Poet Stephen Vincent Benet wrote, “The ant finds kingdoms in a foot of ground.” Historians—even we amateurs—are a lot like ants. In fact, all of us can find kingdoms of history in a foot of ground under our very feet—in the lots that our houses are built on.
Sometimes we can learn that history from history books, sometimes from city and county documents, sometimes from newspapers, sometimes from family genealogy.
And sometimes we can learn that history from a title abstract. A title abstract shows the history of ownership of a parcel of land. I have been studying the abstract of a parcel of land that the Tarrant County tax assessor calls “Lot No. 8, Block No. 9, Englewood Heights.”
But for fifty-two years my family and I called it “home.”
The abstract of our lot at 3230 Burton Street in Poly is seventy-two yellowed, brittle pages containing plats, affidavits, deeds, liens, court cases, and other dense legal documents pertaining to the chain of ownership of the property.
The abstract is also peopled with several figures from Fort Worth history.
The abstract’s chronology of the Burton Street lot begins on May 16, 1840—during the Republic of Texas (Mirabeau B. Lamar was president). In the mid-1800s Texas was mostly wilderness and plenty of it. A man could acquire a chunk of that wilderness in several ways. He could buy land; he could be given a grant to settle on land, as in Peters Colony or Robertson Colony; he could take land as payment for performing a service, such as surveying land; or he could be given land for his military service. For example, Tarrant County pioneer Middleton Tate Johnson (1810-1866) used all four methods to acquire land.
Robert R. Ramey also was given land for his military service. But he earned it the hard way: He died for it. The abstract states that in 1840 the secretary of war for the Republic of Texas, Branch Tanner Archer, issued an “augmentation and bounty land warrant” for 1,920 acres of land to the heirs of Robert R. Ramey for his military service in the Texas Revolution.
Branch Tanner Archer (as in Archer City, Archer County). (Photo from Wikipedia.)
Ramey (also spelled Rainey and Raimey) was a member of Colonel Burr Harrison Duval’s Kentucky Mustangs long-riflemen. Under Duval, Ramey fought under Colonel James Fannin in Tennessee and went with Fannin to Texas, where Ramey, Duval, and Fannin died at the Goliad Massacre shortly after the Alamo fell in 1836. When Duval’s brother John C. Duval died in Fort Worth in 1897, he was the last survivor of the massacre.
On November 9, 1836 the Telegraph and Texas Register of Columbia listed the men who were killed, spared, or escaped at Goliad. “Ramey” is misspelled as “Rainey.”
1851: Just two years after the Army established Fort Worth, Ramey’s heirs hired Middleton Tate Johnson to survey their heirship land. For his services, the heirs gave Johnson one of four sections (1 section = 640 acres) of land. The Johnson section of the Ramey land contains the Burton Street lot.
Among the Ramey heirs was Duncan McRae, for whom the East Side elementary school is named.
1866: Johnson died. Administrators of his will were son-in-law Matthew Jackson Brinson and John Peter Smith. Smith and Brinson filed surety bonds with county clerk (and Birdville partisan) Albert Gallatin Walker.
The R. R. Ramey survey is about one mile square. It stretches approximately from Ada and Ramey avenues south to Baylor Street and from Vaughn Boulevard east to Pate Drive. The Burton Street lot is indicated in yellow.
1874: The Ramey survey began to be broken up as the heirs of Johnson petitioned the court to have the remaining 630 acres partitioned into sixteen tracts of about forty acres. A commission was appointed to partition the land. Commission members included Major Khleber Miller Van Zandt, Julian Feild, John S. Hirshfield, and Martin Bottom Loyd. County clerk was “Squire” Gideon Nance, whose son Billy the next year would be involved in the shooting of Jim Courtright. The Ramey survey was appraised at $8 an acre. Johnson’s heirs soon sold the Ramey survey land, to, among other speculators, Van Zandt, Walter Ament Huffman, W. D. Hall, and brothers George E. and A. H. Tandy—of the pioneer Hall and Tandy families. Van Zandt and A. H. Tandy bought tracts 4, 5, 6, and 7 (outlined in blue) for $1.30 to $5.25 an acre. Tract 5, bought by Van Zandt, contains the Burton Street lot (located in yellow).
1876: Van Zandt sold his Ramey land to A. H. Tandy, giving Tandy ownership of tracts 4, 5, 6, and 7.
1909: The Ramey land remained mostly unpopulated through the end of the nineteenth century. In 1909 A. H. Tandy sold his four tracts of Ramey land to American Realty Company for $12,000.
1910: American Realty Company sold the tracts to Polytechnic Heights Investment Company for $47,400. Readers who grew up in Poly recognize street names among the incorporators of the investment company: Burton, Hanger, Forbes(s), (Thomas Marion) Thannisch, Crenshaw, Littlejohn, (Fire Chief W. E.) Bideker, Fitzhugh. The year 1910 was also the year the community of Polytechnic Heights incorporated. Fort Worth would annex Polytechnic Heights in 1922. The prairie east of downtown was beginning to blossom.
James Earl Burton, whose namesake street I grew up on, was an attorney born in 1871. He was living on West Leuda Street in 1910 when development of Englewood Heights began.
By 1912 Burton was living on Sunset Terrace on Quality Hill. He died in 1940.
Also in 1910 Polytechnic Heights Investment Company named tracts 4 and 5 of the Ramey survey “Englewood Heights” subdivision, platted the subdivision into lots (ours measured 50 by 125 feet), and, after streets were cut (graded but not paved), dedicated the streets for public use. Lots—”sold to white people only”—were $100 to $375 ($2,600 to $9,800 today). Interested persons in Fort Worth could reach Englewood Heights by taking the Polytechnic streetcar line to its end at Polytechnic College and walking south “about eight minutes.”
The boundaries of Englewood Heights subdivision were Hanger Street south to Tarrant Road and Vaughn Boulevard east to Little Street. The Burton Street lot is indicated in yellow. The subdivision contained more than four hundred lots. (Evans Avenue, named for A. N. Evans of American Realty Company, would be renamed “Strong Avenue,” perhaps because after Fort Worth annexed Poly, the city had two streets named “Evans.”)
1913: Enter the colonel. Colonel Rufus J. Lackland, that is, with a moniker that would feel at home in a Marx brothers or W. C. Fields skit. Rufus Jefferson Lackland, born in 1868, was a townsite and subdivision promoter and auctioneer. The colonel, Ah say, the colonel vowed to “squeeze wind and water out of high prices of suburban lots” in Englewood Heights. “No sleeping porch will be needed . . . no eyesores or offensive odors . . . big circus tent is put up . . . bring your dinner and enjoy yourself. . . . free cement sidewalk to all cash buyers”!
A month later the colonel was back, and this time, Ah say, this time he had documentation sure to “fix the clock” of “Mr. Knocker”: written correspondence from (1) the Polytechnic Heights city water supervisor attesting that the city was extending water mains into Englewood Heights, (2) a Fort Worth Power & Light official attesting that the utility had extended service along Vaughn Boulevard to the Masonic Home, (3) William C. Forbess of Northern Texas Traction Company (and an incorporator of Polytechnic Heights Investment Company) attesting that the Polytechnic streetcar line was being extended to Bideker Street, and (4) the mayor of Polytechnic Heights attesting that “there’s only one negro property owner in Polytechnic . . . and she lives a mile and a half from Englewood Heights.” The colonel, Ah say, the colonel was sure enough “the man that is giving the home wanter a square deal for a home.”
This 1925 map shows the Polytechnic streetcar line extending from the college (renamed “Texas Woman’s College” in 1914) south down Bishop Street to Crenshaw Street.
1921: Polytechnic Heights Investment Company sold Lot No. 8, Block No. 9, Englewood Heights to Mrs. Etta Newby. Mrs. Newby, widow of banker William G. Newby, bought and sold at least three lots in Englewood Heights. In 1924 she would donate the house at 1316 Pennsylvania Avenue on Quality Hill in her late husband’s name to the Woman’s Club of Fort Worth as the club’s first home. The house had been built in 1911 for cotton broker Herman Frerichs. The Etta Newby Club would be named for her in 1939. The deed transferring the house to the woman’s club restricted its use to “white women only.” In 1970 that restriction would be removed.
This 1922 ad shows that a new four-room house on the lot was for sale.
1927: A Sanborn map shows that in 1927 the Fort Worth city limits ran along Tarrant Road (just south of Burton) and along Miller Street. The Burton Street lot is indicated in yellow. Notice that Burchill Road was called “Bowman Springs Road,” which today exists only in Arlington. Just above Sunshine Drive (now Littlejohn Avenue) also notice the street named “Ramey,” which runs east almost to Lake Arlington.
1930: Ida Williams sold Lot No. 8, Block No. 9, and its house to R. M. Chetty. The 1930 map shows the Ramey survey outlined in yellow.
1935: Chetty built “our” house, replacing the 1922 house.
In the new house Mrs. Chetty, in those days of lax zoning, operated a beauty shop in a front room that twenty years later would become my bedroom.
1948: Chitty sold the property to Willie Mashburn.
1950: Willie Mashburn sold the 1935 house/beauty shop to A. E. Busby.
1951: A. E. Busby sold the property to my parents, S. D. and Margaret Nichols. We left the North Side, where my family had lived for fifty years, working for the packing plants and the stockyards, and moved to Lot No. 8, Block No. 9, Englewood Heights. By my count, we became the fourteenth owners of that lot since the Republic of Texas in 1840.
2003: The heirs of S. D. and Margaret Nichols sold Lot No. 8, Block No. 9, Englewood Heights to Matilde Lopez, thus ending fifty-two years of family ownership and adding another link to a chain of ownership dating back 162 years in history—history shared by the hundreds of other families whose little city lots, like Lot No. 8, Block No. 9, were carved from 640 acres of prairie whose documented history began with the Battle of Goliad.
2020: Lot No. 8, Block No. 9—for fifty-two years home, sweet home; now home, sweet history.