Flashback : Dallas

A Miscellany: History, Ads, Pop Culture

Category: Water Craft

A Flooded Sportatorium — 1945

Boys gotta do what boys gotta do… (photo: Squire Haskins/UTA Libraries)

by Paula Bosse

Imagine it has flooded around the Sportatorium: what would you expect seven boys and their dog to do? Well, here they are doing about what you’d expect. (The image above is a detail from the photo below, by Squire Haskins — see this photo really big on the UTA website here.)


Another photo, this one with a Huck-Finn-meets-Iwo-Jima-Memorial vibe (full-size on the UTA site here):


My closer-up detail (click to see larger image):


Another view (original full-size image here):


Closer up, with a Grand Prize Beer billboard, cars (on Industrial?), and a sign for the next-door Plantation nightspot:


No wrasslin’ tonight, y’all.


Sources & Notes

All photos by Squire Haskins, from the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, Special Collections. More info can be found on the first photo here, the second photo here, and the last photo here.

The photos in the UTA collection are undated, but a photograph of these same boys and dog on their raft appeared in The Dallas Morning News on April 5, 1945, along with a whimsical article titled “Pint-Size Warriors Fight Battle of Trinity, Prove Stormiest Rain Cloud Has Silver Lining.” A few pages away there were several aerial photos showing the major flooding which had submerged large portions of the area around the Sportatorium and Corinth Street viaduct.

The Sportatorium was located at 1000 S. Industrial (now Riverfront), at Cadiz (see map here). Maybe a little too close to the Trinity….


Copyright © 2019 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved

Snag Boat Dallas — 1893

snagboat_dplSnag Boat Dallas of Dallas, Trinity River (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

“Snagboat.” It’s a great word. And if you’ve taken even a glancing look into the history of the Trinity River, you’ve probably come across it. What is it? According to the Wikipedia entry, it is “a river boat, resembling a barge with superstructure for crew accommodations, and deck-mounted cranes and hoists for removing snags and other obstructions from rivers and other shallow waterways.” If you’re from Dallas, “shallow waterway” will immediately bring to mind our very own Trinity River, which, unless it’s flooding, you probably rarely even think of as being an actual river. But Dallas money-men have tried their damnedest for what seems like EVER to make the Trinity do what they wanted it to do.

In the late 19th century, a group of Dallas businessmen organized the Trinity River Navigation and Improvement Company and began to sink large sums of money into it. The goal was to make the Trinity navigable for large boats between the Gulf of Mexico and Dallas. They knew that if they could open this waterway to vessels carrying all manner of freight that they could make a lot of money. A lot.

In order to make the Trinity navigable, it first had to be cleared of all sorts of impassable debris in it, on it, over it, and along it. The stretch of the river around the soon-to-be inland port of Dallas was particularly snarled with all sorts of things making passage of large boats through its waters impossible. A snagboat was needed, and construction on the Snag Boat Dallas of Dallas began in November of 1892.

snagboat_dmn_112692Dallas Morning News, Nov. 26, 1892

The construction of the boat was followed closely in the Texas papers, and giddy ads/editorials like this one were filling the pages of Dallas newspapers.

ad-water-rates_dmn_011593DMN, Jan. 15, 1893

“Water rates” — charges for freight shipped via boat — were lower than the rates charged by railroads. Were the Trinity able to support freight traffic, this new competition would mean that railroads would lower their rates, and the savings for manufacturers and builders would  be substantial. As a result, manufacturing and building in the city would boom, and before you knew it, Dallas would become “the greatest city on Earth in the South”!

A few days before the official launch of the boat, reporters, businessmen, and the public were invited to a preview. An interesting account in The Galveston Daily News described the boat’s machinery (which included a “liquid battering ram”) and took the reader on a tour of the crew’s quarters (which had separate sleeping and dining areas for black and white crew members, per the “Separate Coach Law” of 1891).

snagboat_galveston-daily-news-021993Galveston Daily News, Feb. 19, 1893

The boat began its snagging work in February, 1893, and, in order to keep readers abreast of all Snag Boat Dallas developments, there were almost daily updates on its progress in the newspapers, and (in lieu of photographs) Dallas Morning News illustrators provided scenes of the boat’s important work.

snagboat_dmn_021293DMN, Feb. 12, 1893

snagboat_dmn_022693DMN, Feb. 26, 1893

The celebrity snagboat succeeded in clearing the debris, and in May, 1893, the steamer H. A. Harvey, Jr. arrived in Dallas, having, yes, navigated the Trinity River from the Gulf, even though it had faced two months’ worth of difficulties along the way (problematic water levels, low bridges which had to be dismantled in order for it to pass under, underwater impediments which had to be dynamited into oblivion, etc.). When it finally pulled into Dallas — accompanied by the hard-working snagboat that had paved its way — the city shut down and had a massive celebration. The Dallas Morning News went so far as to print several of its pages in red ink (!). This proof that the Trinity River was, in fact, navigable, meant that the city was on the cusp on becoming “the greatest city in the South.” The DMN (which was not shy in its almost rabid boosterism of this project) published an editorial for those Dallasites who might “not fully comprehend” the significance of why they were celebrating.

harvey-impact_dmn_052293DMN, May 22, 1893

Dallas would become an important inland port. “It can be done.”

Except that we know that it couldn’t be done. Too many other natural forces were working against the Trinity River entrepreneurs. The Harvey and the snagboat didn’t actually do much after that tumultuous reception in 1893. Sure, they moved some small loads back and forth along the Dallas stretch of the river, but that grand vision of taming the Trinity never came to pass. Even now, more than 120 years later, it still has yet to happen. Dallas has done pretty well without the Trinity River being truly navigable, but people can’t seem to stop trying to somehow monetize it. It’s probably time we just appreciated our little section of the Trinity River for what it is: a little trickle of a river that has (so far) survived everything we’ve tried to do to it in the name of “progress.”


For closure, snagboat fans: the hard-working little Dallas had an ignominious end. It was tied to an old pier and left to rot on the water before it was eventually cannibalized and slowly picked apart. Its end came in January of 1898 when it was finally “broken up.”

rip_dmn_052897DMN, May 28, 1897

RIP, Snag Boat Dallas of Dallas — we hardly knew ye.


The Harvey (which quietly left town when it was sold to a Louisiana company in 1898) has gotten the lion’s share of the historical attention, but the snagboat is the one that did all the work. Here are two more photos of the Dallas and its crew taking a break from snagging to pose for posterity.


The photo below shows just what the crew of the snagboat was up against. The caption was written by C. A. Keating, president of the Trinity River Navigation Company.



And, finally, what prompted me to find out more about the snagboat in the first place: this ad for the Dallas Lithograph Company from the 1893 city directory. It featured an illustration of a little boat chugging along on the idyllic (and blissfully snag-free) Trinity River, with the Old Red Courthouse in the background and a little tent pitched on the bank. I wasn’t all that familiar with snagboats, but that’s what I thought it looked like. I’m sure it’s supposed to be something grander, but I’ll think of it as a snagboat anyway.


ad-dallas-lithograph-co_1893-dir1893 Dallas directory


Sources & Notes

I came across the top photo (which is from the archives of the Dallas Public Library) on the web page for the 99% Invisible podcast, here. I was so enthralled with the pictures on this page that I didn’t even realize until just now that there was a podcast to listen to, called “The Port of Dallas” — about this very topic! Listen to it at the top of the page — it’s very entertaining. I think Julia Barton and I were separated at birth!

There are lots of other photos on that page, including a photo of the H. A. Harvey, Jr. and a photo showing what the Dallas Morning News looked like printed in red.

Second photo of the Snag Boat Dallas is from the DFW Urban Wildlife blog, here. More great photos there!

The final photo of the Dallas and the photo’s caption are from C. A. Keating’s autobiography, Keating and Forbes Families and Reminiscences of C. A. Keating (Dallas: self-published, 1920).

All other clippings, as noted.

To read about how people have tried and tried and tried over the years to make the Trinity River do what they wanted it to do — and failed — read the article “Navigating the Trinity, A Dream That Endured for 130 Years” by Jackie McElhaney (Legacies, Spring 1991), here.

UPDATE: I swear I was completely unaware of Julia Barton’s podcast about the “Port of Dallas” when I wrote this post, but I’m happy to report there is ALSO a video, from a presentation she did at the TEDxSMU talks in October. Watch it here. (Thanks, for alerting me to that this, Julia — my “internet twin”!)

Most clippings and photos are larger when clicked. The last photo of Snag Boat Dallas is very big.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


An Afternoon Outing with SMU Frat Boys & Their Dates — 1917

smu_omega-phi_dallas-hall_1917_degolyerCampus couples, 1917 (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

I came across three wonderful World War One-era photos in the SMU archives while I was looking for something else. You know how you can become enthralled by the charm of old photos and sit for long stretches of time staring at every little detail and wondering about the lives of the unidentified people who populate them? That happened to me with these. There is one particular young woman who stands out more than anyone else. Not only is she the best-dressed person in the photos, she also seems calm, collected, and serene. She looks friendly. She was probably very pleasant to have around.

These three photographs show a group of ten young couples and a pair of chaperones spending a beautiful sunny day together, with the highlight of the day being a trip to Highland Park’s Exall Lake. The men are SMU students, identified only as members of the Omega Phi fraternity. The women are identified merely as “dates,” but I’m sure that some of them were also SMU students. The photograph above shows the crowd gathered on campus in front of Dallas Hall. The woman in white looks like she’s on a pedestal, glowing in a spotlight. Below, a closer look at her stylish outfit (as well as a look at the young be-medaled WWI soldier next to her).


And, below, a similar detail, but this one showing the daintily crossed ankles of another pretty girl, seated beside a sour-looking companion.


And here’s the gang on the idyllic banks of Exall Lake. Diane Galloway included this photograph in her book The Park Cities, A Photohistory with this caption:

At one time a bridge crossed Exall Lake near the Cary house, shown in the distance. The photographer was standing on the bridge to capture this picture of well-dressed SMU students going boating on the lake. A trip to Lakeside Drive was one of the few off-campus excursions permitted in 1917.

I love this photo. If I didn’t know what the Turtle Creek area looked like, I’d be hard-pressed to identify this as Dallas!


Here’s a close-up of the beatific, smiling woman in white. I like the kid lurking in the background.


And the boat.


And the sour-looking guy again, looking even more annoyed than before.


And here’s the crowd sitting on the steps of the frat house (which was located at Haynie and Hillcrest). The personnel has changed a little bit (they gained a woman and lost a man), but (almost) everyone seems pretty happy.


And, below, my very favorite detail from these three photos.


After a bit of sleuthing, I found a picture of the house at the time these photos were taken. It was actually a residence which was, I think, being rented out to the small group of Omega Phis. They had a proper fraternity house built several years later.


The top photo had “1917” written on the back, so I checked SMU’s Rotunda yearbooks from around that time. Here’s a look at the men who were members of Omega Phi in 1918. Several of these faces match the ones in the photos of the afternoon outing.


And, below, a photo collage from the Omega Phi page of the 1917 Rotunda. Several of the women look familiar. I see the Woman in White in at least one of these snapshots.


And here she is, close up. I hope she was as happy, intelligent, and confident in her real life as she appears to be in these photos.



Sources & Notes

The three photos of the afternoon outing all come from the collection of the DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University:

  • “Omega Phi Fraternity members and their dates in front of Dallas Hall” is here.
  • “Omega Phi Fraternity member outing to Exall Lake” is here.
  • “Omega Phi Fraternity members and their dates on porch” is here.

The quote from Diane Galloway comes from her FANTASTIC book, The Park Cities, A Photohistory (Dallas: Diane Galloway, 1989), p. 24.

The ersatz Omega Phi fraternity house was located at 115 Haynie Avenue, just west of Atkins (now Hillcrest). (The photo of the exterior of the house is from the 1917 SMU Rotunda yearbook.)

omega-phi_map_19191919 map (detail), Portal to Texas History

I have absolutely no idea how college fraternities work, but it seems that when they formed on the SMU campus in 1915, the Omega Phi group was not actually affiliated with a national fraternity. They “petitioned” to be chartered by national groups, but they finally stopped trying after 11 years of, I guess, being repeatedly turned down — in 1926 they declared themselves to be an “independent society.” But one year later, they were granted a charter by the national Kappa Sigma fraternity. In the Dallas Morning News article announcing the news, this sentence was included: “The local chapter will be known as Delta Pi chapter.” I have no idea what any of that means, but if you’re really into these things, read the DMN article “Kappa Sigmas Grant Charter” (Sept. 26, 1927), here.

As for the identities of the women in the photos, it’s a mystery. I would assume, though, that at least some of them were the women mentioned in this little article about a cozy winter get-together at the Haynie Ave. house:

omega-phi_smu-campus_011917DMN, Jan. 19, 1917

If you’re not familiar with beautiful Exall Lake, you can watch a short, minute-long video of the lake’s history, produced to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Highland Park, here.

For other posts featuring photos I’ve zoomed in on to reveal interesting little vignettes, click here.

UPDATE: I stumbled across another photo of this group, from Diane Galloway’s book The Park Cities, A Photohistory:


Most pictures much larger when clicked.


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.


The Nellie Maurine: When a Pleasure Boat Became a Rescue Craft During the Great Trinity River Flood of 1908

nellie-maurine_diaper-daysThe Nellie Maurine

by Paula Bosse

107 years ago today — after days and days of torrential rains — the Trinity River reached a crest of over 52 feet, and the resulting flooding caused loss of life and property and almost incalculable widespread damage on both sides of the suddenly surging river. Bridges and train trestles were washed out, cutting off any way for Dallasites or travelers heading west on trains and interurbans to get from Dallas to Oak Cliff, and vice versa. Ever the home of the entrepreneurial capitalist, the owner of one of the only large boats in the area, the Nellie Maurine, offered his water vehicle to be used as a ferry for those souls desperate to cross the river. For a price.

In September of 1906, E. L. Gale built a large boat in Dallas. It was designed to carry freight as well as passengers on pleasure trips between the “wharf” at the base of Commerce Street and the under-construction Lock and Dam No. 1 at McCommas Bluff. The boat was named after his daughters Vanelle and Maurine.

The Nelle Maurine is a model bow, flat-bottomed boat, seventy feet in length, sixteen-foot beam on the water line, and twenty feet including the guard rail. She is a propeller boat, draws twelve inches of water, and is driven by a 40-horsepower engine. In the event it be found that the engine is not of sufficient power to give the boat the required speed, it is so arranged that it can be changed to 80-horsepower with but very little trouble. With full cargo aboard, the vessel will require a depth of about thirty-three inches of water. (Dallas Morning News, Sept. 29, 1906)

nellie-maurine_dmn_092906DMN, Sept. 29, 1906 (before upper deck/pilot house had been built)

Gale envisioned great success in establishing shipyards and a wharf in Dallas. Though the much hoped-for “navigable Trinity” was still not a reality, many believed a trade route waterway between Dallas and the Gulf of Mexico was inevitable. A person could make a great deal of money by being in on the ground floor of such an industry.

The boat, initially a propeller boat which was converted to a sternwheeler in the summer of 1907, had trouble in operating along the short stretch of river with any kind of regular service — the water level was either too low or too high (when the water was high, the boat could not pass beneath the “Zang boulevard bridge”). The Nellie Maurine was often moored near a large cottonwood tree waiting for the river to cooperate. When it did cooperate, the boat was in demand as a pleasure craft, often offering moonlight treks down the river, complete with onboard dance band. The fare for a daytime round-trip to McCommas Bluff was 50¢; the privately chartered night-time cruises were likely quite a bit higher.

nellie-maurine_dmn_070409-ADAd, DMN, July 4, 1909

nellie-maurine_dmn_051308May 13, 1908 (less than two weeks before the flood)

When the Great Flood of 1908 hit on May 25, there was absolute bedlam, beginning in the middle of the night when one man set off several “dynamite bombs” one after another in order to awaken his neighbors who were unaware of the sudden and unexpected rise of the swollen river and who were in imminent danger. When Dallasites went to bed on May 24, the river was at an already high 28 feet. By 3:00 in the morning, just a few short hours later, it had risen to an incredible — and incredibly dangerous — 41.5 feet. By that afternoon it was over 51 feet, and by nightfall, it had surpassed all records and was at more than 52 feet. West Dallas and downtown were underneath water. Homes and livestock were washed away. Electricity was out. Telephones were out. Roads and railways were impassable. There was absolute panic.

For numerous reasons, people were desperate to cross the river. As all roads and bridges across the Trinity were submerged or destroyed, the only way across was by boat. The Nellie Maurine’s owner saw an opportunity to make a lot of money — by charging people to ferry them back and forth across the Trinity, something that probably rubbed people the wrong way. When city authorities asked permission to use the Nellie Maurine to survey the damage, they were rebuffed when Gale (or his captain) insisted the city pay a fee and the city refused. Dallas County Sheriff Arthur L. Ledbetter and Criminal District Judge W. W. Nelms were having none of that and seized the boat, deputizing the crew and ordering them to set off for the west bank of the river. As it turned out, the damage was far worse than anyone could have expected, and the boat was used to rescue stranded people, some of whom were pulled from treetops. (The account of this survey, titled “West Dallas Trip Proves Thrilling,” is pretty gripping — see link below.)

When the city was done with its search-and-rescue mission, it UN-seized the boat, and the Nellie Maurine began operating as a ferry again, transporting frantic people back and forth across the river. If you wanted to cross the river, you’d have to cough up one dollar — maybe even two, a hefty price to reach safety. (According to the Inflation Calculator, $1 in 1908 would be the equivalent of about $26 in today’s money). It was rumored that this ferry service was generating $1,000 a day (almost $26,000 a day in today’s money!).

nellie-maurine_dmn_052808DMN, May 28, 1908

The Nellie Maurine provided a much-needed service during the Great Dallas Flood — and they also made a substantial profit, which — depending on your business philosophy — is either ingenious or appalling.

Below, a few images of the Nellie Maurine. I’m not sure what ultimately became of her, but I have found no mention of the boat past 1910, a year before E. L. Gale died.


flood_nellie-maurine_1908bTwo photos of the boat taken during the flood (the boat had lost its pilot house when it was caught under the Commerce Street bridge earlier that day). (These two “real photo postcard” images found on eBay.)

Below, a post-flood photo from 1909, showing builders and contractors onboard, about to head to Lock and Dam No. 1 to check on its progress.

nellie-maurine_dmn_022309DMN, Feb. 23, 1909 (photo by Clogenson)


Sources & Notes

Top photo from the highly recommended book Diaper Days of Dallas by Ted Dealey.

Clippings and photos from The Dallas Morning News, as noted.

Read about the introduction of the Nellie Maurine (or the “Nelle Maurine”) to Dallas newspaper readers in an article published in The Dallas Morning News on Sept. 29, 1906, here. (The second photo above accompanied this article.)

Read the account of what was seen from the boat when it was commandeered by city officials in “West Dallas Trip Proves Thrilling,” published in the DMN on May 26, 1908, here.

Read more about the flood in these articles from The Dallas Morning News:

  • “The Trinity’s Swan Song Spree of 1908” by Gene Wallis (DMN, March 1, 1931), a hair-raising account of the havoc wreaked by the flood
  • “Riders Saw 1908 Flood from Ferry” (DMN, May 28, 1957), includes an account of S. S. Cumby, a farm boy who witnessed the flood

The Trinity River flood of 1908 was a story that made national headlines. The death-toll reports were all over the place, from 4 to “hundreds.” I think the official number of lives lost was only 4 or 5, which is pretty amazing, considering the the massive destruction caused by the flood. An interesting first-day report can be found in the Wichita (Kansas) Beacon, in a late edition from May 25, 1908, here. “Trinity Is on a Rampage” — indeed.

An incredible photo of the washed-out T & P railroad trestle can be found in a previous post here.

Stay dry, y’all!


Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

Lazy Weekends, Cruising White Rock Lake — 1972

white-rock_city-folk_1972_EPACruisin’ ’70s-style…

by Paula Bosse

Back before the days of joggers and bikers, one used to be able to drive around White Rock Lake. All the way around. No dead ends, no detours. People used to cruise it on the weekends — the road would be packed solid. I assume the homeowners grew weary of this and put an end to things by having the road chopped up to prevent continuous cruising. Figures. Here’s a look at one weekend in April of 1972, from a series of photos taken by the Environmental Protection Agency as part of their Documerica project which documented areas of environmental concern. Things all look pretty good here, except for the final photo showing ducks paddling alongside trash at the water’s edge — a scene that might make the Keep America Beautiful Indian shed another tear.

A description of these photos (provided, I think, by the EPA):

City folk come in droves each weekend to once-isolated White Rock Lake. Some come to picnic, sail or fish. Some just want to be where the action is [man].

Another caption:

Once-unspoiled and rather isolated, White Rock has become a city dweller’s weekend mecca, attracting people looking for ‘action’ as much as those seeking relief from urban pressures.











Sources & Notes

These photos — from the EPA’s Documerica project (“to photographically document subjects of environmental concern”) — can be found at the National Archives site, here.

Like outtakes from Dazed and Confused, man…. You can practically hear “Brandy, You’re a Fine Girl” wafting through the air.

Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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