Tracking Down a Photo Location & Discovering a City Pioneer: D. M. Clower, The Man Who Brought the Telephone to Dallas
by Paula Bosse
by Paula Bosse
“A very good picture of our house. Cold as can be here today – guess I will freeze going to the theater tonight. Quite a good deal of snow and sleet. All doing fine – wish you were here to help me make candy & pop some corn. Tom Dechman from Okla. City spent today with us. Maud.”
Such a nice photo of a modest little house in Dallas, probably taken in 1908. When I saw it, I thought it would be cool if I could figure out where it was. There wasn’t much to go on from the postcard, though. But, as it turns out, there was just enough information to put the pieces together and figure it out. Someone asked me recently how I track down things like this. Basically, I look for a long time in a lot of different places. Here’s how I found out where this mystery house was.
Using Ancestry.com, I found Virginia (“Virgil” — sometimes “Virgie”) Cavaness in Monticello, Arkansas. She was born in 1871 and would have just turned 37 years old when she received this card. The familiar tone of the postcard message indicated to me that Virgil was probably a close friend or family member.
I found Thomas Dechman in Oklahoma City — he would have been 23 when he visited Maud. He probably wasn’t a close friend or immediate family member because she writes his full name out. According to the 1909 Oklahoma City directory (accessible on Ancestry.com), he worked alongside his father, A. F. Dechman, at a wholesale produce company.
Then I checked the Dallas Morning News archives and found this from Dec. 30,1909.
Tom Dechman was Mrs. A. F. Dechman’s son. So I searched on “Maud Clower.” Maud, born in 1877, was also D. M. Clower’s daughter. Mrs. A. F. Dechman was Maud’s sister Annie, and Tom was her nephew.
I continued searching the DMN archives for mentions of the Clower family and found that in 1906 Maud Clower had married Jesse (J. D.) Patterson — and, hey, Virgil had attended the wedding.
DMN, Sept. 2, 1906
I checked to see where Maud and J. D. Patterson were living in 1908/1909. Most directories are available on Ancestry (a subscription site), but, as it happens, the 1909 directory is one of the few historical Dallas city directories that is available online (for free) — you can access it here (a few other directories are here). I found a Jesse D. Patterson listed as living at 491 N. Pearl, but no spouse’s name was listed, so I cross-referenced the address with the street directory section to determine whether this was the right J. D. Patterson. (Street directories are very helpful — not only do they list the occupants for each address, they also help to pinpoint where specific addresses were as they show which cross-streets those addresses were between; this is extremely helpful when trying to figure out where things were when streets had different names and/or when trying to figure out where things were before all of Dallas’ street numbers were changed in 1911. Another useful resource is a page on Jim Wheat’s site, which has links to every page of the 1911 street directory — click on a street name and find your address: the “new” address is on the left, and the “old” address is next to it, in bold.)
1909 city directory, residents of N. Pearl Street
Even though this didn’t have Maud’s name listed alongside her husband’s, it DID show that her father, D. M. Clower, was living at the same address. Success!
So there it is. When Maud sent that postcard to Virgil, she and her husband were living with her parents at 491 N. Pearl Street. The house in the photo was at the southwest corner of N. Pearl and Thomas. It’s always helpful to check a street map from about the same period for context and to make sure you’re looking at the right location — many street names have changed over the years — if a street named “Forest” is being referenced in the 1940s, for instance, you need to know that the old Forest Avenue and the current Forest Lane are absolutely nowhere near each other. Below is a map drawn about 1900, with the location of the Clower house circled in red (this is one of many maps found on the Portal to Texas History site; the one below is a detail of the map found here).
I also checked out Sanborn maps to see if the house in the photo matched the house that was actually on the lot at N. Pearl and Thomas. It does. To see what the general footprint of the house looked like in 1905 (the Clowers lived at 491 N. Pearl from about 1905 to 1910), see here. In the 1921 map (by which time the address had been changed to 2221 N. Pearl), you can see that additions had been made to the house since 1905 and that it looks more like the house in the photo (a room now juts out at the right and there is an out-building behind the house); see the 1921 Sanborn map here. To see what that Uptown block looks like now, see here (N. Pearl is on the left, looking south). Quite a change! It took me a long time to realize just how essential Sanborn maps can be — they are incredibly useful, and I try to use them whenever I can.
I really didn’t expect to track down the actual address of an unidentified house found on a picture postcard, but persistence pays off. A bonus of this persistence was that I ended up learning about the very interesting man who owned the house — a man who played a pivotal role in the development of Dallas: Daniel Morgan (D. M.) Clower. Clower was an electrical engineer who, in 1881, installed the very first telephone in Dallas (for Judge John Bookhout) and ran the city’s first telephone exchange; he also set up phone systems in other cities. In addition to his work for Bell Telephone, he also ran Dallas’ electric company for many years and was responsible for setting up the city’s first electric street lights and helped in developing electrified rail systems in the region.
During the Civil War, Clower was a Confederate telegraph operator in the 1st Louisiana Regiment (see Clower’s fascinating obituary below). When the Union army was advancing after the fall of Vicksburg, Clower directed (and helped in) the destruction of the Confederate telegraph system he had helped set up, in order to prevent its being commandeered by Yankee forces — he and his men raced to pull up over 40 miles of wire and equipment, loaded everything on wagons, bugged out, and then used the same wire and poles to string a new Confederate line into and across Texas.
The war ended before Clower had completed his line northward from Houston, but his efforts had helped lay the telegraph infrastructure that the state of Texas relied on for decades afterward.
The people in the top photo are not identified. When that photo was taken, D. M. Clower and his wife, Ellender, would have been about 73; their daughter Maud and her husband Jesse would have been in their early 30s. I assume it’s the elder Clowers, with a mystery bearded man in the foreground.
You never know what you’re going to discover when you read a 106-year-old postcard and wonder where an old house used to be.
Sources & Notes
Postcard found on eBay.
Daniel Morgan Clower was born in Alabama in 1835; he arrived in Dallas in 1879, coming from Comanche, where Maud was born in 1877. Clower died in 1927 at the age of 92; Maud died in 1948. His wife, Ellender Paralee Clower, died in 1917 (at which time the couple had been married for more than sixty years).
More on Clower can be found in the pages of The Dallas Morning News:
- “Telegrapher Tells Civil War Episode” (DMN, Feb. 1, 1924) — a fantastically cinematic account of Clower’s past, in his own words
- A photo of Clower and Eli Sanger, (DMN, May 1, 1927) — what might well be the last photo of Clower ran in the News just a few months before his death at the age of 92; also in the photo is Eli Sanger, of Sanger Bros. (Clower once had a business in Millican, TX when Sanger’s opened there at the close of the Civil War, and he proudly boasted that he was one of their very first customers)
- “Daniel Clower Funeral Held” (DMN, Aug. 19, 1927) — Clower’s obituary, with photo
Photo of Mr. Clower with text from a Dallas Times Herald story published on the occasion of his 89th birthday can be found here (scroll down to 1924, about halfway down the page), via Jim Wheat’s site.
The photo of Mr. Clower and his wife Ellender is from the book A History of Texas and Texans, published in 1914; the accompanying entry about Clower’s very interesting life can be found here, via the Portal to Texas History.
Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.