Tag Archive for History

A Gem Of A Depot in Gainesville, Texas

Santa Fe Depot, Gainesville, TX
At this sleepy little Santa Fe Depot, I squinted my eyes and tried to imagine it as the bustling hub of Gainesville, Texas. That was hard to do when there wasn’t another person on the street with me. However, in 1944, passenger tickets sales for the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway in Gainesville were the 8th largest in the nation! Soldiers from nearby Camp Howze (an infantry replacement training camp), families with fidgety children, and businessmen would have crowded the sidewalks, sweating in the midday sun.

Built in 1902, the brick train station served passengers until December 1979, when the last Amtrak train came thundering down the tracks. For twenty years, the station was unused by passengers, until the Amtrak Heartland Flyer began making a stop here in 1999. You can still hop aboard a train in Gainesville, but only twice a day. That’s not why you want to stop at the depot. Visitors to this neck of the woods need to stop because it houses a gem of a museum that pays homage to (among other things, including memorabilia of the Gainesville Community Circus) the first twenty-nine years of operation — when a Fred Harvey lunch counter operated out of the building. As a sweet aside, it might also have a ghost! Hang on. I’ll get around to that in a minute.

Outline of lunch counter

Although the counter has long since been removed, you can still see the outline on the floor of where it stood. Displays throughout the building give you a hint of what it was like when waitresses in black dresses, black hose, polished black shoes, and crisp white pinafore aprons efficiently buzzed about the counter serving meals to hundreds of passengers each day.

Courtesy of Morton Museum of Cooke County

Courtesy of Morton Museum of Cooke County

They were The Harvey Girls. The picture on the left shows the Harvey Girls and their German-born chef, Ernest Emil Schurig, around the lunch counter.

This tiny museum in Cooke County, Texas preserves a bit of the Harvey Girl history. It whetted my appetite for more. I had no idea the part that the Harvey Girls, and their employer, Fred Harvey, played in changing the West.

Fred Harvey came to the United States from England in 1853 at the age of seventeen. Like most immigrants, he was chasing the American Dream — and he caught it. His first jobs were as a dishwasher and as a busboy in a restaurant in New York. He quickly moved up the ladder, learning all about the food service industry. He later owned restaurants but the Civil War, and the depressed economy following it, hampered his success. Then, he had a brilliant idea: he made a deal in 1876 with the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway to put eating houses along the rail line.

Rail travel in the 1800s was pretty miserable. With no air conditioning, the open windows made for dusty, hot travel … with no food served! Passenger had to wait until the train stopped, every hundred miles or so, and hope to be able to buy beans and biscuits during the short pause at the station. Fred Harvey changed all that with his Harvey lunch counters — the first restaurant chain in the United States. Ticket masters queried the passengers about whether they planned to eat at the next stop and telegraphed ahead, so that the chefs at the Harvey diners could plan for the amount of food to have ready.

Harvey House place setting

Excellent food, served on fine china, awaited the passengers. Imagine how difficult it would have been to accommodate everyone during the twenty minute stop! Was the food excellent? Yes, it was only the best. Beef was shipped in daily from Kansas City; oysters and clams were shipped from the coast; and in Gainesville the water was deemed unsuitable for coffee, so it was shipped in daily from Fort Worth! Here is an excerpt from a 1927 Harvey diner menu, on display at the Gainesville Depot Museum, to give you an idea of what foods you might find waiting at the next stop.

excerpt from 1927 Harvey House menu

Prime rib of beef for $1.10? Jumbo Bull Frog Almandienne? Grilled Boston Scrod? I don’t even know what a Scrod is, and I don’t think I want to find out!

All of this would have been served to you by those immaculate and efficient Harvey Girls. That women were serving the food in these fine establishments was a bit of a novelty in those days. Before Fred Harvey started hiring women to serve in his diners, most waitresses were “shady ladies,” or at least perceived to be so. Waitressing was not considered a job for a proper young lady.

The story goes that in a Fred Harvey restaurant in Raton, New Mexico, the waiters were a bunch of rowdy ruffians. After a fight one night, they didn’t show up for work the next day. Mr. Harvey was so enraged that he fired the lot of them and promptly advertised for young ladies to take the positions. Ads went out in newspapers across the land saying:

Wanted: Young women 18 to 30 years of age, of good moral character, attractive and intelligent, to waitress in Harvey Eating Houses on the Sante Fe in the West. Wages, $17.50 per month with room and board. Liberal tips customary. Experience not necessary. Write Fred Harvey, Union Depot, Kansas City, Missouri.

Adventurous young women from farms in the Midwest, cities in the northeast, and all points in between rushed to apply. The money was good, the thought of adventure in a new community out west was enticing, and some of the young ladies figured that there was always a chance that a suitable husband might be on the next train.

The women had to sign an affidavit that they were of good character, they had to agree not to marry within six months of employment, and they had to abide by strict rules of conduct (including “no expectorating on the floor”). After six weeks of training, they went to work.

Fred Harvey and his Harvey Girls raised the reputation of the job of waitress to a high level of respectability. In a time when there weren’t many jobs available to women, the Fred Harvey chain offered females a chance to gain independence. That history is commemorated at the Museum at the Depot in Gainesville, Texas.

I know what you are thinking. “Wait a minute, Shelly. You mentioned a ghost!” I did, didn’t I.

bedroom for Harvey Girl

The ghost is upstairs, where you will find the rooms that were once occupied by the Harvey Girls who worked at the depot and the manager. There are seven sparsely furnished rooms that were for the girls, a common bathroom, and two rooms for the manager.

hallway at the Harvey House

Museum volunteers and guests often hear footsteps tap-tap-tapping down the hardwood floors of the long hallway when there is not a living soul upstairs!

Who could it be? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps it is the manager of the Depot, making certain that these ladies of high moral character are safely tucked into their rooms at night? Perhaps it is the restless spirit of a Harvey Girl stepping down the hall to the communal bathroom? I suggest that you visit the museum and decide for yourself. It’s definitely worth the stop.

The museum is located at 605 East California Street in Gainesville. Just find the train tracks, and you will be there. Because it is a small town, you might want to call ahead before visiting at (940) 668-4579.

[Note: If you are curious and want to read more about the Harvey Girls, I suggest Harvey Houses of Texas: Historic Hospitality from the Gulf Coast to the Panhandle (Landmarks) by Rosa Walston Latimer.]

Paying Respect To The Lawman, Not The Outlaw

The family of Alijah W. Grimes was reportedly infuriated that the outlaw, part of the gang who had murdered their loved one, would be buried in the same cemetery with his victim. They insisted that the outlaw be “planted” at the outskirts of the cemetery next to where the slaves had been buried before the Civil War, because in 1878 they considered that an insult for a white man.

So, the outlaw Sam Bass is buried on the western edge of Round Rock Cemetery. There is a historical marker beside Sam’s grave. A.W. Grimes, a former Texas Ranger, is buried across the way on the east side of the cemetery with a tiny metal cross (indicating his status as a Texas Ranger) beside his tombstone instead of a historical marker.

Texas ranger cross

My husband and I were traveling home from the Austin area today, and decided to go down Sam Bass Road in Round Rock to visit the cemetery. You see, today (July 21st) is the anniversary of both the birthday and death day of Sam Bass. After being wounded in a gun battle in Round Rock on July 19th, 1878 in a failed bank hold-up, Sam escaped down the road that now bears his name. Two days later, on Sam’s 27th birthday, he was found sprawled helplessly dying in a field north of town.

Because I tell ghost stories about Sam Bass on my Ghosts of Denton haunted tour, I came to see his grave out of curiosity. I wasn’t necessarily “paying respects,” because it’s hard for me to muster respect for a thief. Yes, I know that he was dubbed “The Robin Hood of Texas” because he stole from the “rich” and he gave to the poor … but he stole first. Probably the only reason Sam Bass wasn’t also considered a murderer is that folks he robbed got lucky.

As we snapped photos of the grave a stranger came striding toward us. He called out, “Thanks for remembering Sam on his birthday!” The man was dressed in Western style (boots, jeans, white shirt, vest, string tie, and a cowboy hat). That “long, tall drink-of-water” looked like he had just stepped out of a movie — and in fact “Tex” told us he had played bit parts in several well-known Western movies. He had come to take a photo of Sam’s grave for an elderly friend whose father knew Sam Bass. Tex knew a lot about Sam Bass, and he wanted to share it, not knowing that I already have studied the man.

I could match him fact for fact on Sam’s life story, but Tex told me about A.W. Grimes and the anguish of his family at the fact that Sam Bass would be buried in the same graveyard. I knew nothing about that story. Suddenly, I knew why I was in that cemetery. In open-toed shoes I sashayed across the cemetery, fending off the fire ants, to find Mr. Grimes. I noticed his original tombstone flat on the grass, broken of course.

A.W. Grimes original headstone

The tiny metal marker shown above is beside the older tombstone. More recently, another tombstone was added:

A.W. Grimes new headstone

The inscription reads:

Here lies A. W. Grimes, Williamson County Deputy Sheriff & former Texas Ranger who was killed in Koppells Store, Main Street, Round Rock, July 19, 1878 as he attempted to disarm gangmembers Sam Bass, Seaborn Barnes & Frank Jackson. It is not known who fired the fatal shot. He left a wife and three children. She received $200 & one of the Bass Gang horses as indemnity for her husband’s death.

I realize that $200 was a lot of money in 1878, but it still seems a small compensation for a man’s life.

I decided not to post the photos we took of Sam Bass’ grave today, even though one tiny wildflower bloomed to wish him, “Happy Birthday.” I will show you a picture of a road sign, though, because I made my husband turn around and stop the car so I could take the picture. If I don’t use it, he just might start refusing to give me any photo-ops! It’s at the junction of “Sam Bass Road” and “Hairy Man Road.” The Hairy Man is a spooky tale told in Round Rock that I’ll save for another day.

Hairy Man Road

I won’t post his grave, because I think that Sam has gotten enough of the glory. Sam had a road named for him many years ago, but A.W. Grimes didn’t get a road with his name on it until the year 2000. Sam is memorialized in song and story, but A.W. Grimes has been largely forgotten despite the words on his original tombstone.

Today I want to pay my respects to the lawman, not the outlaw. May Alijah W. Grimes rest in peace.

A.W. Grimes

Photo of A.W. Grimes courtesy of Find A Grave.

Survivor of Goliad Came to Denton, Texas

Andrew Jackson Hitchcock graveI woke up this morning thinking of Andrew Jackson Hitchcock (I fell in love with that name the moment I saw it). Although he is just a footnote in the history of Denton, Texas, he was a hero of the Texas War of Independence. Few people think of him these days, and he lies forgotten under the sod of the I.O.O.F. Cemetery, beneath a towering monument. Today, March 27th, would have been a day etched into his memory; it was a day the horrors of which A.J. Hitchcock would have liked to forget.

Hitchcock came to Texas in 1836, with a battle regiment from Georgia, to fight with the Texians in their quest for independence from Mexico. He had the great misfortune of fighting under Colonel James Fannin.

You might not know much about Colonel Fannin, or Texas history for that matter. It’s OK. If you didn’t grow up here, then you never had a history teacher who extolled the virtues of the men who fought for Texas independence with all the fervor of a preacher at a tent revival. The Texian battle cries of “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!” were pounded into my pea-brain; they were the cries that spurred the Texians to victory in their battle for independence from Mexico.

You probably remember the Alamo? Hey, John Wayne was in a movie about it … surely you remember that! That tragedy of Texas history happened on March 6th. I will never forget the anniversary of The Alamo, because it’s my birthday (and you should remember that I like gifts of chocolate or coffee!).

Certainly Colonel Fannin remembered The Alamo later that month. He found that his troops were in a dire predicament against an overwhelming number of Mexican troops. Rather than risk another senseless slaughter of soldiers, on March 20th, 1836 Colonel Fannin surrendered his troops to General José Urrea near La Bahia (Goliad). Fannin and Urrea had a “Gentleman’s Agreement” that the men would be turned over to the United States Government as prisoners of war. Well, that didn’t happen.

The men, along with other Texians who had been captured by the Mexicans, were imprisoned at Fort Goliad. Though General Urrea wanted to honor his agreement with Fannin, it wasn’t his decision to make. The President of Mexico, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, ordered them executed.

On Palm Sunday, March 27th, the men were marched out of the fort. Thinking that perhaps they were being released, the approximately 350 men were docile prisoners. After marching about a half-mile from the fort, the Mexican soldiers turned and fired on the men. Most of the men fell with the first volley, but a few were left standing.

Andrew Jackson Hitchcock was one of them!

As the Mexican soldier began clubbing and knifing the survivors near them, Hitchcock (and perhaps as many as 30 other men who were not killed) turned and ran like hell.

When the war was won, Hitchcock was given land grants, as were all of the veterans of the war. His life after that read like a ten cent novel. He was a wealthy plantation owner in Louisiana for a time until his wife and children died of a fever. He went to Argentina, thinking to become a rancher, but decided he liked The States better. In his old age, he wound up right here in Denton, Texas, but he wasn’t living the high life.

Hitchcock lived at a boarding house which was grandly called, “The James Hotel.” He shared a room with another boarder. Quite often, he visited with local family members and told them the tales of his harrowing escape from Goliad. One of his kin, Dr. W. N. Rowell, later wrote the story (you can find it at the Emily Fowler Library). Unfortunately, the life of Andrew Jackson Hitchcock ended in tragedy.

On August 25, 1887, A.J. Hitchcock retired to his rooms with two bags of gold known to be on his person. A suspicious fire broke out at the James Hotel that night. It burned to the ground, and only one person died — A.J. Hitchcock. His charred body was downstairs, but the gold he possessed never was discovered; only a single gold collar button from his shirt was found. It was a mystery that was never solved.

I’ve spent months trying to discover where the James Hotel was located, and finally have. If the story interests you, I tell more about it sometimes on the Ghosts of Denton tour (Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00). Make reservations to take a walk around the square with me, ask for his story, and I’ll take you to the spot where he died to tell you the full tale.

Today, however, I just want to raise my glass to Andrew Jackson Hitchcock. He was at the Massacre at Goliad and lived to tell the tale.