Jefferson Dagnal’s Saloon, Deep Ellum — 1906
by Paula Bosse
“Fritts & Dagnal,” Deep Ellum saloon… (photo: Brent Burton)
by Paula Bosse
Reader Brent Burton commented on one of my tweets on Twitter to say that he had an old photo showing his great-great-grandfather standing in a saloon he had owned in Dallas around the turn-of-the-century and wanted to know how he might access old Dallas directories in order to try to determine where the bar had been. I told him that online scans of city directories are available for free from the Dallas Public Library and the Portal to Texas History (more on this is in my post “How to Access Historical Dallas City Directories Online”). I also offered to see what I could find out.
The photo is the one above (click it to see a larger image). All he knew was that it was taken in a bar owned by his great-great-grandfather Jefferson Davis Dagnall (whose last name is most often spelled “Dagnal” in various documents such as census records, directories, and his death certificate, so I will refer to him with this spelling) and that the photo was taken in the late 1800s or early 1900s. I figured it would be pretty easy to find the info because his name was so uncommon, but that was complicated by the fact that his name was spelled and misspelled many different ways — I think I came across five or six permutations. It took a long time to figure out where that photo was most likely taken — mainly by going through census records and looking at all the city directories — year by year — to pin down where he was working each year. And he got around — he lived at a new address almost every year, and changed jobs almost as frequently.
Jefferson Davis Dagnal was born in 1861, probably in Fort Bend, Texas. His father, a South Carolina native, appears to have died fighting in the Civil War; Jeff (…I call him Jeff…) was 3 years old when his father died. By 1880 he was a teenager, working on a Dallas-area farm. In 1883, Jeff was working as a blacksmith. According to city directories, he held the following jobs: store clerk, laborer, streetcar driver, house-mover, electrician, and bartender.
1905 was the year he seems to have settled into bartending, a job he held in various establishments in Deep Ellum for a decade, until his death in 1915. He appears to have owned (or co-owned) only one of these bars: Fritts & Dagnal. It seems the venture with partner E. G. Fritts was short-lived: its only listing is in the 1906 directory — by 1907 Jeff had moved on, tending bar elsewhere.
The saloon was listed in the 1906 city directory as being at 673 Elm — that address was changed in 1911 and became 2603 ½ Elm. This was in Deep Ellum, at the northeast corner of Elm and Good (possibly on the second floor). Below is a 1905 Sanborn map showing the location (the full map is here).
The lot that building stood on at Elm and what is now Good-Latimer is empty, but a current-ish look at the location, from Google Street View, can be seen here (I am attempting to post a view from 2015, before all the construction work was going on near the Elm and Good-Latimer intersection — but just move up or down Elm a bit on Google and you’ll see construction images take over).
Below, a couple of ads from around the time Jeff Dagnal and E. G. Fritts decided to start up their short-lived saloon at 673 Elm: the first ad shows that it was not unusual in 1905 for large livestock to be kept in Deep Ellum (where they might even have been “rustled”), and the second ad shows that both the upstairs and downstairs spaces of the building at 673 Elm were available to rent:
Dallas Morning News, May 13, 1905
(According to the Inflation Calculator, those 1906 rents of $20 and $40 would be about $550 and $1,100 in today’s money.)
Jefferson Davis Dagnal died in Dallas on Feb. 25, 1915. His death certificate — with information provided by his daughter, Cora — listed his occupation as “blacksmith,” even though he had been a bartender (and, briefly, a saloon owner) for at least the last ten years of his life.
One interesting thing about Mr. Dagnal, was his relationship with his wife Alice, the mother of his second child, Clarence, who was born in 1893. Alice and Jeff appear to have hit a rough patch in their marriage pretty early on. In the 1900 census, they were living in different cities, and each claimed to be widowed. I don’t know if they ever officially divorced (or even if they officially married), but I suppose it was easier in that era to claim a spouse had died rather than admit the shame of divorce or abandonment. By 1903 both were living in Dallas — at the same address. But by 1904 they were living apart, and Alice was, again, claiming to be a widow — even though an alive-and-kicking Jeff was listed in the directory right under her name!
I have come across this phenomenon so frequently that I now question every “widow” or “widowed” claim I come across. Information from the U. S. Census (where people give false ages and incorrect marital status ALL THE TIME) should be taken with a grain of salt!
Sources & Notes
Photo of Jefferson Dagnal’s saloon was shared with me by Dagnal’s great-great-grandson, Brent Burton and is used here with his permission. Jeff is probably in the photo — in 1906 he would have been 45 years old. Thank you for the great photo, Brent!
All images are larger when clicked.
Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.
Paula is helping me realize my goal of 200 years in Dallas & nothing to show for it. So far she helped me pin down 1855 arrival. 37 years & counting!
LikeLiked by 1 person
thanks for the story your wrote about the episode of frame of mind
with the tv news footage from WFAA
it will be showing again at the dallas international film fest
Frame of Mind: Remixing the News
USA, 2017, 57 min., Color + B/W
Since 1949, WFAA Chanel 8, in Dallas has documented the news of the day. For years, the station shot that news on 16mm film. WFAA donated all of this raw footage from 1960 to 1977 to the Bill Jones Collection at SMU. Archivists there transferred it and we give it – all 1.3 terabits of it – to 10 Dallas filmmakers. Their challenge was to explore the images that spoke to them, and use them to create original works. Think of these pieces like video remixes, or mashups of a cities reflections. They are constructs of imagination, social and political commentary, not factual documentary. Giving these historic images new contexts and new meanings may give us fresh ways to look at the past. And reveal something about who we are today.
“2,000 Hours in Dallas” by Jeremy Spracklen
“The Story of Jane X” by Christian Vasquez
“Dallas Circle” by Justin Wilson
“Lawmen & Cowpokes” by Gordon K. Smith
“History Lessons” by Steve Baker
“Beyond 10” by Carmen Menza
“Glass” by Madison McMakin
“Poofs are New” by Blaine Dunlap
“Divided” by Michael Thomas & Dakota Ford
“The Night in the Last Branches” by Michael Alexander Morris
“Echoes of the Past” by Jeremy Spracklen
Jeremy Spracklen, Christian Vasquez, Justin Wilson, Gordon K. Smith, Steve Baker, Carmen Menza, Madison McMakin, Blaine Dunlap, Michael Thomas & Dakota Ford, Michael Alexander Morris
Bart Weiss is an award-winning filmmaker, educator and director/founder of the Dallas VideoFest, which prodeuces, DocuFest, Alternative Fictions, the Ernie Kovacas award, the 24 hour video race and the North Texas Universities Film Festival. He produces the TV show “Frame of Mind” on KERA TV. He is an associate professor at the Univeristy of Texas at Arlington where he teachers film and video. He was President and Chair of AIVF and was a video columnist for The Dallas Morning News, and United Features Syndicate. He currently writes for Student Filmmaker and TheaterJones.com Bart received an MFA in Film Directing from Columbia University.
LikeLiked by 1 person
For those undertaking family history research it is well to keep in mind that ancestors weren’t necessarily hypocrites and liars when questionable responses are found in the federal census. In many cases census takers recorded the answers of whoever showed up at the door and was willing to give the task an honest, if wayward, try.
On the other hand, I did once turn up a situation where the youngish grandmother identified herself as the mother of a child to spare her daughter, the actual mother, the problem of coming up with a husband.
Was just wondering why there were not seats and tables and remembered even today some don’t have that either to make room for dancing or to make sure people don’t stay long enough to get too drunk and fight. Was it the same then?
Interesting question. I don’t know!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I think that the bar proper and its ornate mirror behind were often points of pride for the barkeep so likely to be featured in a promotional image like this. I’d bet the tables and chairs were just whisked out of camera range so this photo could be taken.
LikeLiked by 1 person