Firemen Go to
Not Recently, No,
Back in the Early
Pat Phelan Talks
Many Years Tells of
By W. S. ADAIR
F. P. (Pat)
Phelan, 1609 Chestnut street, charter member and ex-president
of the National Stationary Engineers' Association, settled in
Dallas in 1874, became engineer of the Dallas waterworks, put
in operation in 1875, and has been employed in that capacity,
practically ever since.
"I was born in St. Louis and
learned my trade in the machine shops of my father, William Phelan,
in St. Louis, Eldora, Iowa, and Peoria, Ill.," he said.
"When the Texas & Pacific Railroad established
shops at Marshall in 1873, father was made foreman of the boiler
makers' department. In 1874, he resigned to establish shops
of his own at Dallas, which was just beginning to urge a claim
to a position on the map.
"Father wrote me to join him
in Dallas, saying he would make me a member of the firm. The
Katy had just been completed to Denison, where it connected with
the Houston & Texas Central. At that time, the Katy did not
run a flyer which could negotiate the distance between Dallas
and St. Louis in something like twenty hours. The roadbed
was bad and the rolling stock really belonged in the junkyard.
Trains moved at a pace that afforded passengers a fine
opportunity to view the natural scenery along the route. We
left St. Louis on Friday and reached Dallas on Thursday of the
following week. I would not be understood as trying to
knock the Katy, for what I have said of the Katy was true of
all the railroads in this part of the country at that time --
except that some of them were in a worse plight.
Fire Station Burns.
"I found Dallas on what we
called, in those days, a boom, which started with the arrival
of the Houston & Texas Central in 1872, and took a new spurt
when the Texas & Pacific came the following year. The streets
were jammed with pedestrians and wagons. There was employment
for every one who was not afraid to soil his hands. No
business houses closed earlier than 11 p. m., and some of them
never closed. The San Jacinto House, on the northeast corner
of Commerce and Austin streets, now The Dallas News block, was
the leading hotel, and the St. Charles, on the southeast corner
of Commerce and Jefferson streets; the William Tell House, on
the northwest corner of Commerce and Market streets, and the
Crutchfield House, on the north side of Main, west of Houston,
ranked next. Jim Carey had a blacksmith shop at Main and
Market streets. The Walhalla Saloon, a palatial establishment
of its kind, for the time and place, adorned the northeast corner
of Commerce and Market streets, and was operated by Charlie Cagel.
Apollo Hall, at the northwest corner
of Main and Poydras streets, was the last brick building on Main
street, as one went east from the courthouse. With Leopold
Bohny as proprietor, Apollo Hall was long the leading retail
beer establishment of the city. The lot on the southwest
corner of Main and Poydras streets was occupied by John Angus'
machine shop. The fire station was on the north side of
Commerce street, next door to the Methodist Church, which was
where the Gaston building now stands.
"One morning, the firemen
stepped over to Main street to view a circus parade. While
they were gone, fire, starting in the hay loft of the engine
house, destroyed both the fire station and the church.
"The block on the south side
of Commerce street, between Lamar and Poydras, made up Col. John
C. McCoy's yard and garden. He lived in a white house in
the middle of the block. The first steam laundry established
in North Texas occupied the southeast corner of Poydras and Commerce
streets. Mr. Kilthau was the proprietor. Turner Hall,
on the creek in the rear of the lot now owned by the Padgitt
Company, was the outstanding improvement on the lot. My
recollection is that the south half of the block was used as
a mule lot by one of the transfer companies.
Monster Ox Wagon.
"The courthouse was a small
two-story stone structure with a cupola. It was destroyed
by fire late in the '70s, and a larger and better building, with
which it was replaced, also burned ten years after the first
one. The State convention of the Odd Fellows was in session
here on both occasions.
"In 1874, Dallas had two lines
of street railway. The line on Main street extended from
the courthouse to Central avenue, and the line on Ervay street,
from Main street at the postoffice, to St. Louis street. The
cars were small and the mules that pulled them still smaller.
They were slow and were irregular, and I have since often
wondered that people fooled away any time trying to get anywhere
on them, for almost any one could outwalk them. Dallas
also had two steam railroads, the Houston & Texas Central,
and the Texas & Pacific, and work on the Dallas & Wichita,
now the Wichita Falls branch of the Katy, had just started. Dallas
was the biggest cotton market in North Texas. The Texas
& Pacific compress, at Pacific avenue and Lamar street, ginned
40,000 bales the first year, the season of 1873-74. Elm
street was crowded with cotton wagons. The big buyers were
Levi Brothers and Levi Craft. This was before the days
of cotton palaces, but, by way of advertising Dallas as the leading
cotton market, the merchants put on a cotton parade, the feature
of which, was a huge ox wagon, composed of two or three floats
coupled together, loaded almost to the sky with cotton bales
and drawn by forty yoke of oxen.
First Machine Shop.
"We set up as machinists,
boilermakers and founders, under the firm name of Phelan &
Son, at Ross avenue and Orange street, in 1874. Ours was
the first shop of the kind in this part of the country. We
had no local competition until Loomis, Hoffman & Garside,
of New Orleans, established iron works at Ross avenue and Magnolia
street in 1877. Our shop ran until 1887. A company
was organized in 1874 to supply Dallas with water. W. C.
Connor was president and general manager of it. The engineers
of the time assured the company that Browder Springs, at the
City Park, could be depended on as a source of water. The
contract to place the pump, and the rest of the machinery, was
let to a Mr. Daniels of Louisville, Ky. The contract called
for one pump and one boiler, sixteen miles of mains, and fifteen
fire plugs, with a standpipe at Main and Harwood streets, where
the municipal building now is. The maximum pressure in
the mains was fifty-five pounds. When this pressure was
augmented by the power of Old Tige, the fire engine, the firemen
could easily throw a stream over the highest building in town.
Before the waterworks were put in operation, the town depended
on underground cisterns at the street crossings for water with
which to fight fires. The firemen were volunteers, with
W. C. Connor as chief.
"I went to work as engineer
at the waterworks in 1875 at Browder Springs. But, the
city began to grow, and Browder Springs was not equal to the
demand. The city took over the waterworks, dammed Turtle
Creek, and put in two large pumps. In time, more water
than Turtle Creek could supply, was needed, and then, the city
began to pump from Record Crossing, using the Turtle Creek dam
as a reservoir. While J. M. Bassett was chief engineer
of the waterworks, I was assistant engineer. I was connected
as engineer with the department, twenty-seven years, on this
side of the river, and two years at the Oak Cliff branch. I
was forced by failing health, to give up my position, in May
of this year.
- December 4, 1927,
The Dallas Morning News,
"For many years, the streets
were lighted by artificial gas. The gas plant was a short
distance west of the Katy freight depot. The rising ground
on which it was located was known as Gas Hill, a populous negro
settlement. The first electric light plant was also established
in that quarter of the city. W. C. Connor was at the head
of the electric light plant, too. Another industry over
that way was the sawmill established by Harry Brothers to cut
the Bois d'Arc blocks for the first pavement put down in Dallas.
Harry Brothers had the contract to saw the blocks, and
Lang & Radigan, the contract to do the paving. The
contract to fell the trees, dress the trunks and deliver the
timbers at the mill went to a third firm, now unknown to me.
The first street to undergo improvements was Elm, and never
was there a roadbed in more crying need of attention, for it
was a bog in wet weather, and a heap of easily stirred dust in
"Some of the early day merchants
were Sanger Bros., who occupied a very small part of the block
it now takes to accommodate their establishment; Schneider &
Davis, wholesale grocers; Wallace & Waggener, wholesale and
retail grocers; Thompson Bros., Fee Bros., I. Goldsmith, Israelsky
and C. M. Wheat, dry goods. Adams & Leonard and Flippen,
Adoue & Lobit were the leading bankers.
"In the summer of 1882 or
1883, we had a hailstorm that did much damage. A photographer
named Freeman had just completed a glass studio on Austin street,
between Elm street and Pacific avenue. When the storm was
over, he was without a glass to look through. The rattling
hail also wrecked a corrugated iron skating rink Harry Brothers
were putting the finishing touches to on Elm street, about Preston.
We bought the damaged iron, and with it, built a machine
shop on Orange street.
"I have seen Dallas, the State
Fair of Texas, and The Dallas News, develop from small beginnings,
into what they are today. I was here in 1875, when father
was offered a lot, 125x175 feet on the northeast corner of Commerce
and Ervay street, where the Federal Building now is, for $1,500,
and in 1882, when he was offered the lot on the southwest corner
of Camp and Griffin streets for $1,500. This lot extended
from Camp street to the wall of the present Texas & Pacific
Building. But, as there were just as good offers all over
town, neither father, nor anyone else, snapped them up when they
encountered them in their daily rounds."
Insurance Section, p. 5, col. 1.
- o o o -