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 When Lots and Lumber Were Cheap.
Old Pleasure Garden at Head of Stone
Street--Adventure of Roxy Clements;
Kerosene Lamps Were Used as Illumi-
nants in Homes and Stores -- When
Dallasites Had Never Heard of Things
Now Considered Essential to Life and


    "The first night I arrived in Dallas, March 24, 1879, I bought a sack of tobacco from John and Powell Yeargan, who had a fruit and confectionery stand on the northeast corner of Main and Lamar streets, and on the same side of the street, up toward Elm street, S. A. Stewart, afterward connected with the postoffice for many years, had a similar stand," said R. E. Best, Sr.  "As I walked east on Main street, I could hear, called out, the numbers of keno games in the gambling halls occupying the second floors of the buildings on the south side of the street, east of Poydras, with an occasional interruption, when some soul was made happy by having covered five numbers in a row across the card.
    "I had been warned that I was coming to a wild town, and it certainly looked the part.  Everything was wide open all day and night.  The gamblers had retreated to the second floors, indeed, but had surrendered nothing else.  From the number of men and boys crowding about the various games and putting their money on them, it was not unreasonable to conclude that the gamblers were filling a real need in the community.  It was the same with the saloons, which were located only a few doors apart, along the street, and, from a hasty glance into them, it would have been difficult to tell which was the most popular or carried the best stock, for, in all of them, the bartenders were as busy as cranberry merchants, with a long waiting list, at that.
    "Lower down the street, the other side of life was in evidence.  The young people of the town were having a dance in Lively Hall, which was on the second floor of Work's livery stable, on the north side of Main street, just west of Murphy.  This was the only entertainment I found that night, that was not open to strangers without credentials.  At that time, and for long afterward, most, or all, the social events and functions were pulled off in Lively hall.

Unbounded Hospitality.
    "The hospitality of the town, I mean that part of the town that was open to a stranger, was high above criticism.  The people everywhere met you like a long-lost brother.  Of course, it was a mere burlesque on the genuine article, but, it had all the charm of fine burlesque and admirably served its purpose.  I have always noticed, that even in the lowest sinks of iniquity, the good, in order to get by at all.  The gambler wants all to know that he will stand for no crookedness.  The bandit who holds up a train, robbing men, women and children, desires to go down in history as one who would take no unfair advantage, and who was ever ready to help those in distress.
    "On the 3d day of March, I learned that Schneider & Davis conducted a wholesale grocery on the southwest corner of Elm and Lamar streets.  Next door, on the west, was Sanger Bros. store, 50x100 feet, I think.  Then came Dave [Goslin's] china hall, Bob Ogden's grocery, W. A. Rogers' hardware store, and on the corner, Israelsky's dry goods store.  I found the postoffice in a one-story building on the north side of Main street, where the Criminal Courts Building stands, and next door, was Gaston & Thomas bank.  W. M. C. Hill's retail grocery was on the northwest corner of Main and Jefferson and L. Wagners' grocery, where it still is, on the diagonal corner. Retail stores, separated by saloons, ran all around the courthouse square.  The town was full of bachelors, who had come West to grow up with the country, and many of them occupied rooms on the second floors of these stores, and there, every night, fought many swift rounds with the mosquitoes, which swarmed up from the river bottom like bees.  I have often thought it was a good thing that we did not, at that time, know that mosquitoes vaccinated their victims with malaria, for there were no screens for doors and windows, and mosquitoes came and went as they pleased.  Everybody had malaria most all the year round, but attributed the malady to the excessive use of whisky and beer.

Postoffice on Wheels.
    "Since those days, the postoffice has wandered about considerably, trying to find the center of the town, and is still wandering.  First, it moved to the Linz Building block, which was thought to be the very place for all time to come.  Next, it went to Elm and Akard, and after an uneasy, tentative move or two in that vicinity, like a homing pigeon seeking its orientation, it took another flight, settling down this time in what was thought, for sure, to be its permanent home, in a building of its very own, at Main and Ervay.  But, it seems it is soon to move again to the new Federal Building on Bryan street, between Ervay and Masten.
    "When I called for my first letter, I think one man did all the work in the postoffice, for every man was his own letters carrier in those days.  Now, the postoffice gives employment to a considerable army of men and women.  But, the growth of the postoffice is nothing but the accurate marker of the growth of the population and business of the town.  The postoffice could not grow faster than the business, and was obliged to keep pace with it.  So, in talking about the growth of the postoffice, I have, at the same time, been telling about the development of the trade and commerce of the city.  The whole thing seems like a dream to me as I go back in memory over the intervening forty-three years, and, it must seem so to most others, to those who have spent their time in chasing the dollar, as well as to those who have had their minds chiefly on getting rid of the dollars that came their way, for our population is made up of both kinds.

Roxy Clements.
    "For long, Mayer's Garden, on the north side of Elm street, at the head of Stone street, was the popular resort, where every one about town went a least once every night.  I remember a bunch headed by Roxy Clements, one night, visited the garden and set things to going. Some one of the opposite party hung a chair on Roxy's head and he ran out with chair still hanging.  At the exit, he was met by J. C. Arnold, of the police department, who asked what was the matter. "Oh, nothing!" replied Roxy, 'just moving a beer garden,' as he extricated his head and neck from the piece of furniture.  Roxy was an early day character about town, who afterward, joined Pinkerton's detective forces.
    "When you walked down Main street to Akard, and back on Elm, you had made the circuit of the town.  There was a dim street lamp here and there to guide you along the dusty or muddy streets.  People still depended on kerosene lamps to illuminate their homes.  It was not far to anybody's house in town.
    "If the present-day Dallasite could visit such a town as Dallas was, in 1879, he would wonder how people managed to support life in such a hole, and would take the next train out.  But, there was no such town on the planet then as Dallas is today.  It is true we did without many things that are now considered essential to ordinary comfort, but we never had heard of them, and did not feel the privation.  We had next to no ice, the water was bad, very bad, the streets were muddy or dusty, and full of inequalities; there were no great accumulations of capital, and the people were more on an equality; and, I am inclined to think, friendships were more genuine.

Modern Innovation.
    "Lots and lumber were cheap, and most anybody could acquire a home when they grew weary of paying cheap rents, or, when the landlord refused to stop the leaks in the roof.  Groceries, meat and vegetables were cheap.  You could get a meal ticket that would punch for a whole week, for about half what one or two square meals cost now.  You could buy a swell suit of clothes for $15 or $18, and a hat and pair of shoes for $2.50 or $3 each.  But, strange to say, people did not dress up as they do now.  Sunday was the day for airing one's good clothes.  This thing of going about all week, and actually working with your Sunday clothes on, is purely a modern innovation, and without the shadow of a precedent in the good old days."
    Robert E. Best, Sr., 3326 Newman avenue, as the reader has, no doubt, already guessed, was born in Ireland.  He arrived in the United States the year the centennial anniversary was celebrated at Philadelphia, and, as he says, gravitated to the most favored spot in this experimental democracy, though, he was three years in finding it. He has been engaged in various pursuits, but, has put in the greater part of the forty-three years as a traveling salesman, and, still is at it, covering a wide territory.  The first people he met here became his friends, and everyone he has met since, has joined the original nucleus.

- July 30, 1922, The Dallas Morning News,
Magazine Section, p. 4, col. 1.
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