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

Firemen Go to
Circus, Dallas
Church Burns


Not Recently, No, It Was
Back in the Early


Pat Phelan Talks

Waterworks Expert for
Many Years Tells of
Old Days.


     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.

Old-Time Hailstorm.
     "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 dry.
     "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."

- December 4, 1927, The Dallas Morning News,
Insurance Section, p. 5, col. 1.
- o o o -