Flanders arrived in Dallas in 1876, just sixteen years after the city had experienced its own "great fire" that destroyed most of the downtown business area. The fire consumed the Dallas County Courthouse and many of the stores and shop around the court house square and along the adjoining streets. Founded in 1844 by John Neely Bryan (1810-1877), Dallas was still struggling to survive in the middle of the North Texas plains. In 1852 when Bryan lost the ambition to continue development of the city, he sold his interests in it to Alexander Cockrell, a local entrepreneur. Cockrell spent the next several years developing his new investment. His projects included Cockrell's Dallas Bridge and Causeway Company, the company that built the first bridge, a toll bridge, over the Trinity River at the west end of Commerce Street. He also built a sawmill and several other industrial ventures, and began construction of a luxury hotel, the St. Nicholas. When Alexander was shot and killed in a dispute over money in July, 1858, Sarah Cockrell, his widow and a later client of JEF's, completed construction of the hotel. She and her two sons, Alexander, Jr. and Frank, continued the pioneer spirit of their husband and father and all played major roles in the development of Dallas over the next three decades. The Dallas fire occurred two years after Cockrell's death on a sweltering day in July, 1860. The newly completed St. Nicholas Hotel was one of its' victims. Afterwards, this small city of only about 600 souls began rebuilding it's downtown area. Merchants replaced the primitive buildings that burned with more substantial structures. Many of these new buildings were constructed of masonry and were built with the aid of Dallas' first two architects, John Ryan and T.B. Borst. These two men were responsible for the first Italianate style commercial buildings in the city.
During the following years, Dallas grew steadily on the strength of trade in cotton, wheat and buffalo hides. By 1871 the population of the city had grown to almost 3000. Even in the midst of this activity, the town remained an outpost on the Texas prairie and its' destiny was uncertain. However, within the ranks of the populous, there was a nucleus of entrepreneurial cunning that would soon take steps to secure the city's future. In the 1860's, the Houston & Texas Central railway slowly made its' way northward from Galveston and created in its wake a whole series of towns such as Bryan, Corsicana and Waco that were, for a short while, a railroad terminus. The H&TCs' plans called for a route to the east of Dallas, bypassing the city. This would have had a devastating effect on the plans and investments of the bankers and merchants of the town. Sensing a decisive moment of opportunity for Dallas, Capt. William H. Gaston, who later enlisted Flanders to design his home and business, led a group of the leading citizens of the city in an effort to coax the railway closer. A donation of $5000 and a construction right-of-way secured the bargain and in July, 1872, the railroad arrived in Dallas. Less than a year later, the cost was much greater to induce the Texas & Pacific Railway to alter their planned east-west route by over fifty miles. Again, the investors donated right-of-ways and over $5000 in cash. They included ten acres for the construction of a depot and they sold over $200,000 in bonds to finance the project. By February, 1873, Dallas was a railway crossroad
The Houston & Texas Central pushed on to present-day Denison towards the north. There, it joined with the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad to complete connections to the Midwest. The following year, the St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railway linked to the T&P in Texarkana to the east and yet another junction to the country's commercial traffic was established. Dallas responded by more than doubling in size to a population of 7000. In 1873, new commercial structures and residences valued at over $1,377,000 were built and by 1875, the city was already beginning to develop urban sprawl. The population had increased to 12,000 and on January 29th of that year, the Dallas Herald lamented that; "With the exception of a few old residents, the great body of our people are strangers to one another." By then, the town had built seven churches, ten or twelve private schools (but no public ones) two foundries, fifteen to twenty lumber yards, three planing mills, a sash and door factory, five large brick yards, two soap factories and five steam-powered flouring mills. In 1876 Judge Norton was corresponding with a discouraged James Flanders in Minneapolis. Norton related glowing tales of Dallas' prosperous economy and the robust activity in the city's new construction. The story was a good one and it convinced JEF to leave Minnesota to the cold and move southward. It was an August evening when he completed the long rail journey from Minneapolis to Dallas. He rented a room at the St. Charles Hotel and the following morning, took a stroll along Commerce Street to Cockrell's toll bridge across the Trinity River and then walked back up Main Street. There he found the Post Office and the office of his correspondent. Judge Norton escorted JEF around the city, introducing him to the town's merchants and to the opportunities presented by the needs of the city. Dallas led the state in the production of flour. Cotton bales, livestock and buffalo hides helped to fill the rail cars traveling north and east from the city. But the city still lacked a reliable architect to bring orderliness to the booming construction taking place. Ryan and Borst had since moved on. The only man in town offering architectural services was J.M. Archer and his experience was limited. Judge Norton had sought to fill this void in soliciting Flanders' relocation. JEF and Archer quickly agreed on a partnership. JEF, of course, was new in town and would profit from Archer's contacts and local knowledge. Likewise, a partnership with JEF would benefit Archer by allowing him to maintain his monopoly over the architectural work being done in the city. JEF joined Archer in his office at 639 Elm Street and the firm was advertised as Archer & Flanders.
"… the outlook for a man of my profession was gloomy in the extreme. The town was doing a rushing business. Men in all lines were prospering. But the buildings were of the cheapest and most temporary kind. Nobody expected to remain here permanently. People seemed to regard the prosperity as incident to the crossing of two railroads here and as destined to vanish in a short time and their idea was to make as much money as they could while the town lasted. Besides, most of them thought the climate too hot and the malaria too thick for a permanent residence. Dr. Locke and Dr. Graham both told me I could not hope to live here more inside. The maximum cost of such a building was about $3000. Merchants had not advanced to the frills of show windows. They wanted the whole of the twenty-five foot front as a door, so that passersby might be able to take in the whole interior at a glance.
The Corsicana merchants who came up to Dallas with the Houston & Central Railroad, finding no room on the courthouse square, had selected locations on Elm Street and had erected scattering two-story buildings as far down as Poydras Street, and thus started the town on its' marvelous expansion.than two years, but doctors then, as now, do not hesitate to pass a sentence of death on a man when they don't even know what is the matter with him. The winter of 1876-77 was a hard one. The ice on the ponds was so thick that people stored it away in cellars against the next summer.
The grasshoppers came in swarms in 1876 and 1877, eating everything that was green. People planted gardens three times in the spring of 1877. Grasshoppers covered the rails of the Texas & Pacific Railroad to such a depth that it became necessary to sweep them away before the eastbound train could make the grade between the lower station and the Union Depot in East Dallas.
Trains of wagons lashed together and drawn by many a yoke of oxen brought pecans and buffalo hides and bones from the west in those days. These and cotton wagons crowded the streets. The cotton was sold from the wagons on Elm Street between Poydras Street and the river.
Most of the business houses were of the cheapest possible construction, consisting mainly of batting on the outside walls and canvas and paper on the inside. The maximum cost of such a building was about $3000. Merchants had not advanced to the frills of showcase windows. They wanted the whole of the twenty-five foot front as a door, so that passersby might be able to take in the whole of the interior at a glance.
The Corsicana merchants who came up to Dallas with the Houston and Central Railroad, finding no room on the courthouse square, had selected locations on Elm Street and had erected scattering two-story buildings as far down as Poydras Street, and thus started the town on its’ marvelous expansion.”
The relationship with Archer proved to be a brief one. By the following year, JEF was in his own office at 711 Main Street and was working on his first known commission, the Binkley Hotel in Sherman. Within a few years Archer moved to Ft. Worth and worked there as a general contractor. JEF was apparently confident about the prospects of the city and his future there. In March, 1877, only nine months after his arrival in Dallas, JEF returned to Illinois and, on the twentieth day of that month, married Mary W. Stafford in the city of Minooka. When they returned to Dallas, JEF's brother Thomas accompanied them with his wife and their three children. They were the first of several members of the Flanders family to come to Dallas within the next few years. JEF and his new wife moved into his home on Camp Street and he continued to work from his office at 711 Main Street in the heart of the city. Shortly afterwards, he moved to an upstairs office in the adjacent building at 709 Main. Several of his first clients had offices in the same area.
Dr. L.E. Locke, a physician and surgeon who had an office at 707 Main, next door to Flanders was the first Dallasite to enlist an architect to design his home. JEF designed this residence which was constructed at the corner of Patterson and Oleander about 1878. This was followed almost immediately by a home for Alfred Davis, built on the southwest corner of Masten and San Jacinto, also in 1878. Davis was a partner of Jules E. Schneider in the firm of Schneider & Davis Wholesale Grocery Company. JEF continued to contribute to the growth of Dallas by designing many of the buildings of the downtown area as well as many of the homes of the leaders of the town. "The inner sanctum of Dallas' 'good old boy network' of capitalists, bankers and industrialists" included men such as "Gaston, Cockrell, the Sangers, Flippen, Dilley, Ferris, Trezevant, Blankenship and Field." From this group of city leaders, JEF is known to have designed businesses for Gaston, Cockrell, Flippen, Ferris and Field and he designed homes for several of this group. These are names of prominent families in the history of Dallas and city residents will recognize them as street names in downtown Dallas today. Some descendants are still among the city's business and civic leaders. Business was flourishing. JEF was a successful architect but was impressed by the real estate development projects in the city. In 1883, he invested $2350 for forty-seven acres just west of the city, about a mile and a half from the courthouse square. It was the first development west of the city, across the Trinity River. JEF named the area Flanders Heights and he built his own home there. The area offered wooded hillside sites in contrast to the developments on the east side of town where the terrain was generally level. However, JEF had few buyers. When, three years later, Thomas Marsalis and John Armstrong began their development west of the Trinity called Oak Cliff the project was an immediate success. This more southerly location proved to be the direction of growth west of the Trinity. Although Flanders Heights was not a commercially successful venture, JEF maintained his home there and returned to the area when he came back to Dallas in 1890 after a brief stay in San Diego and continued some development even then. The area still has a number of streets such as Stafford, Walmsley, Flanders, Leroy and others, named from the Flanders family and tradition.
And as business grew, so did JEF's family. The first child of James and Mary Flanders, a son, Waite S., was born on December 4th, 1881. Their second child, also a son, Earl B., was born over two years later on July 11th, 1883. Earl died the following year three days before his first birthday. Their only daughter, Jennie Mae, was born two years later on May 5th,1885. Their last child was another son, James LeRoy who was born January 7th, 1888 in San Diego. Waite and James would later join JEF as partners in the business. JEF's success also lured other family members from Chicago. In addition to Thomas who returned to Dallas with JEF in 1877, another brother, Charles Lorenzo joined the family there in the early 1880's. Both brothers were employed by JEF from time to time in construction or as building superintendents. Their parents also came to Dallas but returned to Chicago after several years.
The decade from the latter part of 1876 to 1887 was pivotal in the establishment of JEF's career. He arrived in Dallas with virtually no portfolio and established himself as the pre-eminent architect there, although few challenged him during the first several years. By 1878, Archer was no longer listed as an architect in Dallas although his name did appear in the city directory in the years 1880 and 1881.
Several other architects appeared briefly in Dallas during the next few years. Of these, only two remained in the city for any extended period of time - W. H. Wilson and S. Nelson. Wilson worked briefly as JEF's partner in 1881 and he remained to be a factor in the market. Little mention is found today of Nelson's work. However JEF soon had to face increasing competition from others who saw the tremendous growth taking place in Dallas and wanted their share of the business. In 1884, as the city's reputation of growth and wealth continued to spread, three more architects arrived in the city and by 1886-87, there was an influx of another half dozen. The first major competition was the partnership of Bristol & Clark, a partnership that made significant contributions to the architecture of Dallas. A. B. Bristol, the senior member of this firm, was a Cleveland trained architect and brought with him twenty-five years of experience and business acumen. He was soon working for many of the prestigious clients of the city and in 1888, he designed the innovative Dallas City Hall, an unusual and controversial building at the time it was built. Stewart and Fuller arrived shortly afterwards. One of their first major commissions was the fashionable Dallas Club, an elite private organization for the more notable gentlemen of the city, built on the corner of Commerce and Poydras streets in 1888.
Also arriving in 1887 was Albert Ulrich who trained in Cincinnati. He initially joined Flanders as a partner and then took over the practice when JEF responded to the call of the booming city of San Diego, California after vacationing there that year - a vacation trip probably designed to see first hand the extent of the construction activity taking place there. Ulrich designed the extant First Baptist Church in 1890, one of Dallas' few remaining nineteenth century buildings. Within the next few years, he became one of the most successful architects in Dallas
William McDonald in his book Dallas Rediscovered summarized the characteristics of Dallas's architecture when he observed that "…the fact that the architects practicing in Dallas never studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, gave the city's buildings a unique flair, exuberance, and distinctiveness. Because Dallas architects were too unschooled to make sophisticated copies, they instead evolved a very freewheeling architecture: a lyrical composite of all the prevailing styles, the knowledge of which had been garnered from pattern books, popular literature, visits East, and by comparing notes with other local architects."
In the late 1880's, some clients still preferred the prestige of out of state architects and went to cities such as St. Louis and Chicago for the designers of their buildings - marked contrast to the disposition of the city ten years before when little thought was given to the idea of permanent structures. The decade of the 1880's was Flanders' most prolific. He endeavored to meet the needs of a growing city and a growing state. As seen in his references, numerous clients took him many miles from the city of Dallas and he journeyed to these locations by rail and, to the west, by stagecoach
In 1925, JEF recalled his first impressions of Dallas:
Flanders' first commission was the Binkley Hotel in Sherman which he designed in 1877. When he left Dallas ten years later, just after designing the buildings for the first Texas state fair, he left a legacy of structures of many types throughout the state. It would be three years before he returned to resume his career in Dallas..
FLANDERS' ADVERTISEMENT IN THE 1883-1884 DIRECTORY OF THE CITY OF DALLAS LISTS A NUMBER OF HIS EARLY COMMISSIONS:
Dallas County Courthouse
Nolan County Courthouse
Rockwall County Courthouse
Getzendaner & Ferris Bldg. Waxahachie
Binkley Hotel, Sherman
W.H. Flippen's Bank & Residence
Oliver & Griggs' Bank, Dallas
C. A. Keating's Residence, Dallas
John Bookhout's Residence, Dallas
Geo. Atkin's Residence, Dallas
(The illustration is standard artwork and not a Flanders building.)
From the collection of the Texas/Dallas History Archives, Dallas Public Library
JAMES EDWARD FLANDERS - This photograph was made about the time of Flanders' move to Texas.