Monday, February 28, 2011

The Lost USDA Maps of Texas Counties: A Project Note

One of my current map projects is to scan and publish a number of scarce USDA Soil Survey maps from the 1890's to about 1935. Over the years I have collected something close to 100 Texas soil maps of various age and size, most of them in fairly good condition.  

1920 Tarrant Soil Map~Click to enlarge

I am finishing up the work on my 1920 Tarrant, 1920 Dallas, 1918 Denton and 1930 Collin County maps and in the future will work on Erath and Stevens County as time permits. These are very large folded maps averaging at least 3' by 3' or more and are difficult to handle. Because of their size they must be scanned in sections and then carefully pieced together.

These maps are a product of Texas' early dependence upon agriculture. When they were first distributed they were of high importance. Texas and other states completed their topographic land surveys in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Using these surveys as base maps, the state Departments of Agriculture, began  generating these soil maps to aid farmers in their efforts to produce more and to increase efficiency. 

1920 Dallas Soil Map Clip ~ Click to enlarge

Creating a soil map for a county was a huge undertaking.  Using survey gangs, measurements of the soil to a depth of about 6 feet were taken at close intervals and the type of soil and terrain was recorded for each measurement.  Then these thousands of measurements were compiled and laid over the top of a base map and the various kinds of soil according to standard references were laid in and colored.

In addition to soil information, many of these maps contained accurate information as to the rural roads, railroads land interurban lines of the time. Maps of the cities and towns were laid in as well as individual buildings or structures in the county.  Often, these maps are the only accurate source for antique rural features that exist today.

1920 Fort Worth to Handley Clip ~ Click to enlarge

Eventually, most states agreed to conform to generally agreed upon scientific standards and to share their findings, including the maps.  The US Department of Agriculture managed this effort, provided financing and expertise and produced yearly report volumes sent to members of Congress and the local USDA and state agriculture officials. These official reports were handsomely bound and might contain as many as 50 maps that had been completed in the previous year in protective slips.

Unfortunately, in spite of their excellent color lithography and the careful presentation, the earlier maps were printed on poor paper, high in acid content. Many in collections have deteriorated beyond use.  So the numbers of these maps is decreasing as time takes its toll and we do not see as many listed on the market as there were 15 years ago.

Soil maps are truly lost. They are essentially unknown to most people and have never been suitable for framing because of the bright colors. However, these maps carry a lot of history in them that is hard to find on other maps.  I use them all the time when working on early 20th century projects.  It is important that as many as possible be conserved and restored and digitized for the future.

All pictures and map images from The Electric Books Collection

Friday, February 25, 2011

Scouting The Lost Highway To Old Stoney & Decatur

On a recent weekend I packed up and headed north To Denton under gray skies to scout the remnants of old State Highway 24 out to Decatur.  This came about as the result of some previous conversations with my friend and historian M.C. Toyer who has recently documented the route of old SH 24 from Denton to McKinney in the time before Lake Dallas was built. The result of my western trip is documented below on a clip from my 1920 USDA Soil Survey map which actually pre-dates the earliest SH 24 route but does show the earliest roads in the vicinity.

Click to enlarge map

SH 24 was one of the earliest designated state highways.  Initially, SH 24 generally followed existing roads including most of the sharp curves. Very few sections were paved except in larger cities.  Later, toward the end of the 1920's, the right of way between Decatur & Denton was moved north about a mile onto a new grade. The section from  Decatur to Denton became US 380 in 1971.

Click to enlarge map

Jim Christal Road:
The west Oak Street exit off  IH 35 leads to Jim Christal Road which even on today's satellite map is marked as Old SH 24.  About two miles down the road at a little jog I found an old concrete culvert bridge off to the south where it had been abandoned by a curve straightening project many years ago.

Click to enlarge picture
Another two miles west across the prairie was a bridge crossing Hickory Creek. The bridge and rails were considerable heavier than you would find on a simple county road.  This sturdy bridge probably dates to the 1930's.

Click to enlarge picture

The highway underpass beneath the BNSF railroad which is paralleled by FM 156 came into view within the next few miles. The location is a few miles south of Krum. There's a scabby little creek and poorly maintained bridge just before the structure.

Click to enlarge picture
The raised right-of-way was built by the Gulf Coast & Santa Fe, the predecessor to the AT&SF and BNSF and was completed between Fort Worth and Gainesville in 1887. This railroad was constructed to a high standard with beautifully designed bridges using cut stone abutments as well as unusual and expensive underpass designs.

The underpass is about 10 feet wide by 10 feet high which soon would have caused a problem for large vehicles on old SH 24 and may be one of the reasons that the highway was shifted north to a better location.

And just as I was getting ready to get a closer look at the brickwork, along comes this freight train making probably 60 miles an hour right over the top of me!  The underpass is solid.  Even with the train speeding overhead, inside there is much less noise and no vibration to speak of.

Click to enlarge picture
In spite of the encrusted graffiti, the construction of this underpass is very impressive, especially considering that most railroads of the era, and even today use nothing more than wooden bents formed into a trestle with a simple wood deck.  Instead the pictures suggest that a reinforced concrete base was poured on each side of the road with a notch at the top to provide a base for the brick vault.  Then I assume a curved form was constructed for the vault and four courses of edge-laid brick were built up and allowed to set.  There is no keystone of any kind. It appears that the railroad construction engineers then filled the rest of the void up to the ballast line with reinforced concrete using forms. 

This is not a unique structure.  A trip up FM 156 toward Krum will reveal a number of these remarkable brick vault culverts and underpasses of all sizes.

Stoney Road:
Crossing under and then turning south on FM-156 for a few hundred yards will bring us to Stoney Road which was also a part of old SH 24.  About three miles down the road I passed what was an unusual crossing over a small wash.  After walking down to the side of the bar ditch it turned out that the entire embankment on both sides of the road was sheet iron boiler plate of some kind. That's pretty unusual.

Click to enlarge picture
 As I walked further down the south side of the draw, I found that the culvert opening itself was a large riveted boiler plate tube.  I have never seen anything like this. I wonder it if was built this way or if it might be an old boiler that was adapted to the use?

Click to enlarge picture

Headed west the blacktop turned to a new, very fine concrete highway that continued a little west of the community which was first settled in the 1850's and named for the soil type around it. There were a few interesting buildings.

 The old school seems to be in fair shape..

 A nice rock home with landscaping on the corner..

 The UMC Church, which was holding services..

Click to enlarge picture
And finally, a small herd of Paint horses at Sunday brunch...

The Old Decatur Road:
SH 24 turned north for about a mile and then meandered west a little to reach what is today US-380 on the way to Decatur. A few miles west of town, the old highway dropped down to what is now Old Decatur road which comes into town about a block south of Main Street where it jogs over to cross the railroad. 

El Castile:
This has nothing at all to do with old SH 24, but coming into town the grand old house sits overlooking what was the Waggoner cattle empire.  It was impossible not to take a few shots of the grand old building which is apparently still inhabited and in good shape.

Click to enlarge picture

Some thoughts:  SH 24 in its various phases is just a small and rather unimportant road in the overall picture of Texas highways.  However, its journey through the early countryside does give us some idea about how primitive the early roads were and how much things have changed in the last 100 years or so.

Traveling the back roads also gives us an unfortunate picture of how little many Texas counties really care about their historic landscape. Wise county in particular, even under the brow of the magnificent Waggoner home, has allowed ill kept, trashy mobile home and manufactured shack developments to grow in the country side without regard to sewage or water supplies. Entirely without zoning, these places tend to look like a cluster of festering buffalo chips on the rolling hillsides. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Real Grit: The Branch & The Scaffold ~ In the time of hanging Judge Isaac Parker's court

Here is the perfect follow-up to both the novel and movie versions of True Grit.  I just finished reading Loren D. Estleman's The Branch and the Scaffold, a Novel of Judge Parker which is currently available in paperback as well as hard cover.

Most everyone that saw True Grit or read the book is aware that Rooster Cogburn was a deputy US Marshall attached to the 8th District Court in Fort Smith, Arkansas. This was in the period after 1875 when Judge Issac Parker took over the efforts to maintain the law (not necessarily justice) in an area that included the Indian Territories just to the west. Not only were the Territories lawless, they were geographically rugged.  The map below which was taken from The Lost Antique Maps of Indian Territory CDROM shows the Winding Stair mountain area just to the south and west of Fort Smith.

Click to enlarge map
Rooster Cogburn was a fictional character.  Issac Parker wasn't and the cast of characters around him including Ned Christie, Belle Starr, Cherokee Bill, the Dalton's, Hack Thomas, Chris Madsen, Bill Tilghman and the Doolin's, were not.  The Branch and the Scaffold fills out the real story that True Grit opened to us.

Estleman, who is considered a master of westerns as well as mysteries at the level of Elmore Leonard, weaves a fictional story of Parker and many of the characters good or bad that were part of the history of that Court in the late 1800's.  There is no mystery and it's not really a classic western. It's just excellent story telling with a deep factual base and a great deal of humor in the right places.

The author's note at the end which he titles "A Summation for the Defense" is worth the price of the book itself. I have been reading Estleman's books since he began which was in the 1980's I think.  This may be his best..

1909 USGS map image from an original in The Electric Books Collection

Monday, February 14, 2011

On Books: Recent and current reading

In addition to True Grit, I've wandered through several books in the past month or so. Some are my normal day-to-day trash, others are better, at least in the eyes of critics.  I'm liking most of them.

What I've read:

Assegai by Wilbur Smith:  I've read almost everything Smith has written over the years and enjoyed almost all of them. A fine book.

Once a Spy by Keith Thomson:  A current paperback.  A new author and very good with a little different approach.  Lots of fun.

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow:  I read Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time many years ago and have reread it several times. It edged me into the quantum world and gave me a lot to think about. Time has passed since 1988 and there is a lot that is new or better understood.  We are getting a little closer to understanding the whole picture, but issues have been clouded by an onslaught of those who prefer to think of our universe and existence as they want it to be rather than how it demonstrably is.  This new book explains where we are, what we know to date and how we know it. In a non-confrontational way it addresses and explains why we  are as we are.

It is recommended reading, but if you are one of those that really believes that the Earth is 6000 years old and that the human race popped up ready to go in some Garden of Eden then it won't make much sense to you.

What I'm Reading:

The Buffalo War by James L. Haley:  Subtitled: The History of the Red River Indian Uprising of 1874.  The subtitle tells it all. This is an older book that I found in a bookstore still wrapped and in new condition. After reading Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne last year I have wanted to get more detail and a different perspective on the final times of the Plains Indians. This book looks definitive.  I'll have more say after I've finished with it.

Decision Points by George W. Bush: I seldom read "political" books written by or about US Presidents. I think the last one was about Teddy Roosevelt.  Autobiographical books especially are treacherous.  I received this one and started in on it because it seemed different.  And it is. Apparently it was written by George Bush without a visible ghost at hand. There is  a notable lack of ego and legend building so far. I am enjoying it and  I can understand why it is selling to such a wide market. Unless you are one of the sad ones bound up in far left or far right ideology, I think that this book would be good to read.  I'll' tell you what I think in more detail after I finish it..

Drood by Dan Simmons: I'm just getting started on this big paperback and it looks like it will be fun..

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Preview: Stunning Lost Antique Maps of Fort Worth Stored in Warehouse!

Here's a short preview of a more complete story on these Lost Maps of Fort Worth and Tarrant County:

In December of 2009, I talked to a  a man who had read some of my map comments on Facebook. He told me a few stories of his family who had been in Fort Worth for a long time.  Some were architects, others engineers and builders. He renewed an earlier email invitation for me to come see "some old Fort Worth maps."  We set a time and I drove out to see them on a late afternoon. After getting acquainted for a few minutes I was taken to a dusty warehouse area.  There, setting against the wall was this enormous roller map case filled with what turned out to be seven huge Fort Worth & Tarrant County maps. Wow!

Click to enlarge image

I had heard of these vertical map cases before, but never seen one.  I didn't measure it, but it's probably about 6 feet wide and about that tall as well.  The rolled maps are probably 60" wide and laid on a linen or heavy canvas cloth base. Grubby institutional green paint covers what I think must be solid oak.  The roller mechanism is crude but effective, considering the weight of the maps and still works very well.

Click to enlarge image

The maps in the case are from 1903 to 1925 and are in very good shape considering their age and the fact that they have spent many of their later years unprotected in unheated warehouse areas. I suspect that whole map set was put together in the late 1920's or early 1930's.

Click to enlarge image

Lost?  Absolutely. This case full of maps has essentially been lost to all except a few family members for more than 50 years. Not everyone felt that they were worth keeping but in spite of that they did survive. Some of them may be unique for their time and size.

There is a lot more to add to this story in the near future.  Only a few of the pictures I took that day were really useful. The light in the warehouse was iffy and my camera was probably using the wrong flash settings for the situation.  Even more important than better pictures is a large Fort Worth family history that needs to be filled out and tied to the maps in this case.

At least it's begun.  More to come as the history begins to emerge..

The Panther City March ~ Decoding Fort Worth History Step By Step

A couple of years ago at the Will Rogers Flea Market  I picked up a copy of the Panther City March sheet music published in 1914 by "Tot" Echols. It had a nice birds-eye view of Fort Worth across the top, but I really didn't pay too much attention to it. A few weeks ago I uploaded an image of the front page to the Jack White history group. This is an ad hoc group of about 80+ local historians who contribute to Jack White's monumental project to document historical Fort Worth in pictures.  I thought that the image might interest a few people.  Little did I know..

Click to enlarge image
Jack, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the location and history of almost every street & major building in the history of Fort Worth, first commented on the unusual angle that the city picture had been taken from, pin-pointing the likely spot as from the old Brewery building on Jones Street. And also that the the picture seemed to be earlier than 1914 because some buildings of the date were not in the picture.

Click to enlarge image
Comments started coming in. There was discussion of just who "Tot" Echols was.  Immediately someone found the census reports and another found a picture of his gravestone at Rose Hill cemetery.

Click to enlarge image
There was considerable discussion about the possible existence of a single, tall, guyed "radio" tower either on or behind the Westbrook Hotel just right of  center in the picture. Radio as we know it,  really hadn't gotten started in the pre-1914 era.  But the hi-res images showed the tower really was there and probably on top of the hotel.

Click to enlarge image
By this time, Jack had announced that there was enough interest in this subject that he would do at least one page on it to add to the "Way We Were" website.  About the same time, another member of the group came up with the answer which also helped in dating the picture as around 1910-11: The Westbrook Hotel had installed a "wireless telegraphy" system for their customers convenience and this was the transmitting tower.

Click to enlarge image
Over the next few days the group kicked around the seemingly odd locations of some buildings, omissions and general questions about the arrangement of the downtown area in this 1910-1914 era.  There was some confusion among those of us that really weren't as conversant with this period as others.

Click to enlarge image
Finally, Jack took all the information and published a modified version of one of the regular pages that showed with exceptional clarity the streets and major buildings and other features. It is an amazing bit of work, because it just appeared overnight, without warning. It provides a solid guide for future research.

Most of the puzzles were solved. Questions answered. And now there are a few more well documented answers to the endless questions about Fort Worth History...

Panther City March images from The Electric Books Collection
The Way We Were images from the Jack White Collection

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Bankhead Highway in Fort Worth & Tarrant County

The Post on Bandy's 1924 Fort Worth to Weatherford & Mineral Wells Road Log brought a nice response from Bankhead Highway authority Dan Smith (Who I had erroneously called Dan Davis) with some more information about the route in Tarrant County taken from a new book he has underway.  He was kind enough to allow me to use the material and paraphrase his comments:

Click to ENLARGE Map
This is a page out of the Bankhead Hwy map book he is working on.  According to the information he sent with this map, Dan has mapped the original (1921) Bankhead across Texas, based on a 1921 guidebook that seems to be the earliest published route.  A 1936 State Highway Department Tarrant county map is used as a base.  Smith's map page shows how the route went through Ft. Worth and the county.

The Bandy route of 1924 in the earlier post followed the relatively new SH #1 along a route parts of which slightly shifted north of the original "Kuteman's Cutoff".  Kuteman (of Weatherford) had argued for years in favor of his cutoff (which mostly followed today's Chapin Road across Mary's Creek), but in the end the TX Hwy Dept opted for a SH #1 route along what's now Camp Bowie West.  Smith thinks as I do that they did that because the original Kuteman's route across Mary's Creek wasn't as good as the crossing slightly north where the old US 80 bridge crosses today.

Click to enlarge image
Above is the facing page to the map that will be part of Dan's book which is tentatively scheduled out in about a year. The page adds much additional information to that shown on the map. When the book is published we will finally have some well researched information on the Bankhead Highway which was the first all-weather highway across the United States.

In local Tarrant County history, the story of the battle by the early good-road boosters for the Kuteman Cutoff and the maps it showed up on between about 1910 to 1924 has been an interest of mine for several years.  In a future post I will try to tell a little more about the west Tarrant County Road Wars of the early 1900's.

Revised map added 02/05/2011 ~ Maps courtesy of Dan Smith

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Lost 1924 Fort Worth Road Tour Map & Log

Since Tuesday's ice storm I have been mostly housebound and have spent some time trying to find and arrange some of my maps and other stuff.  As I was sorting through my Fort Worth maps I ran into my copy of a 1924 Bandy's Road Log. In 1924 there were a number of named roads like the Meridian and the Bankhead highways which were promoted by the cities they passed through, and the states had started designating highways by numbers, but it was not until 1926 that the Federal Highway system was created.

Click to enlarge map

Since in 1924 many highways were nothing more than graded dirt or gravel and there were few if any directional signs out in the country, most travel guides included road "logs" between cities and town. The Bandy Guides were very popular and for sale in many places.  And they carried advertising for businesses along the way.

The Fort Worth & Weatherford maps shown are pretty self explanatory and are worth clicking to zoom. The "Log" from Fort Worth to Weatherford and a partial Log on to Mineral Wells is very enlightening and gives and idea of what driving was like in those days.  The road west was already known as The Bankhead Highway by this time and great efforts were being made to improve it, but it was still very difficult.

Look at the Log instructions about crossing the dangerous trolley tracks (This was where the streetcar line on Prevost crossed Camp Bowie Blvd headed south down to the Lake Como turn around loop), the use of existing landmarks and then the specific instructions to turn right and not go to Granbury through Benbrook. At the Parker county line the road slanted off to the southwest on a now abandoned but still visible right of way to a point about a mile north of Aledo on what is today's Farmer Road or FM1187. The road from this point still exists and runs on into Weatherford as the Old Bankhead Highway going through Annetta.

The original main road to Weatherford in the early 1900's took Stove Foundry Road (Granbury Road) to just north of Benbrook and then on what is now Aledo road along the T&P tracks through the swampy bottoms near Aledo to avoid the difficult terrain of the higher route. It was often flooded and impassible.. In 1913 there was a huge political fight among the County Commissioners over the improvement of the shorter northern route. The final outcome designated this new northern route as the "cardinal" road to the west which assured it of funds for improvement.

In the last several years, a group of us lead by Dan Smith, have worked on the history of the earlier routes from Weatherford to Fort Worth which eventually lead to the building of State Highway #1/US Highway 80  followed much later by Interstate 20.  There is still some work to be done particularly around the Mary's Creek bridges to define the earlier routes.

There is some very interesting history in the development of the Bankhead and Meridian Highways in the North Texas area.

Page from the 1924 Bandy Tour from The Electric Books Collection