Grayson County TXGenWeb
Dr. Alexander "Sandy" Wilson Acheson, Jr.
1842 - 1934

Dr. Acheson
Photo by Walter P. Lebrecht, ca 1928

ALEXANDER W. ACHESON, M. D., who since 1872 has engaged in the practice of medicine in Denison and is now mayor of the city, occupying an honored position not only in public office but also in public regard, was born in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1842, a son of Alexander W. and Jane (Wishart) Acheson. The father, a native of Philadelphia, died at the venerable age of eighty-six years, while his wife, was born in Washington, Pennsylvania, passed away at the age of eighty years. Mr. Acheson was a graduate of Washington and Jefferson College, became a prominent attorney of Pennsylvania, and served as district judge.

Dr. Acheson, spending his boyhood and youth under the parental roof, was afforded good educational privileges and remained at home until 1861, when at the age of nineteen years he enlisted for service in the Federal army, acting as a private. He was promoted to the rank of captain after the battle of Gettysburg and served as aid-de-camp on the staff of General Nelson A. Miles during the Mine Run campaign. He was wounded in the face of the Battle of the Wilderness, and by reason of his injuries and on 
account of his general health he left the army.

[Source: B. B. Paddock, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1906), Vol. I, p. 609.]

Follow his military service he entered upon the study of medicine in Philadelphia and was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in the class of 1867. He then located for practice in Washington, Pennsylvania, where he remained until 1870, when he removed to Kansas City, Missouri, coming thence to Denison, Texas, in 1872. Here he has practiced continuously since, with a constantly growing patronage, and has also served as local surgeon for the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad for over thirty years. He has kept in touch with modern scientific methods and advanced thought, and has thus continually promoted his efficiency, rendering his labors of signal value and service to his fellowmen. He is interested in all that tends to solve the complex problems of disease or physical injury and in his practice has ever maintained a high standard of professional ethics.

Dr. Acheson was married in 1864 to Miss Sarah Cooke, a daughter of John L. Cooke, who died in 1899, leaving two children: Jane, who was born in Pennsylvania; and Alice, who was born in Denison, Texas, and is the wife of I. F. Sproul, by whom he has a daughter, Jane. 

Dr. Alexander W. Acheson
1842 - 1934

Sarah Cooke Acheson
1844 - 1899

Dr. Acheson since 1869 has been a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and at the National Encampment in Washington, D. C., in 1902, was elected surgeon general. Prominent in public affairs in Denison since becoming a resident of this city, his public-spirited devotion to the general good and his practical ideas of citizenship well entitling him to a position as leader, he has been selected for public honors and office, having been chosen councilman of the second ward in 1873. He has ever advocated the principles of the Republican party but votes independently at national elections, and in 1904 was elected on the citizens' ticket to the office of mayor, so that he is the present chief executive of Denison. He is giving to the city a public-spirited and progressive administration, watchful of needed reforms and improvements and exercising his prerogatives in support of all plans and movements for the general good. Personally prominent and popular, the consensus of public opinion regarding his official and professional service is equally valuable, and Dr. Acheson is widely recognized as one of the foremost residents of Denison.

1419 West Gandy Street
ca. 1908
Dr. Acheson built this Italianate home an elevated block of land.

"Residence of Dr. Alex W. Acheson." Robinson, Frank M., comp. Industrial Denison. [N.p.]: Means-Moore Co., [ca. 1909]. Page 14.

Sherman Daily Democrat
August 13, 1939

Denison Landmarks
The Acheson house was built in the early seventies and contained the first electric lights, water service and telephones to be installed in Denison.

1419 West Woodard Street
ca. 1886
View looking to northwest.
This was the home of Dr. Alex W. "Sandy" Acheson & his wife Sarah Cooke Acheson.
This view taken from Henry Wellge's 1886 Birds-Eye Map of Denison, on website from the Amon Carter Museum.

Facebook Comments

Freddie Lessly wrote: Looks like the Achesons had the entire block (1400 West Woodard and Gandy), one that now contains four big houses. It was built on a high spot.

Brian Hander wrote: I wish this house was still standing. It looks so palatial; I'm sure it was the finest house in Denison.

Doug Hoover wrote: The house had a periscope that stuck up above the roof. In the house was a mirrored table that reflected the images as the periscope was aimed at various parts of young Denison from the hilltop. In the days before TV or radio, this was big entertainment. Rumor says that lightning struck this periscope, causing the fire that destroyed the house. From the tower, you could see out 360 degrees.

Mavis Anne Bryant wrote: The photographer C. D. Ansley took a 360-degree series of photographs of Denison from all sides of Dr. Acheson's tower.

Mavis Anne Bryant wrote: I had a good visit with Frances Johnson Bailey today. She used to live a block from this house when she was a girl. Said that kids would run up and look in the windows of Dr. Acheson's house because he had a laboratory in the basement. There was a skeleton in one corner, racks of test tubes, etc. The kids thought the house was haunted! Frances remembers that he always parked his buggy or, later, car on Gandy Street and used the back door to enter his home. Dr. Acheson had great parties, like Easter Egg hunts and tea parties for all the kids.

Brian Hander wrote: That is such a cool story. It's almost like something out of a movie, with the basement laboratory.

Dr. Alexander W. Acheson

Dr. Alex W. “Sandie” Acheson (1842–1934) was one of the earliest settlers of Denison, and he was serving as Denison’s mayor when the 1914 Denison High School was being planned and constructed. Yet he chooses to write about the first school, the Educational Institute or Washington School, which was demolished in 1914. By September 1931, when he wrote this letter, he was chairman of the “Red River Flood Control Committee, Chamber of Commerce,” and the letter was written on its letterhead. Oddly, he refers to himself as “we.”

To the members of the 6th grade of Central Ward School:

You have asked for a story of our boyhood days. This we are willing to give so far as schooling is concerned, though the beginning is so long ago, that much of it is misty.

The first time I went to school was as a visitor, with an older brother, and could not have been more than 3 or 4 years of age. At that time schools were not very popular, and most of them were pay (not public) schools. The teachers hired were usually cripples; not because they were more intelligent, or better teachers; but because as cripples they were unfitted to follow any other occupation, and the community, rather than put them in the poor-house, assigned them to teaching.

We do not know when we started to school as a scholar. It was to a pay school, and we were very young. We half way believe that we were sent in order to get rid of the nuisance of caring for us at home. It was more of a nursery, than otherwise. The seats were benches with slats across them, so that each had his own compartment, preventing him from infringing on his companion. There were no desks. The teacher was a woman.

The main recollection of that school happened one day, when the teacher took us over to her home to see her brother, who was about to leave for the Mexican War. That must have been about 1846 or 1847. The appearance of that boy will never be forgotten. As he stood there in his uniform, he looked like a giant to a little tad like me. That boy in after years commanded one of the armies during the Civil War, and was chosen as the governor of Ohio.

The next school we attended was also a pay school, conducted by a widow—a very good teacher. Nothing further is to be added, except to call attention to the increasing favor extended public education, in larger taxes for their support, and grants of large quantities of public land to insure success.

This story would not be complete without reference to the state of public school in Denison. Preceding the Civil War, schools were not popular in the South. Planters preferred to import teachers for the younger children, and send the older ones away to college. When the railway reached Denison in 1872, there were no public schools in Texas. To the north, that section now known as Oklahoma, was “the Indian Territory,” in which public schools were unknown. The railway company was faced with a serious problem in asking employees to bring their families into a locality devoid of the educational facilities they were accustomed to.

This condition was met by the Denison Town Company determining to erect a school building in this city, which was done, and in its early history was one of the most powerful magnets in drawing population. In the first place the building itself was something unheard of in this section. It attracted attention. Then the furniture—varnished seats and desks in a country that knew little else than furniture constructed with a broad-ax. That school was the talk for hundreds of miles in all directions.

Let us illustrate what that school building did. A councilman from Dallas came to Denison to meet his wife, who had been summering in Kentucky. Having heard of this school, he asked to be shown, and remarked when leaving that his city had no public school building, but he would go to work at once to persuade the city to build one. Thus it is apparent that our move in school building was the instigator of imitation, not only in the chief city, but all over the state.

At first it was difficult to continue the school during the full term. The town was neither large nor rich, and the funds supplied by taxation were insufficient to pay the teachers. In this emergency a “drive” was made each year, where public-spirited citizens subscribed to its support, so as to keep the school running.

This was no easy matter, as a considerable element opposed public schools in that era. To illustrate: one of the leading merchants, who subsequently became mayor, refused to permit his children to attend the public school, and sent them to a private school, taught by Mrs. Christy, in a room across the alley back of the post-office.

However, Mrs. Christy was overtaken by fever, her school was temporarily closed, when this prominent citizen, rather than have his children run the streets, placed them in the public school, until the private one again resumed operation. He soon discovered that no favoritism was shown his children there. They had to “toe the mark,” behave themselves, comply with the rules, and study like Jehu, to hold their own. They made notably faster progress than at the private school. This so impressed the parents, that they were transformed from opponents to the warmest supporters of public education.

In this struggle for funds with which to keep the school going through its full term, we were fortunate to have a hero come to our aid. He was an American, who had accumulated a fortune in England, and determined to devote it to the education of Texas children. His name was Peabody. From his millions every year, Denison received a substantial gift of wealth. It is in his honor that one of our buildings is named.

There is one fact in connection with the erection of our Main Street building—the one called the “High School”—which should not be overlooked; nor how it came to pass could we ever understand. We are the only one remaining of the city officials, constituting the council when that building was erected. All of the rest have gone on.

The fact referred to is the name attached to the grounds and school. It was named “Washington School,” in honor of the first U.S. president, when he had nothing to do with its erection and was dead before Denison was born.

The possibility of erecting the building where it is—at the then head of Main Street, occupying a whole block of the choicest property in the city—is due to the thoughtfulness and liberality of one couple, J. K. Miller and wife.

A portion of the block had been sold, when that location was agreed upon as the site for the school. Mr. and Mrs. Miller bought it back, transferring it and all of the remainder of the block by deed to the city. In return for this splendid act of generosity, thoughtless and unappreciative authority named it after one who had nothing to do with it. In this whole city, there is not an alley, street, avenue, park, or public institution named to commemorate the memory of the ones who contributed more for the advancement of the rising generations, than all other donors combined. That school should have been named “Miller School”; nor is it too late yet to render tardy justice to the greatest benefactors ever residents of this city,

It is useless to pour water into a sieve, and equally so to teach improperly fed children. We have connected with our schools Parent-Teacher organizations. These are not compulsory, but voluntary, and an excellent combination to effect betterment. Here is where teachers can get in their good work, by telling the mothers of children stupid, slow to learn, and near the foot of their class, that the kids can be yet further lowered if they can be fed a slice of bacon every meal. There is no mental pabulum in bacon, so that it is admirably fitted to prevent knowledge accumulation. If a first class foot-ball player is the aim of education, feed him on pork, as that conduces to perfect physical and poor mental development. Never forget that the boy who conquered the giant Goliath was raised on cheese, avoiding bacon.

Ain’t it strange that parents will buy books for their children—go to all the expense connected with schooling, and at the same feed them on matter preventing brain growth? Which is the worst, a saloon keeper, who sells liquor to a few dozen topers, who get their brains addled; or the grocer who sells oleo to 3,000 growing children, thus stopping brain development?

Respectfully yours,

        Alex W. Acheson

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