Denison's First Year
September 23, 1873
One year ago today the city of Denison was in a chaotic, unorganized
state, a thing wholly of the future. All told, there were perhaps 50 men
who had gathered upon the town site and, along the little rise which now
marks the alley between Owings and Morgan streets, had erected booths,
tents, and, in half a dozen cases, temporary box houses, in which they
had already commenced business.
Here in a single row are Brown with his bakery, McGreevy with his
miscellaneous stocks, Edelstein & McCabe and Collins with liquors,
Dr. Johnson with drugs, and Kelly with his tinshop. Here was Cutler with
his printing office, from which had already issued two numbers of the Red
River Journal, which with its title printed in a sort of brick-colored
ink, insured that part of his paper, at least, being read. Here, too, was
Gov. Owings, the man who had the honor of being Denison?s first mayor,
and who had gathered, even at that early day, a dozen scrub ponies, the
nucleus of his present commodious stables.
Other than these few primitive improvements, there was not a board
or a stone to mark the present city of Denison. Main Street was part of
a rough pasture covered with brush; Skiddy (now Chestnut) Street was a
ravine, from which the undergrowth had never been cut, while Woodard, Gandy
and Sears streets were unbroken forest.
By common consent, the new town that was to be, had been christened
?Red River City,? and by this name it was known through a dozen states,
even before the site had been chosen. The announcement that the name had
been changed and the infant rechristened Denison, was received here with
many misgivings and dire predictions. It was argued that Red River City
was known over the whole country and its future already assured, while
Denison was altogether unknown. Protests were made and threats of abandonment
were freely uttered, but all of no avail. The powers that be were inexorable.
Denison was the name provided, and Denison it must be though every man
abandoned it, and a dozen Red River Cities sprang up in the vicinity.
From the outset, the enmity and opposition of Sherman had been bitter
in the extreme. The enterprise was belittled and derided, by both the people
and the public press. They went out of their way to abuse us, and used
whole columns of their papers in proving that the town did not, and could
not, amount to anything. They declared that the title to all these lands
was in dispute, and the Town Company's claim good for nothing; that the
M. K. & T. Railway was a bankrupt corporation, whose aid and influence
could never build a town; and, finally, that it had no charter and could
never enter the State of Texas.
Even on the day of sale, not less than a hundred men were leaning
idly upon their shovels between this place and the river, restrained from
working by an order from the District Court, which denied the M. K. &
T. Railway the right to build a road through their own lands, when theirs
had been the first line surveyed, and the stakes afterwards pulled up by
a rival corporation. Further than this, a combination had been formed among
the first settlers, right here at home, by which they proposed to prevent
the lots being sold at anything more than mere nominal prices. On the whole,
the situation on the morning of 23rd of September, was anything but hopeful
to the agents of the Town Company, and it was with fearful misgivings that
they rode out upon the ground to begin the sale.
But in spite of these adverse circumstances, a goodly number of
people were in attendance, and the bidding was spirited. The first lot
offered was that on the northwest corner of Main Street and Austin Avenue,
and the first bid was $100, made by J. Q. A. Carter. From this it went
up by tens and fives until finally struck off to S. A. Cook at $250. The
home conspirators looked at one another in dumb amazement and retired from
the field, while the crowd seemed to gain reassurance from their own bidding.
The second lot offered was the opposite corner, and this was sold to W.
H. Hull at $300, the highest price paid during the day.
In all 31 lots were disposed of at an average cost of $155 each.
The sale [September 23, 1872] over, business began in earnest. In
less than two hours work had begun upon Mullens? grocery building, which
was, as it purports to be, the "Pioneer". Two days after [that,] the Nelson
House was located, and buildings were put up in rapid succession by Hull,
Trial, Goodman, Clark & Tallant, Dinsmore, Mosley & McGrevy, White
Gnase & Guy, and Cutler; and Cannon, Chamberlain, and Nevins &
Farmer made it equally lively on Crawford Street.
The rough pine lumber of which the first houses were constructed,
had all to be hauled from East Texas, 120 miles away, or from Atoka, the
then railroad terminus, half as far in another direction. The appearance
of a load of lumber upon the street, or rather upon the ground, for there
were no streets, was the signal for a general rush, and before the bewildered
teamster could more than name his price it was taken, and he left cursing
his luck that he didn?t charge half a dollar more. The little mills within
a circuit of 15 miles were besieged with customers night and day, who stood
ready to quarrel for the possession of each individual board as it fell
from the log.
Those who were here in the early days will bear us out in the statement
that our style of life was primitive in the extreme. Men slept in tents,
in wagons, in sheds and upon the ground.
Their morning toilet consisted of a wash, frequently a dry one,
and a running of the fingers through the hair, and their house was set
in order by rolling up the blanket upon which they had slept.
If, as was often the case, they had no blanket, they had but to
rise from the ground and shake themselves, which they were ready for the
business of the day.
Our meals were taken at restaurants; when one person had no sooner
risen from the bench than another took his place, the plate was hastily
wiped upon a dirty towel, and the meal went on as before.
The same bill of fare was served up with unvarying regularity morning,
noon and night. It consisted of bread without butter, coffee without milk,
and beef steak which had to be fished out of the fat in which it was swimming.
In the midst of all, however, the greatest good feeling prevailed.
Men jostled each other without friction, and all grew hearty and jovial
while roughing it.
And all the time the wonderful growth of the town went on, and the
more its facilities increased the faster went on the work of improvement.
Tents and wagons were succeeded by houses; benches and dry goods boxes
by chairs; and blankets by mattresses, sheets, and pillows. What had at
first seemed isolated buildings erected apparently without order or design,
developed into regularly defined and well-filled streets, while tasteful
residences began to appear among the trees and dot the surrounding fields.
Each day saw some new building completed, some new stock opened to the
It must not be inferred, however, that our population in those days,
any more than at present, was composed wholly of moral and virtuous people,
or that all business was conducted legitimately. Concert halls and houses
of ill-repute increased and multiplied, and keno and faro were well represented
and patronized. Yet, unorganized, unpoliced, and unguarded as was the young
city, the best of order prevailed, its very helplessness providing its
From this picture of a year ago, let us turn to that of today and
see what a wonderful change a year has produced.
A census of the city, carefully taken within the last 10 days, reveals
the following facts:
There are in Denison of actual residents, 3,952 people; and there
are within the city limits, completed and occupied, 451 wooden and 18 brick
and stone buildings, not one of which was built a year ago. There are in
5 dry goods and clothing houses
8 general stores
1 daily and 3 weekly newspapers
1 shoe store
5 liquor houses
5 drug stores
4 dealers in hardware and tin
1 furniture store
3 harness shops
2 book and news stores
5 barber shops
6 meat markets
2 auction houses
3 lumber yards
6 brick yards
6 shoe shops
4 tailor shops
1 gun store, and
2 photograph galleries.
Two churches have been completed, the foundation is laid for a third;
and three schools are in successful operation.
In this list we have omitted, as worthy of more special mention:
? Lone Star Mills, erected at a cost of $40,000, and now turning
out flour at the rate of 150 barrels daily;
? First National Bank, the only one within the circuit of 200 miles;
? the passenger and freight depots, the best, not only in the state,
but even west of St. Louis;
? Arctic Ice Company, whose mammoth reservoir has veins extending
as far as Austin;
? Refrigerator Car Company, now erecting immense slaughter-houses
and inaugurating a new era in the cattle trade; and
? the elegant school building, now under process of erection, and
which, when completed, will be second to none in the state.
Harrison Tone, "Denison Founder Recounts Bitter Sherman Rivalry".
Sherman Democrat, Centennial Edition, August 12, 1979. Reprinted from Denison
Daily News, September 23, 1873.