POYDRAS STREET, running through the heart of downtown Dallas, is not the only reminder of street name links in the history of the town with memorable French figures out of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. There are others than Julien Poydras, Louisiana merchant prince, poet, and politician, who are remembered in this way. Just how certain Dallas streets acquired names of Frenchmen is somewhat of a mystery. Perhaps one of the explanations may have been Maxime Guillot, French native who landed in New Orleans in the late 1830s, came to Fort Worth on its establishment as a military post by the United States Army in 1849, and on disbandment of the post moved eastward thirty-one miles to become a citizen of Dallas. Guillot, a carriage maker by trade, served as wagon master for the army post, then established the first successful manufacturing enterprise in Dallas, a carriage factory.
There was, though, one widely known Louisiana figure whom Guillot most likely did not suggest for a street name in Dallas, although it is to be found today in Cadillac Drive. Its appearance in
Dallas is due more to the grace of General Motors than any eminence on the part of Cadillac himself. Bearing the name of one of America’s best-known luxury automobiles, Cadillac Drive is actually a fairly modest avenue of some five blocks length, which extends from Cedar Crest Boulevard in far South Dallas, actually in southeastern Oak Cliff, a short distance south of Moore Park. It is found athwart the path leading to the city of Dallas’s latest site for a garbage and trash disposal plant along the south bank of the Trinity River.
Antoine de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac, was not a very high ranking member of the peerage, although his father, Jean de la Mothe, was a minor member of French nobility, who owned the seigneury of Cadillac. The family into which the son was born had long lived in tho ancient French province of Gascony. The son, who became a French colony official under the government of Louis XIV, was a typical Gascon with his fondness for being the show-off and center of uttraction in any group. He was born in 1656 and came to America as a soldier in the French arm in 1683. In 1699, Cadillac, a captain of colonial forces, founded the cit of Detroit as a western outl for s, found d th city of Detroit as a western outpost for trade and for protection against Indian depredation. But Cadillac’s career in North America was a stormy one and on the whole unsuccessful. In 1713 he was transferred by the king from Canada to Louisiana as governor of the infant French colony near the mouth of the Mississippi. His six years in office at New Orleans were baleful enough to cause him to be recalled to France where he is said to have been imprisoned for a time in the Bastille. On release from that prison he returned to his native province of Gascony and died there at Castle Sarrazin in 1730.
Cadillac’s name did not appear on the roll of Dallas streets until after the arrival of the automobile age. It was first listed on local street maps around the middle of the 1920s. The name was given to one of several streets in a small addition in Oak Cliff, the developer of which appears to have been quite impressed with the names of automobile makes. Thus Cadillac Drive has companion streets labeled La Salle, Pontiac, Buick, Packard, and Chrysler, although neither Chevrolet (another French name) nor Volkswagen has ever won such recognition. Cadillac today is memorialized more opulently in the high-rent district and other affluent areas of the city where the Cadillac motor car is prominent on local streets.
When France at the end of the Seven Years War in 1763 handed Louisiana over to Spain to save it from falling into British hands, the ground was laid for another and more successful later governor of Louisiana who would be honored with a street named for him when Dallas was established in 1842.
The role, if any, of Maxime Guillot in contributing the names of outstanding fellow Frenchmen to the Dallas street name system continues to intrigue the imagination of local history fans. When Guillot built his Dallas home in the original town of Dallas, it was located not far to the west of Poydras. He planted elm trees to shade his and adjoining property and suggested the name of Elm Street. In its original five blocks starting at Elm, Poydras Street was itself long a principal Dallas business thoroughfare. On the southwest corner of Elm and Poydras was the private banking house established in the 1870s by Jean Baptiste Adoue, Sr., another native of France, with William H. Flippen of Dallas and A. Lobit of Galveston as partners. This in turn became the present National Bank of Commerce.
The American Exchange National Bank, most widely identified in memory today with the late Nathan Adams as cashier, then president, was located on the northwest corner of Main and Poydras. It Merged with the old City National Bank in 1929 to form the present First National Bank in Dallas. The pioneer jewelry house of Knepfly & sons occupied the two story building on the southwest corner of Main and Poydras. The Dallas Club, the first social and residential club for men in the city, was built on Poydras St, the the northwest corner with Commerce.
Courtesy Dallas Yesterday by Sam. H. Acheson.