Sunday, September 21, 2014

Found: The Lost 1889 Cotton Belt Rail Yards On Panther Island!

In 1889 the St. Louis Southwestern (Cotton Belt) Railroad arrived in Fort Worth and immediately started hauling the freight in and out as well as a few passengers. Not the first or even the second railroad in the city, the Cotton Belt however was known for its links to many great agricultural areas and the population centers that processed and consumed them.  It was known as the "Cotton Belt" for a reason.
1889 W. B. King Fort Worth Map-Cotton Belt Yards <click to enlarge image>
The rails came down from Carrollton and Grapevine terminating in a reservation in the Trinity Bottoms along the eastern bank of the West Fork of the Trinity and extending past the confluence with the Clear Fork as the 1889 map above shows,.  A small wooden passenger station and a separate freight station were built as well as maintenance buildings and a turntable.  Yard access was by a small bridge just below the confluence and around 1892, the "Wire" suspension bridge.  The steep North Main "Iron Bridge" was also used when it was available between repairs.

1922 Cotton Belt Yard House-Left Center-<click image to enlarge>
The Cotton Belt yard house is shown above at left center peeking between the large fuel tank on the left and the Fort Worth Light & Power smokestack base on the right.  Taken in 1922 at the height of one of the frequent floods, this illustrates why this was not an ideal area for a rail terminal. In spite of that, these yards handled large amounts of freight traffic. And, until 1899 when the new T&P passenger station was built, boarded passengers for St. Louis, Memphis and other southland destinations.

USGS Flood Plain Map-1915  <click to enlarge image>

After World War II and with the expansion of the TESCO power plant, these original 1889 yards began to sink unnoticed into obscurity. The main freight handling had been taken over in 1915 by the large facility on East 6th street in downtown Fort Worth. The yards still served the warehouses and scrap metal dealers along the old main line and stored freight cars. The switching lead still existed to service the rails in Houston Street laid down by the Cotton Belt in the early 1930's as part of a business development program.  The 1915 USGS flood plain map above still shows a large number of tracks, a turntable and other facilities including the yard house.

1932 T&P Switching Map <click image to enlarge>
Following the Trinity River channelization and levee building of the late 1950's most of the old yard and its facilities were obliterated.  Literally covered over in the area near the TESCO power plant. The original 1889 main line as far south as SW 5th Street and a few spurs were still in existence as late as 2012 when the Trinity River Vision program began clearing the entire Trinity Bottoms area. Much of which was covered with rubble and had polluted the soil several feet deep.

Railroad Archeology & Preservation!

Cotton Belt Turntable Pit Artifact - 2014- <click image to enlarge>
In August, 2014 I received a call from the site manager of a company that was decontaminating and cleaning a 100 foot wide  pit just off of SW 5th street close to the levee. It was in reference to something they found during their excavation.  After some discussion, we both felt that this was probably part of the old Cotton Belt turntable pit that shows on the maps.  My guess is that it was a simple brick guard wall around the turntable and did not have any part in supporting the turntable itself. The excavation was about 4' deep and about 50' across. The brick wall showed about 2' above the excavation. A few days later, in a similar discussion with the Environmental Manager for the Union Pacific he reached pretty much the same conclusions.  The UP acquired the Cotton Belt many years ago and still owns the land. 

Cotton Belt Backfilled Excavation-2014 <click image to enlarge>

When asked whether it would be possible to save this historic pit wall, the UP Environmental Manager suggested that they could just as easily backfill the excavation with the pit wall intact instead of demolishing it.  Which when I checked, they seem to have done. After hearing many horror stories, the professionalism and interest everyone showed in this historic artifact was very impressive. And much appreciated, since now there will be a chance for display and possible use at some future time. Thanks to the Union Pacific and TRV management for their consideration.

Not everyone will think that this old pit wall is worth conserving or even recognizing.  After all, there are bigger TRV things in play.  A simple descriptive marker to be placed at n appropriate spot as the development continues would be nice.  Here is another suggestion that would be even better:

As the TRV develops, the 800+ acre Panther Island mass is too large to describe to visitors.  Obviously it will have to be subdivided into districts of one name or another.  What if..  the three blocks north of NW 5th to about 8th or 9th street were to be called the "Cotton Belt Yard" District? Historically appropriate, catchy, easy to say and remember. Just get on the Trolley and say "let me off  at the Cotton Belt Yards". 

Aerial TXU-Cotton Belt Turntable-Trinity River-Cotton Belt Yards-2014
As the TRV continues to clear the area north of the TXU power plant continues, more railroad history is coming into view.  This is posted land. But driving on N. Throckmorton which is a public road, a large number of tracks embedded in concrete as well as laying on open ground may now be seen. These were invisible in the past. Some may be old historic yard tracks.  Others industrial sidings that were covered by buildings. It would be interesting to know what they were.

Cotton Belt Yards - Looking North 2014

Cotton Belt Industrial Tracks - Looking West

2014 Aerial of Cotton Belt Yards-FWWR On The Northwest
The development of Panther Island will eventually obliterate the few artifacts that are left of the Cotton Belt Yards. It is to be hoped the TRV management and the developers will give some thought to making sure that this part of Fort Worth history is not left unmarked and forgotten.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Lost 1880's History: Fort Worth's Little Known Union Railroad Depot

Fort Worth Railroad history note:  The general histories of Fort Worth mention that when the Texas & Pacific railroad came to the city in 1876 their first passenger station was a small shed set on the north side of the tracks.  This was in the 320 acre "T&P Reservation" that was provided to them as a gift by several of the early settlers of Fort Worth.

There was a 2nd T&P station that is often overlooked, or if it is remembered, the location is generally incorrect.  It too was on the T&P Reservation but in a different location.

1885 Map of Union Depot Area <click image to enlarge>

In the 1880's when the MKT/MP railroads came in from the north and the Gulf Colorado & Santa Fe railroad came in from the south it became obvious that a combined or "Union" depot would be desirable. With the agreement of the railroads this new larger "Union Depot" was built in the northeast quadrant where the railroads crossed on the east sided of Fort Worth.

Unfortunately, this location had some problems.  It was necessary for travelers moving to and from the city to cross multiple busy railroad tracks in what was something of a non-man's land since Front Street (Now Lancaster Avenue) really was not in existence. And of course there was no pavement.  The depot area became a swampy bog in wet weather.

1891 Birds-eye View of Union Depot.<click image to enlarge>
The area marked in red is the approximate location of this old depot as seen on a modern satellite clip.

In addition, just across the tracks to the south was a large pond and even worse, next to it and a little to the east were the first stock yards in Fort Worth.  And of course the pond received the drainage from the stockyards and the rail yards.  So the air must have been pretty rank year round down by the Depot.

Fort Worth Union Depot <click image to enlarge>

In spite of the problems with the location, it solved the problem for a while.  The Union Depot was much more elaborate than its predecessor.  There was a small traveler's hotel and Ginocchio's restaurant.  It handled the increasing passenger load until the huge new T&P station was built on the southeast corner of Front (Now Lancaster Ave)  and Main Street in 1899 and the smaller Santa Fe Depot in 1901.

1899 Texas & Pacific Passenger Station <click image to enlarge>

1901 GC & Santa Fe Depot <click image to enlarge>

Saturday, April 5, 2014

1903: Charles Swartz.. Views of Fort Worth

Last year (2013), a great show featuring the photographic work of the three Fort Worth Swartz brothers was put together by Fort Worth historians Donna Donnell and Dr. Rick Selcer.  It was first seen at the the Fort Worth Public Library. Titled "The Swartz Brothers, the First Family of Fort Worth Photographers", it got rave reviews and was also shown in a number of other venues.

While working on another project, I recently came across this little 20+ page album published in 1903 by the Albertype Co. that features the work of Charles (C.L.) Swartz, one of the famous brothers. Offering a different look at early Fort Worth, I thought a close look at a few of the pages might be interesting.

<click image to enlarge>
Printed on fine paper and bound by a colorful ribbon, using the Albertype method which is a gravure print and not a lithograph or half-tone process, the resulting quality is outstanding. A number of other fine photographers in other cities also used this format to present their work.  I have another from Dallas. Instead of individual pictures, each page is a montage of several, often with a single theme. Many of these images are little known and seldom seen.

<click image to enlarge>
Railroads made Fort Worth.  From 1876 when the Texas & Pacific limped into town at the last crucial moment, the the momentum of the city has been mostly fast forward. Built around 1898 in the center of the 300+ acre "reservation" donated to the railroad by a number of Fort Worth's founding fathers, the center image is of the classic T&P station.

Located just to the east across Main Street from the present T&P terminal building, it would burn and be rebuilt in 1909. Then, having become hopelessly obsolete as Fort Worth boomed, it was replaced in 1931 by the present tall building.  At the upper right, Swartz captured the grand waiting room of the station. This image is one that is seldom seen.

At the upper left is the original freight house which was located about where the present T&P building sits.  It was the backdrop for President Teddy Roosevelt's visit in 1905 which C.L Swartz also photographed. This building also was replaced in 1931 with the enormous deserted structure further west on Lancaster street which now waits for preservation and reuse.

The enormous locomotive roundhouse shown at the bottom center was located just west of South Main and south of the T&P railroad tracks. It was demolished after a new roundhouse, yard and shops were built further west of downtown starting at about where University Drive passes under the Union Pacific railroad today. This is also a rarely seen image.

Complementary images of a cowboy and an iron horse fill out the montage page.

<click image to enlarge>
In 1903 Fort Worth was a sizable, busy, growing city.  The old cattle trail days had passed and new sturdy masonry buildings were rising.  Charles Swartz took pictures of many of these buildings and many of his images are the only ones that we have of that period.

At the center is the monumental City Hall building. Located where the current nondescript city building now squats, it was a city landmark second only to the 1894 Courthouse on the bluff.  It was demolished in 1938.

Surrounding the City Hall are 8 historic Swartz pictures of turn-of-the-century Fort Worth businesses.  A few may have familiar names, but others are long gone and are remembered only in these images.

<click image to enlarge>
The hotels and resorts of Fort Worth dominate this album page.  At the center, a familiar picture of the Arlington Heights Country Club built around 1902. This building replaced "Ye Arlington Inn" that was the centerpiece of the 1890 Arlington Heights development and which burned in 1894.

Above it, the Fort Worth Record building which housed a major competitor for the readership of Fort Worth until the Fort Worth Star-Telegram bought it from the Hearst syndicate in 1925.

Both the Worth and Delaware Hotels are fairly well known, however the Metropolitan has pretty well faded from memory. But who remembers the Hotel Rosen in downtown Fort Worth?  A very scarce image.

Detail from back cover <click image to enlarge> 
Let us know if you enjoyed these select pages.  As time permits we may publish a few more images from the camera of Charles L. Swartz.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Taming The Trinity River - Where it All Began

The taming began immediately after May, 1949 when a record breaking Trinity River flood inundated much of Fort Worth below the bluffs. Both the West and Clear Fork branches went way over in spite of the Lake Worth, Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Bridgeport retention reservoirs. Fort Worth was mostly isolated for days. At least 10 people were killed and $11 million dollers in damage resulted.

1949 Fort Worth Flood Aerial - Portal to Texas History <Click image to enlarge>

Levees had been thrown up, strengthened and raised periodically as a result of overwhelming floods in 1908, 1915, 1922 and the years following. Lake Worth was opened in 1913. However, the rivers themselves remained narrow, brushy, winding, polluted ditches that would go over the banks at the slightest opportunity.

No matter how high the the levee, the ditch just wasn't wide enough. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had been involved from the beginning, but money was the problem.  A good part of any protective improvements would require shared funding with local sources which meant bond elections. There was enough complacency in Fort Worth to make that very difficult.  Until the 1949 flood...

Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Magazine, March, 1950
<Click to enlarge image>
The business community was fed up. The March, 1950 edition of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce carried an aerial view of the Trinity Bottoms with the meandering streams with improvements highlighted in red. In addition, there was an entire page supporting a massive flood control project, urging community action and local money raising to get things moving.

Portion of the 1950 Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Report
<click image to enlarge>

The result was an enormous dirt moving project that widened, deepened and rerouted the river. Benbrook Dam was built on the Clear Fork. Additional work was done during the construction of the interstate highways so that the flood plain became a sterile treeless corridor designed to pass the floodwater downstream to Fort Worth's neighbors as fast as possible. Most of the work was completed by the middle 1950's. Tucked down deep in the work were some overkill projects that would help to support the long planned Trinity River Canal to the gulf coast. The canal effort finally sputtered out in the 1970's but some of the remains are still in the dirt work.

The result totally altered the Fort Worth river view including the confluence of the two Trinity's.

Early Trinity River Vision Overhead Rendering
<click image to enlarge>
This moat worked pretty well as far as flood control was concerned, but Fort Worth was growing and plans for the development of the Trinity Bottoms into a unique new part of the city were offered after the turn of the century. The controversial Trinity River Vision which included further flood protection, came into being and work is under way on a 50 year build out plan.

It looks like the Trinity may finally have been tamed. But there are those that say climate change may just tip the balance again....

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Fort Worth: Sky High On Airships ~ The Helium Center Of The US Dirigible Fleet

Since 1918, the citizens of Fort Worth had been aware that the was a possibility the the U.S. Navy would  establish a helium plant north of the city to service the huge airships or the rigid dirigible design that would soon be under construction. A strong source of helium, which unlike hydrogen won't burn, was the key to the new airship program.  The best source was in the helium rich natural gas deposits around Petrolia, northeast of Wichita Falls near the Red River. After the field was proved a pipe line brought the natural gas to Fort Worth.

1919-1920 Greater Fort Worth Map Clip <click image to enlarge>
A Greater Fort Worth map by C.H. Rodgers published in 1919, shows a U.S. owned Argon gas production facility in the southeast corner of what is now Blue Mound and Terminal Road about a half mile east of Meacham Field. Like helium, argon is a rare gas that can be extracted from natural gas.

<click image to enlarge>
 In 1922 the plant was completed and small scale production began pending the testing of the feasibility of using helium instead of hydrogen in large airships. This had never been done before and there was a question as to whether helium, which has less lifting power than hydrogen per cubic foot would really work or not.

In December of 1922 the U.S. Navy inflated their airship C-7 with Fort Worth helium for the first time and did a demonstration flight over Washington D.C (See above). It was a huge success and a  proof of performance. It also revealed that helium had a number of other advantages over hydrogen including a faster loading or refueling time and less loss of gas at various altitudes and temperatures.

July, 1924 Dallas Morning News <Click image to enlarge>
In addition to the plant expansion, it would be necessary to be able to dock and service the airships passing through Fort Worth for refueling and maintenance. A tall 175 foot lighted mast with embedded mooring points in a radius around it would be necessary as well as a small building and parking places.

May, 1924 Dallas Morning News

The work was rushed and the facility began to take shape.  The only question was when would the first airship visit to Fort Worth take place?

September, 1924 Dallas Morning News
 By this time most of the construction had been done and the mooring mast and tine-downs had been placed in a field just across the road to the northwest of the plant.

1925 Greater Fort Worth Map Clip <click image to enlarge>
The new facility is shown on a rather well-worn 1925 Great Fort Worth map by C.H. Rogers. from the Electric Books Collection.  The mooring mast is shown in the upper left red box and the plant in the lower right box just below what is now Terminal Road.

It was a great excuse for a Fort Worth party! Thousands turned out to watch the graceful ship maneuver in and out of its mooring as hundreds manned the ropes that dangled from the

1924 Airship Shenandoah In Fort Worth
From The Electric Books Collection
 <click image to enlarge> 
For several mores Fort Worth was a major part of the Navy airship fleet. In 1928 the Los Angeles came through to much acclaim.  But times were changing....

August, 1928, Dallas Morning news
The Petrolia gas field declined to an unusable point and a new primary helium plant was built in the Amarillo area. Much of the Fort Worth equipment was shipped to that location. Some of the buildings eventually became a regional FAA center.

The large airships were slow, clumsy to maneuver, and could not withstand high winds and bad weather. Accidents happened. In 1937, the German owned Hindenburg Zeppelin which had never switched from hydrogen to helium partly due to U.S. government restrictions on the foreign sale of helium caught fire and killed 35 of its crew and passengers.

March, 1938 Dallas Morning News
The prospect of a global war was in the air in 1938 and it was becoming evident that the US needed many fast airplanes and a greatly expanded naval fleet.  Although the Navy was still pushing for rigid airships, the general consensus was that they were outmoded.

As it has turned out, helium is one of the most valuable gases in use today and is becoming rare and very expensive.  While still used in "blimps", its uses in industry are everywhere.

Airships and helium were a great and little known part of Fort Worth history in the first half of the 20th century...

Friday, September 6, 2013

An Old Fort Worth Letterhead With a Great Map & Bankhead Highway History

In 1925 Hugh H. Lewis Jr. owned an auto garage in Fort Worth that was doing booming business.  I collect a few Fort Worth letterheads and had never gotten around to scanning this particular sheet.  Other than the fine letterhead, the face of the letter is not terribly interesting. It is simply an authorization for an attorney to do some land work for him. In 1925 Hugh Lewis had ranching interests in West Texas and as would be expected, was into the oil play of the era..

In the process, I did a little historical review on Mr. Lewis and found that he was an interesting, well known person.

02-09-1909 Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Lewis was one of the earliest Fort Worth auto enthusiasts and by 1909 had his garage in operation and was selling automobiles. He was a friend of Weatherford banker H. W. Kuteman, another enthusiast who was promoting good roads in North Texas.  Kuteman was instrumental in getting a more direct route from Fort Worth to Weatherford and a section of the earliest Tarrant County portion of the Bankhead Highway was eventually named the "Kuteman Cutoff".

The Lewis family was socially prominent and as the clip above shows, he sometimes acted as an ambassador for the city when prominent people visited.

08-08-1909-Fort Worth Star-Telegram
In 1909, Hugh Lewis was selling both Peerless and Franklin automobiles. One of the best ways to sell cars in those early days was to be a little bit of a daredevil and push your vehicle out into the wilds to test its road worthiness..

Later, in 1912 he was involved in the notorious Rev. Frank J. Norris shooting trial as he apparently was one of the first witnesses that accompanied Norris back into the church after the gunfire.  Norris was acquitted after a spectacular trial.

1925 Fort Worth Map <click image to enlarge>
Perhaps the most interesting part of this piece of Fort Worth ephemera is the 1925 city map that I found on the reverse.  The map was published just before the Federal highway numbering came into effect in 1926. It is very well done with with good, automotive related captioning.  Because of its detail, it would have been very useful to any city visitor that was using either the Bankhead Highway or the north-south Meridian Highway.

The practice of placing maps or illustrations on the back of letterhead paper has long ago been abandoned.  But they are very valuable in producing unique history when they turn up.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Fabled Dallas Pike: Where Is It Now? This Post Card Has a Story..

A little Fort Worth Bankhead Highway/Broadway of America/US-80 Tourist Court nostalgia:  

Harrow Court <click image to enlarge>
I recently picked up a linen PC showing the Harrow Tourist Court.  The PC shows an address of 5800 E. Dallas Pike and in the picture is what appears to be a late 1940's or maybe early 1950's car. For many years, East Lancaster Avenue was also known as The Dallas Pike

Court description <click image to enlarge>
The paragraph on the back tells use more about it..  Air cooled with ventilated heat and operated by Mr. & Mrs. L.E. Stubbs.

Curiosity grabbed me. I looked up the address on Google Earth, and it turns out that the place is still operating, now known as the Central Court.  

5800 E. Lancaster <click image to enlarge>

The property is on a more or less triangular plot in between E. Lancaster and Dallas Avenue. 

Recently, I went out there and took some pictures showing the sign and the main building and the backs of the courts facing south on Dallas Avenue. As you would expect from the area, the court is pretty well beaten down but still has customers.

Central (Harrow) Court - Office & Main Building <click image to enlarge>
This was a pretty substantial operation at one time.  I assume that there was probably a cafe or restaurant in the main building along with the Office and maybe someone lived upstairs.

The Old Courts.. Backing on Dallas Avenue <click to enlarge image>
Here are the little courts on the back row of the compound or enclosure which has security fence all around it..  They back on Dallas Avenue..

1945 Fort Worth Ashburn Map <click image to enlarge
Above is a clip from a 1945 Fort Worth map by J. Foster Ashburn that still shows the Dallas Pike picking up from Lancaster just on the east of the Meadowbrook area. The name was still used on some maps even later.. 

One of the most interesting things is the persistence that the name "Dallas Pike" has had historically.  In general, most old Fort Worth maps start showing the Dallas Pike as beginning after Front Street (Lancaster Avenue) hit the city limits, which of course changed several times as the city grew. However, it was also called Handley Road on some maps as well. 

By the early 1920's, the Pike became part of the Bankhead Highway, then part of the Broadway of America promotion and of course US-80. In Dallas, the same road predictably, was called The Fort Worth Pike as it headed west. A very busy road until the turnpike and the Interstate highways took over in the 1960's.