store. He also helped to organize the local Christian Church.

And in 1857 he married Minerva Peete.

Van Zandt studied law and passed the bar exam in Marshall. He practiced law until the outbreak of the Civil War.

Soon after the war began in 1861 Khleber and brother Lycurgus enlisted in a Confederate militia company called the “Bass Grays,” organized by Captain Frederick S. Bass.

Captain Van Zandt was commander of the company.

During the week of February 11-16, 1862 Captain Van Zandt and his brother fought in the Confederacy’s 7th Texas Infantry at the Battle of Fort Donelson in Tennessee. (Kurz and Allison lithograph Battle of Fort Donelson from Wikipedia.)

Van Zandt later wrote of the battle:

“The fighting continued all day Sunday, September 20, and on until about nine o’clock that night. We made camp at a spot the Federals had been using for a field hospital. Their wounded and dead were all around us, and all night we could hear the groaning of the injured. Early next morning our men went foraging. Some went for water. Others went to see if there was any food to be found in the haversacks of the dead Yankees. Billy Rogers, one of my men, was in a mighty bad fix; but he found some coffee and made himself a cup of it. He was just putting it to his lips, when a wounded Ohio captain dragged himself up to our fire. Without a word, Billy handed the coffee to the Yankee, saying, ‘You are worse off than I.’ I think this instance, and many others, show that the men who did the fighting did not have any animosity toward each other.”

The battle was a Confederate defeat, and both brothers were taken prisoner. Both were later released in a prisoner exchange.

In poor health, Van Zandt left the army in 1864 with the rank of major and returned to Marshall. But after the war “carpetbaggers and other undesirable characters” moved into east Texas, he recalled, inspiring Van Zandt to achieve his “boyhood ambition to move to west Texas.” In 1865 he and four other men headed west on horseback, stopping at Native American villages for supplies. One by one the four other men lost his enthusiasm and dropped out of the journey. By the time Van Zandt reached a small town at the confluence of two forks of the Trinity River, he was alone.

Fort Worth after the war, he recalled in his biography Force Without Fanfare, presented “a sad and gloomy picture.” The courthouse did not have a roof. The war had reduced the city’s population to only two hundred. Still, Van Zandt recalled, he “saw the possibilities of the place” and decided “to cast my lot here and grow with the town.”

He rented a house at 5th and Commerce streets that belonged to Mrs. Juliette Fowler and in early December 1865 returned to Marshall to fetch his family by wagon. For $300 ($4,600 today) Van Zandt bought the city block bounded by 3rd and 4th streets and Main and Houston streets where Sundance Square Plaza is today.

Van Zandt did not think “sad and gloomy” Fort Worth needed another lawyer, so he fell back on his experience working in a general store in Marshall and opened a general store on the south side of the courthouse square.

Fort Worth did not need another lawyer, but it did need a newspaper. In his biography Van Zandt writes that in 1871 future Fort Worth civic leader James Jones Jarvis was still living in Quitman. Jarvis had a printing press. Van Zandt was among Fort Worth residents who chipped in to send Jarvis a wagonload of wheat in trade for the press, and the Fort Worth Democrat was born.

Another early home of the Van Zandts was this cottage, built in the 1860s, on the farm Khleber owned that covered much of today’s Trinity Park and the cultural district. The area would later be occupied by the independent Van Zandt School District and Van Zandt Elementary School. The cottage was restored in 1936 by architect Joseph Pelich.

Fast-forward to 1872. Van Zandt had become a civic leader of his “sad and gloomy” adopted hometown. In fact, that year he was elected to represent Fort Worth in the Thirteenth Texas Legislature.

But just as his father had lived in a log cabin while a member of Congress of the Republic of Texas, son Khleber was still a shopkeeper while a state congressman.

On a hot day in July 1872 business was slow in Congressman Van Zandt’s general store on the courthouse square. He was napping at the counter when a townsman came in and told him who had just arrived in town: Governor James W. Throckmorton and Colonel Tom Scott, president of the Texas & Pacific railroad.

Van Zandt hurried to meet the two visitors at their hotel and invited them back to his store to talk business. The T&P was laying track westward from Marshall, Van Zandt’s previous hometown.

He asked Scott what it would take for the T&P to lay track to Fort Worth.

Scott said, “I want 320 acres of land south of town [for a depot and railyard]. . . . In consideration of this, I will proceed as rapidly as possible to build the Texas and Pacific Railroad to your town.”

By nightfall Van Zandt, T. J. Jennings, Ephraim Merrell Daggett, and H. G. Hendricks had drawn up a contract.

Van Zandt and Daggett donated a large part of the land.

Van Zandt still operated his general store in 1873.

But that same year Thomas A. Tidball and John B. Wilson established one of the first private banks in Fort Worth.

The following year Van Zandt, Jarvis, and John Peter Smith purchased controlling interest.

In 1876, with the Texas & Pacific tracks still stalled at Eagle Ford in Dallas County, Van Zandt pleaded with T&P officials to resume laying track to Fort Worth. He was told that the company had money to buy rails but did not have money to grade the road bed.

So, Van Zandt and others civic leaders formed the Tarrant County Construction Company, which raised $25,000 by subscription to pay for grading. Van Zandt was president of the company and negotiated a contract with a grading company.

(A more-detailed account of the effort to get the Texas & Pacific railroad to town can be read here.)

Soon after the railroad finally arrived in 1876 John Peter Smith, Walter Huffman, Jesse Zane-Cetti, and others joined Van Zandt in forming the Fort Worth Street Railway Company. They built a mule-drawn streetcar line that ran down Main Street from the courthouse to the new T&P passenger station.

Streetcar service began on December 26, 1876.

Now that Fort Worth had a railroad, it needed more hotels. A company was formed to build a first-class hotel. Van Zandt sold the company part of his city block in return for stock in the company. In 1877 the El Paso Hotel opened at Main and 4th streets where Sundance Square Plaza is today.

The El Paso had eighty-one rooms and was, Van Zandt recalled, the city’s first three-story building. It was “substantially built of stone” and “thoroughly ventilated.” It featured gas lighting, walnut furniture, and a billiards room. Note the streetcar in the ad from the 1878 city directory.

Van Zandt et al. had brought two forms of mass transit to town in one year. But that was not enough. Because in 1880 the T&P track was extended west from Fort Worth to Weatherford. Fort Worth no longer benefited from being the terminus town on the line. Fort Worth needed more railroads. The Santa Fe track had been laid from Galveston north to Temple, and the Missouri Pacific (Katy) track had been laid south to Denison, Van Zandt writes in his biography. Van Zandt, John Peter Smith, Walter Huffman, and James Jones Jarvis calculated that if they could lure the Santa Fe to town, the Missouri Pacific railroad would follow in order to connect with the Santa Fe track to gain a route to the coast. Fort Worth, now just a stop on T&P’s east-west line, could become a railroad crossroads. The four men decided that Van Zandt would approach the Santa Fe company because he had two friends on the board of directors.

The Santa Fe company told Van Zandt that track would be extended to Fort Worth if the city paid the railroad $75,000 and provided the right-of-way. According to B. B. Paddock, a town hall meeting was called, the doors locked, and no one allowed to leave the room until the $75,000 and the money for the right-of-way had been raised.

In October 1880 W. L. Moody of Galveston, one of those two friends on the Santa Fe board, congratulated Van Zandt on securing the railroad. Moody and Van Zandt had fought together in the 7th Texas Infantry at the Battle of Fort Donelson in the Civil War.

The next year, 1881, was monumental in Fort Worth’s rail history. In May the T&P opened a track north from Fort Worth to Sherman. This track was a twofer: Not only the T&P but also the Missouri Pacific railroad began serving Fort Worth on that track.

And in October the Missouri Pacific began serving Fort Worth from the south.

And the Santa Fe finally began service to Fort Worth in December 1881. “Young Giant” was one of the Democrat’s nicknames for Fort Worth.

As the year 1882 began, thanks to Van Zandt and others, Fort Worth now had these rail lines: Texas & Pacific to the east, west, and north; Missouri Pacific to the north and south; Santa Fe to the south.

Later that year Van Zandt would help bring yet another railroad to town. He was one of the founders of the Fort Worth & Denver City railroad. The FW&DC began with a modest route—Fort Worth to Decatur—and did not reach Denver until 1888.

Also in 1882 Van Zandt, Paddock, Smith, Dr. Carroll Peak, and other civic leaders organized Fort Worth’s public school system.

Meanwhile, Van Zandt’s banking career advanced. In 1884 Van Zandt’s bank—Tidball, Van Zandt & Company—received a charter as “Fort Worth National Bank.” He continued as president.

By 1885 he also was president of Fort Worth Cotton Compress and Fort Worth Gaslight Company.

Per his decision of 1865, Van Zandt had helped Fort Worth grow, and Fort Worth, in turn, had grown Van Zandt’s bank balance. He was a wealthy man. He built one of the early fine residences of Quality Hill at 800 Penn Street. The household employed six servants and a nurse.

Van Zandt remained active in the Christian Church. He was one of the early members of Fort Worth’s First Christian Church, chairman of the church board for fifty-three years, and a Sunday school teacher for more than fifty years.

An African-American resident of Fort Worth told Van Zandt’s daughter that her father—who had owned slaves—had made donations to every African-American church in town.

After the war Van Zandt also had remained active in Confederate veterans affairs, serving as commander of the trans-Mississippi division of the United Confederate Veterans.

By 1930 Van Zandt had been president of Fort Worth National Bank for forty-six years. He was still going into the office each day for six hours.

But on March 19, 1930 Khleber Miller Van Zandt died in the home where he had lived half his life. At age ninety-three his life had been as long as his father’s had been short.

He was survived by more than seventy descendants.

The man who had lived as a child in the Republic of Texas and in the new state after his father had negotiated annexation, who had known the man who had been sixth president of the United States, died just six years short of Texas’s centennial.

His “sad and gloomy” adopted hometown, which he had spent sixty-five years helping to grow, had indeed grown: from 200 residents in 1865 to 163,000 in 1930. He had helped Fort Worth become a railroad hub served by thirteen railroads.

Just as Texas had gone from republic to state, Van Zandt’s world had gone from ox carts and stage coaches to automobiles and airplanes, from folk remedies to penicillin and X-rays, from Pony Express to telephones and radio, from pine knots to electric chandeliers.

Historian Sandra L. Myres writes, “K. M. Van Zandt was not the hard-shooting, hard-fighting, hard-drinking, hard-talking Texan of myth and legend. Rather, he was one of the quiet men who built homes, plowed the land, engaged in business, promoted towns and cities, opened schools, and enforced law and order.”

Major Khleber Miller Van Zandt is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

(Khleber Miller Van Zandt was the great-granduncle of singer-songwriter John Townes Van Zandt.)

Other posts about Van Zandt:
From Adams’s Beaver Hat to Dylan’s Coffee Table
Blue and Gray: “Best of Friends . . . As If We Had Fought Side by Side”
A Rock and a Lock: Old-Fashioned Customer Service at the Trinity River Bank
Hotel Block: From “Sad and Gloomy” to the Golden Goddess
Buttons and Bones: The Life, Death, and 3 Burials of 2 Confederate Generals

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4 Responses to Van Zandt: Father and Son, State and City (Part 2)

  1. Shirley Enis says:

    Is Kleeber Miller, attorney, part of his family, or do you know?

    • hometown says:

      Shirley, I have never seen a connection, but “Khleber” is a very unusual name, and “Kleber” looks like a phonetic version of it.

  2. Dennis Hogan says:

    Once again, Missouri Pacific in these articles was in fact the Katy.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Dennis. I have inserted a parenthetical “Katy” at the first reference.

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