Flashback : Dallas

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Category: 1850s

Flashback Dallas on the Radio: La Reunion

la-reunion-marker_today_bigdhistoryThe La Reunion marker today… (photo by Big D History)

by Paula Bosse

Today a short and informative radio piece on the La Reunion French colony was aired across the state on the public radio program Texas Standard. The story was produced by Stephanie Kuo of KERA News, who was nice enough to invite me to participate as one of the interviewees (along with Dallas historian and storyteller Rose-Mary Rumbley and developer John Scovell). Listen to the 5-and-a-half-minute story here on the KERA site, or here on the Texas Standard site, via Soundcloud.

I’ve written about La Reunion before, but here are a few photos I took last year when I trekked over to all that remains of the original colony, its cemetery (known as both “La Reunion Cemetery” and the less romantic “Fish Trap Cemetery”). It’s fenced off to protect the few remaining historic grave markers, which have been eroding in the elements for over 160 years. Somehow I walked away having taken photos only of grape leaves and flowers and not the cemetery. (There are several photos online of the cemetery, including this one, from the Dallas Parks department; read the Texas Historical Commission marker here. You’ll note that 20th-century headstones can be seen: the cemetery was an active cemetery well after the colonists had moved away; in fact, Bonnie Parker was originally buried there until her remains were moved to the Crown Hill Cemetery.)

There are surprisingly few monuments or plaques in Dallas recognizing the historically important colony. In April, 1924, the Jane Douglas Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated the very first monument to the La Reunion settlement. The site of this granite marker was originally at Westmoreland and Fort Worth Avenue, but the marker (seen at top) was moved at some point to its current home, on the golf course of Stevens Park.

la-reunion-cemetery_grape-leaves_peb_052116

la-reunion-cemetery_flowers_peb_052116

la-reunion-cemetery_peb_052116

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Sources & Notes

Photo of the 1924 marker, relocated to Stevens Park, is used with permission of Big D History.

All other photos were taken at La Reunion Cemetery/Fish Trap Cemetery in West Dallas by Paula Bosse on May 21, 2016. The location of the cemetery can be seen on Google Maps here.

An interesting tidbit about the grapevines: when the French colonists prepared to venture to Texas, several took cuttings of plants to take with them, with the intention of planting them in their new home and being able to enjoy wine made from the grape varieties of their homeland. When the colonists arrived in Texas, they planted/propagated the cuttings in Houston, unsure if the plants would survive the month-long walk (!) to Dallas after the lengthy ocean crossing. The flourishing plants were uprooted and transported to La Reunion by later arrivals. It is not inconceivable that the grape leaves seen growing today at the colony’s old cemetery might be descendants of the colonists’ imported grapevines.

The location of the La Reunion land was, more or less, 2,000 acres in West Dallas, with modern-day boundaries being Westmoreland on the west, N. Hampton on the east, the south bank of the Trinity on the north, and W. Davis Street on the south.

In a 1933 letter to The Dallas Morning News, Dallas resident George Cretien — who was born in 1856 in La Reunion (“Frenchtown to the native”) — disputed the location of the colony being near Westmoreland, where the old Delord ruins still stood at the time:

“The village of the colonists was located about a mile northeast of the Delord place on the bluff that the cement company has mostly destroyed for the making of its product.” (DMN, Sept. 17, 1933)

So there. In other words, Cement City: The Early Years.

Thanks again to Stephanie Kuo of KERA for inviting me to participate!

Click photos to see larger images.

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

La Reunion Tower

reunion-tower_skyline_091217Big D from inside the ball… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

On Tuesday night I gave a little talk on the history of the La Reunion colony as part of the Dallas Historical Society’s Pour Yourself Into History series. The event was held in the *very nice* Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck restaurant high atop Reunion Tower — right in the ball. I was a bit of a last-minute fill-in presenter, and I hesitated to accept the invitation because I always feel awkward talking in front of more than, say, two or three people, but I really, really wanted to go up to the top of Reunion Tower.

I hadn’t been to Reunion Tower since a family outing back around 1980 or so. Back then I was most fascinated by the fact that the restaurant slowly revolved to give diners a leisurely 360-degree view of the city (I always imagined it spinning out-of-control, pinning diners — and their meals — against the walls with centrifugal force, like a fine-dining version of the Spindletop ride at Six Flags, or The Rotor ride at the State Fair of Texas); but now, decades later, as an adult, the image of the spinning restaurant was eclipsed by the real star: the VIEW.

As you can imagine, the view is unbelievably spectacular — especially at night when Dallas is at its most glamorous. The ticket price is fairly steep to get up to the observation deck, and a meal and/or cocktails at the restaurant will set you back a goodly amount, but it is, without question, the most fabulous view of the city you’ll ever see. And you see all of it. When I started my talk about the history of the La Reunion colony of the 1850s (which was located about 5 miles due west of Reunion Tower, in West Dallas) the view was pretty much the one seen in the photo above; by the time I finished, we were, serendipitously, looking out over where the plucky colonists of “French Town” had toiled unsuccessfully 160 years ago. (Estimates on the boundary of La Reunion’s 2,000-acre land is the area now bounded by Westmoreland on the west, Hampton on the east, Davis on the south, and the Trinity River on the north — the southwest corner is marked here on Google Maps.)

It was a little noisy at the event Tuesday night, so if you were one of the very nice people who turned out, you might not have been able to hear anything I said! If you’d like to hear more about the history of La Reunion (and about Reunion Tower — and how, if a marketing agency had had its way, it might have been named “Esplanade” Tower), I enthusiastically recommend this very entertaining radio piece from Julia Barton (the La Reunion segment begins at about the 5:15 mark).

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I took photos, but they don’t do justice to the view. The really breathtaking vistas are at night, and, sadly, none of those photos came out. Seriously, if you’ve never been up Reunion Tower — or if you haven’t been since it was opened in 1978 — you should definitely go now. Better still, go at sunset and enjoy the best view in Dallas as you sip delicious cocktails.

The view stretches for miles. Here’s a cropped view of Dealey Plaza (click to see it really big).

reunion-tower_dealey-plaza_triple-underpass_091217a

And, at sunset, the jail has never looked lovelier.

reunion-tower_sunset_jail_091217

Back down on terra firma, looking up and saying “goodbye” to the ball.

reunion-tower_the-ball_091217

Thank you, Dallas Historical Society, for inviting me to be part of your event! And thanks to everyone who came out … and up!

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Sources & Notes*

Photos by Paula Bosse. Click ’em to see ’em bigger.

For more information of the La Reunion colony, see other Flashback Dallas posts here.

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

Ruin of La Reunion — The Delord House

la-reunion_ruins_tx-centennial-brochure_belo_1935_portalRuins of the Delord house… (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I’m the first to admit that my knowledge of the La Reunion colony — an 1850s European utopian settlement which was located a little west of the Trinity River, later the site of Cement City — is not as thorough as it should be. There are a few photos of ruins of the “Old French Colony” which one sees fairly regularly, but I don’t think I’ve seen the one above before. It appeared in a Texas Centennial brochure printed in 1935. The date of the photo is not provided, but it was probably taken in the 1930s. The caption: “Texas Landmarks Series. No. 12. RUIN OF ‘LA REUNION,’ OLD FRENCH COLONY, Dallas, Texas.” (I’m not sure what landmarks 1-11 were, but this was an interesting choice to illustrate Dallas to potential out-of-town visitors coming for the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936.)

This is the Delord house, the last survivor of buildings directly connected to members of the utopian colony. Here’s another photo of the house — it appeared in the WPA Dallas Guide and History, with the caption “Delord House, Last of Reunion.”

delord-house_wpa-gd-dallas_portal

Below, a description of the house, built shortly after the La Reunion colony had sputtered its last breaths, and its location, from The Dallas Journal in 1936:

Constructed [in 1859] by Francois, Joseph and Pierre Girard, Jr., sons of Pierre Girard, one of the colonists. This house faced on North Westmoreland Avenue near the intersection of Highway 80. It was built for and occupied by Alphonse Delord, a banker who came to the colony from Paris, France, with his wife, daughter, and son in the year of 1856.

This differs from the account of the WPA Dallas Guide and History:

The house was built in 1859 for the widow of Alphonse Delord shortly after the colony had ceased to function as a Fourierist phalange, or self-contained, cooperative community, as its founders had intended. Madame Delord had invested heavily in the short-lived La Reunion Company, and when it dissolved, received forty acres of land as her share of the communal property. On this tract Pierre, Joseph, and Francois Girard, three brothers who had come to Texas with their father in 1856 and had taken up the occupation of architects and builders, constructed a house for her. She resided here until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 when she returned to France with their children.

The La Reunion settlement was not far from this house. According to George Cretien, who was born in the La Reunion colony, “The village of the colonists was located about a mile northeast of the Delord place on the bluff that the cement company has mostly destroyed for the making of its product” (Dallas Morning News, Sept. 17, 1933).

The most recent photo I found of the house still (sort of) standing was the one below (click to see a larger image), from a 1943 Dallas Morning News story about emergency war-time housing built by the Federal Public Housing Authority for North American Aviation workers (see “View War Housing Site,” DMN, Sept. 12, 1943). They had to build a LOT of housing (800 dwellings on the same tract the DeLord house was crumbling onto), and that quaint stone house built in the 1850s might have been bulldozed to make way for cheap housing which was meant to be temporary (which actually  ended up not being temporary).

Just a guess on my part that this was when the old stone house bit the dust. If it managed to survive the FPHA bulldozers, please let me know.

It would have been nice to have preserved such an early relic of an important era in Dallas’ history — and there was a move to do that very thing. But, well, there you go.

la-reunion_delord-house_dallas-journal_032735

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Sources & Notes

Top photo from a Texas Centennial brochure printed by the A. H. Belo Corporation in 1935; the brochure can be viewed on the Portal to Texas History site, here.

Bottom photo appeared in The Dallas Journal on March 27, 1935; I found it on the Dallas History Facebook group.

More on the Delord (or DeLord) house can be found in the informative (if short-lived) blog, La Reunion History, here.

La Reunion page on Wikipedia is here.

Previous Flashback Dallas posts on La Reunion (or, La Réunion for the sticklers) can be found here.

Click photos to see larger images.

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

La Reunion: Utopia on the Trinity

la-reunion_dmn_053106Eight of the original settlers, 1906 (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I’ve put off writing about the socialist utopian settlement of La Reunion, which sprang up just across the Trinity from Dallas in the mid 1850s, because it’s such a big topic. Luckily, though, the fabulous Julia Barton has put together an entertaining and informative radio presentation on this very topic (see below for details). So I’ll just present a couple of interesting tidbits and leave the heavy lifting to Julia.

But for a totally inadequate one-paragraph summary of La Reunion, it was a colony of generally well-educated (and adventurous) French, Swiss, and Belgian immigrants, some of whom were political refugees from the unrest then spreading across Europe. They were led by Frenchman Victor Prosper Considerant (a follower of the democratic socialist Charles Fourier) — who began his settlement in 1854/1855 on land he had purchased just west of the Trinity River. A socialist commune … in Texas! But it was rough going for the European immigrants, and by 1859 the community had been deemed a failure: too many scholars, not enough farmers, as one colonist put it. Many of the colonists left the area, but several of these immigrants stayed, many becoming successful businessmen and community leaders (one of them, Swiss-born Benjamin Long, even became a two-term mayor of Dallas in the years following the Civil War). They are also credited with bringing a cultural sophistication and world-view to a dusty little town on the Texas frontier which had precious little of either before their arrival. Without the influence of these failed utopians, Dallas would be a much different city than the one we know today.

So here are a few random La Reunion bits and pieces.

According to an interesting Legacies article by James Pratt, those settlers — while still back in their homelands — might have gotten the idea that this is what their new home in Texas might look like (click for larger image):

idealized_la-reunion_legacies_fall-1989_DHSSee left side REALLY big here; right side here (Dallas Historical Society)

Um, yes.

Here’s one of the first mentions of the impending arrival of Considerant’s group (the size of which was almost always exaggerated in early reports). (Click for larger image.)

la-reunion_texas-state-times_austin_021055Texas State Times (Austin), Feb. 10, 1855

 It was news even in Virginia:

la-reunion_richomond-dispatch_virginia_050555Richmond Dispatch, May 5, 1855

1,200 Swiss watchmakers?!!

la-reunion_texas-state-times_austin_060255Texas State Times (Austin), June 2, 1855

One of the things I learned from Julia Barton’s piece of La Reunion was that some of the settlers brought plants native to their European homes with them — this included grapevines for making wine.

wine_houston-weekly-telegraph_101259Houston Weekly Telegraph, Oct. 12, 1859

(Read about the surprise M. Boulay left his widow when he died in 1875, here, in an article from The Dallas Weekly Herald, July 24, 1875)

On May 30, 1906, a 50th anniversary party was held by a group of the original La Reunion colonists. In the Dallas Morning News story about this event (which you can read here), these men and women were interviewed. My favorite factoid was that these fresh-off-the boat immigrants traveled to Dallas from Galveston or Houston ON FOOT. One woman said she and her fellow group of travelers walked from Houston to Dallas, leaving in late May and arriving on July 4th. Imagine their disappointment after having walked for weeks and weeks in heat they had never before experienced, only to find that their new home was nothing like what they had expected. Several stuck around for the rest of their lives, though. The eight colonists pictured in the photograph above are identified in the caption (click to read):

la-reunion_dmn_053106-captionDMN, May 31, 1906

Finally, a photo of Victor Considerant, who left La Reunion when the going got tough, lived in a nice place in San Antonio for awhile, then returned to France, where he lived as a teacher and “socialist sage” until his death in 1893 at the age of 85.

victor-considerant_utsaUTSA Libraries, Digital Collections

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I HIGHLY encourage you to listen to the aforementioned radio essay Julia Barton did for Public Radio International: “The Failed Socialist Utopian Dream That Helped Dallas Become a Major City” is here. It is a segment of the PRI podcast The World in Words — it begins at about the 5:30 mark and runs about twenty minutes. I learned stuff!

The highly idealized rendering of a Fourier-inspired phalanstère is from the collection of the Dallas Historical Society and appeared on the front and back covers of the Fall, 1989 issue of Legacies. No other information on the drawing was given. I’m not sure if prospective La Reunion colonists were led to believe this was a depiction of the heaven-on-earth that awaited them in Texas. If so, I bet they were very, very disappointed.

La Reunion links:

  • Handbook of Texas (with details about the philosophical, political, and social aims of the colony)
  • Wikipedia
  • “La Reunion: Adventure in Utopia” from the WPA Guide to Dallas, here
  • “La Reunion” by Ernestine Porcher Sewell, from The Folklore of Texan Cultures (1974), here

Watch Julia Barton’s presentation of “Port of Dallas” — about the misguided hopes to turn the Trinity River into a navigable waterway from Galveston to Dallas — here.

Other Flashback Dallas posts on La Reunion can be found here.

Click pictures and clippings for larger images.

reunion-tower_twitter@ReunionTower on Twitter

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Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Ads for Slaves Lost, Found, and For Sale in the Pages of The Dallas Herald

runaway_negro_dallas-herald-1856(Dallas Herald, June 7, 1856)

by Paula Bosse

When one is browsing through Texas newspapers from the 1850s and 1860s, one shouldn’t be surprised to see things like this. But that doesn’t make them any less shocking. Black men and women were not regarded as people, but as property — in all of these “ads” you could easily substitute “horse” for “negro.” I think I always wanted to believe that slavery wasn’t much of an issue in Dallas — but it was. The name of one man, E. M. Stackpole, a successful shopkeeper, kept coming up a lot in these advertisements. In addition to the general merchandise of his store, he seemed to do a pretty brisk trade in buying, selling, hiring (more like leasing from other slave-owners), and hiring out slaves. One of his ads is below. (By the way, the word “likely” was a common adjective for slaves; it meant, basically, “worthy of purchase.”)

trade_for_negro_dallas-herald_1856(March 15, 1856)

negro-auction_dallas-herald_091558(Sept. 15, 1858)

negro-auction_dallas-herald_102058(Oct. 20, 1858)

negro_for_sale_dallas-herald_1861(1861)

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All advertisements from The Dallas Herald, via UNT’s Portal to Texas History site.

My lack of knowledge about slavery in Texas is appalling. The Wikipedia entry provides a good overview; read it here.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Dallas to Austin by Stagecoach: Only Three Days! (1854)

by Paula Bosse

T. F. Crutchfield was a busy man who had his hands in a lot of pots in the very early days of Dallas. I’ll have to get back to him one day. Above, an ad of his, dated 1854, from an 1855 issue of the Dallas Herald. Below, an ad from the 1858 Texas Almanac.

crutchfield_tx-almanac_1858

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An interesting article by Mike Cox on stagecoaching in Texas, from the Texas Almanac, is here.

Click for larger images.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Dallas Steam Mills at the Cedar Spring — 1855

by Paula Bosse

DALLAS STEAM MILLS, at The Cedar Spring, Dallas Co.

These Mills are situate at the main Cedar Springs, 2 1/2 miles North from Dallas, and are now in successful operation, and will be able to furnish Flour in quantities to suit purchasers on short notice, corn ground for the fifth. A store is also situated convenient to the Mill, under the charge of W. K. MASTEN, who will sell goods on as favorable terms prices as are given in Dallas. Wheat bought for our store in Dallas, and at the Cedar Spring store.

–GOLD, & DONALDSON. Dallas, Texas , April 7, 1855

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In 1843, a trading post was established just outside the city of Dallas at the new settlement of Cedar Springs. There were few settlers at the time, so items traded were pretty much limited to only the essentials (groceries, ammo, buffalo hides). By 1850, though, sexier luxury goods like “hoopskirts, silk stockings, bridal bouquets, Bibles, accordions, Mustang liniment, snake-root and castor oil were listed in the inventory of a deceased merchant. This advance in merchandising may be attributed to the establishment by that time of a gristmill to which farmers from many miles around brought their grain. Naturally they visited the stores to trade” (WPA Dallas Guide and History). The Dallas Steam Mills was one of the first commercial mills in “the Cedar Spring,” and as it was affiliated with successful early Dallas retailers Gold and Donaldson, it must have also been one of the most profitable.

The community grew quickly. Until 1850. That was when Dallas County residents went to the polls and voted on which of the local communities would be the county seat. The choices were: the city of Dallas, Cedar Springs, and the ever-popular Hord’s Ridge. Cedar Springs came in dead last. The agony of defeat must have hit hard — the loss seems to have dampened civic enthusiasm and contributed to stagnant growth. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that the area — by then called Oak Lawn — had rebounded with a boom in population. By the 1940s, though, the area had been officially annexed by the city of Dallas. Oak Lawn (né Cedar Springs) had, at least, managed to hold onto a shred of independence a few decades longer than its former opponent had — Hord’s Ridge had changed its name to Oak Cliff, but it, too, had been swallowed up by the voracious, mammoth city surrounding it. No hard feelings, guys. You can run but you can’t hide. Resistance has always been futile. We’re all just one big happy kudzu-like sprawling sprawl now.

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Below is an interesting account of traveling through Cedar Springs in 1852.

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Dallas Steam Mills ad from the Dallas Herald, 1855.

Quote mentioning accordions and hoopskirts from The WPA Dallas Guide and History (Dallas Public Library Texas Center for the Book, University of North Texas Press, 1992). p.124

The account of passing though Cedar Springs, by Charles DeMorse, is the lead story in the July 17, 1852 issue of Clarksville’s Northern Standard newspaper; it can be found here  on UNT’s invaluable Portal to Texas History site; from the collection of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

A biography of Charles DeMorse, writer and editor of Clarksville’s Northern Standard can be found here.

The Handbook of Texas History entry for Cedar Springs is here.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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