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Forty-Six Years Ago in Dallas

BY W. S. ADAIR

    "The Dallas of 1877 gave but little promise of the Dallas of 1923," said Milton Hickox, who has just returned to the city after an absence of twelve years.  "When I arrived in Texas, forty-six years ago, Fort Worth was the terminus of the Texas & Pacific Railroad.  I looked the terminal town over, but liked Dallas better.  At that time, the business district of Dallas may be said to have extended down Main and Elm streets as far as Akard street, though, as I remember, not a single one of the blocks was solidly built up.  There were vacant lots all along both sides of both streets, and in some localities, several such lots together.  The buildings thinned out more and more toward Akard street.  The business houses were, as a rule, one-story structures. With the exception of the hotels, there were not more than two or three three-story buildings in town.
    "There was not a foot of paved street.  Such effort as had been put forth to improve the streets had not gone beyond sidewalks.  Here and there in the business district, there was a board sidewalk, and in the residence sections, an occasional piece of gravel or cinders walk. When it rained, there was no getting about.  At night, gas lamps dimly showed one the way in the business district, but those having occasion to venture abroad after nightfall in the outlying parts of the town, either carried lanterns, or depended upon the light of the moon and stars.

Good Street Car Service.
    "Dallas was not on a boom when I arrived.  The rush following the coming of the railroads had slowed down, and many were of opinion that the town had seen its best days.  There were vacant business houses and vacant dwellings, and no buildings under construction. Real estate was to be had almost at the purchaser's own figures.  My friend, S. C. Hargis, then agent of the Texas Express Company, tried his best to induce me to purchase the block now partly occupied by the Carnegie Library and the Y. M. C. A. Buildings.  The block was offered at $800, and my friend Hargis knew I had the money.  He told me that if I would make the purchase and hold the property, it would some day make me rich, but he was not convincing. That was late in 1877 or early in 1878.
    "The old choice residence section of the town, I was told, had been west of Ross avenue and south of Orange street.
    "But with the influx of the railroads, [which] came in 1872 and 1873, a new addition, known as the Cedars, had been opened.  It extended from Commerce street to St. Louis street, and from Akard to Ervay.  The new addition was distinguished by finer residences than the old swell quarter could show, and it, accordingly, soon took precedence.  There were three lines of street railway -- on Main street, San Jacinto street and Ervay street.  The cars were drawn each by two little mules, and were run without regularity.  Patrons did not, as now, assemble at the street crossings to board the cars, but stepped out in front of their houses and flagged the cars.  Equal courtesy was shown disembarking passengers.  The cars, thus, ran up to the very door of every family living on the streets traversed by them.

Dallas Forty-Six Years Ago.
    "Window and door screens had not been heard of, and flies, mosquitoes and other insects had things all their own way.  For [a] long [time], the only ice coming into the country was that brought with shipments of beer.  There was very little more of it than the saloons could consume.  For the bulk of the population, well or spring water was the coolest drink to be had, and the leeward side of an electric fan was out of the question, for the fan itself, did not exist.  The first partial supply of ice came when Tom Randolph started an ice factory at Sherman, and began to let Dallas have part of his output, at 10¢ a pound.  This must have been the first ice factory in North Texas.  I do not remember the year it started.  The Dallas Gas Company had a plant in operation when I came, but kerosene lamps were still in general use.  The gas plant was near the old Katy freight house, and the only patch of shade for some distance around was that cast by the gas tank.  Peter de Mille was in charge of the plant.  He was bookkeeper, meter reader, collector and all-round man.  He was a bachelor, and lived in a small room in the rear of the little brick shack of an office, in which he discharged his multifarious duties.  All old-timers will pleasantly remember Pete de Mille.

Kerosene Lamps.
    "My first job in Dallas was in the drug store of George T. Atkins. Other drug stores at that time were those of W. H. Patterson, Hoyt & Coffin, Gayle & Bright, Williams & Tolliver, and Connor & Walker.  The seventh was opened by Jeff House and myself, under the firm name of Hickox & House.  Connor & Walker were the first to wholesale drugs in Dallas.  Hickox & House brought the first soda water fountain to town. Druggists in those days did not handle so many sundries as druggists now handle.  But, they had a big trade in kerosene, kerosene lamps and lamp chimneys, wicks and shades.  Our store was illuminated by a chandelier of five lamps suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the store.  The chandelier was lowered and hoisted by a ratchet. Kerosene lamps always leaked or perspired.  On the floor, under the chandelier, there was an oily circle a yard in circumference to be avoided.  Kerosene lamps, like mules, could not be depended upon; they had a way of exploding, and, always, of course, when least expected.  With a view of reducing explosions to the minimum, the city maintained the office of oil inspector.  It was the inspector's business to test the oil stocks in the city.  The test was the degree of heat at which the oil would flash when the flame of a match was applied to the surface of it in an open vessel.  Oil that would not stand the test was condemned and the owner forbidden to sell it.  The oil inspector, who felt that his office would last as long as the earth rotated, and night followed day, lost out when electric lights were introduced.

Danced the Reel.
    "In early days, Dallas had no fine theaters, and nothing like so many shows as now.  But, I believe we had better shows.  We had such attractions as Edwin Booth, John McCullough, Lawrence Barrett, Frederick Ward, Mary Anderson, Emma Abbott, Blind Tom, John Templeton's Opera Company, Kate Claxton and many more, not to mention the big minstrel shows.  We had the opportunity of seeing during the season, thirty or forty of the finest plays, interpreted by the foremost exponents of the histrionic art -- a privilege denied to the people of today.  We had no social clubs, such as were afterward organized, and now afford so much pleasure.  The chief diversion was the dance.  Two or three times a month, and sometimes once a week, we had a ball.  The dances were the waltz, the schottisch, the polka, the lancers and the reel.  Down into the '80s, we danced the reel at the St. George Hotel, in Lively Hall and at the home of Capt. Sydney Smith in the cedars.  Capt. Smith insisted on having the reel done in regular Southern manner and form.  The music was furnished by negroes with fiddles and banjoes, precisely as in old Colonial and, later, slavery times.

Time Was Not Ripe.
    "The first attempt, so far as I know, to provide a public library, was made by Mrs. Johnston, wife of Dr. A. A. Johnston.  She started with a few hundred volumes given by citizens, and some new books purchased with cash contributions.  She opened a reading room on Main street, near where the Southland Hotel stands.  I do not recall how long she kept the place open, nor what became of the books. Most of the people had not acquired the reading habit, and those who had were too busy to indulge it.  The time, which must have been about 1880, was not ripe for a literary movement.

Headed the Builders.
    "One of the most enterprising men we have ever had was the late W. C. Connor.  He was the organizer and chief of the first volunteer fire department, and was instrumental in giving the city the first fire engine.  He organized and headed the first waterworks company, which erected a plant at Browder Springs in the City Park.  Up to that time, the people had bought water from wagons, or carried it from wells, springs and the river; in fact, got it wherever they could.  He put in the first fire alarm system, built the first electric light plant and was one of the best Mayors we ever had.  In fact, he worked practically all his life for Dallas."

Travels Millions of Miles.
    Mr. Hickox, who was born in the little mountain town of Athens, Tenn., came to Dallas, as above stated, in 1877.  He became a traveling salesman in 1888, and traveled out of Dallas until 1911, when he went East and made headquarters in New York and Washington.  His territory, first and last, embraced practically all the States.  He was on the road thirty-four years.  He estimates that he traveled on an average of 60,000 miles a year, or more than 2,000,000 miles altogether.  At the beginning of this year, he retired from business, returned to Dallas, and took his old home, 1500 Park avenue.

- August 5, 1923, The Dallas Morning News,
Magazine Section, p. 7.
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