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Fort Worth was built on the Trinity River in 1849. Thirty miles from Dallas it was named after General W. J. Worth, commander of the Texas Department. It was one of the many forts constructed at this time to protect the border settlements and the emigrants moving to the American West. The army abandoned Fort Worth in 1853. It became a trading centre and in 1873 became a city.
Fort Worth - History
Focused on a future for Fort Worth's irreplaceable architectural heritage.
HOW TO RESEARCH YOUR HISTORIC PROPERTY
Congrats, you own a historic home or property! Now comes the fun part (besides fixing it up): learning all about it.
Historic Fort Worth’s Preservation Resource Center (PRC) is located in the basement of the 1899 Ball-Eddleman-McFarland House at 1110 Penn Street. The archives contain thousands of files on properties included in the Tarrant County Historic Resources Survey, which became the property of HFW in 1998. Also housed in our collection are books on preservation and Fort Worth history, files of surveys conducted by HFW, historic photos, maps, and information on people who have contributed to our city’s rich history.
The PRC is open to the public for research by appointment Monday through Friday between 9:30am and 5:00pm. Contact us by phone or email: 817.336.2344 x113 or [email protected] Our archives are a great place to start your research, but you can also find information through these resources:
The Tax Assessor’s Office in the Tarrant County Administration Buildings houses tax history cards. These cards, first created in the 1930s, can provide a shortcut for finding the early owners of your house, as well as information about when improvements were made, and your property’s construction materials.
You can verify early owners by looking through deed records in the County Clerk’s Office in the basement of the Tarrant County Courthouse. You can also search here for Mechanic’s Liens. These can reveal the name of the contractor and/or architect that designed or constructed your house.
The Genealogy and Local History Department of the downtown branch of the Fort Worth Public Library has nearly a complete run of City Directories from 1926 to the present. Most of the directories are divided into two main parts, an alphabetical listing of residents, and a list of addresses that are organized alphabetically and numerically by street name and address.
Historic photographs (and even old postcards) can provide invaluable information about a house and its appearance at a given time. These can be found in a variety of places including the public library, the Tarrant County Historical Commission, the North Fort Worth Historical Society, the Star-Telegram archives located in the Special Collections Division at the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries (UTA), other university archives, newspapers, and from family members of former owners.
The City of Fort Worth Preservation Staff may be able to direct you to original permits for your building and other materials that might have ended up in the City’s records.
And you’re always welcome to share what you find with us. We’re always excited to learn more about Fort Worth buildings!
from "A Ranger of Commerce"
by Howard W. Peak
"It has grown customary for most modern cities to be given an appelation based on their location or the scene of some notable events or accomplishment."
"Fort Worth is named the "Panther City", from the tradition that a panther laid down in one of it's streets."
"The origin of this rather confusing term seems to bother some minds, so I will describe how the term happened to be applied, I having been a witness to it's parentage."
"At the time, Fort Worth had but a few designated streets, and the one known as the "Weatherford Road", now Weatherford street. As a boy, my father's horse and cow lot were about fifty feet south of this road, the residence facing the "Dallas Road" now known as Houston street."
"One spring morning while I was in the lot feeding the horses and milking the cows, I was called for by an old Baptist preacher, named Fitzgerald, who occupied the second story of a building located on the corner adjoining our residence."
"'Howard, come here quick, I want to show you something'. I alertly responded, and was shown by this man of highly imaginative mind, the outlines of what he imagined was a 'panther' described in the dusty roadway. He even traced the indenture of the cat's claws."
"There resided in Fort Worth at the time a young lawyer, Bob Cowart by name, and as he made but a precarious living by law, he was, in addition, a correspondent for the Weekly Herald, published in Dallas.
Being informed of the parson's find, Cowart wrote the incident up in a very graphic manner, which, being duly published, and derisively commented on by that weekly, the name 'Panther City' resulted and stuck."
Lewis Brooks of Young County caught a panther cub on the Brazos River.
His son later recounts the story
"On the Dead Man Bluff, across the Brazos River not far from here, my father took his saddle blanket and threw it over the panther cub to keep it from biting him."
"He gathered it up in his arms and brought it home. They named it Billy, Billy the Panther."
"Sometime later, he took it to Fort Worth and gave it to the Fire Chief. And that's how come Fort Worth to be The Panther City."
A Brief History of Fort Worth’s Public Schools
Fort Worth originated as a military outpost in 1849 at the confluence of the West and Clear Forks of the Trinity River. The fort was abandoned a few years later but the community that grew up around it survived and eventually thrived. Although the town received its charter 1873, public education was not officially organized until 1882. Prior to that time, the schools that existed in the village were all private schools.
Fort Worth pioneer John Peter Smith established the first private school in the city in 1854. Tuition was five dollars per month with the parents providing room and board for the teacher. Smith taught school for three years and then closed it due to ill health. Various other schools or classes were taught by a variety of teachers in the years prior to the Civil War. Upon the outset of the war, educational activity virtually ceased in the community. Following the war, three local citizens raised $75, bought sacks of flour and traded them for lumber in order to repair dilapidated Masonic Hall so that it might be used as a school. A Confederate veteran stranded in Dallas was hired as the teacher. Other private schools were started, including the town&rsquos first high school, which opened in 1878. Around this same time, the state government began paying the City Council $2.25 per pupil per year. This money was used as tuition for students who could not afford to attend these private schools.
The establishment of public education in Fort Worth came with a struggle. Although public education had become more institutionalized in the Northern states between 1830 and 1860, Southern states held on to the belief that education was a family responsibility. After the Civil War, the concept of public education began to gain acceptance in the Southern states. As mentioned above, by the 1870s, the state government supported the concept of public education and had laws that provided for the creation of public schools. Communities of 10,000 or more residents could operate schools if two thirds of the residents voted for school tax.
Fort Worth&rsquos first school tax election occurred in 1877. Eight-five votes were cast in favor of the tax and five votes were cast in opposition. However, the opposition protested that two-thirds of the property owners had not voted. Another election was held that year with the proponents of public education prevailing. On August 20, 1878, the first city ordinance establishing public schools as passed. On September 1, 1879, six rented building were opened as schools. However, the opponents again raised objections and appealed to the state&rsquos Attorney General. He ruled that due to errors in the election process, public funds could not be used for school purposes. A third election was held in 1880 with a vote of 425 to 45 in favor of public schools. The City Council appointed three individuals as a board of school trustees. In December 1881, Miss M. Sue Huffman was appointed &ldquosuperintendent of the public free schools.&rdquo She was the first to be given that title by the Council. But opponents again tried to invalidate the election by claiming that the city&rsquos population was less than 10,000. When the City Council could not provide the funds for a census, two individuals raised the money. The census was conducted in the summer of 1882. It revealed that the city had a population of over 11,000. With that, the citizens voted for a one percent school tax. The City Council appointed a new school board composed of Dr. Carroll M. Peak, president, J.M. Brown, secretary, John Peter Smith, R. E. Beckham, and S.M. Fry. The Council also approved the hiring of Alexander Hogg as superintendent of schools.
Public schools were officially opened on October 2, 1882. Schools were established in rented or donated buildings. Because Texas schools were segregated by race, two black churches were rented as schools for the city&rsquos black youth. The staff consisted of Hogg, 13 white teachers and four black teachers. Among the latter was Isaiah M. Terrell who would become principal of the Colored High School before moving on the Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A & M University) in 1915 to serve as president of that institution. Hogg served as superintendent until 1889, then returned to Fort Worth in 1891 as principal of the Fort Worth High School. He became superintendent again 1892, serving until 1896, and then again from 1902 to 1906.
A first priority of the school board was to erect permanent facilities for the schools. The jewel among the early school buildings was the Fort Worth High School. This school, constructed in 1890 at Hemphill and West Daggett Street at a cost of $75,000, was designed by the firm of Haggert & Sanguinet and was a model of late-Victorian institutional architecture with its blending of Richardsonian Romanesque and Renaissance Revival styles. The 3-story building was a picturesque massing of richly texted stone and brick. It featured a projecting conical-roofed 2-story bay, arched and rectangular windows, gabled and hipped roofs of varying heights and a square tower at the roof&rsquos pinnacle. The building was praised in the local press for its &ldquomost striking appearance&hellip graceful proportions, elegance of detail, and superb modern arrangements.&rdquo
Other early school buildings constructed during this time include the Fourth Ward School at Cherry and Texas, now the site of the Central Fire Station, and the Sixth Ward School, later referred to as Stephen F. Austin Elementary School. The latter school was constructed in 1892. It was designed by Messer, Sanguinet, and Messer. Although not as large or as highly ornamented as the Fort Worth High School, it also displays Richardsonian Romanesque influences with its use of rough-cut limestone around its base, as quoins, and for the arched openings. It is the oldest extant building constructed by the city&rsquos public school system. Although the schools of this era had masonry exteriors, their interiors were largely of wood, thus making them susceptible to fire.
At the time of the construction of the high school building in 1890, Fort Worth had a population of 23, 076 residents. By 1900, the population had increased to nearly 27,000. With the arrival of the Armour and Swift meat-packing plants in North Forth in 1902, the city&rsquos population grew dramatically. By 1910, it had a population of nearly 75,000. This increase called for the erection of new schools to meet the educational needs of the community. With the help of a $450,000 bond issue, the city initiated a school building program in 1909 that provided the opportunity to construct modern, fireproof schools. According to the school system&rsquos Annual Report for 1910, the modernization program incorporated three objectives:
- The contraction of the upper grades at suitable centers where a better classification and departmental instruction is introduced, and where equipment for manual training, domestic science, agriculture, music and art is provided.
- The building of large elementary schools instead of small ones, so that a better gradation of pupils may be secured.
- The raising of the standard of requirements for teachers in our schools along with the raising of salaries.
Schools constructed during this period included E.M. Daggett Elementary School, the Alexander Hogg School, and an addition to the Stephen F. Austin School. All of these opened in 1909. Other schools and their opening dates included Sam Rosen, April 1910 (demolished) the Colored High School, May 1910 Walter Huffman (demolished), John Peter Smith (demolished), A.J. Chambers, and R. Vickery, all of which opened in September 1910. All were of masonry construction. The new (white) high school, located on South Jennings Avenue, opened for classes in September 1911 and was considered &ldquoa fitting climax to the other new school houses.&rdquo Ironically, as this school was being built, the 1890 high school was destroyed by fire in December 1909.
The construction of the Colored High School, renamed I.M. Terrell High School in 1921, was a significant stride in the provision of modern school buildings for the black youth of the city. The 3-story brick structure was hailed as one of the finest such facilities in the Southwest. However, the school would be plagued by inadequate funding and second-rate equipment throughout its history. Other schools for black children, particularly elementary schools, were woefully substandard for the times. It was not until post-World War II building programs that efforts were made to provide adequate, although still segregated, educational facilities for all of the city&rsquos African American pupils. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court&rsquos ruling on the unconstitutionality of segregated schools in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education, the school district continued to build segregated schools.
The Fort Worth High School was designed by Waller and Field [Marion L. Waller and E. Stanley Field] and built by Innis-Graham Construction Company. Waller, sometimes by himself and sometimes in partnership with Field (and sometimes another associate named Shaw), designed several schools for the Fort Worth school system, including the Alexander Hogg School, the Colored High School, the A.J. Chambers School, and R. Vickery School. These schools generally were influenced by the Classical Revival or Beaux Arts styles, although the design for the Sam Rosen School was influenced by the work of Louis Sullivan and Chicago School. Other designs by Waller included the campus and several buildings at Texas Christian University, of which Jarvis Hall (1911) is still extant, as well as the remodeling of Ann Waggoner Hall at Texas Wesleyan University (1905). Besides the numerous school buildings he designed in Fort Worth, Waller also designed buildings at North Texas State Teachers College in Denton and in the Rio Grande Valley where he lived from 1930 to 1940. His obituary referred to him as the &ldquofather of Texas schools&rsquo because he had supervised construction of more than 300 such structures.
These early schools reflected the trend to erect monumental buildings (typically at least two stories atop a raised basement) that expressed the community&rsquos pride in its educational system. In the 1910s, several more schools were constructed in Fort Worth that followed in this pattern. The 1914 building for De Zavala Elementary featured Classical references with its symmetrical design and engaged Tuscan columns rising from a banded first floor base. However, the George C. Clarke Elementary School, designed by Muller and Pollard and also constructed that same year, was inspired by the Tudor Revival style with its use of cast stone ornamentation along the parapet and as tracery around window openings and portals. Similarly, Sanguinet and Staats chose a Tudor Revival-influenced design for the 1918 Central High School.
In 1972, the City of Fort Worth annexed numerous adjacent communities that had their own independent school systems. Thus, the Fort Worth school district inherited the schools from those districts. Several of these schools are still extant and include Mistletoe Heights (now the greatly enlarged Lily B. Clayton Elementary School), Arlington Heights School (Boulevard Heights School), South Fort Worth School (Richard J. Wilson Elementary School), and the Riverside Public School (Corinth Baptist Church Youth Annex).
The Sagamore Hill Negro School is probably another example of a school that had its origins in another district. This school was constructed in c. 1925 with funding from the Julius Rosenwald Foundation. Rosenwald, President of the Sears, Roebuck Company, established this foundation in 1918 to provide seed money for the construction of rural schools for African Americans throughout the South. More than 5,300 schools were erected according to standardized plans but few have survived. This school was built as a four-teacher type with wood siding, a gabled roof, and bands of multiple light windows. It was constructed at a cost of $6,400 the Rosenwald Fund provided $1,100, local African Americans provided $300, and the public provided $5,000. Considering its name, further research may reveal that it was part of the Sagamore Hill school district. The campus was eventually enlarged and the name was changed to Dunbar Elementary/Junior High School. Remarkably, the original Sagamore Hill School now serves an alternative school but unfortunately has been covered with metal siding.
The public school system became divorced from Fort Worth&rsquos municipal government in March 1925 under a bill signed by Governor Miriam Ferguson. The school board, formerly known as the Independent School District of Fort Worth, became trustees of the Fort Worth Independent School District (I.S.D.). The same legislation added the districts of Sagamore Hill and Oaklawn to the I.S.D. Shortly thereafter, the trustees begin a survey of all of the district&rsquos school buildings. This was followed by the passage of a school bond for the construction of more schools. Schools constructed under this bond program included Alice E. Carlson Elementary School, James E. Guinn School (second permanent building on the campus), William James Junior High School, Charles E. Nash Elementary School, North Side Junior High School, Oakhurst Elementary School, Sam Rosen School (North Addition), and W.C. Stripling High School. It is notable that all of these buildings were designed by prominent Fort Worth architect Wiley G. Clarkson. Schools that received additions included George C. Clarke Elementary, Denver Avenue Elementary, Fort Worth Central High School, and the South Fort Worth School.
Between 1920 and 1930, Fort Worth&rsquos population had grown from 106,482 to 163,347. By 1930, the I.S.D. had 58 individual elementary, junior, and senior high school units and one vocational school under its system. For white students, there were 37 elementary schools, six junior high schools, five senior high schools, and one vocational school. According to the custom of the day, the one elementary school for children of Mexican descent was accounted among the white schools. The schools for African American students included one high school and nine elementary schools. Junior high school students attended classes at the high school.
Two surveys conducted in 1930, one compiled by the school district under the direction of Superintendent M.H. Moore and the other conducted by George D. Strayer of Columbia University, pointed to the inadequacies of school facilities. However, with the deepening of the Great Depression, it became increasingly difficult for the I.S.D. to raise money to construct the needed school improvements.
An answer to the dilemma was found among one of Franklin D. Roosevelt&rsquos New Deal programs. The Public Works Administration (PWA) was organized in 1933. The purpose of the program was to provide employment through the construction of much needed public works projects. The PWA differed from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in that it employed skilled as opposed to unskilled laborers. Typically, PWA projects were designed by architects and built by construction firms that otherwise would have had little business during this time.
The school surveys conducted by Superintendent Moore and George D. Strayer provided valuable guidance in planning a school building program. The school district called for a special school bond election on November 14, 1933. This election proposed a public works loan of $3,000,000 and a federal grant of $1,000,000. The voters approved the proposal by a vote of two to one. The I.S.D. applied to the PWA for $4,000,000. On January 17, 1934, the agency approved a loan of $4,198, 300.
The I.S.D. awarded contracts to ten architects for plans and specifications for the first six projects. The architects chosen were Wyatt C. Hedrick, Wiley G. Clarkson, Joseph R. Pelich, Preston M. Geren, Elmer Withers, H.H. Crane, Earl T. Glasgow, E.W. Van Slyke, Clyde H. Woodruff, and James Davies. The projects included two new elementary schools, North Hi Mount and Morningside, and additions to Carlson, Clayton, Hubbard, and Oakhurst elementary schools. An addition to George C. Clarke Elementary was added to the list, bringing the total to seven projects. The first of these to be completed was the addition to Hubbard Elementary.
Other PWA school projects that were later added to the list included a gymnasium building for the Jennings Avenue Junior High School (the former Fort Worth High School), Meadowbrook Elementary-Junior High School, S.S. Dillow Elementary School, Arlington Heights Senior High School, Carter-Riverside Senior High School, W. P. McLean Junior High, North Side Senior High School, Polytechnic Senior High School, and Rosemont Junior High School. Other schools receiving additions included E.M. Daggett Elementary, Denver Avenue Elementary, East McRae Elementary (demolished), Circle Park Elementary (demolished), Sam Rosen Elementary, and Washington Heights Elementary. In addition, the former A.J. Chambers School, which by the 1930s was known as the East Eighteenth Street Colored School, was significantly expanded and converted into the new home of I.M. Terrell High School.
The schools constructed under the PWA program were of the highest quality and were representative of a variety of architectural styles. Perhaps taking the inspiration from the restoration program then being undertaken at Colonial Williamsburg, the designs of three schools, South Hi Mount Elementary and Arlington Heights and Polytechnic Senior High Schools, were influenced by the Georgian Revival style. Other schools were eclectic blends of Mediterranean or Spanish Colonial/Baroque styling. These included McLean Junior High, Carter-Riverside High School, Rosemont Junior High, and the addition to Lily B. Clayton Elementary. The designs of one school, North Side Senior High School, and the Jennings Avenue Junior High Gymnasium were influenced by the Moderne movement.
The PWA schools received considerable public attention. The local newspapers were filled with stories about the construction of the schools ad their subsequent openings. In addition, postcards featuring the four new (white) high schools were published by a local new shop. North Side Senior High School and the addition to Lily B. Clayton Elementary were included in the book Public Buildings: Architecture Under the Public Works Administration, 1933-39, a work highlighting PWA projects throughout the nation. Four schools, Carter Riverside, Arlington Heights, and Polytechnic Senior High Schools and South Hi Mount Elementary School were included in the 1940 publication, Texas Architecture, edited by Henry Whitworth.
The I.S.D. also took advantage of other New Deal programs for the benefit for the public schools. In 1933, the district hired Hare and Hare, a landscape architecture firm from Kansas City, Missouri, to design improvements to school grounds in conjunction with the Parks Department. The district received $500,000 from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration through the Texas Relief Commission. This work involved minor landscaping projects at nine schools. These projects were completed by September 1935. The district then used Hare and Hare to draft a complete landscaping program for the rest of the school system. It received funding under the WPA program. In all, 54 schools were landscaped under this program. Many schools still retain WPA landscape features. Among the most notable features are the stone or concrete retaining walls, examples of which can be found at the J.P. Elder Annex, North Hi Mount Elementary School, Morningside Elementary School, and Charles E. Nash Elementary School.
One other significant WPA project was complete in 1939. Farrington Field is a monumental sports facility whose design has been attributed to A. George King and Everett L. Frazier, two designers in Preston M. Geren&rsquos firm. The General Construction Company was the supervising contractor with the WPA providing the funding for the labor and materials. The design of the concrete structure evoked the stripped classicism associated with the style commonly referred to as PWA Moderne.
From 1930 to 1940, Fort Worth&rsquos population grew from 163,447 to 177,662. By 1950, it had increased to 278,778 residents. This dramatic increase was due to the influx of people who moved to Fort Worth seeking jobs with the defense industry, most of whom stayed after the war. Returning veterans and the post-war baby boom joined their ranks. Due to material shortages, only two permanent schools were constructing during the war years. Sagamore Hill Elementary School was constructed in 1941, replacing a school destroyed by fire, and Crestwood Elementary was constructed in 1944.
Immediately after World War II, the continued material shortages and high building costs prevented the construction of new school projects. Overcrowded conditions at elementary schools were of particular concern. Due to the low birth rate during the Depression, the junior and senior high schools had fewer students and their need for expanded schools was not as great. Some relief was found through the use of temporary, prefabricated buildings on many school campuses.
In 1948, residents of Fort Worth approved an $8,250,000 bond program for the construction of new schools and additions to existing schools. Schools receiving additions under this program included South Hi Mount, North Hi Mount, Sagamore Hill, B. H. Carroll, Tandy, and Morningside elementary schools, and Arlington Heights High School. New schools included Forest Hill (demolished), Bluebonnet, and W.J. Turner elementary schools and Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School. Three combination elementary-junior high schools were constructed for black students under this program. They included Como, M. L. Kirkpatrick , and Dunbar. A few years later their completion, the schools were converted to combined junior-senior high schools and the elementary students were transferred to new facilities.
Other bond programs followed in 1952 ($14,990,000) and 1956 ($20,000,000). With these programs, new schools were being constructed in the new suburban neighborhoods on the edge of the city and the majority of existing schools received additions. Some schools, such as Arlington Heights High School, received additions in each of the three bond programs. More elementary schools for black students were also constructed. They included Amanda McCoy (demolished), Ninth Ward, Rosedale Park, Sunrise, Como, Dunbar, and Kirkpatrick The James E. Guinn School received a combination cafeteria/gymnasium/shop building. A new building for the Brooklyn Heights Elementary School accommodated a largely Mexican-American population.
Tarrant County's roots lie in the 'Old West' and much of our heritage can be traced to the era of the cowboy and the cattle drives that passed through Tarrant County. Tarrant County is one of 254 counties in Texas which were originally set up by the State to serve as decentralized administrative divisions providing state services and collecting state taxes.
Tarrant County, one of 26 counties created out of the Peters Colony, was established in 1849. It was named for General Edward H. Tarrant, commander of militia forces of the Republic of Texas at the Battle of Village Creek in 1841. The village of Grapevine the Texas Ranger outpost of Johnson's Station (in what is now south Arlington) and Bird's Fort, a short-lived private fort just south of present-day Euless, were early areas of western civilization in the region.
General William Jenkins Worth
On the bluff where the Tarrant County Courthouse now stands, a military post was established in 1849 by a company of the 2nd U.S. Dragoons under the command of Major Ripley A. Arnold. The fort was named in honor of General William Jenkins Worth, a hero of the Mexican War and commander of United States forces in this region.
Historic Tarrant County Courthouse - Before and after remodel
The first county seat election was held in 1851 and the location receiving the most votes, a few miles to the northeast, became Tarrant County's first county seat, designated Birdville as required by the statute creating the county. After the military post closed in 1853 and the little towns of Fort Worth and Birdville grew, a fierce competition sprang up between them to be the seat of county government. A second special county seat election was held in 1856, when Fort Worth edged out Birdville by only a handful of votes. Fights and fatal duels ensued over the next four years by supporters of both locations. Finally, in 1860, another special election was held. This time, Fort Worth, by now the larger town, received 548 votes. The geographical center of the county, a compromise location, garnered 301 votes. Birdville tallied only four.
From as early as 1856, regular stagecoach service passed through Tarrant County, carrying mail and passengers from the east on to the frontier forts and the West Coast. By the 1870's, mail stagecoaches arrived and departed from downtown Fort Worth six days a week. From the close of the Civil War and through the late 1870's, millions of cattle were driven up the trail through Tarrant County (roughly following Interstate 35 West) to the railheads in Kansas. After the Texas & Pacific Railroad reached Tarrant County and Fort Worth in 1876, Fort Worth became the largest stagecoach terminus in the Southwest - a hub for rail passengers to continue their journeys west by stagecoach.
1895 Tarrant County Courthouse
The Tarrant County Courthouse, completed in 1895, is fashioned of pink granite from central Texas and took over two years to build. Upon completion, even though the project had come in almost 20% under budget, the citizens of the county were so outraged by the perceived extravagance that, at the next election, the County Judge and the entire Commissioners Court were voted out of office.
Today, Tarrant County has a population of over 1.8 million, more than 2,700 times larger than in 1850, when its inhabitants numbered only 664.
For more information on Tarrant County history, please visit the Tarrant County Historical Commission page or contact the Tarrant County Archivist.
Construction of Camp Bowie began on July 18, 1917. The camp, in the Arlington Heights neighborhood about three miles west of downtown Fort Worth, was established by the United States War Department to give training to the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division. Local officials expected financial gain and urged that the camp be located at Fort Worth. Including the adjacent rifle range and trench system, the site encompassed 2,186 acres. The camp was named for Alamo defender James Bowie. Cavalrymen of the First Texas Cavalry guarded the camp during its raising. Although classified as a tent camp, it required much construction to accommodate a division of men. Camp Bowie was opened officially on August 24, 1917, with Maj. Gen. Edwin St. John Greble of the regular army as commandant. During Greble's absence, the camp was commanded by a number of generals, including Brig. Gen. George Blakely.
The Thirty-sixth Division remained at Camp Bowie for ten months. Training dragged, partly because of epidemics and equipment shortages, but morale never flagged, thanks in part to the cooperation of Fort Worth in tending to the social needs of the troops. Relations between town and camp were remarkably good throughout the camp's existence, though the February 18, 1918, issue of Pass in Review, the bimonthly newspaper of camps Bowie and Taliaferro (near Saginaw), announced a base-mandated "purity crusade" designed to close down the brothels that thrived near the camp.
Camp Bowie's greatest average monthly strength was recorded in October 1917 as 30,901. On April 11, 1918, the Thirty-sixth went on parade in the city for the first time. The four-hour event drew crowds estimated at 225,000, making it possibly the biggest parade in Fort Worth's history. For about five months after the departure of the Thirty-sixth for France in July 1918, the camp functioned as an infantry replacement and training facility, with monthly population ranging from 4,164 to 10,527. A total of more than 100,000 men trained at the camp. Greble's retirement in September 1918 began a fairly rapid turnover of commandants that did not end until the camp ceased operation.
Shortly after the Armistice on November 11, 1918, Camp Bowie was designated a demobilization center. By May 31, 1919, it had discharged 31,584 men. The heaviest traffic occurred in June, when it processed thousands of combat veterans of the Thirty-sixth and Ninetieth Texas-Oklahoma divisions. The demobilization having been concluded, Camp Bowie was closed on August 15, 1919. After the camp closed it was quickly converted to a residential area, as builders took advantage of utility hookups left by the army.
Ben-Hur Chastaine, Story of the 36th: The Experiences of the 36th Division in the World War (Oklahoma City: Harlow, 1920). Bernice B. M. Maxfield, Camp Bowie, Fort Worth (Fort Worth: Maxfield Foundation, 1975). Order of Battle of the United States Land Forces in the World War (3 vols., Washington: GPO, 1931–49 facsimile, Washington: United States Army, 1988). Lonnie J. White, "Major General Edwin St. John Greble," Military History of Texas and the Southwest 14 (1976). Lonnie J. White, Panthers to Arrowheads: The 36th Division in World War I (Austin: Presidial, 1985). Mack H. Williams, comp., The News-Tribune in Old Fort Worth (Fort Worth: News-Tribune, 1975).
The historic Stop Six neighborhood in southeast Fort Worth was founded by African-American pioneer Amanda Davis (1865-1960), who purchased a one-acre tract in the undeveloped area in 1896 for $45. Mrs. Davis had 10 children, raised poultry and worked as a laundress. Amanda Avenue is named for her.
Alonzo and Sarah Cowan paid $200 for three acres in the community of small farms and homesteads in 1902. Mr. Cowan donated land for the area’s first church, Cowan McMillan United Methodist Church. The community was segregated, and it became known for its successful black-owned barber and beauty shops, barbecue stands and other businesses.
The Northern Texas Traction Co. ran an electric-powered, interurban streetcar through the community from 1902 to 1934. Cowanville was the sixth stop on the 90-minute trip from the Tarrant County Courthouse to Dallas. The nickname “Stop Six” stuck.
The 300-unit J.A. Cavile Apartments opened at Rosedale and Etta streets in December 1953 following community concern over inadequate housing available throughout the city, but especially in neighborhoods populated by African-American families. Cavile, with its sturdy red brick exterior, was named for a pioneering African-American teacher and was the last of the old-fashioned public housing projects developed in Fort Worth.
Over the decades, the community grew to be a thriving, predominantly African-American collection of neighborhoods and home to longtime business owners, educators, elected officials, ministers and other civic leaders. Paul Lawrence Dunbar High school on Ramey Avenue served as a hub of activity.
Dunbar High school gained national prominence with the remarkable success of its basketball program led for 32 years by Coach Robert Hughes, the winningest boys high school basketball coach in the United States.
Fort Worth, Texas, Where the West and the South Meet: A Brief History of the City’s African American Community, 1849-2012
Fort Worth, Texas’s black community has a distinctive if not unique history. Fort Worth was a western community (slogan: “Where the West Begins”) populated overwhelmingly by white Southerners. That means it combined the racial prejudices of the latter with the greater tolerance and openness of the former.
Slavery existed in Fort Worth from its beginnings as a tiny settlement on the bluff overlooking the Trinity River. Colonel Middleton Tate Johnson, one of the founding fathers of the original Army outpost (1849-53), owned a plantation of 640 acres northwest of the fort worked by 150 slaves. When Tarrant County was created by the Texas legislature on August 26, 1850, the settlement had a population of 599 whites and sixty-five blacks. The 1860 federal census showed the town’s population had declined to 500, but the number of slaves had nearly doubled to 115. The record does not show any free blacks in the little community.
When the Civil War ended, major slave owners like E.M. Daggett and Otis Isbell freed scores of slaves, not so much because Emancipation was the law, but because they could no longer afford to feed and care for so many dependents. A number of African Americans left Fort Worth for east Texas, where blacks were more numerous and jobs, more plentiful. Those who stayed continued working in menial jobs as “servants” (room and board but not wages) or tenant farmers.
In 1873, in an unusual move for that era, the city council hired Hagar Tucker, a former slave, as “special policeman” to the black community. Tucker performed a difficult job successfully but was nonetheless let go within a year when the economy went into a tailspin. Tucker was the first and last black officer in the Fort Worth Police Department until the 1950s.
Also during Reconstruction, John Pratt became the first black businessman of record in Fort Worth when he opened his own blacksmith shop not far from the courthouse. He was not well-received until his former master, Major K.M. Van Zandt, a Confederate war hero, began taking his horse to Pratt’s shop.
Men like Pratt and Van Zandt, represented two important elements to black-white relations. Independent entrepreneurs like Pratt were looked upon with great suspicion unless they had a white patron such as Maj. Van Zandt. The latter, along with men like William B. Tucker, constituted the face of the enlightened, white community — leaders who kept a lid on violence and opened a few doors to black citizens.
Slowly, Fort Worth’s black residents began to develop into a real community with their own schools, churches, and businesses. In 1882, the first black public school opened, with all grades in one building and five teachers, including respected black leaders Isaiah Milligan Terrell and Henry H. Butler. Before this, any black child who wanted to attend school had to enroll in one of two tuition-paying schools that met in Butler’s home or in the African Methodist Church. In 1894, The Item, which proudly proclaimed itself “The Only Negro Newspaper in the City,” began publishing. Fifteen years later it was still going strong.
If Fort Worth’s blacks escaped most of the Reconstruction-era violence that plagued the rest of the state, their economic development was painfully slow. At the end of the century, most of the 1,600+ black working adults were either domestics or involved in vice in Hell’s Half-acre, the red-light district on the south end of town. They lived in shanty towns in the Trinity River bottoms or in other areas considered undesirable by whites. Those neighborhoods had colorful names like Buttermilk Flats, Irish Town, and Baptist Hill.
The most respected and successful black entrepreneur in town at the beginning of the 20th Century was William M. McDonald, who first came to the city in 1885 from Kaufman County. McDonald would build a financial empire that eventually included real estate, a bank, a pharmacy, and a hotel. He did not settle in Fort Worth permanently until 1908, but because of his influence in the state’s black community, he became a force in the Texas Republican Party.
Other entrepreneurs in that period were less well known. They included Bill Love, a saloon owner described as the city’s “leading colored politician” Hiram McGar, who ran a pool hall and helped organize the Colored Texas Baseball League, Dr. William E. Davis, Fort Worth’s first black physician, and Tom Mason, a businessman and land owner who created the city’s first black public park. Under Jim Crow laws, blacks were prohibited from using the city’s public parks except one day a year –“Juneteenth.” Mason established a playground that could be used year round. This “Who’s Who” of Fort Worth’s black community illustrated how difficult it was in that era for African Americans to make their mark in any area other than entertainment or vice. McGar, Mason, and Love all made their money in the saloon business.
Like most of Texas, Fort Worth society was strictly segregated into separate and unequal communities. The more fortunate blacks lived in what were described as “negro tenements” on the eastern edge of town. The first middle-class black neighborhood, Terrell Heights, emerged on the south side in an area that had once been exclusively white. After 1900, black professionals such as Bill McDonald moved to Terrell Avenue which unlike the river-bottom shanty towns where most blacks lived, had electricity, telephone service and connections to water and sewer lines.
By the end of World War I, a third black community emerged around Lake Como on the far west side of Fort Worth. This area had formerly been home to servants working for wealthy whites in Arlington Heights but by 1920 it began attracting upwardly mobile black families. This area eventually became the city’s second largest middle-class black neighborhood after Terrell Heights. In 1922, Fort Worth annexed both the Lake Como and Arlington Heights additions. By 1930, some 180 black families lived in the Como neighborhood although many of its residents still worked as domestics for white home-owners nearby.
There was no black hospital in Fort Worth before the 1930s. Any black patient needing hospitalization had to go to the “Negro Ward” in the basement of St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital. St. Joseph’s was also the only major hospital that licensed black doctors. That situation was remedied only in 1937, when Riley A. Ransom, a black M.D. with a degree from Louisville National Medical College, opened the Ethel Ransom Memorial Hospital, a hospital on par with any of the white Fort Worth hospitals.
The political structure was controlled by whites as well. In 1897, a group calling itself the Afro-American Citizens’ Conference met in city hall to discuss running a “colored man’s representative” from the Third Ward for city council. Nothing came of it because even when blacks had a significant presence, their political participation was severely restricted by the poll tax and less subtle intimidation.
Shortly after becoming President, Theodore Roosevelt attempted to create a “black-and-tan alliance” inside Abraham Lincoln’s party, but the only local blacks to benefit were a few community leaders like William McDonald whom, it was believed, could get out the black vote. When Roosevelt visited Fort Worth in 1905, local black Republicans helped organize a choir of 600 black schoolchildren along the parade route who serenaded the President with the Star-Spangled Banner. Afterwards, they returned to their segregated schoolhouses.
At least the black religious community thrived with five large, active congregations in or near downtown. Those churches helped fill the void created by the absence of public parks, meeting halls, and entertainment venues for blacks. They were Allen Chapel (African Methodist Episcopal), Morning Chapel (Christian Methodist Episcopal), Greater St. James Baptist Church, Mount Gilead Baptist Church, and Corinth Baptist Church. They were rocks of stability and respectability in a turbulent community plagued by ignorance and vice.
The legal system was completely in the hands of whites. Even after the turn of the century there were still no black lawyers to represent black defendants. Likewise, all the police, judges, prosecutors, and juries were white. In the event of a race riot, such as occurred in 1913, black homes and business were at the mercy of the white mob. After one unsuccessful start a decade earlier, the city finally got a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1938 thanks principally to the efforts of Dr. George G. Flemming.
Economic opportunities for blacks gradually improved in the first half of the 20th century, starting with the opening of Swift and Armour meat-packing companies on the North Side in 1903. Texas Steel Company began hiring black laborers in 1907. Defense industries like the Consolidated Vultee bomber plant (later, General Dynamics) and Bell Helicopter were slower to open their work forces to blacks. What all these jobs had in common is they were blue-collar, low skill management was closed to blacks.
Black entrepreneurs had an even harder time of it. The overwhelming majority of the buying public (whites) would not consider patronizing their businesses. Due to Jim Crow restrictions, black business owners and professionals could serve only black customers and clients. In 1909 there were just two black-owned drugstores to serve a black population of 7,000. The entrepreneurial spirit burned brightly nonetheless. In 1915, E.C. Gray started the city’s first black “jitney” service with a single car and a license from the city. Without a trace of irony, he called his business the “Jim Crow Cab Jitney Service.”
The New Deal in the 1930s helped focus attention on the plight of the nation’s poor and disadvantaged. The Fort Worth Housing Authority issued a report noting that “at least 30,000 citizens lived in “decrepit, disease-breeding homes.” In response, the Public Works Administration (PWA) provided the funding for two segregated housing projects that opened in 1941. Ripley Arnold Place was reserved for whites and H.H. Butler Place was designated for blacks. The “Butler Projects,” as they came to be called, were on the eastern edge of downtown, between the old Hell’s Half-acre district and the Trinity River bottoms where blacks had lived for so many years. The Butler Projects are still standing today, hemmed in by three freeways and still a monument to racial segregation.
After World War II, the Jim Crow system began to break down as a result of changing attitudes and Federal civil rights initiatives. In 1953, the Fort Worth Police Department got its first black officers since Hagar Tucker. Four men were hired, but a few years later only one of them, Lonnell Cooper, was still on the job, and he was assigned to “community relations” at headquarters.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Brown decision in 1954 ordering the end of segregation in the nation’s public schools, the Fort Worth Independent School District began desegregating only in 1962 in a foot-dragging approach that did not reach the high schools until five years later.
In 1955, future baseball hall-of- famer Maury Wills played shortstop on the Fort Worth Cats, a Brooklyn Dodgers farm team. However, when the Cats played on their home field, LaGrave Field, only white fans could attend the games. Taking the good with the bad, Wills would later recall how the locals never “taunted or abused him” during the season he spent in Fort Worth.
For blacks who were not talented ball players, life could be a lot harder. In 1956, when a black couple attempted to move into the all-white Riverside neighborhood, protestors took to the streets to taunt them even before they finished unloading their belongings. The Fort Worth police refused to intervene.
Most blacks from long experience knew to stay in their own neighborhoods and keep a low profile in public. If there were no Emmitt Tills in Fort Worth in the 1950s, there were also no Rosa Parks. Fort Worth buses continued to segregate black and white riders until well into the 1960s, and downtown department stores had “black” and “white” water fountains and restrooms as late as 1960. That was the year Leonard Brothers broke ranks as the first of the big three downtown department stores to take down the “Colored” and “Whites only” signs on water fountains and restrooms. The reason was as much about economics as altruism: blacks constituted as much as 30% of the store’s business. By 1963, every department store, theater, and restaurant downtown had been fully integrated. In 1970, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram became the first big-city newspaper in the state to hire a black reporter (Cecil Johnson).
Ironically, the break-down of Jim Crow laws in the 1960s led to the collapse of the small black business district that had flourished on the edge of downtown. Now black customers could shop in the up-scale department stores, bank in the major banks, and get their hair cut at the same barber shops as whites. Black-owned businesses were unable to compete, and one-by-one they closed down, leaving empty store fronts and deserted blocks.
In 1967, Fort Worth got its first black elected political figure, Dr. Edward Guinn, who came to politics after a successful career as a physician. Guinn is remembered today as one of the most active and innovative council members in city history.
It is impossible to gather accurate statistics on the numbers of black residents in Fort Worth in those long-ago years. Census-takers missed many Negroes because they were considered second-class citizens, the Colored City Directory was limited to those who bought space in it, and the white Directory ignored anyone it did not consider a productive member of society. What we can say is that in the latest Census ( 2010), black residents comprised 19% of the population (140,133 out of 736,200) or just 1% more than a hundred years ago (4,694 out of 26,076).
But progress can be seen, too. Blacks sit on the city council, the school board, and every other public governing body. In 2001 Jim and Gloria Austin created the Cowboys of Color Museum & Hall of Fame, the first institution of its kind in the country. And Fort Worth’s historic Stockyards District has a statue honoring legendary black rodeo performer Bill Pickett.
Fort Worth is a different world today than 100 or even fifty years ago — not a perfect world, but a much better world. Its history has much to teach us about the past and, just as important, about our future.
Fort Worth - History
Welcome to the Fort Worth Yesterday photo pages. This is a historical photo gallery of photos taken in the Fort Worth area in the recent past, generally within the living memory of some of us. Hence the name Fort Worth Yesterday.
If you are interested in reprints or want to use photos for your book, brochure, movie, or other projects, email us for rates.
Readers' requested additions: Heights Theatre(Clover and Rosedale), Lone Star Drive-In restaurant(6500 Camp Bowie), Cowtown Drive-In(2245 Jacksboro Highway at River Oaks) Opera House Theater, 1849 Village on University.
This page last updated on March 12, 2014
See What's New How to navigate this site:
Click on a thumbnail photo to see the full image of your choice.
The sites are listed alphabetically by name.
Photos will open in a new browser window.
Don't miss the U.S.A. Yesterday page or the Gasoline Signs page for other travel and memorabilia sites not included here!
All photos Copyright © 1997, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009 by John Cirillo unless otherwise noted.
Photo of Belknap Drive-In Copyright © 2003 by Donna Mitchell, used by permission.
Photo of KXOL Radio Station Copyright © 2004 by John Lewis Puff, used by permission.
Photo of original Sammies Bar-B-Q Copyright © 2005 by Richard Greer, used by permission.
Photos of Brim's Tavern, Masonic Lodge, Melody Shop, The Gables, Six Points Griddle, and
Beef Burger Stand which are noted as being submitted by Terry Grimes are
Copyright © 2005 by Terrance Grimes, used by permission.
Photos of Vivian Courtney's Restaurant sign, Mexican Inn, and Williams Ranch House Copyright © 2007 by Tim Riddle, used by permission.
Photos noted as being submitted by Stephanie Kyzer are Copyright © 2007 by Stephanie Kyzer, used by permission.
Stockyards photos noted as being submitted by Elaine Moore Lanmon are Copyright © 2008 by Elaine Moore Lanmon, used by permission.
Photos of the Poly Theater and Berry Bowl listed as by George Harvey are Copyright © 2007 by George Harvey, used by permission.
Photos listed as by Lisa Helbing are Copyright © 2009 by Lisa Helbing, used by permission.
Photos listed as by David Aldred are Copyright © 2009 by David Aldred, used by permission.
Photos listed as by Craig Howell are Copyright © 2009 by Craig Howell, used by permission.
Photos listed as by George Kelly are Copyright © 2009 by George Kelly, used by permission.
Photos listed as by Bridgett Stevens are Copyright © 2009 by Bridgett Stevens, used by permission.
Photos listed as by Susie Fitzgerald are Copyright © 2009 by Susie Fitzgerald, used by permission.
Photos of Mrs. Cox's Maple Shop are Copyright © 2012 by Michael Gingrich, used by permission.
All photos on this website are copyrighted.
Reproduction or copying in any form without permission is prohibited.
2013-02-06 added page for Mrs. Cox's Maple Shop on Belknap
2012-02-23 uploaded a new photo of the Cattlemen's Steak House in the Stockyards
2011-04-16 added page for Massey's Restaurant on 8th Avenue
2010-04-13 added page for Skillern's Drug
2010-02-13 added photo of Lino's Restaurant on Belknap
2009-12-20 Added photos for Richelieu Grill and Mason's Hobby Lobby
2009-11-02 Created a Dairy Queen page and added more DQ photos
2009-10-04 Added photos to the Inspiration Point and Stripling pages
2009-08-01 Added page for Fort Worth Zoo in the 1980s
2009-08-01 Added page for Original Mexican Eats Cafe
2009-07-15 Added page for Will Rogers Coliseum
2009-07-09 Added page for Arby's in Haltom City
2009-02-11 Added pages for Berry Theatre, and Vandervoorts Dairy
2009-02-10 Added another photo to the Berry Bowl page
2009-02-02 Added two photos to the Poly Theater page
2009-02-02 Added photos of Berry Bowl, T & C Center, Throckmorton South, and Haltom Jewelers, Houston at 6th
2009-01-19 Added page for Inspiration Point in Samson Park
2009-01-02 Added page for the 20th Street Drug Store, 1912
2009-01-02 Added page for the Camp Bowie Water Tower
2009-01-02 Added page for Jackalope
2009-01-02 Added page for Azle Theater
2009-01-02 Added photo to the Piggly Wiggly page
2009-01-01 Added more photos and text to the Browder Distributing page
2008-12-31 Added text and new photo to the Melody Shop page
2008-12-31 Added page for Apostolic Church
2008-12-31 Rescanned photos for the Roosevelt Service page
2008-12-17 Added a page for WSL on Throckmorton
2008-12-17 Added photo to the Ranch Style page
The first African-American settler was Amanda Davis, who purchased several acres and built a cabin there sometime after 1896. Other early settlers were the Brockman, Stalcup and Cowan families. The settlement originally was known as Cowanville after Alonzo and Sarah Cowan. It was a community of small farms and homesteads and lacked municipal services, including police protection.
Stop Six is bordered by Rosedale Street on the north, Miller Street on the west, Loop 820 on the east and Berry Street on the south, and it still retains its rural flavor. Several smaller neighborhoods are part of the Stop Six area, such as Village Creek, Bunche-Ellington, Stop Six Sunrise Edition, Ramey Place and Carver Heights.
In the 1970s, Dunbar High School basketball coach Robert “Bob” Hughes put Stop Six on the map by becoming the public school boys’ basketball coach with the most wins in the nation. Born in Bristow, Okla., he was an All-American at Texas Southern University in Houston.
Legendary educator and basketball coach Robert Hughes put Stop Six on the map. (courtesy photo)
The Boston Celtics drafted Hughes in 1955, but he did not make the team. While playing for the barnstorming Harlem Magicians, a ruptured Achilles tendon ended his competitive career. He earned a degree from Tulsa University and in 1958 came to Fort Worth for his first coaching job at I.M. Terrell High School.
In 1973, Hughes became coach at Dunbar High School, located in the Stop Six neighborhood. During his tenure, the Flying Wildcats won two state championships and finished in second place three times. With both the Terrell and Dunbar teams, Hughes made 30 consecutive trips to the state championship and had only one losing season.
When Hughes retired in 2005 after 47 seasons, he had a 1,333-264 career record in 47 seasons, making him the high school coach with the most wins in the nation. His record was surpassed in 2014 by Leta Andrews at Granbury High School, who has 1,416 career wins.
In 2002, the Fort Worth Independent School District renamed the Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center’s basketball court after Coach Hughes.
In 2006 and 2007, Fort Worth designated the Carver Heights and the Stop Six Sunrise Edition neighborhoods as historic districts.
In 2015, Fort Worth renamed the portion of Cass Street in front of Dunbar High School “Robert Hughes Street.” Now Hughes’ son, Robert Hughes Jr., is the basketball coach at Dunbar High School.
The King of Clubs
Pat Kirkwood always knew how to throw a party, which is why the Cellar defined nightlife in Fort Worth, Houston, and other Texas cities.
IN THE SHADOW OF THE BRIGHTEST MOON in a century, a steady stream of casually dressed older folks, a few with walkers and canes, shuffle into a suite at the Green Oaks Inn in Fort Worth. Drinks are drunk, cigarettes smoked &mdash rituals of closure in the last hours of the party of their lives. Greeting guests is the evening&rsquos host, Pat Kirkwood, a lanky 72-year-old whose black suit, black shirt, black tie, and black alligator shoes are a startling contrast to his pale pink skin and snow-white ponytail and matching beard. If not for the odd phrase snatched from conversation (&ldquoThere is no remission&rdquo), you wouldn&rsquot know he&rsquos dying. If he&rsquos going to go, he figured, he may as well have one last fling with the friends and acquaintances who made his nightclub chain, the Cellar, the coolest in Texas.
And so they have come: all the old bouncers, managers, musicians, waitresses, lawyers (Tarrant County district attorney Tim Curry phoned in regrets he might have to run for reelection), and assorted hangers-on. A black and white film of the beach-based 1951 Daytona 500 plays on the television set in one room Kirkwood, the only Texan in the race, vies for the lead until the sand jams his gearbox. Next door, on another TV, is a grainy color film shot in the early sixties by Jimmy Hill, then the manager of the Fort Worth Cellar most of it was taken during the Artists and Models Ball on Halloween night in 1962. Kirkwood is visible in it too, as are several female dancers in various stages of undress. &ldquoThere&rsquos my ex-wife,&rdquo Hill says with a chuckle.
At a table in the corner, onetime moonshine smuggler Don &ldquoThunder Road&rdquo Johnson plunks down next to Kirkwood and tells stories about flying around Texas on a four-day drunk, while Chuck &ldquoElf&rdquo Bolding, who managed the Cellar in Dallas and now supervises security guards at the Las Vegas Hilton, recalls the nights that an underage Stevie Ray Vaughan played the club. &ldquoWe had our own law,&rdquo Bolding says. &ldquoIt was whatever Pat wanted.&rdquo
&ldquoHey, Pat, &rdquo a voice shouts from the other room. &ldquoWhat happened the night one guy shot another guy in the head and the guy who got shot went to jail?&rdquo
THE ORIGINAL CELLAR, a basement joint at the corner of Tenth and Main streets in downtown Fort Worth, was a beatnik coffeehouse, a trendy concept when it opened in 1959. By the time I was old enough to sneak out of the house, it had moved to a second-story walk-up three blocks from the Tarrant County courthouse, and no matter what the menu said, it was no longer serving just coffee, if you know what I mean. There were Cellars too in downtown Dallas (on Commerce Street, across from the KLIF building), in downtown Houston (in Market Square), and, briefly, near the River Walk in San Antonio, until officials of the area&rsquos five Air Force bases pressured it into closing.
For as long as they were in business &mdash last call in Fort Worth, Dallas, and Houston was 1972, 1972, and 1973, respectively &mdash the Cellars defined nightlife. They functioned as all-purpose hangouts with a hint of biker bar, semi-legit walks on the wild side that were as edgy as it got in Texas in the swinging sixties. The clientele they attracted would be considered retro hip today: low-grade hoodlums left over from the Jacksboro Highway Dixie Mafia, off-duty cops, ink-stained newspaper reporters, penny-ante hustlers and gamblers, and the occasional out-of-town celebrity, from tough-guy actor Lee Marvin to astronaut Alan Shepard.
To a fresh-faced sixteen-year-old looking for cheap thrills, no place was as deliciously threatening or as sinfully inviting. Walk in and there was no turning back. You&rsquod give your dollar to the ex-con working the register, slip into the smoky haze, and move instinctively toward the booming beats. Dark was a theme: The walls were painted black, except for the slogans painted in white letters (&ldquoEvil Spelled Backwards Is Live,&rdquo &ldquoYou Must Be Weird to Be Here&rdquo) the staff was dressed in black the interior lighting was pretty much a single red bulb hanging from the ceiling. Customers sat on large pillows on the floor. At one end of the room was a bandstand from which music blared until dawn. And it was dawn: The Cellar stayed open all night, winking at the law that said nightclubs had to close at midnight, because, you know, no liquor, beer, or wine was served, though I&rsquod have sworn I was getting a buzz from the fake rum and coke brought by the waitress wearing only a bra and panties &mdash at that point, the most exposed flesh I&rsquod ever seen close-up on a woman other than my mother.
I knew enough not to get too familiar. Behind every waitress was a bouncer, part of the burliest, surliest security crew enforcing the peace anywhere in Tarrant County, and he was eager to kick my skinny ass down the stairs if I gave him a reason. I wanted to stay, because on some nights, in the wee hours, a waitress might fling off her underwear in front of the bandstand, which, back in those days, was outside the law. My friends and I figured the owner really had some pull. We had no idea.
Among its other charms, the Cellar&rsquos all-night policy honed the chops of performers like Stevie, Dusty Hill of ZZ Top, guitar ace Bugs Henderson, a truly original street drummer and rapper named Cannibal Jones (who changed his name to Bongo Joe when he moved to San Antonio), John Denver, and comedian George Carlin, who perfected his &ldquoseven dirty words&rdquo shtick at the Fort Worth Cellar it also burnished the legends of characters like music director Johnny Carroll, a cult rockabilly star back in the fifties, and cats named Tiger, Tudy, and Hatchet, as well as a Beatles cover band called the Cellar Dwellers.
To keep the vibe going, Kirkwood laid down the law to his staff: &ldquoAll policemen, all reporters, all pretty girls, all musicians, all doctors, all lawyers, and all our personal friends come in free and get free drinks forever.&rdquo Now and again there were raids, but they were part of the show. Whenever the red light on the ceiling started flashing and the band shifted into the theme from the Mickey Mouse Club, it meant the cops were on their way. I always wondered if Kirkwood called them himself to keep customers entertained. He certainly was a self-promoter: To keep the Cellar and his own name in the news, he planned publicity stunts like the outdoor cookout at Trinity Park at which his staff was going to roast geese near the Duck Pond. &ldquoWe had to get arrested to get in the paper,&rdquo he says.
I remember him as an exceedingly polite and pleasant fellow, though there was also a less forgiving side to him. For all the hard-core types who thought of the Cellar as a second home, he was clear about the kind of people he wanted around. &ldquoNo troublemakers, no queers, no pimps, no blacks, no narcotics,&rdquo he says. &ldquoThose were the rules. If you did anything else strange, you were welcome.&rdquo Undesirables were discouraged by a sign posted at the door announcing a cover charge of $1,000. Most people were charged only a dollar, but whenever a black man walked up, the bouncer invoked the policy &mdash an unfortunate echo of Jim Crow.
I first reconnected with Kirkwood a year and a half ago in a trailer in the woods between Granbury and Glen Rose. It wasn&rsquot his place, he was quick to tell me it belonged to a friend, an independent oilman. His eyes were hidden behind mirrored sunglasses, and he was dressed from head to toe in black: guayabera shirt, dungarees, pointy-toed sharkskin Beatle boots. At first I didn&rsquot notice the fancy hand-tooled silver-plated .45 automatic pistol resting on the table within his arm&rsquos reach. &ldquoPop always said if you&rsquore going to marry a whore, it might as well be a pretty one,&rdquo he said, flashing a sweet-dimpled smile.
Pop was W. C. &ldquoPappy&rdquo Kirkwood, who operated the 2222 Club, a notorious and wholly illicit gambling casino, out of their house, a sprawling white stucco Spanish colonial mansion high on a bluff above the Jacksboro Highway. Its patrons were high rollers from all across Texas: wildcatters, pols, civic leaders. Sam Rayburn, the Speaker of the U.S. House, liked to sneak away from Bonham for a little excitement whenever he came home to visit his constituents. Pappy&rsquos wife, a trick rodeo rider named Fay Leberman, often entertained her close friend Dick Kleberg. Kirkwood recalls his father discreetly closing the gates whenever Nenetta Burton Carter, the wife of Amon Carter, the most powerful man in Fort Worth, hankered to play roulette with her girlfriends.
&ldquoMy daddy was a man of integrity,&rdquo Kirkwood rasped, swelling with pride. &ldquoHe appointed police chiefs, all kinds of things like that, because nobody down there could trust anybody. They&rsquod go to him and he&rsquod tell them the deal straight up. One time Mayor F. E. Deen called Pop and said, &lsquoBy nine o&rsquoclock this morning I&rsquove got to appoint a new chief of police. Who should I appoint?&rsquo He&rsquos asking a well-known gambler running a well-known gambling joint.&rdquo Kirkwood bent over and laughed hard.
&ldquoEvery year on Christmas Day,&rdquo he continued, &ldquoone of my chores was passing out gifts to cops. If they were &lsquoharness bulls&rsquo and wore regular uniforms, they got a bottle of whiskey. If they had stripes &mdash corporals, sergeants, whatever &mdash they got a turkey. If they had hardware &mdash captains, for instance &mdash they&rsquod get a ham. There&rsquod be twenty cars lined up. I&rsquod be running in the house, taking things out, back and forth. I thought it was hard, boring work. And then I got to thinking about it: Pop was introducing them to me. Boy, did that pay off a thousand times in the Cellar days.&rdquo Before burying him in 1983, Kirkwood slipped Pappy&rsquos favorite pair of dice into his pocket. &ldquoHe might run into a live one on the way,&rdquo he reasoned.
Kirkwood himself was a live one of a different sort &mdash a witness to history, it turned out. I had come to see him to talk about the Kennedy assassination, and he obliged by recalling Jack Ruby as &ldquoa Jewish wannabe hoodlum and speed freak who was like all the other joint owners from here to Casablanca&rdquo and &ldquoa pest who came to the Cellar on Saturday nights after his own place closed to hire away my waitresses.&rdquo He then confirmed that Lee Harvey Oswald had washed dishes at the San Antonio Cellar upon his return from Mexico during the middle two weeks of November 1963, which prompted him to conclude that there was no conspiracy. &ldquoThe mob is going to strand their hit man on the border, penniless, on the verge of doing his hit? I don&rsquot think so. Here&rsquos a guy who&rsquod kill the president so that everyone would know he existed. It was the dawn of the celebrity age. That&rsquos really about all there is to Oswald.&rdquo
He went into great detail about the circumstances that led seventeen off-duty Secret Service agents to drink at the Fort Worth Cellar until as late as five-thirty on the morning of November 22. The record remains unclear as to whether any of the president&rsquos protective detail had hangovers on that fateful day because after two week&rsquos worth of interrogation, Kirkwood finally sent the Secret Service away convinced that the club only served alcohol-flavored drinks, not the real thing. He neglected to tell them about the alcoholic &ldquospecials&rdquo given away to VIPs.
We talked of other things too, like his unsuccessful campaign for sheriff in Tarrant County in 1982 (he vowed to personally call on every criminal in Fort Worth and suggest they relocate to Dallas) and more recent escapades that were no less weird. By his own estimate, Kirkwood was involved in as many as 91 dope deals between 1988 and 1995, piloting small planes from Mexico to the U.S. on 29 missions, each time ratting out the smugglers to the feds. Just doing his part for the drug war, he explained. &ldquoI was asked in every [law enforcement] office what my motives were,&rdquo he said. &ldquoI replied that it is a chance to take advantage of rewards offered by the government, to be in Mexico, and to utilize skills acquired over the years.&rdquo One of those skills was flying he&rsquod been a student of the great American Airlines pilot Stormy Mangham.
Alas, his career as a double agent was relatively brief. After a series of runs for the FBI and U.S. Customs, he says, he was stiffed out of $4.2 million in fees and expenses he was promised for his services &mdash a claim generally supported by Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Mike Cochran, who sat in on dope deal discussions between Kirkwood and the feds. &ldquoThere&rsquos no honor anymore,&rdquo Kirkwood says, spewing out the words with disgust. &ldquoYou can&rsquot take a man at his word.&rdquo A source familiar with the back-and-forth has another theory: &ldquoYou can&rsquot go cowboying around and running up expenses without authorization.&rdquo
Whatever the case, Kirkwood could sure use the money he&rsquos nearly broke. Medical bills are still piling up from his wife&rsquos kidney transplant last year, and he has considerable bills of his own. Last summer he was diagnosed with acute adenocarcinoma, a type of lung cancer, and it has spread like wildfire. Doctors gave him a one in three chance of living two years. &ldquoThe best thing they can do,&rdquo he said, &ldquois extend my existence.&rdquo
The last party at the Green Oaks reinforces that inevitability, just as it affirms the existence of an institutional memory. One look at the helicopter flyboys, hot mamas, and vaguely recalled figures of all types in attendance and I realize what an exceptionally wild bunch the regulars were. And they are paying for it, judging by the bloated faces, cautious steps, endless talk of strokes and heart attacks, and old friends referenced in the past tense. There were also priceless encounters, such as the one involving two musicians who were reintroduced after many years. The first one shook hands genially with the second, but when the second was out of earshot, the first turned to me and said, &ldquoThat sumbitch stole my amp, and if it wasn&rsquot for Hatchet, I&rsquod have killed him.&rdquo Fortunately, bygones are bygones anyway, the amp thief is too emaciated to beat up now.
At around midnight, Arvel Stricklin, an unsung Fort Worth guitarist who has set up a Web site dedicated to Cellar lore (www.arvel.com), puts a CD on a boombox for mood music. It is The Cellar Tapes Volume One, and it features tracks culled from recordings made at the nightclub&rsquos Cowtown location. &ldquoSome blues, some rock, Johnny Carroll jumpin&rsquo in, some dancin&rsquo girls, and the ol&rsquo shuffle and you&rsquove got a buzz and it&rsquos too dark to see who, but they&rsquore playin&rsquo that jazz and it&rsquos gettin&rsquo late,&rdquo Stricklin says. The music fills in the blanks, and the room comes alive. The smoke, the red light, nightlife as it was meant to be: It all comes back, accompanied by belly laughs and shrill shrieks.
Some time after, with wild stories swirling in the air, a former bouncer who looks every bit of four hundred pounds in his giant overalls falls from his chair and passes out briefly, signaling my own last call. &ldquoWe have got to have one more next year,&rdquo Kirkwood says as I exit, positively beaming from having the time of his life (and a few glasses of whiskey). &ldquoAnd if I&rsquom not there, go ahead and start without me.&rdquo