FRENCH Pioneered Dallas Cement Industry

CEMENT CITY, home of the community’s two oldest cement manufacturing plants, was long outside city limits and thus enjoyed its own autonomy as one of the early—if, indeed, not the first—industrial suburbs of Dallas. Served originally by industrial trackage on the main line of the Texas & Pacific, Cement City is today a part of the larger West Dallas industrial complex that includes former Eagle Ford and the Singleton Boulevard area. The high-rise smokestacks of these two Dallas cement plants—Lone Star and Trinity Portland—have been landmarks on the western skyline of the city for more than half a century is directly linked to early French pioneers.

French Pioneer Ferdinand Michel

French Pioneer Ferdinand Michel

Two Frenchmen who came to Dallas originally as members of the French colony toward the middle of the last century are credited with pioneering the manufacture of lime and cement in the northern part of Texas. The first was Ferdinand Michel, who, two years before the Civil War (shortly after the breakup of the old French colony in present Oak Cliff), established a small lime and brickyard in the hamlet of Dallas. Michel’s plant, which employed twelve people, was located on Jefferson (present Record Street) near its intersection with Young. Michel made bricks, using handpresses to turn out a million bricks a year. Michel’s lime and bricks were used mainly in the construction of chimneys and foundations of buildings. The market for Michel’s products was limited almost entirely to the small town of Dallas.

In the crucial year 1872, when with the arrival of the first railroad the growth of Dallas took off in a spectacular way, Merril W. Russey operated the principal brick-making plant in town. His brickyard was on the riverbank just south of Commerce, and he supplied the greater part of the brick used in the expansion of the business district of Dallas around the courthouse square. Russey, who later moved his manufactory to Flora Street between Peak and Good, was employing sixty persons by 1891, turning out 100,000 bricks a day for nine months of the year.

One of the best-known brickmakers of the same period was the firm of Snowden M. Leftwich and Paul H. Jamison, located on South Akard between Cadiz and Corsicana. It occupied six acres where its forty hands, assisted by a twenty-horsepower steam engine, produced 22,500,000 bricks in a ten-month year. Its product was sold mainly to railroads for use in culverts at the grade crossings.

Butler & Co., which was capable of turning out about the same number of bricks a day, was established in 1882. J. M. Harry began brickmaking in Dallas in 1886 and soon was one of the larger producers. Other brickmakers of the late 1870s included S. A. Beavens, whose plant was on South Lamar; E. R. Bradbury, on Canton west of Akard; Lafayette Carnes, at Jefferson and Pacific; and John Priot, on North Harwood St.

It was not, however, until after the turn of the century that the manufacture of cement on a large scale began in Dallas. Portland cement itself, originally used as a substitute for lime mortar, was patented in England as early as 1824. Because of the presence of limestone outcroppings in the Austin and San Antonio area, the first cement plants in Texas were located there as early as 1882.

C. Remond, a fellow French émigré with Michel, had long been interested in the soil on the land where the first two Dallas cement plants would rise, a site adjacent to the original French colony of La Reunion on the west side of the Trinity from Dallas. Remond’s research is credited with having led James T. Taylor and other citizens of Galveston to organize the Texas Portland Cement Company to work the soil at Dallas. That was about 1901. The second plant was to be placed in operation in 1909. The same limestone outcropping overlooking West Dallas extends southwestward to and beyond the Ellis County line beyond Cedar Hill. In that same general area two other large cement manufacturers—Texas Industries, Inc., and Gifford-Hill Portland Cement Company—have built big cement-making plants in later years.

Dallas and Texas are heavy consumers of concrete. By 1945 the state had become the second largest in per-capita consumption of concrete products. Next to petroleum and its products, cement is the most valuable mineral produced in Texas. Portland cement value exceeded $98 million in 1967, while masonry cement added almost $3 million more. Admittedly, the value of cement produced in Dallas County is only a small fraction of the value of oil and gas production in the state as a whole. But since Dallas County has no producing oil or gas wells, it has long had to rely on its cement production to help bolster its industrial morale.

Courtesy Dallas Yesterday by Sam Acheson. Photo courtesy Eloise Santerre.