Search billions of records on Ancestry.com
   
To Dallas County Archives main page
To list of published Wm. Adair columns, 1920-1925, 1926-1933
To list of transcribed Wm. Adair columns

When Dallas Was a Crude,
Big Town

BY W. S. ADAIR

     "Dallas was little more than a crude big town when I arrived here in October, 1880," said Dean S. Arnold, captain of the police department.
     The business district of Dallas was confined to Main and Elm streets, west of Akard, while the business part of East Dallas consisted of a group of stores and shops on Elm street and Central avenue at the Union Depot.  Main and Elm streets, between Ervay street and East Dallas, were residence streets.  On Commerce street, dwellings extended as far west as Akard street.  Akard street (then Sycamore), was a residence street from Pacific avenue north, and from Commerce, south.  There were still unoccupied lots in almost every block.  The streets were simply roads, which became next to impassable in rainy weather.  There were not even crossings for pedestrians, with the result that one often had to walk several blocks before one could find a place where the mud was shallow enough to be forded.

Dallas in 1880.
     "People rode horses in those days, instead of automobiles, as now, and hitched their horses to racks, or rings, along the sidewalk, thus, giving the streets the appearance of livery stables or wagon yards.  Small gas lamps had been put up in the business district, but the illumination was darkness, compared with what we think of as street illumination now.  There were three street railway lines on Main street, from the courthouse to the Central Railroad crossing; on Ervay street, from Main to St. Louis street, and on San Jacinto street, to Shadyview Park, three or four blocks east of the Central Railroad. Shadyview was a new park, which was taking precedence [over] Long's Lake, the popular pleasure resort, in its day.  There were, however, several notable gatherings and events at Long's Lake after I came, among them the Confederate reunion, in 1882 or 1883.  The reunion continued several days and was attended by thousands. Forty years ago, Civil War veterans were more numerous than they are now.

Early Day Parks.
     "One of the great gatherings at Shadyview in the early '80s was the reunion of the Mexican War veterans, who were still living in large numbers, and who liked to assemble and rehearse the events of the war of Texas' independence.  I imagine there are few of those old soldiers living today.

Bois d'Arc Pavement.
     "In early days, Dallas was not only without drainage, but was also without window and door screens as protection against the clouds of mosquitoes which had such exceptional opportunities for multiplying. It must be a fact that mosquitoes carry malaria, for almost everybody had malaria before the days of window and door screens, whereas, almost all seemed to be immune against it after screens came into general use.  There was not a foot of paving in Dallas until the time of the administration of Mayor W. L. Cabell, in 1884, when Elm street was paved with bois d'arc blocks from Lamar street to the Union Depot.  Bois d'arc proved unsatisfactory as paving material, but I think this was because the blocks were not given a fair chance.  The pavement was scarcely completed, before the city began to tear it up here and there in order to put down water, sewer and gas pipes and the workmen always replaced the blocks so carelessly, as to leave a rough place.  I believe, that if the blocks had been left as they were at first places, we should have had a smooth pavement till the end of time.  Up to 1884, the city was little better off in sidewalks, than in streets.  But, after the city began to pave the streets, the people began to put down sidewalks.

Record Hailstorm.
     In May, 1882, came the great hailstorm which broke the window panes on the north side of houses in the business district, caused horses to snap their hitch reins and to stampede, knocked people down, and, in the country, damaged orchards and crops and killed birds, rabbits and chickens.  Some of the hailstones were large as a baseball.  Another early day disaster that impressed me was the fire, which, starting in the big compress on the north side of Pacific avenue, between Lamar and Austin, destroyed that structure, together with a great quantity of cotton on the platform, and, spreading to houses on the north side, burned the electric light and power plant on the northwest corner of Ross avenue and Lamar street and the dwellings and outhouses on the same block, and on the block beyond.  A high wind from the southeast prevented the firemen from stopping the conflagration.  This fire occurred in 1883 or 1884.  The compress was never rebuilt.

Old Generation Passes Away.
     "It does not seem to me that I have been in Dallas very long, but most of the people I associated with, or saw about town for several years after my arrival, are no longer here.  Of the score or more of doctors then in the practice, Dr. Graham is the only one, so far as I know, who is still alive.  Of the numerous company of lawyers, Judge C. F. Clint and Judge Robert B. Seay, alone, are still active members of the bar.  The houses established by many of the pioneer merchants are still growing, but of the individual merchants, only two -- Alex Sanger and Leon Kahn, are left.  E. G. (Ed) Cornwell, who was born in the city sixty-eight years ago, and who has continuously lived here, is, so far as I can find out, the oldest inhabitant, though, there are perhaps older natives of the county living in the city.  According to my experience and observation in Dallas, the active life of business and professional men falls somewhat short of forty years.

Old County Jail.
     "I was born at Social Circle, Ga., and spent my boyhood days near Madison, in that State.  My father, William B. Arnold, had fourteen children, the last seven of whom were, by the war, deprived of the opportunity of even an elementary education.  In 1881, Sheriff Ben Jones made me a deputy and set me to guarding prisoners.  The jail at that time was a little two-story brick structure, on the west side of Houston street, at the north end of the Union Passenger Station. There were, in it, two cells with soft brick walls, through which, a prisoner could easily cut a passage in a few minutes with an ordinary pocketknife.  To prevent them from doing this, it was necessary to keep three guards on watch all the time.  The new jail, on the same lot, was completed in 1882.  This was equipped with chilled-steel cages, the manufacturers of which, offered a reward of $1,000, to any prisoner who could actually cut his way out of one of these cages
[there appears to be some missing text here] in the Waxahachie jail, but failed to make his escape.  He was brought to Dallas for safekeeping and here he was making good headway toward liberty when he was discovered and manacled.

Convicts at Road Work.
     "I had charge of the first gang of county convicts that worked a public road in the county. They were used to cut a road though the timber of the river bottom, from the west end of the Commerce street bridge, to a connection with the Lancaster road, now Lancaster avenue, a distance of about one mile.  Col. E. G. Bower was County Judge at the time (1885) and W. H. W. Smith, Sheriff.  After leaving the sheriff's department, I served as special officer for the Houston & Texas Central and Texas & Pacific Railroads at Dallas, until I joined the police force (Dec. 31, 1886).  James C. Arnold was chief of police and E. G. Cornwell, assistant chief.  The force consisted of twenty-two men, not one of whom is now connected with the department.  The City Hall was then on the second floor of the building on the northwest corner of Commerce and Lamar streets, now included in the News Building, and the fire station was on the ground floor.  The city jail, or calaboose, as we then called it, was on a lot facing Commerce street, at the west end of the original Adolphus Hotel Building.  It was a little frame building, with three wooden cells, with an office and place for the station keeper's cot in front.  The stock pound was between the jail and Akard street.

Old Calaboose.
     "I was assigned to duty on the police force as jailer, and I was supposed to be on duty twenty-four hours out of the day, for I [had] no assistant until 1888.  The city bought the first patrol wagon in 1888.  It was open-top vehicle, and for that reason, it was unpopular, since it made a public exhibition of every person arrested, no matter how slight the offense.  Two teams, a driver and two guards went with the wagon, which was generally known as the 'hoodlum' wagon."
     Without the loss of a single day, Capt. Arnold has been connected with the police force since Dec. 31, 1886.  He has served as patrolman, mounted officer, in the detective department, acting clerk of the City Court and as captain of the force, in which latter capacity, he, for three or four years, ranked next to the chief.  He is still captain, in charge of the courtroom, the jail, warrant officers, station keepers, wagon drivers, and of the books and finances of the court.

- February 10, 1924, The Dallas Morning News,
Magazine Section, p. 6
- o o o -