George C. Clarke: Cowtown’s Supersalesman

He breezed into town from St. Louis with a suitcase full of samples. He had a look around at Fort Worth, liked what he saw, and decided to stay. Before he was done, this supersalesman would sell hundreds of town lots on the South Side, sell the school board on the need for “unit schools,” sell zoo patrons on the need for an elephant, and sell the prudes at city hall on the need to leave lovers alone.

George Carson Clarke was born in Tennessee in 1871 and attended Webb School, a private college preparatory boarding school founded by former U.S. Senator William Webb.
At this early point we can divide Clarke’s life into two parts: sales and public service.


By the 1890s George C. Clarke was a “knight of the grip” (traveling salesman) for Union Biscuit Company of St. Louis. Fort Worth was in his sales territory, so he was in town often. About 1896 he decided that Fort Worth had potential beyond the sale of biscuits.
He made a couple of small investments here. They paid off, and he decided to make Cowtown his new base of operations. He quit his job with Union Biscuit Company.

By 1902 Clarke was a traveling salesman for candyman John Porter King’s Southern Cold Storage and Produce Company, which manufactured ice, provided cold storage, and sold wholesale fruits, produce, butter, and eggs.

In 1905 a Clarke with an e married a Clark without an e, and Fay Clark became Fay Clarke. It was his second marriage.
The Telegram wrote that Clarke was “connected with” King’s candy company, which was housed in the same building as Southern Cold Storage and Produce Company.

By 1906 Clarke saw the potential for real estate development south of the city limits  and began to sell town lots on a small scale on today’s South Side. Bellevue Hill addition in Fairmount was named for nearby Bellevue Hall, which was the mansion that E. E. Chase built on land that later became Chase Court.

To a supersalesman like Clarke, selling is selling, whether the product was biscuits, butter and eggs, or land.
In 1906, with E. S. Kuykendall, he began promoting his first large-scale project: Silver Lake addition, located south of Biddison Street and west of the “bolt factory” on Hemphill Street. Silver Lake was unusual in that it was platted into blocks, not lots. Each block—at $650 ($19,000 today)—was the equivalent of six lots.
Note the streets named “Kuykendall” and “Clarke.” Those street names no longer exist in that addition.
“Cleburne Avenue” is today’s McCart Street.

Also in 1906 Clarke began buying full-page ads in the Telegram to sell lots in Shaw Clarke addition south of Ryan Place.
Selling points:
“Fifteen minutes’ car service.” (Early in the twentieth century, before automobiles were called “cars,” a “car” was a streetcar.)
“Lots that in twelve months may be worth five times what we are now asking for them.”
“The freshest air, the purest water, the finest view.” (Remember: Shaw Clarke addition was outside the city limits until September 1907: no city water or city sewage. Think wells and outhouses.)

And who, you ask, was the “Shaw” in “Shaw Clarke”? The Shaw brothers owned one of the largest dairies in the county, located south of town. In 1905 the brothers began selling some of that land in town lots, and in 1906 the brothers teamed up with Clarke to sell their dairy land for development on a large scale.
“In the center stands Shaw Bros.’ dairy,” an ad read, “every building of which will be torn down and moved away by February 1, 1907.”

A year later Clarke was developing still more Shaw dairy land. Shaw Heights addition was south of Shaw Clarke addition and in 1907 just south of the city limits.
Which meant, as Clarke pointed out, “no taxes.”
“The city must grow south,” Clarke reasoned, because the Trinity River, like a horseshoe, enclosed the city on the east, west, and north sides.
The value of lots “will double in a year.”
“In healthfulness, Shaw Heights is unsurpassed. . . . People don’t want to add doctor’s and druggist’s bills to their household expenses. No matter how cheap land is, if it is not healthy, if it will cause women to get sick, men [to be] unable to work, and children to die, it is a crime to live there. . . . The air is clear and pure, and the absence of mosquitoes and malaria make the high land of Shaw Heights an ideal home center of Fort Worth. Shaw Heights is . . . situated on the elevated plateau just sixty feet south of the new proposed corporation limits. . . . Shaw Heights is a twenty minutes ride from the heart of the city, on a five cent fare street car line.”
The ad even included a coupon that buyers could mail in with their first payment.
Lots were $250 ($7,000 today).

In 1910 as Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, opened, Clarke developed Seminary Hill addition west of the seminary. The seminary spurred development of the South Side just as the “bolt factory” had in 1905.

In 1912 Clarke began promoting Hubbard Highlands, located east of the seminary.
“It means a good car service, electric lights, phones, and the fresh southern breeze first handed.”
But in 1912 Hubbard Highlands, too, was beyond the city limits. No water or sewer service.
“It’s a place where the doctor and druggist bill is not added to the household expense.”
The ad also touted an extension of the Hemphill Street streetcar line west to the seminary.
Note the elk pin on Clarke’s lapel. He was a member of the Elks fraternal lodge.

The book Makers of Fort Worth (1914) depicts Clarke as selling Hubbard Highlands addition.
Seminary Hill and Hubbard Highlands were the southernmost additions developed by Clarke.

By 1912 Clarke was selling lots in five additions on the South Side.

Public Service

As far as I can tell, George C. Clarke was childless. Nonetheless, his interest in public education led him to seek a place on the Fort Worth school board.

And in 1910 he was elected. He served six years, the last four as president.

During his tenure on the school board, Fort Worth built eight school buildings. In 1914 four schools—including one named for Clarke—and an annex to Daggett Elementary School opened.

Even as Clarke made the transition from sales to public service, he was still selling. But now he was selling concepts, not town lots. Under Clarke’s presidency, the school system began to build “unit schools,” which were designed so that new units can be added to a building “without losing any portion of the building already constructed.” Unit school buildings built in 1914 were George C. Clarke, E. M. Daggett, De Zavala, Carroll Peak, and North Side High School.
In the photo panel, the Clarke school is in the middle. The other two buildings are the Woman’s Missionary Training School at the seminary and Brite College of the Bible at TCU.

The yellow line indicates the original “unit” of the Clarke building, which was added on to on both sides.

Clarke’s namesake school (in background) is located in the Shaw Clarke addition on the site of the Shaw brothers’ dairy.

Assassination trivia: After Lee Harvey Oswald attended Lily B. Clayton Elementary School he attended George C. Clarke Elementary School.

In 1915 Clarke proposed building a new high school on the site of Fort Worth University. That school would be Fort Worth High School (today “Green B. Trimble Technical High School”).

In 1921 Clarke began his next career: He was appointed park superintendent.
His superintendency covered not only the city parks but also the zoo and several thousand acres of land owned by the city at Lake Worth.
Once again, Clarke was selling—selling ideas for parks improvements to the city council, which  governed the parks department.
Clarke said he’d rather be parks superintendent than city manager. And his zeal was apparent.
“If I could see 15,000 or 20,000 people enjoying a park I had helped develop,” he said, “I would feel as though I had not lived in vain.”

A month after taking office he ordered that more attention be paid to the health of the zoo’s animals. He ordered a telescoping cage in which sick animals could be treated at less risk to patient and veterinarian.

He instituted a tree-planting program in city parks. In 1926 the parks department would hire its first forester.

In 1922 the Forest Park Plunge—the city’s first municipal swimming pool—opened. Four years later Fort Worth would open swimming pools in Sycamore and Marine parks.

After J. L. Tyler sold his Tyler Lake and park in Glenwood to the Ku Klux Klan, in 1923 Clarke announced that the city had bought the lake and park from the Klan to dedicate as a park for African Americans. White people in the area protested, and the city backed down and sold the park.
But during Clarke’s superintendency, Fort Worth opened three parks for African Americans: Dixie Park, Greenway Park, and Harmon Field.

As parks superintendent, George C. Clarke began to show his romantic side. In 1921 Horace H. Cobb had donated to the city 125 acres adjacent to the Cobb brothers’ brick plant. In 1923 the city began developing Cobb Park. Clarke, while overseeing the work, stood on the bank of Sycamore Creek and waxed poetic, foreseeing the park as a “Lovers’ Lane.”

That same year St. George became the patron saint of lovers after Police Chief Henry Lee began a crackdown on “spooners” in city parks, especially those couples pitching woo on park benches.
George C. (C. for “Cupid”) Clarke quickly came to the defense of amorous couples, declaring: “Spooning is all right in the parks. That’s what we have the benches there for.”

Also in 1923 Clarke the supersalesman sold the city on an idea that would cement his legacy. In May Clarke declared, “The zoo is small, but perfect with one exception. We need an elephant.”
So, just as Fort Worth residents had passed the hat to bring railroads, the packing plants, and TCU and the seminary to town, money for an elephant was raised by subscription.
Clarke located a three-year-old female elephant in a zoo in Missouri. She was a mere slip of a girl: four feet seven and 1,100 pounds. Asking price: $3,500 ($53,000 today).
While money was being raised, the Parks Department and Star-Telegram teamed up to sponsor a contest to name the elephant. Clarke chose “Queen Tut” as the winning name.

By September the elephant kitty was full. The money had been raised. Clarke accompanied Queen Tut on her train trip to Fort Worth. She arrived on September 17, 1923 and became Fort Worth’s first royalty. Queen Tut would be a favorite of zoo patrons for forty-one years.

A bond issue passed in 1925 gave the parks department $500,000 ($7.5 million today), allowing the department to hire the nationally known landscape architecture firm of Hare and Hare, which drew up a master plan for city parks (and also landscaped Park Hill and Monticello additions).
Susan Allen Kline in Fort Worth Parks writes that Hare and Hare served as the city’s main park landscape consultant until 1960.

Clarke also hired Bill Hames to operate Forest Park’s concessions. Hames for years operated a traveling carnival show that appeared at stock shows, fairs, etc. Among Hames’s early rides at Forest Park was a miniature train that carried passengers through the amusements area. In 1959 Hames created Forest Park’s current miniature train ride.  (Note the byline of the ubiquitous C. L. Richhart.)

But in 1929 Clarke resigned as parks superintendent, explaining that he could not endorse the policies of the three senior members of the board or support a proposed $750,000 bond issue for park improvements.

Over the years Clarke put his mortgage where his mouth was. He sold the South Side, and he lived on the South Side. He built this house at 2800 Hemphill Street in 1910.

In the early 1920s he lived in this house (built in 1920) in Chase Court. A later occupant was pioneer baseball player Charles Swasey.

Clarke later lived in this house (built in 1917) at 1604 South Adams Street in Fairmount.

His last home (built in 1923) was at 2564 Greene Avenue northeast of TCU.

Clarke died in 1935.

George Carson Clarke, the supersalesman who sold Fort Worth on the South Side, schools, parks, swimming pools, an elephant, and leniency for lovers, is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Graham, where his second wife is buried.

Posts About Education in Fort Worth

Posted in Advertising, Heads Above the Crowd, Life in the Past Lane, South Side | Leave a comment