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By Jerry Adams

Copyright 1998, all rights reserved


There are several medals and tokens from the Texas Spring Palace of 1889. The best known of these is the transportation token of the North Side Railway Company.



White metal-round-25mm (Atwood-Coffee # TX340B, book value: $35)

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Brass-round-25mm (estimated value: $40-$50 without eagle pin, $65-$70 with eagle pin) (no makers mark)

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Bronze-round-38mm (estimated value: $40-$50) (none available for illustration)



Joseph Gross’ Trolley and Interurban Directory lists "North Side Railway Company" in Fort Worth beginning in 1880, and "North Side Street RR Co." in 1891. It is possible that the franchise was granted much earlier than the 1889 date on the token, and the line was mule drawn prior to 1889. It is even possible that mules were used for power after the electric line was introduced for some reason(this happened in Austin, Texas when the dam washed away in a flood). My hypothesis is that the May 1889 date on the token sets the point in time that determines if it is to be called an electric or mule drawn line.

My search for the true historical location and power source of the North Side Railway Company, has found two local sources describing the first electric street rail line in Fort Worth.

1. J’Nell Pate, Ph.D, states in her book that in order to serve the newly built Union Stockyards in far north Fort Worth, Andrew T. Byers and other Fort Worth businessmen constructed an electric railway from downtown Ft. Worth to the stockyards. This line, which Ms. Pate calls "The North Side Street Car Company" became operational in the summer of 1889. Byers and his partners contracted with a Detroit firm to build the 10 miles of track, for the sum of $60,000. The powerhouse for the street railway was on the north side of the old Iron Bridge over the Trinity River, mile west of the bluff. The difference in elevation from the top of the bluff where downtown Ft. Worth sits, to the valley on the north side of the Trinity River, is about 30 feet. The amount of power to pull a loaded street car up that steep slope must have been considerable! The county, city and railway split the cost of building a new iron bridge to support the railway over the river. The power plant boasted a 500 horsepower boiler, which was the largest single boiler at any electrical works in the south. The power plant was sufficiently large to provide power for a car carrying twenty passengers.

2. The Historic Preservation Council for Tarrant County (Texas) in its 1988 Principal Findings book, states: "…The planned viaduct over the Trinity River was built in 1889: that same year ten and one-half miles of track were laid by the North Side Street Railway Co., providing Fort Worth with its first electric streetcar system."



The city of Ft. Worth board of aldermen granted a franchise for a street railway to the partners of: Major K. M. Van Zandt, John Peter Smith, Jesse S. Zane-Cetti, W. H. Lawrence, W. A. Huffman and George F. Newman around July 4, 1874. The street railway wasn’t constructed however, until two years later, when the railroad arrived in Ft. Worth. With the railroad, a depot was constructed at the foot of Main and Front Streets (now Lancaster). The streetcar company commenced service on December 25, 1876, 6 months after the Texas and Pacific Railroad arrived in Ft. Worth(July 19, 1876). This first car line in Fort Worth was called "The Fort Worth Street Railway Company." The F.W.S.R.Co. operated mule drawn cars until 1891, when it phased out the mules in favor of electrical cars. The entire history of street railways in "Cowtown" is quite complicated, and there were up to 104 different streetcar charters, and as many as 20 different companies actually running cars. The first company, the F.W.S.R.Co. was successful by 1878, carrying 400 riders a day, and taking in profits of $7,000 per year.

Another early Ft. Worth streetcar line was the "Queen City Street Railway Company" which was a mule drawn line on Houston Street. In 1881 the "Prairie City Street Railway Company" was a mule drawn line that ran up Main St. and out Hemphill Street on the south side.

Two other early lines were the "Belt Line" run by a man named Voss, and "The Arlington Heights Railway Company" which ran a line westward from downtown to Lake Como. The September 27, 1890 issue of Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine reported that Ft. Worth had "…thirty-two miles of electric car lines…"


Fort Worth, Texas got its first electric light franchise in 1885. The first successful streetcar line in the United States was in Richmond, Virginia in 1888. In 1889 the first electric streetcar in Ft. Worth was in use. This electric streetcar line was believed to be the first in Texas, and the second in the United States. The arrival of the electric streetcar line coincided with the arrival of the "Texas Spring Palace." The Atwood-Coffee catalogue states that the "North Side Railway Co." of Fort Worth, Texas was a mule line. My research indicates that the NSRC was an electric line in the spring of 1889.

On a personal note, my own maternal great grandfather, after moving to Ft. Worth from Lorena, Texas about 1890, was for a time the driver of a mule-drawn street car for one franchise. About 1903, he purchased a small wooden structure which had been a street railway mule shed. This mule shed was located just off North Main Street, near the north end of what is now the Paddock Viaduct. (He had the structure moved to his property on N. Houston St. and constructed a house around the old shed.)


The Centennial Exposition of the United States in 1876 in Philadelphia gave rise to a phenomenon of regional expositions across the country the likes of which had not been seen on the American frontier. Sioux City, Iowa had a "Corn Palace", and St. Paul, Minnesota had an "Ice Palace", as well as Toronto, Canada’s "Ice Palace."

The rise of the Palace/Exposition was to the 1880’s what the "Convention Center" was to the urban centers in the 1960’s. The Palace idea was hailed as a tourist draw, and a means of spreading the word that a city had "arrived." The Fort Worth, Texas newspaper editor B. B. Paddock promoted the idea, like only a newspaper editor can. In 1887, Paddock was appointed president of a company to raise the initial capitol of $50,000 for the construction of the edifice. The building was to be erected on the Texas and Pacific Railroad Reservation at the far south end of downtown. The building cost $100,000 to build, and the plan was in the shape of a St. Andrews cross, with a dome 150 feet in diameter. Names for the exposition were suggested from all points, but in the end the name of "The Texas Spring Palace" won out over the others. The architectural firm of Armstrong and Messer designed the Texas Spring Palace. The entire building was constructed with materials from Texas, and decorated with the produce of the state, from corn and rye to oats and cotton. The products were all arranged in artful displays of Texas counties. The entire building was some 225 feet deep by 375 feet wide. Special advertisements were placed in newspapers across the country, and special trains came from Boston and Chicago.     

The Texas Spring sp7.jpg (9225 bytes) Palace in 1889


On the opening day of May 10, 1889, the governor of Nebraska made the opening address and the Elgin Watch Factory Band of Elgin, Illinois provided the music. A committee from Ft. Worth was sent to Mexico City to extend a personal invitation to President Porfirio Diaz to attend. The entire "season" of the Spring Palace was only from mid-May through late June 1889.

Despite the publicity and good attendance, the Palace closed the first season as a financial failure, having lost $23,000. Not deterred, the company raised more money and expanded the building by 100 feet on each wing for the second season. The tourists attracted to the exhibit had spent thousands of dollars in local hotels, restaurants, saloons, theatres and small shops. So the community did not look upon the shortfall of the Palace itself, as a failure.


The second season started on May tenth of 1890 and was a financial success due to heavy attendance and frugal decorating. Local businesses continued to boom from the tourist dollars, and everything looked bright for the future. Then tragedy struck when the season was half over. On the evening of May 30, 1890 a dress ball was underway, with more than 7,000 people attending, on 16,000 square feet of dance space.

The Elgin Watch Factory Band was again playing, when for reasons still unknown, fire broke out. Some say that boys kicking the loose straw about the floor accidentally struck a match, which started the blaze. The dried agricultural products were aflame in seconds, and the 16 exits of the building allowed most people to escape quickly. Witnesses proclaimed that the people leaving the building were quite orderly, considering that in 4 minutes the building was a ball of flames. Amazingly, only one person died in the inferno, Al Hayne. Mr. Hayne, a native of England, repeatedly made return trips into the building to rescue fainting women and children. To quote Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper:

" As the panic…increased, and it seemed probable that many would be burned to death, Mr. Hayne gave himself to the work of rescue. He picked up fainting women and terrified children, and dropped them out of the second story windows into willing arms waiting to receive them below. After all had left the building but Mr. Hayne and one woman, who had fainted; the flames enveloped the entire building. The fainting woman was several feet away from the window and her dress was already ablaze. The hero did not hesitate a moment, but ran to her, picked her up and, without a thought of self, leaped from the window with his senseless burden in his arms. His clothing was ablaze, and in the fall he broke several bones. He died three hours later, but his name will long be cherished as that of one who gave his life for others."

Today, a 100 year old monument to Al Hayne, the intrepid hero of the Spring Palace is located near the spot where the Texas Spring Palace stood so many years ago.


Reference: Texas Public Buildings of the 19th Century by Willard B. Robinson; Atwood-Coffee Catalogue of Transportation Tokens, 4th and 5th editions; How Fort Worth became the Texasmost City, by Sanders and Tyler; North of the River, by J’Nell Pate, Ph.D.; "In Old Fort Worth" 1938 recollections of John William Renfro; Notes and Documents of Ft. Worth, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, by Sandra L. Myres, Ph.D., Oct. 1968; Tarrant County Historical Resources Survey, 1988, by the Historic Preservation Council for Tarrant County; personal correspondence with John Coffee.

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updated: 5 feb 2000