Monday, March 18, 2013

The First West 7th Street Bridge: Who Owned It?

Fort Worth is about ready to start on what may well be a spectacular grand entrance to the downtown and Sundance Square with the replacement of the 100 year old West 7th Street bridge or viaduct. There is considerable speculation and excitement about connecting the revitalized 7th Street and Camp Bowie areas with what may well be an architectural showpiece.

1907 Official Fort Worth Map - Clear Fork- 7th Street Clip <Click to enlarge>
Back 100+ years ago, the need to replace a rickety bridge that had been built back in the 1880's by Major K. M. Van Zandt as a way to get to his land across the Clear Fork was getting critical. Arlington Heights was growing and clamoring for a better bridge.  There were two streetcar lines using the bridge by 1903 and pieces were periodically falling off unexpectedly.  However there were some problems:

10-07-1899 FW Morning Register - City Council Meeting
As early as 1899 the question of who owned Van Zandt's original Clear Fork bridge was being considered. In spite of the recommendation that the city buy the bridge and clear its title, apparently nothing happened for a number of years.

Things dawdled along and the Van Zandt bridge became more of a bottleneck. Still, the ownership question wasn't settled.  The Star-Telegram had a long but whimsical summary of the situation in a 1907 article:

06-27-1907 Fort Worth Star Telegram

By 1911 the 7th Street bridge and the old North Main "Iron" bridge that had been built in the early 1890's were both becoming an issue.  The Fort Worth city fathers, Tarrant County and the businessmen and citizens were getting in a mood to finally spend some money.  In 1911 this rendering was floated out for consideration:

04-16-1911 Fort Worth Star Telegram <Click to enlarge>
The reaction was good. The bridge ball was in play for both a new 7th Street viaduct and a North Main replacement which was to become the Paddock Viaduct.  Bonds were voted and plans were drawn up.  In its way, the Van Zandt Viaduct would be almost as spectacular as the North Main bridge.

Draft Plan - 08-14-1912 Fort Worth Star Telegram - <Click to enlarge>

Late in 1913, construction was finished and the new West 7th Street bridge which was wider and longer and stronger and built to resist the Clear Fork floods was done.  It looked pretty much like the draft plan:

In the spirit of both parsimony and conservation, the old bridge, which does not seem to have ever had a picture or drawing published, was toted off and apparently used elsewhere on the Clear Fork.

The graceful and practical bridge aged well.  The river bed was changed under it several times and additions were made to accommodate all that, but it carried the pedestrians, the wagons, the buggy's, the streetcars, the cars, the buses, the trucks and everything else until its time was up.  A hundred+ years of good service.

We can only hope that the new bridge will do as well..

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

FW Star-Telegram Touts Portal To Texas History.. Ignores Its Own Denial Of Historic FW Preservation

FYI: This story has been updated. Please see the UPDATE at the end of this article..

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (FWST) did a fine front-page article on Wednesday, March 13th covering the on-line Portal to Texas History (PTH).  It did a particularly good job of the work that the PTH is doing in digitizing and publishing old newspaper editions.

Sounds great doesn't it? But in spite of all the bright, trendy acceptance that the FWST put into this article, there's just one little problem...

The 1922-1972+ DIGITAL BLACK HOLE..

The fact is that the FWST is one of the largest Texas newspapers to be undigitized, unindexed and unpublished from 1922 to the present. Sure, it's all available on microfilm if you want to burn the gas, pay the parking, as well as risk your eyesight and sanity at the FW Public Library.
But a big chunk of the FWST from 1922 on is not available anywhere on the internet. It's not the FW Public Libraries fault...

Anyone that has ever worked with indexed and digitized newspapers will tell you that they can get 10 to 100 times more work done if the newspaper is on-line than by doing the heavy lifting at a library table. Library work is traditional, with the image of the hunched-back wretch staring myopically into the film reader going through a billion words to find anything close to the subject matter under consideration. While we may admire the perseverance of those willing to do this, the fact is that it is unnecessary today and the sweat expended does not in any way make the end research product any better or any more worthy.

"Newspapers are the archaeological records of a town or city," said Ana Krahmer, supervisor of the digital newspaper unit at UNT Libraries. " Loss of one day -- one issue -- is a loss of that history."

How to get the FWST 1922-to fairly recent times digitized and available?

"While most of the information comes from small-town newspapers, adding major Texas dailies to the project is an ambition that is still evolving and while include working out copyright issues and getting funding to digitize the newspapers, Krahmer said."

Copyrights or intellectual property? This isn't impossible. The Belo Corporation, including the Dallas Morning News, have been completely digitized for years. Many other large papers are digitized through several sources. It's a matter of the intellectual property owner or owners turning over the rights. The old idea that newspapers could build profit centers by selling old clips has not worked out.  Instead, thoughtful newspapers that have any regard for local history and its preservation have long been making arrangements to that their their old issues digitized by some institution like the PTH or by commercial subscription providers like GenealogyBank

Funding? There are so many local North Texas historians that want and need this digital archive that the odds are pretty good that the funding would not be an insurmountable problem.

What is really needed right now is for the owners of the FWST, or if they do not have the rights, for the current owners to offer them to PTH or some other digitizer.  Do the right thing, right now.

"We would really love to work with anyy dailies who would like to work with us" Krahmer said. "We are very interested in digital preservation of large daily newspapers because they represent such a large body of the population". 

Can we wonder if Ms. Krahmer had any thoughts about why the paper interviewing her was not itself involved in the historic preservation they were describing so glowingly?

It's hard to believe that Diane Smith who wrote the article or her editors were unaware of this glaring paradox:  An article promoting historical newspaper digitization from one of Texas' primary serial non-digitizers'... Go figure..

UPDATE   Sunday March 24, 2013:

Word was received today from Senior VP/Executive Editor Jim Witt about the status of digitizing & indexing Fort Worth Star-Telegram archives including the newspaper from 1922:

"The Star-Telegram's parent company has contracted with Newsbank to digitize all our archives"

NewsBank is the parent company of GenealogyBank, a reasonably priced subscription service, which many of us use.

We appreciate the word from the Star-Telegram about their plans to digitize their archives.  We look forward to using these new resources as they become available.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

1917: Pre-Bankhead Highway Roads in West Tarrant County

Recently I have been working on a 1917 Tarrant County map that is posted on the Portal to Texas History and is a part of the UTA Library Special Collections. On the Bankhead Highway History Group we tend to spend a lot of time on the 1919 and later period when the Bankhead began to become a reality.

Clip From A 1917 Tarrant County Map <Click to Zoom>
However, it is equally important to know what came before the Bankhead Highway. It all began with the with the advent of the automobile in the very early 1900's. A "Good Roads" movement began which was echoed in the other larger Texas counties as well. The Bankhead, the Meridian and other early interstate highways were the result.

In 1913 the Tarrant County precinct commissioners went to war with each other over which roads would be declared the main or "Cardinal" roads.  The biggest fight was over whether the old Stove Foundry/Benbrook/Weatherford road would continue to get the improvement and money or whether the shorter and dryer connection off of Arlington Heights Blvd. (Camp Bowie Blvd.) would be selected. After a lawsuit and a lot of harsh words, the Arlington Heights Blvd. connection into downtown Fort Worth was selected.  This was three or four years before World War I and the Camp Bowie base establishment.

This map was created about a year before the Great War over a standard Tarrant County landowners map by the well-known Tarrant County Surveyor John H. Darter.  On the map he overlaid many of the more important county roads including the still-new "Cardinal Roads". The map exists in blueprint form, but for clarity I have inverted it to bring out the detail so that it is more readable.

The clip above shows a part of Precinct #1 from about Benbrook north to White Settlement Road with the red box focusing on the points where Arlington Heights Blvd connects with what will later be the Kuteman Cutoff headed straight west for Weatherford with a connection at the Parker County line. Also the north-south road at the same junction that drops down toward Benbrook and intersects Stove Foundry Road and finally, the Stove Foundry Road itself that follows the T&P railroad tracks from downtown Fort Worth to Benbrook.

1917 map legend

For the past several years there has been a question as to the exact way that the Arlington Heights connection headed west across Mary's Creek and on to Parker County. It's a niggling detail in the overall picture but no definitive answer has yet appeared in a County or Highway Department map. This map offers a few more clues.

The Cardinal road which we know as Chapin Road today connected with Arlington Heights Blvd just about where the traffic circle is today, although the circle was far in the future. It headed west, jogging a little at section lines until it slanted northwest just before Mary's Creek, then turned west again, crossed the stream and continued to the county line.  Chapin Road, which does not go all the way west anymore, is still titled as the "Benbrook Cardinal Road" on current Tarrant County maps. Some of the abandoned right-of-way which became Bankhead Highway for a while is still visible on aerial maps.  We are sill looking for a picture of this early bridge across Mary's Creek.

This 1917 map adds a little more to what we know about the early roads in this part of Tarrant County.  The entire map has a number of other interesting features including some "lost" roads which will be covered in later posts...