COL. FRANK P. HOLLAND’S sole venture into politics was in his adopted city of Dallas, where he was elected as an alderman in 1891 and as the fifteenth mayor of Dallas in 1893. He served only one term, preferring to devote his time to his publishing enterprises.
Born at Galveston nine years before the outbreak of the Civil War, Holland brought his journalistic voice in behalf of Texas agriculture to Dallas in 1885. That was the year the thirty-three-year-old publisher transferred publishing headquarters of his infant Farm and Ranch magazine from Austin to the rising metropolis of the North Texas blacklands. Farm and Ranch long was a powerful spokesman for more progressive agriculture in the Southwest. It numbered some of the ablest journalists of the area on its staff, with its principal editor, Frank A. Briggs, many years at the helm.
In conjunction with his paper, Holland established experimental farms, notably one near Corpus Christi, to further the development of grain sorghums in Texas, and a 220-acre farm in Ellis County near Waxahachie. He and his private organization maintained these experimental farms until the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched its Extension Service program, including experimental stations. He also pioneered in the establishment of Farmers’ Institutes to carry technical agricultural education to the farmers.
Holland had begun his career in journalism in 1881 at Austin when he bought an interest in the newly established Texas Siftings magazine started by Alexander E. Sweet and John Amroy Knox. This publication was among the first of a lush growth of native magazines running through O. Henry’s Rolling Stone down to the present-day Texas Observer, all noted for their particular style and content, including humor. In 1905 Holland established a monthly magazine of general interest, Holland’s, the Magazine of the South.
Holland rarely bothered to detail how he achieved the honorary military title of colonel, although it is presumed that some late nineteenth-century Texas governor named him, like Col. E. House, to his personal staff.
As early as 1909 Holland envisioned the tremendous expansion of the Dallas—Fort Worth urban area by founding Da’worth, a model city on the Dallas-Fort Worth Interurban line between Grand Prairie and Arlington.
He was a longtime chairman of the Trinity River Navigation Committee of the Dallas Chamber of Commerce and an organizer and later a director of the State Fair of Texas, served as president of the Texas Press Association in 1894, and was the founder of the Texas Editorial Association. At his death in 1928, the Dallas News editorialized: “Six, eight, perhaps a dozen men explain Dallas and are responsible for its degree of preeminence today. Col. Holland was one of them.”
When Dallas leaders sought in 1907 to scrap the aldemianic form in favor of a more businesslike city commission system, they faced two formidable hurdles. The first was to persuade rank-and-file Dallas voters to approve the switch by adopting a new city charter. But before the electorate could act, on the proposal they had to get permission from the legislature at Austin even to consider it.
The state then exercised direct and almost complete control over the powers of Texas towns and cities. The present Home Rule Amendment of the Texas Constitution was not adopted by a statewide vote until 1912. Even more crippling sixty years ago was the fact that exact terms and language of the proposed new city charter for Dallas must first be approved by the lawmakers at Austin. Any one of them could— and many did–offer additions or other changes in the draft of the bill as introduced by members of the delegation from Dallas.
Thus, passage of the bill proved slow and arduous. Thrown into the hopper in January at the convening of the legislature, it was seen by March that it would be delayed long enough to prevent the holding of the ordinary city election for mayor and other members of the governing body set for the first Tuesday in April. Meanwhile, advocates of the change readied their campaign, continuing to fire volleys of argument as to why it should be made. The Dallas News spoke of “the citizens movement” then forming to push the proposal. Chosen as its head was Henry D. Lindsley, the vigorous young scion of a family of educators and civic leaders distinguished for two generations in the life of Dallas. Their theme: “Imagine a city without graft and almost without politics.”
The group soon to call itself the Citizens Association held out for bait a city “whose business is conducted by a board of directors, like that of a bank or other corporation . . . with the people as stockholders . . . and the board [of commissioners] composed of businessmen [who] run it on business principles.”
Not that the incumbent mayor and aldermen tolerated actual graft and corruption. Mayor Curtis P. Smith was admittedly an honorable man, convinced that his administration had chalked up an admirable record. He could point to many achievements, including the extensive program of brick paving under way on North Akard and other downtown thoroughfares.
There was the usual agitation for better sports facilities at Fair Park, although President James Moroney of the State Fair said the much-needed steel grandstand to cost $65,000 would have to be financed by a city bond issue.
The city council was fearlessly tackling one crisis after another. It heard—and disallowed—a protest by sixty-five homeowners against the holding of a dog and pony show on the block at Bryan and Ervay ( where the main post office stands today). The site was owned by Henry D. Lindsley, Complainants charged that it would be a nuisance “and bring undesirable elements into the city.”
Also at this time the governing body at last solved the problem of automobile traffic. It was spurred to action by complaints from two pedestrians, Fritz Mitchell and E. R. Holland, who had been “crashed into by an automobile at the corner of Main and Akard.” Mitchell said he had been “pretty severely jostled”; Holland said that his foot had been “pinioned under the wheel of this gasoline gig.”
The answer was Dallas’s first motor vehicle traffic ordinance. It limited speed to eight miles an hour, and required a (license) number on the vehicle and a horn or bell “to give warning of its approach.” Drivers were enjoined to exercise “proper care in turning street corners.”
The same body ignored the plea of State Sen. George R. Griggs of Houston, who asked Dallas to support his bill at Austin requiring hotels and boardinghouses to use nine-foot-long bedsheets. (It was billed as a health and sanitation measure; the sheets should be long •enough to fold back over blankets and other more permanent bedding as a means of preventing patrons from inhaling disease microbes. )
There were numerous signs of general city progress. The Columbian Club had just opened its new three-story clubhouse at Ervay and Pocahontas; Rev. Harry T. Moore arrived from Illinois to be St. Matthew’s Cathedral’s new dean (later to become the Episcopal bishop of Dallas); and Col. J. F. Strickland announced that the new interurban to Sherman and Denison would be completed by the end of the year.
There were grounds for dissatisfaction with the city hall setup, nonetheless. The water supply continued to be woefully inadequate. The most ominous fact was the city’s overdraft, then topping $80,000. City Auditor Charles T. Morris predicted it would continue as large during the new fiscal year beginning April 29.
Delay at Austin was aggravated by some joker tacking on a provision for the recall of city officials by voter petition. This raised one of the most “controversial” issues of the day—the “initiative, recall and referendum”—with which a generation of high school debaters had wrestled.
Impatience mounted in Dallas among proponents of the charter being hammered out at Austin. “It is time for the Dallas delegation to get busy with that charter,” said Kirk Hall and other prominent citizens, including Col. Robert E. Cowart and John V. Hughes. The noted lawyer Henry C. Coke broke his accustomed reserve to call for action at Austin, although he added that “the recall is not my idea of democracy.”
On April 19 the legislature finally passed the charter bill, and five days later Gov. Tom Campbell sent it to Dallas with his signature. Under the new system, the city government consisted of a mayor and four commissioners in charge of fire and police, water, streets, and finance, The original Citizens Association chose Henry D. Lindsley as its first president. Its driving force came from one hundred of the town’s top brass, including merchants Alex Sanger, E. M. Kahn, Arthur A. Everts, and Sam Dysterbach; bankers Royal A. Ferris and J. B. Wilson; and such other business leaders as C. Weichsel, George Loudermilk, and George Leachman.
The commission plan worked well under a number of city administrations, beginning with the first, that of Mayor S. J. Hay from 1907 through 1911; the form was considered a marked advancement over the aldermanic system in effect since the city’s incorporation in 1856.
The first native son who was mayor of Dallas, William Meredith Holland, was thirty-six years old when in 1911 he began the first of two terms of two years each in the city hall. He had been elected in1907 as judge of the Dallas County Court at Law but had resigned to make the race in the city elections as the nominee of the Citizens Association.
An exceedingly tall, slender, and gracious personality, Holland lived until his ninetieth year, dying in 1965. This soft-spoken but sharp-witted magistrate was addressed by almost all who knew him throughout five generations as “Judge” Holland, in spite of his memorable four years as chief executive of the city.
Du ring the year in which the switchover was made to the new system-1907—Dallas suffered the worst smallpox epidemic in its history. There were 700 recorded cases. The following year, the city was struck in May by an all-time high flood disaster as the Trinity River rose to 59.5 feet at the foot of Commerce Street.
This was followed by a scorching drought which cut the city water supply, then chiefly dependent upon Bachman Dam and Lake until White Rock Lake could be completed and filled.
Three months after the Holland administration took office in 1911, city health officer Dr. T. B. Fisher, who had been named by Mayor Hay, resigned, and Holland appointed his assistant, Dr. Albert W. Nash. Rarely has a local health officer been faced with such serious problems so quickly, but Holland’s choice of Dr. Nash proved to be an outstanding one.
Late in 1911 the devastating and long-remembered meningitis epidemic broke out in Dallas. Almost at once it disclosed a mortality rate of 45 percent. Schools throughout the city were closed, all transit vehicles, including streetcars, were fumigated daily, and public funerals for victims of the disease were prohibited.
At this time Dr. W. W. Samuell, prominent Dallas physician and surgeon, secured Dr. Abraham Sophrian, assistant to Dr. Simon Flexner of the Rockefeller Institute in New York, who arrived January 6, 1912, and immediately headed the work of administering Dr. Flexner’s newly discovered serum for the disease. By January 11 the total number of cases in Dallas had risen since the preceding October to 176, with 79 deaths. The total would shortly reach 190 cases. But the epidemic began to decline toward the end of the month and by February 5 it was possible to reopen the schools. A testimonial banquet was given for Doctors Sophrian and Nash in recognition of their meticulous efforts to stem the epidemic.
Mayor Holland and fellow members of the city commission proposed in January, 1912, that the city collect garbage in Dallas, and in April of that year the proposal was approved along with a special ten-cent garbage collection tax. The city bought ten trash and garbage wagons. The Holland administration also built, at a cost of $50,000, three connecting frame buildings north of the city to create Woodlawn Hospital, the first municipally owned hospital for tuberculars in the state.
But it was in the fields of purification of city water and treatment of sewage to effect sewage disposal that the Holland administration made the greatest strides forward. In 1912 the noted consulting engineer, James H. Fuertes of New York, was retained to survey and design both a water purification and a sewage disposal system.
Fuertes found that Dallas in 1912, with a population of 100,000, was discharging 8,000,000 gallons per day of raw sewage into the Trinity River. So in 1913 voters, following Fuertes’s advice, approved a bond issue of $750,000, which made possible the purchase of 102 acres of land on Sargent Road northeast of Oak Cliff. A treatment plant was built there as well as a sewage pumping plant and several main interceptors. These became operative in June, 1917.
Fuertes also proposed a modern water purification plant in connection with a major water pumping plant in Oak Lawn, which was built in 1913 on the site of the old settling basin placed there in 1885. ( It is the site today of the Cobb athletic stadium.)
Chlorine, activated carbon filters, and other means were embodied in the purification plant, which became operative in 1913 and provided 83,000,000 gallons per day of pure water through city mains. This compares with the capacity in 1971 to supply more than 430,000,000 gallons of pure water per day.
Their farsightedness in introducing water purification and sewage disposal in Dallas assured M. W. Holland and his administration a prime place for all time in the expansion of the city into a healthful, relatively pollution-free community. Holland was also tremendously concerned that Dallas develop traffic routes required by the automobile age, and he was an original advocate of railroad track removal on Pacific Avenue and Central Boulevard.
Courtesy Dallas Yesterday by Sam Acheson.