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Dallas Experienced Booms
and Slumps During Early
Railroad Building Days

By W. S. ADAIR

     "Texas had a bad name in the North and East, and Dallas was far from inviting as a place of residence when I came to the State, early in the '70s," said W. H. Dana, 1626 Allen Building.  "The Houston & Texas Central Railroad had been completed to a connection with the Katy at Denison, and the Texas & Pacific to Eagle Ford.  Persons coming from, or going to points not reached by these railroads made their way on horseback, in wagons, on foot, or by stage, just as they had been accustomed to do of old.  Farmers had begun, here and there, to stir the ground, but the country, in all directions, was still open range, where cattle flourished on the luxuriant native grasses, and whence, when matured, they were shipped by rail, or were moved on foot to the northern markets.
     "Eagle Ford, which, they say, took its name from the fact that a pair of eagles, for many years, nested in the top of a tall tree on the bank of the river at the crossing near the town, was the nearest shipping point for the cattlemen of the West for the gathering of buffalo hides.  It had everything that any wild-West town had, and, was a hummer, until the Texas & Pacific resumed construction, after the financial panic of 1873, and pushed the terminus to Fort Worth.  By the time construction had reached Arlington, Eagle Ford was dead as a doornail.  The population deserted, the merchants having no trade, moved their stocks, and many of the more substantial buildings were pulled down, and the lumber in them, was hauled to Dallas or Fort Worth to go into other buildings.  Then, Fort Worth, known as Cowtown, took over a great share of the wagon trade that Dallas had been enjoying, and began to put on the airs of a rising town.

Dallas as a Hurrah Town.
     "While Eagle Ford was the terminus, Dallas was the livest [liveliest] business point in the Southwest.  I do not know accurately what the population was, but it could not have been more than 4,000 or 5,000, counting the floating element, always large in such settlements.  The people had hastily assembled here with a view of getting hold of what money they could, while the place was a terminal point, and, when the bottom fell out, of moving to the next best place.  The result was, that up to that time, nothing in the way of public improvements was attempted.  The business district was confined to the courthouse square and to Main and Elm streets, to about Poydras on Main, and perhaps Murphy on Elm.  The streets, dust heaps in dry weather, and mud holes in west, and lighted at night by half a dozen or such, a matter of small gas lamps, were always jammed with wagons, which came in loaded with buffalo and cow hides, and cotton and wheat, and went out loaded with groceries, whisky and other supplies, and lumber.  The lion's share of the prosperity went to the wagonyards and the lumberyards.  The sawmills of East Texas could not keep the lumberyards in stock.  The entire West seemed to be on a wild building boom.
     "For some years after the Civil War, the people of the Southwest would have nothing to do with bank notes --- because they suggested Confederate money, which was still plentiful and worthless.  They demanded silver and gold.  Lumber haulers often brought to town with them, in shot bags tied to the hounds of their wagons, the coin with which to pay for their cargoes.  There were no petty highjackers in those days.  The pioneer bandit, being closer to the influences of chivalry, respected the struggling little fellow, and directed his operations against banks, express companies and railroads, which, he suspected, could easily repair the damage.

Turned Their Money Loose.
     "There were no very rich people in Dallas, nor, did it require much capital to operate.  Business was so brisk that every merchant sold his stock as fast as he could get it, and thus, turned his money over many times during the year, and every dollar in town was in swift circulation, suggesting the coin tricks of the sleight-of-hand showman.  Some of the larger merchants were Sanger Bros., Fee Brothers, Thompson Brothers, E. M. Kahn, C. M. Wheat, Jack Friedlander, L. Goldsmith, E. Bauman, dry goods and clothing; Padgitt Brothers and G. H. Schoellkopf, saddles and harness; Schneider & Davis, T. L. Marsalis, Wallace & Wagner and B. M. Bond & Brother, wholesale grocers; W. A. Rodgers and Huey & Philp, hardware; R. V. Tompkins, Stone & Keating and Bowser & Lemmon, farm implements and machinery.  The only one of the pioneer retail grocery concerns that has continued, is that of L. Wagner, southeast corner of Main and Jefferson streets.  Mr. Wagner's sons, who succeeded him, are still operating at the old stand.
     "The best drinking water was such as shallow wells afforded, and there were not more than a dozen bath tubs in town, but everybody who wanted a job, had one, and living was cheap.  A couple of struggling young men could rent a room over a store on the courthouse square for $1 a month, and could get first-rate table board for $3 a week. As good a suit of clothes as most of them wore could be had for $10, a pair of shoes for $2, a hat for $1.50, and a shirt for 50¢.  At any one of a dozen saloons, a liberal beef, pork, or fish sandwich went with a 5¢ schooner of beer, and in some saloons, the purchaser had the privilege of listening to the orchestra play while he was getting on the outside of his lunch.  There were places where any one who felt that he was lucky, could, at any hour of the day or night, try his hand at faro, roulette, keno, or most any other game; or, at less risk, invest $1 in the Louisiana lottery and stand a chance of winning $15,000.  Some old men I meet in my rounds still refer to those days as the 'Good old times.'  But, in one respect, at least we were in advance of today -- we had every year, a series of the finest dramatic performances the world has known, first in the Field Opera House on Main street, and later in Craddock's Opera House, on the second floor of the northwest corner of Main and Austin streets.

Some Ups and Downs.
     "When the Texas & Pacific Railroad was completed to Fort Worth, the floating population and many business concerns of Dallas joined in the wild rush for the new terminal, just as certain birds migrate when the seasons change, and as the herds and flocks on the plains move to what looks to them like the best grazing.  Dallas lost, both in trade and population, and was, for a time, visibly declining.  Many were decidedly of [the] opinion that the place had seen its best days.  For several years, there was no building, and the old architecture began to take on the weather-beaten, and slightly mossy, aspect of stagnant towns.  But, the men who had staked their all here, were not to be discouraged by the first whiff of adversity.  All the time, they were reaching out for trade, pulling for more railroads.  The fruits of their labors began to appear by 1884, and not long thereafter, all kinds of good things for the town began to break.  Railroads were under construction, or had been projected in two or three directions; several new additions to the town had been opened.  The Dallas News had started, and the State Fair was launched.
     "In fact, the boom was on.  Additions were opened on all sides, and the old street railway lines extended to them, or new lines built. Larger and better buildings sprang up like magic in the business district.  People, money, and business concerns poured in, kicking up the stir of an oil town.  Real estate steadily advanced from day to day.  It was impossible to convince a man who had bought a lot, day before yesterday for $250, and sold it today for $500, that he could not reasonably expect that sort of thing would go on forever.  And, that was precisely the trouble.  A man who had $1,000, would buy four lots at $1,000 each, and pay $250 down on each, in the belief that before the end of the week, he could sell for $1,000 cash.  For a time, his calculations tallied with the outcome.  When that happened, he would buy sixteen lots, and quote himself as worth $16,000. It is easy to see where everybody landed when the crash came."

Cigarette Trade.
     "I came to Texas from Rochester, N. Y., as the Southwestern agent of a big cigarette concern.  My territory was Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Indian Territory, with headquarters at Dallas.  Cigar-smoking is not a strictly modern luxury or vice, whichever you may choose to call it, as you may know, from the records of my office, I received and distributed advertising matter by the carload, and had twenty-five traveling salesmen on the road, whose orders were filled through the wholesale grocery houses of my territory.  Many of our best customers were in inland towns, and reached only by hard riding, on horseback, in buggies or stages, and the hotels were, as a rule, not so appointed as to make one hurry up in order to take his [egg?] in them.  In fact, the traveling salesman's lot was not, aside from the money in it, calculated to excite the envy of persons wishing to mix the comforts of life with the struggle for existence.  Our business grew as the population increased and the towns multiplied.  Then, two of the big cigarette concerns combined, and business doubled.  Later, a third manufacturer joined the two, and then a fourth, and so on, until the cigarette output of the entire country was under one management.  This arrangement made it possible to handle the business with fewer and fewer traveling salesmen as the number of houses dwindled, and, since the radio has come into general use, the combined industry, I am told, makes [it possible] to get along fairly well without keeping any men at all on the road."

- September 27, 1931, The Dallas Morning News,
Section IV, p. 1, col. 1-2; cont. on p. 4, col. 5-8.
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