Why? (The Reason)

In the beginning the answer to “Why?” was “exercise.” I had begun bicycling for exercise during the twenty-five years or so I lived in the country, away from my hometown. When I moved back to Fort Worth, I continued to bicycle for exercise. And I found that while I had been away, Fort Worth had become more bikable. On the Trinity Trails I can ride from Benbrook Lake in the southwest to Quanah Parker Park on the east or up to Camp Carter and Buck Sansom Park in the north—and with few encounters with vehicular traffic. Several major streets now have bike lanes. City buses have bike racks on front. I can take my bike with me on the Trinity Railway Express.

When I moved back to Fort Worth I was an East Side boy living on the exotic West Side. Everything west of Interstate 35 was a foreign country to me. The Stockyards area was uncharted territory. Arlington Heights was the other side of the moon. Fairmount was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a neighborhood newsletter.

Suddenly exercise became a secondary motive. Now the answer to “Why?” was “discovery.” Now, each time I went out on my bike, I was discovering—rediscovering—my own hometown one neighborhood, one greenbelt area, one church or school or commercial building at a time: the grand homes of Elizabeth Boulevard and Park Hill, the great sitting porches of the near South Side, the classic public buildings designed by the four men who used a drafting pencil like a magic wand to transform the streets and skyline of Fort Worth (Sanguinet and Staats, Hedrick, and Clarkson), the pocket lakes and obscure cemeteries, the buildings that in a past life were fire halls and lodge halls and even city halls.

Suddenly I felt like an explorer. Picture Vasco da Gama on a ten-speed, Hernando de Soto on a Schwinn. Envision, if you dare, Lewis and Clark on a bicycle built for two.

The more I saw, the more I felt as if I had been blind for my first sixty years. And, in fact, the automobile is the answer to another “Why?” Why I had not seen more of my hometown before? My biggest discovery has been this: The darnedest thing happens when I get out from behind the steering wheel of a big-boned car and get behind the handlebar of a small-boned bike: I see things, things beyond just those things that I need to see to stay alive as a motorist, such as traffic lights and brake lights. I see the world beyond the curb. I also discovered that the bicycle is the cure for urgentitis, the male propensity not to stop the car until the destination is reached. When you are in a car, if something catches your eye, you are more likely to say, “Too much trouble to stop” or “Got a schedule to keep” and drive on. But when you are on a bike you can stop, easily park on a nearby sidewalk, and get a closer look.

On a bike I see details—not just a neighborhood but streets of that neighborhood, not just streets but individual houses, not just individual houses but details of individual houses: windows, columns, porches, chimneys, gables. Same with churches, schools, commercial buildings.

On a bike I can learn about the birds and bees,

see new faces,

catch up on the latest trends in transportation, fashion, and gardening,

or just sit and watch the river roll.

In seven years I have learned far more about my hometown than I had learned in the previous six decades. For example, I have learned to appreciate the architecture of our schools built between the 1890s and 1940s. I don’t remember them being so elegant during the dozen years I was a prisoner within their graffitied walls.

I have learned how overpasses and underpasses render us largely oblivious to two of the most ubiquitous elements of the city’s infrastructure (and two of the most important factors in its history)—the river and the railroads—as we go from Point A to Point B (and, on weekends, Point C).

I have learned that Fort Worth’s inner city and central business district have hundreds of houses and other buildings that are eighty, ninety, even one hundred years old. The most interesting houses were not always the big, fancy homes of bankers and cattle barons—the houses with Italian marble and hand-carved mahogany and servants quarters or carriage houses. Often the most interesting houses were the modest homes of blacksmiths and railroad clerks and packing plant workers: houses with hitching posts and corbelled chimneys and coal chute doors. Older houses of the inner city have character and craftsmanship.

What I have learned from my bicycle seat has led me from streets and sidewalks to books, websites, local historians, cemeteries, county deed records, and newspapers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to learn more about not only the here and now but also the come and gone: the Army’s Camp Bowie, Crystal Springs Dance Pavilion, the Texas Brewing Company and the Texas Motor Car Association factory, the poor farm, the helium plant, Fort Worth University, Hell’s Half Acre.

I have learned where the street car lines and livery stables were, about the great floods and fires, about Silk Stocking Row, about the men and women who built this city but who before had always been just the names of streets or parks or schools (Jarvis, Terrell, Daggett, Paddock, Smith, Burnett, McCart, Tandy), and about how Major Van Zandt’s pig wallow became the home of the Golden Goddess.

All that riding and all that researching have led to this website.

And yet, after thousands of photos, hundreds of miles, and a few flats, I feel I am far from having seen it all. So, I’ll keep putting my mettle to the pedal. There are more sights to see, more history to learn as I refill my water bottle, check my chain, and set off to explore my hometown by handlebar.

13 Responses to Why? (The Reason)

  1. Annie says:

    I have just found your blog! I moved here in 2019 to work at Lockheed Martin at the Air Force Plant No. 4, and have learned a lot about the city. I now go to Texas A&M Law School and drive through Downtown and Historic Northside a lot, and I have been wondering about many of the abandoned buildings. I love the blog!

  2. Don Wenslow says:

    It’s settled! I’m buying a bicycle and hitting these Funkytown streets. I want to be like you when I grow up. Lol

  3. Don Wenslow says:

    Soooo, I’m 37 and consider myself to be a proud and knowledgeable resident of Funkytown. But I somehow came across your blog and I was appalled with myself because I never knew who “Gooseneck McDonald” was! You know growing up in Fort Worth, the first time I ever played organized sports I dropped 8 points at the McDonald YMCA. But as a youngster, I used to always think to myself, “What does McDonald’s have to do with the YMCA?” I appreciate you shining light on an area I was in the dark about for 30 year. Much love Mike! Keep up the good work!

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Don. No one knew less about our hometown’s history than I did before I got on my bike and began discovering. Eight years later I’m still discovering.

  4. Nancy Brownlee says:

    Hi Mike-

    It’s a pleasure to be reading your writing again. I found the blog by accident, but I will surely buy the book on purpose- I now live a few blocks from the last Barnes & Noble in the city.

    I’m a Poly girl. I moved to Arlington Heights when I was fourteen, but went to Tech High School, now Green Trimble Technical (renamed for my old principal). I once roamed the city on foot and by bus- and now I’m watching it disappear. I can hardly bear to visit some sites, now- I see ghosts…

    I’m loving reading the older posts- and I do look forward to the new ones. Thank you!

    Nancy Brownlee

  5. Donna says:

    Love the site, especially the railroad links. Looking forward to buying your book.

    Recently I came across a stack of photos of Fort Worth Star Telegram photographers from 1948, “clowning around” at a social gathering. I wish I could find names of a couple of the persons depicted. I’d be happy to share some of the photos with you in return for assistance.
    Donna Matney

  6. Beth Barton says:

    I just love your blog. This is greatness. 🙂

  7. Ron Whitehead says:

    Mike: Just wanted to say your Blog is absolutely Great. I am an old Poly boy too, Class of 69. You should be very proud of your site. I am looking forward to viewing it everyday. Thanks and Blessings to you and your famil

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