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
BY W. S. ADAIR
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.
"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.
"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
- July 30, 1922, The
Dallas Morning News,
"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.
Magazine Section, p. 4, col. 1.
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