Stage coaches carried passengers and mail to points beyond. One line operated between Fort Worth and Fort Concho (San Angelo). In 1877, a contract was let by the Postoffice Department for a line between Fort Worth and Fort Yuma, Arizona, the longest daily stage coach line in the world-approximately 1,500 miles. Thirteen days were required to make the run. Hold-ups and other attacks were frequent so, on part of the route, the coaches had an escort of troops.
But one railroad was not enough for Fort Worth. Several other lines entered the city, bringing the dream Capt. Paddock’s Tarantula-like map to life.
The city’s first street car line was built in 1876. It ran from the courthouse to the T&P station and service was provided by mule-drawn cars. The gas works were built the same year. (The gas was, of course, artificial.) By 1878, an elevator had been established, and Fort Worth began to be a grain center. It was not until 1882 that the free school system began. (Fort Worth had had only private schools.) Also in 1882, M.P. Begley, son of a Kentucky steamboat captain, established the first of three great flour mills in Fort Worth. Original capacity of the mill was 50 barrels a day.
The first Fat Stock Show was held in 1886 with C.C. French and Charlie McFarland, the latter from Weatherford, as leading spirits. A storm arrived for the first night of the show and the next morning the cattle were coated with sleet as they hunched under live oak and pecan trees. But the sun came out and all present —including the cattle — felt better. The premiums were cowboy hats, boots, spurs, bridles, windmills and troughs. Though the location changed to accommodate its growing size, the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo has endured for more than a century and, as the first indoor rodeo, has served as a model for such events around the world.
Prior to 1876, when the first artesian well was drilled, Fort Worth’s drinking water came from the Clear Fork of the Trinity and from a spring two miles northeast of town. More than 100 wells were drilled, and Fort Worth became known as the “city of artesian wells.” Well water was peddled over the town in carts at 12.5 cents a barrel. During the administration of Mayor John Peter Smith, water-lines were laid; Main and Houston streets were paved from the courthouse to the T&P station; bridges were built; a sewer system was established and the fire department was systemized.
One of the chief factors in the development of Fort Worth has been strong and progressive banks. In 1870, Capt. Martin B. Loyd opened an “exchange office” that evolved into the First National Bank, chartered in 1877. Thomas A. Tidball and John Wilson, in 1873, opened a private bank. A year later, Maj. Van Zandt, John Peter Smith and Maj. J.J. Jarvis purchased Wilson’s interest and the name was changed to Tidball, Van Zandt and Company. In 1884, Noah Harding, Col. R.L. Ellison and Dr. E. Beall acquired interests in the institution and it became the Fort Worth National Bank. The Continental National Bank was established in 1903 with J.G. Wilkinson as president. Chairman of the Board was Morgan Jones, the contractor who built the T&P into Fort Worth. The Continental National was one of the first banks in this section to lend money for oil development, and it has long been known as “an oil man’s bank.”
“Wild and wool” characterized much of Fort Worth’s life in the 1880’s. Most celebrated of six-gun exponents was long haired James Courtright, who could shoot equally well with either hand and was a master of the “border shift” wherein a pistol was drawn, fired, tossed in the air, caught in the other hand and firing resumed. He was city marshal. Then as head of a detective agency, Courtright convinced saloon and gambling hall proprietors that they needed his protection. He convinced everyone except for Luke Short, owner of the White Elephant Saloon, who had earned notoriety shooting Arizona and Kansas boom towns. As the story goes, Short and Courtright had a brief conversation and then both went for their guns. A bullet from Short’s weapon, out first, hit Courtright’s right thumb; he tossed up the gun for the “shift” but, while it was in the air, Short fired three more times. Courtright had the longest funeral procession Fort Worth had ever seen.
The first telephone exchange began operating in 1881, with 40 customers. Four years later, in 1885, electric lights were turned on for the first time.
Polytechnic College was founded in 1890. It became Texas Women’s College in 1914 and, 20 years later, it again became co-educational as Texas Wesleyan College. It is known today as Texas Wesleyan University.
The Texas Spring Palace opened in 1889 to celebrate and display the state’s resources. It was a large, two story structure with eight towers and a dome. One May night in 1890, the band concert had ended and the grand ball was about to begin. A thousand Dallas representatives were just entering the palace when there was the cry of “Fire!” Shrieks filled the air, and 7,000 people rushed for the doors. The fire, starting on the second floor, advanced with breath-taking swiftness among the highly flammable decorations.
There was not time to combat flames, but members of the fire department and others directed the panic-stricken to the exits. Though several firemen were scorched and others were injured by the rushing thousands, everyone escaped death except for Al Hayne. Hayne was a civil engineer who worked tirelessly to save those in danger during the incident. He remained in the building too long, dying from severe burns next day.
The city’s residents raised money for a monument, which was constructed and stands today as a reminder of Hayne’s heroism and of the beautiful Texas Spring Palace.