Great Scott: From Ax-Slinger to Goldfinger

He was born in 1847 in Kentucky. When he migrated to Tarrant County at age twenty-one, he could neither read nor write. He worked as a woodchopper along the river.

By the time Winfield Scott died, he was worth $5 million ($123 million today). (Photo from Tarrant County College Northeast.)

scott 78 cdWinfield Scott did not chop wood long. Like many of Fort Worth’s early wealthy men, Scott moved into cattle. Clip is from the 1878 city directory.

scott 10-10-88 gaz On October 10, 1888 the Fort Worth Gazette reported that Scott was holding twelve thousand steers over the winter.

scott taxes 10-19-06 teleOn October 19, 1906 the Telegram declared Scott the biggest taxpayer in the city ($8,600 would be $219,000 today). Texas had plenty of two resources: cattle and land. Scott made a fortune in each.

scott capitalistIn the 1907 city directory one word—in boldface—about Scott said it all: “capitalist.”

cook scott 4-30-10 stJust as Scott did not remain a woodchopper, he did not remain illiterate.
Which brings us to this curio. In 1910 Scott wrote this public letter to Mr. and Mrs. W. I. Cook of rural Albany, Texas. I don’t know how the Scotts and Cooks knew each other, but Scott and Cook were cattlemen, and Scott owned gins in Anson and Stamford in west Texas, not far from Albany in terms of Texas distance.

In the letter printed in the Star-Telegram on April 30 Scott describes an aeroplane he has bought and a planned trip that will take the Scott family and two “aeroplane chauffeurs” over the Cook ranch. Scott promises to “fire our machine gun when we pass you” “from 800 to 1,000 feet high.” Bear in mind that Fort Worth’s first powered flight would not be made until January 12, 1911.

winfield hotelsScott also was a commercial developer. He owned the (original) Worth, Metropolitan, and Terminal hotels. The Worth and Metropolitan were on Main Street on blocks flanking today’s Hotel Texas. (Images from Greater Fort Worth and the 1914 city directory.)

scott tunnel 3-17-11In March 1911 Scott asked permission to dig a tunnel under 8th Street to connect the Worth and the Metropolitan. He also planned to tear down the south end of the Worth Hotel and build an even bigger hotel there.

building texas hotel winfieldWinfield Scott died before he could build his new hotel on Main Street at 8th Street. So, his widow and other local financiers took up the plan and built the Winfield Hotel. But before the hotel was opened in 1921 it was renamed the “Hotel Texas.”

kress photo 1946 NR

scott harrold 1895On Main at 5th street Scott also owned the 1895 Scott-Harrold Building, which would be remodeled to house a Cox’s department store next to the 1936 Kress Building. E. B. Harrold was a fellow cattleman-capitalist. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

Scott also owned property in Hell’s Half Acre. When Scott died and was eulogized by many, preacher J. Frank Norris criticized Scott for owning property in the Acre and for supporting liquor and gambling.

scott winfreeScott also owned the 1890 Winfree Building, second home of the White Elephant Saloon.

scott plaza hotel 1908He also built the Plaza Hotel (1908).

scott protestant sanitriumIn this ad in the 1907 city directory Scott is listed as a director of the Protestant Sanitarium, located at the corner of Main and Vickery streets. Scott also owned cottonseed oil mills and cotton gins and Scotland, a ranch of fourteen thousand acres located eighteen miles southwest of downtown about where Winscott Road, Winscott-Plover Road, and the tiny community of Winscott are located today.

building ymca panelIn the 1890s Scott had a fine house on Lamar Street where the downtown YMCA (1924, Clarkson) is located. The Y’s cornerstone (see inset) commemorates that fact.

In 1904 another local millionaire, W. T. Waggoner, had the $46,000 ($1.1 million today), eleven thousand-square-foot “honeymoon cottage” that today we call “Thistle Hill” built for his daughter Electra and her husband, A. B. Wharton. Wharton that year opened one of Fort Worth’s first auto liveries (automobile dealerships). Marshall Sanguinet and Carl Staats, Fort Worth’s leading architects, designed Thistle Hill in Georgian revival style. The house is one of the few survivors on Quality Hill.

thistle greaterThe grounds included a brick carriage house (still standing) and a lighthouse-like water tower, seen in this photo from Greater Fort Worth.

In 1911 Winfield Scott bought the property from the Whartons for $90,000 ($2.2 million today) and began renovating the mansion.

century scott cottageScott lived in this house on 8th Avenue as the mansion was being renovated.

scott burglar 4-22-11 st This April 22, 1911 Star-Telegram article says Scott intended to move into the mansion in October.

scott obit 10-27-11 dmnBut before Scott and his family could move into the mansion, he died on October 26, 1911. Clip is from the October 27 Dallas Morning News. (A distant relative, John Olthoff, and two censuses say Scott was born in Kentucky, not Missouri.)

scott 4-3-13In 1913 Scott’s widow had a $15,000 ($348,000 today) mausoleum designed by Sanguinet and Staats, who had designed Thistle Hill. Clip is from the April 3 Star-Telegram.

Winfield Scott spent little, if any, time in his dream house on Pennsylvania Avenue. In Oakwood Cemetery, overlooking the river along which he had chopped wood as an illiterate young man, stands his consolation prize.

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14 Responses to Great Scott: From Ax-Slinger to Goldfinger

  1. Ria says:

    Scott’s son, Winfield Jr. was called the “Playboy Heir” in a 1956 Star Telegram article. He is included in my Westland TX book because he was living in El Rancho Estates when he died. Jr. inherited the bulk of his fathers estate at the age of 10 when his mother died. There was a long and bitter court battle with his older half sister. He was on his eighth marriage when he died and was survived by the last wife and two grandkids. He was bedridden the last 15 months of his life and died at age 54. He is also buried in the family vault. As is usually the case, dad worked to earn the money and the kid just frittered it away.

  2. Roy B Young says:

    In 1927, a airplane crashed on the Winfield Scott Ranch killing police captain Quincy Burnett and James C. Coogins, aviator. Do you have any information on this airplane accident?

  3. Scott Gorman says:

    Thank you for another great story! Do you know where his ranch was located at?

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Scott. According to the obit, the ranch, Scotland, was in the southwestern part of the county. Eighteen miles from town, another story says. Winscott Road, Winscott-Plover Road, and the community of Winscott southwest of town may be named for him.

  4. Ramiro says:

    I wonder if he gets many visitors there at Oakwood.

    • hometown says:

      His is the only mausoleum I know of designed by Sanguinet and Staats, who usually designed skyscrapers. Indeed, the “skyline” of Oakwood consists mostly of the pointy obelisks of folks like Loyd, Jennings, and Van Zandt and the boxy mausoleums of folks like Scott, Waggoner, Burnett, and Slaughter.

  5. earl belcher says:

    Another masterpiece, Mike. This was when a regular guy could get filthy stinkin’ rich. Of course, we see by the oppressive tax bill the powers-that-were tried to put a stop to that. We need more fellows like Mr. Scott, the capitalist, today. Love his big house. To think the puny brains wanted to tear it down for a parking lot for a loser cafeteria. As for my hero J. Frank . . . come on, preacher, give the guy a break.

  6. Royce Murray says:

    I have always been drawn to Thistle Hill. I use to beg my dad to buy it. I love the history of Ft. Worth

  7. Colleen says:

    Fascinating article. I love the rags to riches stories that come out of Ft Worth.

  8. Charles Mencke says:

    Mike, thank you so much for the history lesson today. I learned so much about the leaders of this great city.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Charles. It’s fascinating (and humbling) to find out what those early Cowtown residents accomplished.

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