Other Views from 1890

Where is Seymour?

Above: Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler (1842–1922). Seymour, Baylor County Texas 1890, 1890. Lithograph, 15.5 x 28.5 in. Lithographer unknown. Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth. (In the 1980s the original map was lost during transit to the museum following conservation. The museum welcomes any information that might lead to the recovery of the map.)

Seymour in 1890

The Seymour that Thaddeus Fowler depicted in 1890 seemed to be a prosperous county seat with more large, stone buildings than such a small community, which was not even listed separately in the census of 1890, might justify. The substantial buildings resulted from a boom that coincided with the construction of the Wichita Valley Railroad to Seymour, located on the Brazos River, in 1890. The boom began when the Texas and Pacific Railway let it be known that it was interested in constructing a feeder line out of Wichita Falls. The unincorporated community of Seymour raised $50,000, thereby securing the link to the T&P, and their boosters “went wild” according to one historian. Property values soared, and “wild-eyed speculators came with propositions for skyscrapers, hotels and office buildings for the future ‘Chicago of Texas.’” The boomlet was short lived, in part because of the 1891 Alien Land Law, which caused many speculators to lose their financial backing. And the farming and ranching economy of the area could not support the city.[1]

In 1890 Seymour, shown in the view from the east-southeast, boasted a handsome courthouse, several stone buildings, and an opera house. The courthouse was constructed in 1884, five years after the community had been selected the county seat and no doubt expressed the hopes of many of the city’s residents. Constructed of native stone “with walls three feet thick,” the courthouse had a ground floor made of natural flat rocks obtained from the bed of Seymour Creek. The builders presumed that the courthouse would be a “real architectural wonder for the western cowboy.”[2]

Fowler’s drawings of the courthouse as well as several other substantial buildings are fairly accurate when compared with photographs, except for the McLain Hotel. The artist probably worked from plans for the hotel. He gives a date of October 1890 in his upper-center marginal drawing of the structure, but construction on the hotel did not begin until March of 1891, which probably explains the discrepancy between both his marginal drawing and the drawing in the view and contemporary photographs. Fowler shows the hotel to be four stories high with a fifth floor in the tower, whereas photographs show only three floors and a tower. J. R. McLain, whose residence and several businesses are detailed in the marginal drawings, had grander plans for the hotel but reduced them when the economy declined.[3]

Fowler depicted Seymour from a lower perspective than the one that he took on larger cities such as Sherman and Denison. Perhaps the smaller city did not need such a vertical perspective—in fact, it would have made it seem that the structures were even farther apart—or perhaps the lithographer was more faithful to Fowler’s drawing (the drawing of Quanah, for example, shows a lower perspective than the published lithograph).