Col. J. F. Strickland


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from This Was Ellis County

A publication of the Junior Historians,

Waxahachie High School, 1979

Texas Entrepreneur

by Greg Waller

As a teenager he came to Waxahachie from Alabama during the post-Civil War days when many Americans were moving west seeking new opportunity. He became a man of ambition, versatility, vision and persistence. J. F. Strickland left his mark on Waxahachie and the state of Texas.

Strickland arrived in Waxahachie in 1878 at the age of sixteen and began work on the farm of O. B. Sims. With the savings from his farm job Strickland purchased a team of oxen, which he used to earn money by plowing for farmers near Milford. With earnings from those plowing jobs, he purchased a cotton gin in Avalon.

In late 1883 records show that Strickland purchased forty acres of Ellis County school land from A. J. Lory for $400 ($100 cash and two notes). This is the first instance of land ownership by Strickland in Ellis County. This plot was located at Avalon in the R. H. Lattner Survey. The plot in all probability was the site of this gin. The Waxahachie Enterprise reported that he was trying to sell the gin when misfortune struck and it burned. Strickland collected the insurance on the destroyed property and returned to Waxahachie in the same year, which is noted to be about 1884.

Sims employed Strickland in his grocery business, after selling his land holding at Avalon to Almeda Cox for $500. During the same year Strickland and W. P. Sims, brother of Strickland's employer, purchased the stock of the store and began operation under the name of Sims and Strickland Company. The firm operated under this name until December of 1885 when the partnership was dissolved and Strickland became the owner of the store. This business was located in the Bradshaw Block, which was the south side of the square. In January of 1886 Strickland evidently had taken another partner since the business was known as Strickland and Parks Grocery. The partners began some enlargement of the business when in early 1887 they purchased Captain Patrick's warehouse and made plans to make an addition to it. The warehouse was located on the northwest corner of the present intersection of Jefferson and Elm Streets.

In March the Enterprise reported that Parks had retired and the business became J. F. Strickland Company. Strickland's stock was claimed to be the largest, most selective and complete that Waxahachie had to offer. The newspaper ads reported a fine assortment of sugar, syrup and rice as well as all varieties of California and Eastern canned goods. Strickland advertised that his store could fill orders for anything kept in a first class grocery store this far south. Among those choice items that local citizens were urged to try from the Strickland Company was "Nuvadine Flakes." Liquor could also be purchased at the store.

"Quick sales for cash at a small percentage of profit" was the motto of the company. Starting off the year 1888 Strickland had these salesmen W. J. McDuffie, W. A. Gaither and E. Wallace - and bookkeeper J.P. Cooper. Evidently the company remained at the above location until January of 1890 when Strickland moved his stock to the R. A. Davis building on the southeast corner of the square. While the Waxahachie National Bank, of which Strickland was a director, was constructing its building in the summer of 1890, the bank did its business from the front part of Strickland's store.

On August 28, 1889, Strickland married Sallie Martin of Waxahachie. With a large attendance M. K. Little at the First Methodist Church in Waxahachie performed the ceremony. There were no children born to the Stricklands.

Strickland purchased the house on the southeast corner of Williams and Oldham Streets in Waxahachie from Maggie J. Beal in October of 1889. The Stricklands resided there until they moved to Dallas, when A. J. Walcott purchased this home from Strickland for $5,250.

Between 1890 and 1892, Strickland's grocery business changed from retail sales to wholesale. Records show that he moved the J. F. Strickland Wholesale Grocery to the "Red Warehouse" near the Central depot. The wholesale grocery business ended in failure and Strickland turned his business energies to other new and developing enterprises.

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During the period from the late 1880's until about 1912, Strickland made numerous real estate transactions. During this period he purchased and opened the area known as the Strickland Addition, which was bounded, by Marvin, Farley, McKenzie and Kaufman Streets.

In the mid-1890's he bought the Waxahachie Ice Plant. He enlarged his efforts by setting up other ice plants in Central Texas.

While Strickland resided in Waxahachie he was busy in many activities both business and civic. He served several years as a city alderman in the late 1880's and early 1890's. He was often late to meetings; a fact, which was noted in the minutes, and on numerous occasions, was fined three dollars for his absence. The local newspaper often noted Strickland's attendance at local and county social affairs. At the time that the Masonic Building was completed (1889), he served on the picnic committee. As a part of the cornerstone laying activities, a picnic was held at Bullard's Park. Records show that he also served as an ax man for the Salamander Fire Department. In later years (1902) he was treasurer for the Waxahachie Fire Department.

In 1887 he was a member of the local committee to solicit subscriptions for stock for the Waxahachie Light, Power and Water Company. It must have been during this business that Strickland's business association with Judge M. B. Templeton started. This company did not materialize, but by 1890 the Waxahachie Electric light Company received a five-year franchise from the City of Waxahachie. The Light Company faced considerable financial and technical difficulty in its first years. In 1892 Strickland became manager for the Waxahachie plant, and with increased financial backing, the company began improvement. Strickland was elected to the board of directors and became vice president and general manager, a job in which he served for a number of years. By 1901 he had been elected president and general manager. By keeping up with the new developments in the business, Strickland, Templeton and Osce Goodwin began to enlarge their holdings when they acquired the Hillsboro Electric and Gas Company.

While Strickland was managing the Waxahachie Electric Light Company he continued his other business activities. When the second mule car line, the Lake Park Street Railway Company, was organized he was a member of its board of directors and in 1893-94 he was the president of the company. At about this same time he was president and general manager of the Waxahachie Cotton Compress. In 1895 he was a member and third vice president of the Waxahachie Commercial Club, a group of energetic Waxahachie businessmen. In 1902 when Trinity University was making its move to Waxahachie, he served on the building committee.

The Stricklands moved to Dallas in 1904. Shortly after establishing residence there, Strickland and his associates established the Dallas Securities Company whose purpose it was to promote electrical development in Texas. In addition to Strickland, associates from Waxahachie who served on the board of directors of the new company were Goodwin, Templeton and R. Vickery. Strickland served as president of the board of directors. In the ensuing years the Securities Company enlarged its holdings in the energy field by acquiring plants, in addition to Waxahachie and Hillsboro, at Bonham, Cleburne, Sherman, Dublin, Waco and Temple.

            

Osce Goodwin (above left) and Judge M. B. Templeton (above right) along with Col. J. F. Strickland were the three men primarily responsible for putting together the properties which originally formed the nucleus of Texas Power & Light.

It was from this group of plants that what was to become the Texas Power and Light Company grew. This was formed with Strickland as its first president and with Goodwin as a member of the first board of directors.

Hauling a pole in 1914 with a model "T" roadster. Manager C. T. Nall, Waxahachie manager, is standing beside the car. Photo taken at intersection of Elm & Main Streets looking northeast. Building center background is Davenport Studio and building right background is City Hall/Fire Station.

Within two years from the time that Strickland left Waxahachie, he and his associates became interested in electric rail transportation. Electric transportation had grown with the Denison-Sherman and the Dallas-Fort Worth lines by the time he had moved to Dallas. The Texas Traction Company, formed by Strickland and his associates, between 1906 and 1908 constructed an electric rail line from Dallas to connect with the Denison-Sherman line, a property of which the Strickland group owned a considerable part. By 1911 the Texas Traction operated 77 miles of track from Dallas and Denison as well as local lines in Sherman, Denison and McKinney.

Since both the Strickland group and the Stone-Webster Company, which operated the Dallas-Fort Worth line, were planning to build lines southward independently of each other, duplication loomed. The two groups under the promotion and financing of Strickland joined forces to form the Southern Traction Company with Strickland as president. Strickland's group served as managers of the company. In the ensuing years the company constructed the lines to Corsicana and Waco, which began operation in October of 1913. In 1917 the interested parties reformed and renamed the electric lines as the Texas Electric Railway with local streetcar lines in Waxahachie and Waco. The power interests of the Strickland group supplied the transportation interests of the Strickland group with electric power. The rail right-of-way served also as the right-of-way for the electric power lines.

Strickland was the first president of the Texas Power and Light Company and he served in that capacity until his death in 1921. At the time of his death, he also was serving as the president of the Dallas Power and Light Company. The Texas Electric Railway, the Dallas Street Railway Company and the Dallas Securities Company were all groups of which he also was president at his death.

It was written of Strickland that ''as a business associate he was a genius, combining many elements rarely found in number and degree in a single individual. He possessed sagacity, wisdom and vision, which were exemplified by the great works he has wrought and executed. Not less conspicuously he was endowed with honesty, integrity and fidelity. Untiring industry and unceasing perseverance were among his many marked characteristics. He commanded the respect and confidence of those with whom he was associated and impressed them that he could consummate any undertaking within his contemplation. He believed in honesty as a principle, in fair dealing as an obligation, in the welfare of others as a duty. He had faith in his fellow man, sought always to find the good in others; and other men had faith in him because they found him worthy of their faith, and they believed in him and trusted him." (Robert L. Johnson, T. P.&L., First Sixty Years)

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