Friday, April 5, 2013

Early Fort Worth: The "Novelty Roller Mills" On the East Trinity Bluff

I ran across an old 1880's bill head for Mark Evans' "Novelty Rolling Mills" and had remembered reading earlier that it was in an unusual place for a flour & feed mill.  Not on the railroad. Not on a river.  Instead, right on edge of the East Trinity Bluffs...

1880's Billhead <Click to Enlarge>
From the beginning, Fort Worth had many mills.  It was essential that there be a way to produce flour and feed locally since importing from the east was expensive and difficult.  Howard Peak mentions a mill down on the Trinity just below the confluence near the old ford that existed before the earliest bridges. And later, mills & elevators of all kinds grew up around the railroads.  But Mark Evans, who later became a prominent investor and banker in Fort Worth, built his early mill on Bluff Street, just a few blocks east of the courthouse and the original jail.

1885 Novelty Roller Mills Fire Map <Click Image To Enlarge>
You can clearly see that it was built right on the bluff's edge, as were many other buildings at the time. Bluff street was blocked from further extension east past the mill until after 1912 when it was opened and paved by the city in a land swap deal with Mark Evans, Sr.

1885 Bird-eye view of the Novelty Roller Mill <Click Image to Enlarge>
The Trinity River and the bluffs were nasty in those days.  Notice how rough the slope of the bluff is. It's obvious that anything and everything from the Mill as well as all the other buildings and dwellings along the edge, were just dumped into the river. There are stories of dumping of animals, and raw night soil and other sewage over the edge and of landslides taking buildings down the side on occasion. Look at the rough drain trench to the Trinity on the east side from the mill.

This image also shows the second Courthouse and the notorious jail which was new at this time. Look closely:  There was no high bridge from north of the Courthouse across the Trinity where the Paddock Viaduct is now.  That wouldn't happen until about 1892.  The area around the Courthouse was a public or market square.

1889 Fire Map From the Courthouse East to the Roller Mill
<Click Image to Enlarge>

By 1889, the Roller Mill has increased in size with an elevator added for storage.  The land  in between the Courthouse and the Mill (which are each shown in the red blocks) has filled in as the city grows rapidly. A bridge has been designed and begun that would connect the Courthouse area to the Trinity Bottoms on the north and essentially combine the two places and make northward expansion possible.

1891 Birdseye Map Clip From the Courthouse East To the Roller Mill
<Click Image to Enlarge>

By 1891 the new "Iron Bridge" was almost finished (it didn't look much like the artist's rendering on the image).  The area east of the Courthouse was becoming congested and there wasn't much room for expansion.  Evans had tried to get permission to run a siding up Jones Street to the elevator, but that did not happen. There were a number of other local mills and elevators that did have rail siding locations which was a big advantage for them.

By 1900 the Mill and elevator was apparently abandoned and sat mostly unused for many years until parts of it burned and were torn down.

2013 Courthouse to East Bluff Street Roller Mill location
<Click Image to Enlarge>. 

Today the area along East Bluff Street is nothing but a parking lot serving the unlovely slanty gray buildings erected recently by TCC.  They add nothing to what should be a stunning overlook that was much admired by early visitors to Fort Worth..  

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