LOOKING BACK A CENTURY, it is possible to see now that the year 1872 was the takeoff point for Dallas, from which it left John Neely Bryan’s frontier hamlet behind and began the dizzying ascent to the status of today’s metropolis. It was a time of marked revolutionary advances for Dallas in the means of transport and communication—the forging of physical sinews that were to power the coming city of the twentieth century.
Three major novelties were introduced that year. One was the arrival of the first steam railroad, the Houston & Texas Central, which pulled into the newly built depot at Dallas on July 16, 1872. (The second line, the Texas & Pacific, was even then building westward from Longview and would cross the Central at Dallas in 1873. The importance of this crossing in establishing Dallas as a distributing point for a vast trade territory was fully understood at the time.)
The second advance was the erection of the iron bridge across the Trinity at the foot of Commerce, a substantial high-water, all-year structure that, despite its toll charge levied on man, beast, and conveyance, was to prove a vital trade link for Dallas with all of the territory south, southwest, and west as far at least as the Brazos River.
The third advance was the extension of the telegraph to Dallas, giving the town at last a place on the map of communication centers across the nation enjoying this modern wonder. The year 1872 happened to be the last in the life of Samuel F. B. Morse, hapless inventor of the telegraph, who had unsuccessfully sought to give his invention to the Republic of Texas shortly before he succeeded in getting the support of Congress to start operation of the first telegraph line—between Washington and Baltimore—on May 24, 1844.
Although the southeastern part of Texas had the telegraph before the Civil War, Dallas and North Texas had to wait until the resumption of railroad building northward in the 1870s. Only with the arrival of the Houston & Texas Central Railroad was Dallas able to replace the pony express and stagecoach line with this high-speed communication. The telegraph line was essential to the dispatch of the trains, but it had plenty of free time remaining to handle a large volume of business and personal messages for the Dallas populace.
The arrival of the telegraph in was at least a week earlier than that of the railroad. July 8, 1872, was set as the opening day of the telegraph service. It was inaugurated by Mayor Henry S. Ervay, who that day sent an identical telegram to the mayors of Galveston, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Brownsville. It read, in part: “Through you the people of Dallas send greetings to their sister cities over which you, respectively, preside. We are this day placed in telegraphic communication with the whole national public, thanks to the arrival of the Iron horse. Verily, in the language of holy writ, what wonders God bath wrought.” On the same day, within a matter of hours, replies were received from mayors of the cities congratulating Dallas and its people on the acquisition of telegraphic service.
In November, 1871, Capt. Jeff Peak of this city on a visit to Owensboro, Kentucky, told how much Dallas was looking forward to these advances. He cited the new iron bridge nearing completion at a cost of $65,000. In the same newspaper interview Peak spoke of the vote of Dallas citizens in giving 115 acres of land to the Central Railroad as a bonus. Peak was also proud of the latest Dallas County courthouse, a white stone affair then under construction at a cost of $75,000.
These three developments were largely responsible for setting off the first impressive boom in city’s history. The resultant population explosion saw an increase almost overnight from an estimated 1,500.
Courtesy Dallas Yesterday by Sam H. Acheson. Photo courtesy Museum of American Railroad.