Sunday, November 6, 2011

1894: A Lost North Fort Worth Map Reveals a Tantalizing Hint ~The Old Road to Azle?

I love a mystery.  Even a little mystery.  This lost map mystery is really little and in the vast scope of things, insignificant to Fort Worth history. It all started this way:

1894 North Fort Worth Plat ~ Oakwood Cemetery Archives
Several years ago a search of the Oakwood Cemetery archives turned up this fine old 1894 plat map of North Fort Worth done by Brookes Baker, one of the earlier surveyors in the Tarrant County. It was a "blue line" map on a very heavy weathered tan colored paper.  The gray scale version is shown here to allow greater detail at a reasonable resolution.  This is one of the earliest maps of North Fort Worth that I have seen. It is based on Nathan Barrett's original 1889 plat and extends north only as far as NW 23rd Street.

With permission, I have been allowed to examine this map in detail and to include it in my Lost Antique Maps of Fort Worth CDROM where a full resolution, zoomable copy is available. Close study of this map has turned up some interesting and sometimes unexpected additions to Fort Worth history...

1894 Old Azle Road ~ Click to zoom
One of the little mysteries that this map reveals is located at the point on North Main where it jogs to the the right or due north at NW 20th street as it does today. The clip above shows that there was a road that apparently was a direct extension of North Main named Azle (Graveled) Road that headed off to the northwest. Obviously that road no longer exists. It is not a part of today's Ellis Avenue.  I thought for a while that it might be a shortcut to Clinton Street, but now I no longer think so.  Just the other day, a quick look at a large 1955 Fort Worth map during another quest gave me  a possible answer.

1955 Fort Worth Map ~ Click to zoom
If you look at the old 1955 Topo map above, you will see as I did, that there is a very definite relationship between this little stub off of North Main and the beginning of Angle Avenue where NW 26th and Refugio meet. The white line running diagonally from just north of NW 20th Street shows the approximate relationship of Angle Avenue to the little abandoned 1894 stub off North Main.

Angle Avenue and Cliff Street come together just past NW 28th street. Remembering of course, that none of the roads north of 23th Street nor Refugio existed until Rosen Heights was platted in about 1903. North Main was another mud track to the east of this line. Let's name this projection "Old Azle Road" or OAR.

Assuming that the angles were good and that a road was possible between the two points, the next question would be to figure out why it ran this way toward Azle, rather than some other direction, because there were options. Early roads were generally natural pathways that were animal or Indian trails and almost always followed the line of least resistance.

Current Aerial of Old Azle Road with elevations ~ Click to zoom 
The OAR projection on the Google aerial above shows that the elevation above sea level as it branched from North Main was about 555', then rose to about 630' and then descended to about 576' where it joined 10 Mile Bridge Road. Headed northwest out of town, the road climbed about 75' in 6 blocks or about 1/2 mile. Coming into town from the northwest, the climb would have been about 50' in a little over 2 blocks and then a gentle slope down to North Main.

These elevations are very important since in the period before 1910 almost all Tarrant County roads outside cities were unpaved, rutted, dusty tracks that became mud bogs after it rained. All of the merchandise and farm goods had to be hauled by wagon using teams of horse or mules. The most useful roads were those that avoided steep grades or river crossings.

Angle Avenue north to 10 Mile Bridge Road ~ Click to zoom
Those familiar with North Fort Worth are aware that there is a line of bluffs that run from just west of North Main starting at about Northside Drive that continues on up to about where North 820 runs. It is the barrier ridge between Marine Creek and the West Fork of the Trinity. At some points the drop off from NW 25th or NW 26th Street to the Marine Creek banks is almost 100' and is very steep.

If you follow the elevation markers on the aerial it becomes apparent that there is what was probably a natural crease dropping from the junction of NW 26th and Refugio down to Marine Creek, which later became Angle Avenue.  Note that they named it an "Avenue" rather than a street which might indicate its importance in the early days.  As a comparison, drive down Lee Street from NW 26th and then do the same on Angle Avenue. The difference is very notable.
Why did this old road exist?  After all, even in the late 1800's it was possible to to follow what is now North Main up to about NW 26th street and cut-off over what is now Cliff Street to 10 Mile Bridge Road with fairly easy grades.  Marine Creek many be part of the answer, since any other route required either a river crossing.  I don't think a bridge over Marine Creek existed until after 1890 when the first packing houses and stockyards were started. Even until the 1950's Marine Creek was crooked, flood prone and had steep banks that probably were difficult for wagon traffic to deal with.

Is this the reason Angle Avenue exists today?  Did our OAR connect between 26th street and the jog on Main Street? It's something to think about.....

10 mile Bridge Road is named for the Trinity River crossing about halfway to Azle. The road starts at about where 28th street is today. It leaves Fort Worth running a little northwest along Marine Creek and rises to a crest about where Boat Club Road is today. Then it runs downhill through some very hilly county until it reaches the Trinity River bottoms just below where Eagle Mountain Dam is today. It was one of two main roads to the northwest from Fort Worth until Jacksboro Highway was completed in about 1932. 

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