The Millionaire: From Swords to Plowshares

W. A. Huffman didn’t let the grass grow under his feet.

And not just because his implements company sold lawn mowers. (Ad from 1886 Fort Worth Gazette.)

Huffman, like early civic leaders E. M. Daggett, John Peter Smith, Jesse Zane-Cetti, James Jones Jarvis, K. M. Van Zandt, and B. B. Paddock, seemed to be always on the move, to be everywhere at once. If the young city needed something, W. A. Huffman was there to help get ’er done.

Huffman was—take a deep breath—secretary of the city’s first street railway in 1876 and president of the North Side Railway Company. He was treasurer of Tarrant County Construction Company, which organized to bring the Texas & Pacific railroad to town in 1876. He, along with Major Khleber Miller Van Zandt,  James Jones Jarvis, and John Peter Smith, talked the Santa Fe railroad into extending its tracks to Fort Worth from the south. He was on the board of directors of the El Paso Hotel and the Fort Worth & Denver City railroad, an incorporator of the Texas Southern Trunk Line Railroad Company, owner of the Fort Worth Gazette, a director of Merchants’ National Bank, president of the Board of Trade. He was a founder of the city’s first electric company, a director of flour mills in four cities, and president of Fort Worth City Company (John Peter Smith was vice president), a real estate company.

opera 1886 wellgeOh, and Huffman’s syndicate built the Fort Worth Opera House in 1883. (Sketch from the 1886 Henry Wellge map.)

Huffman was also a city alderman and treasurer of the company that produced the Texas Spring Palace exhibition in 1889-1890. He owned prime real estate on Main Street downtown. Oh, and he popularized Fort Worth’s nickname “Queen City of the Prairies.”

Huffman was said to have been Fort Worth’s first home-grown millionaire.

Whew. And he did all this by the age of forty-four.

huffman 1850 censusWalter Ament Huffman was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, on October 16, 1846. By 1850 parents Phillip and Caroline had relocated their family to Madison County, Kentucky.

huffman 1860 census

The family moved to Texas in 1857—a wagon trip of fifty days—and settled in Collin County. In 1860 the family moved to Tarrant County. Phillip Huffman farmed south of Fort Worth. After Texas seceded from the Union and the Civil War began in 1861, at age fifteen Walter Huffman enlisted in the Confederate army and served two years. By 1863, at age seventeen, he was back in Fort Worth, where he opened a dry goods store downtown on the courthouse square.

huffman 1877 cdFrom the 1877 city directory.

Huffman, who had known swords as a soldier, would know plowshares as a merchant.

huffman and ellis 78 cd About 1878 Huffman and Merida G. Ellis partnered to open a farm implements store downtown. Huffman later became sole owner of the store. (Fort Worth named a school after each man.)

huffman 1880 censusIn the 1880 census Huffman listed his occupation as “agricultural implements.”

huffman 1886 wellgeFrom the 1886 Wellge map.

This sketch of Huffman’s house appeared in architect J. J. Kane’s ad in the city directory. (Kane would later design St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Ignatius Academy, and St. Joseph Hospital.)

WA HuffmanHuffman died in Chicago on June 29, 1890 of Bright’s disease. He was forty-four. His estate was valued at $1.4 million.

huffman dead

On June 30 his newspaper, the Gazette, printed this tribute to Huffman in a black border.

huffman headstoneWalter Ament Huffman is buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

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6 Responses to The Millionaire: From Swords to Plowshares

  1. Dan Washmon says:

    Huffman had a school named for him…one of those great old buildings which was torn down in the ’80s….On the northeast of town in its day, between Belknap and Weatherford…a bank drive-in sits there today….

    • hometown says:

      Yeah, the post mentions that both Huffman and Ellis had schools named for them. The Huffman building. about the size of the original D. McRae, became the school administration building. The Ellis school was the former North Fort Worth School, renamed after FW annexed NFW. It burned.

  2. William Lewis says:

    Historic blog post! Absolutely amazing information with vintage photos shared here! I love this share. Thanks for sharing this nice blog!

  3. John Olthoff says:

    The story alone was amazing, but what Mrs. (Miss) Dougherty posted blew me away. So this man who was an integral part of Fort Worth, his family blended into a future President’s family….never know what you will find out. Mike Nichols you did it again

  4. Carilyn Dougherty says:

    Lovely about great uncle Walter here. Thanks.

    His son Phillip traveled with his mother to Bangkok, Siam. There, he owned and was editor for 20 years of the first English newspaper in Bangkok, Siam. He returned (to San Antonio) in about 1917 when the King of Siam closed the newspaper. In 1944, he was the Head Tech Director for 1946 movie Anna & The King of Siam – B/W film by 20th Century.

    His cousin Ruth Ament Huffman was at the grandmother of LBJ.

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