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This article originally appeared in the Garland/Mesquite section of The Dallas Morning News on Sept. 22, 1995.


By Michael R. Hayslip

In real-horse-powered times a good blacksmith was at least as essential as an automobile mechanic of today. In fact, when automobiles appeared, the “smithy” was often the only mechanic available, applying his metallurgical skill with a seasoning of common sense. The more creative artisans fashioned hardware and decorative items as well.

Wrought iron was the blacksmith’s raw material. While cast iron products, created with metal of high carbon content, tended to be hard and brittle, wrought iron was almost carbon-free, giving it malleability, particularly under extreme heat. In a blacksmith shop that heat was generated in a forge, which in this area was a wood-fired oven whose fire was superheated by oxygen forced in by a bellows, or air pump.

Manipulated with tongs and hammers, which formed and shaped the metal against the contours of an anvil, hot iron yielded itself to many and divers designs. Hammering flattened the crystalline structure of the material into a linear grain pattern, so that it could bend without breaking. Wrought iron could also be cut, by hammering it against a sharp edge, or welded, by hammering heated edges together. All this was accomplished without the aid of acetylene or electric arc.

Pumping the bellows while heating the material, holding hot iron while wielding the hammer and dragging heavy objects about usually required more than one man, even a strong one. The blacksmith’s helper was known as a “striker,” since he frequently swung the hammer as directed by the smithy, who held the work piece from the opposite side of the anvil. The striker also built the fire for the forge and managed the tools.

Around the turn of the century Rowlett’s black smithing was practiced by George Drum, also a local farmer who had transplanted his family from Pennsylvania after the Civil War.  George Francis (or Francis George, depending on the resource) Drum (1847-1914) had taken root in these parts about 1878, still limping from a hip wound sustained while fighting with his Pennsylvania cavalry unit in the Union Army. Presumably he had arrived here with sufficient tools and talents to make himself useful to the Confederate neighbors who needed his help.

According to the account of Miss Irma Buhler, writing in 1912 for the Silver Anniversary Edition of the Garland News, the first Rowlett blacksmith was Charles Warren, who was succeeded in that capacity by Page and Coldwell, Ben Page and then Drum. Sometime prior to 1912 Drum had sold out to a G. Shipley, but the shop remained in its location on the north side of Main Street, where the Farmers’ Market now stands.

Despite calls for wagon repair and hardware needs, the staple of a blacksmith’s business was shoeing horses. Although no record exists of when Drum’s first local work was performed or what it created, the event may have even pre-dated the founding of Rowlett itself, which occurred after 1886 and the arrival of Katy railroad.

Besides his home settlement of Liberty Grove, Drum’s trade area would have included early farm communities such as Pleasant Valley, Cottonwood, Tuckerville, Morris and, if a problem were not too serious to risk the distance, even Centerville and Rose Hill to the south.  All of these are now incorporated into the present boundaries of either Rowlett or Garland.

Aside from do-it-yourselfers, the closest and stiffest competition would have come from Garland, whose town census of 1900 boasted four blacksmiths and two wheelwrights living inside the city limits. As the title implies, the wheelwright concentrated his efforts upon the wooden parts of wheels, buggies and other implements for which wood and iron were both employed in parts. In cases where demand was insufficient for both a wheelwright and a blacksmith, the smithy frequently marshaled his skills in carpentry and performed both functions.

Photo not available


Photo caption:

George Drum shoes a horse at his blacksmith shop in Rowlett about 1900. Apparently, he also repaired wagon wheels (background). Included in the tool box beside him would have been hammers, puncheons and tongs of various shapes, as well as parting tools for trimming the horse’s hoofs.

Photo courtesy Earl Hammond.

From the Garland Local History & Genealogical Society, Volume 3-Number 1, April 1994




Author:  Jim Wheat

Driving through the intersection of Miller and Centerville roads would not reveal the slightest existence of the once thriving settlement of Morris.

Morris, sometimes referred to as Morristown, was in existence as early as 1880, when the census records revealed a business-oriented community:  Austin Morris occupied as a retail grocer, and in whose store the post office was probably located; Sam C. Payne employed in the flour and grist mill: William E. Wharton, an engineer of some type, possibly at the gin.  The primary occupation in the Morris vicinity was, of course, farming, and appearing on the 1880 census in that profession were: R. Thomas Mills, George H. Brandenburg, John W. Davis, John H. Houston, Henderson Coyle, Joseph W. Harris, James and John Mills (retired farmers), J. Clark Jacobs, and Festus Tinsley.  There were probably others, but it is impossible to determine geographical boundaries of Morris proper by examining the boundaries.

According to postal records, the settlement was originally known as Davis Mills, the name apparently derived from two prominent families in the area. When Austin Morris, the candidate for postmaster, applied for a post office, he entered the proposed name of China Grove. However, a change of mind obviously occurred, and China Grove became Morris, which the Post Office Department declared “established” on April 5, 1880.

The post office was discontinued on February 1st of the next year for reasons not recorded.  However, it was re-established on October 18, 1882, when Benj. T. Travis was appointed postmaster, a position he held for over six years. Prior to re-establishment, a name change to “Davis Mills” was considered, but once again Morris proved unanimous.

In Polk’s State Gazeteer & Business Directory for 1884, Morris boasted the following businesses:  Davis & Neuman’s gin and flour mill, S.N. McSpadden’s drugs, groceries and dry goods, and Wesson and Miller’s corn mill and general store.  The population was given as 50.

Morris was of course not without schooling, which was in existence as early as 1880 as indicated by the number of “students” appearing on the census. School records in the Dallas county archives reveal that Sallie Embree was teaching in 1887; W.L. McCauley, 1888-1889 (with 57 pupils); Benj. T. Travis began in November 1889 with 54 pupils, and continued until as late as March 1891. Records were not found for the years 1892-1895. W.M Wyatt was teaching as early as December 1896, and continued as late as 1898. The Morris school district was combined with the Centerville district about 1901.

Benj. Davis stepped down as postmaster on December 14, 1888, probably to assume the duties of teaching school at Morris. Davis’s successor as postmaster was Benj. J. Harris, who in later years was a physician in Rowlett.

With the coming of the railroad through the area in the early 1880’s, and its bypassing of Morris by a fourth-of-a-mile, the decline of the settlement was imminent.

On February 19, 1889, the post office at Morris ceased to exist, and on the same day was transferred to the bustling community of Rowlett, two-and-a-half miles to the northeast.

The weather-beaten remains of the old Chiesa home place and the two millstones are the sole survivors of a way-of-life laid to rest by progress.

  This article originally appeared in the Garland/Mesquite section of the Dallas Morning News on Friday, June 9, 1995



By Michael R. Hayslip


 Rowlett asks:  What’s in a name?


 For every name there is a reason.  Not so in Rowlett, where the source of the city’s name is still unclear.

 The town of Rowlett was christened soon after a Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad chugged through in 1886.  The train station stood in a community called Pleasant Valley, but residents of the area received mail through the post office in Morris, a community to the southeast.  Something had to give, so the town itself was dubbed Rowlett as a compromise.

 This account came for Miss Irma Buhler, writing as Rowlett correspondent for the anniversary edition of The Garland News in 1912.  With fewer than 250 people to account for and no newspaper in town, she omitted any mention of the reason or procedure by which the name Rowlett was selected.

 Some old-timers speak generally about a possible source: a 19th century surveyor named Rowlett who staked our expanses of acreage in and around the town, possibly for the railroad.

 The venerable Handbook of Texas, published by the Texas State Historical Association, offers two contradictory versions of the town’s naming.  One is that the namesake was a “George Rowlett, who settled in the vicinity prior to 1848.” 

 Another attributes the name “to a lone Indian who used to camp on the creek.”  Because Rowlett would have been a peculiar name for an Indian then, this theory implies that somehow he (or she) may have named either the town, the creek or both after someone else.

 Officials at the association point out that research for the publication began in the late 1940s under the direction of Walter Prescott Webb, a celebrated Texas historian who employed graduate students and other temporary help to assist him. 

Who gave him the Rowlett stories may – but may not – be reflected in records that have been stored in a place which is “not easily accessible.” A revision in progress is due for publication in 1996, but no decision has been made about changes in Rowlett’s origins.

 Rowlett Creek, according to the Handbook, “was probably named for Daniel Rowlett, who patented land crossed by the creek in Collin County.”

 Most of Daniel Rowlett’s tracks appear to the north in Fannin County, where in 1837 he led the group that petitioned for creation of the county.  Tom Scott of the Fannin County Museum of History in Bonham notes that he was self-instructed as a surveyor and land agent, attorney and doctor. Hence he called himself Dr. Rowlett when he arrived in Texas in 1835.  In 1842 he claimed a first-class headright land grant certificate for 1,782 acres in Fannin County and 2,823 acres in present-day Collin County.

 Since he completed a 90-day enlistment in the army of the new Republic of Texas, Dr. Rowlett also received a bounty warrant for military service.  This warrant was exercised for 320 more acres in Collin County, through the middle of which runs the same Rowlett (formerly Rowlett’s) Creek that passes the City of Rowlett en route to Lake Ray Hubbard. Having married and sired four children by a third wife who was 28 years his junior, Dr. Rowlett died in 1848.  He had no relative named George Rowlett, but did have a son named Daniel Owen Rowlett, born in 1840.

Wording on the Rowlett historical marker in front of City Hall states that “although the origin of the name is not clear, it may have come from Daniel Owen Rowlett, a surveyor for the Mercer’s Colony.”  Since the Mercer’s Colony was authorized in 1844, “a surveyor could have referred to Dr. Daniel Rowlett.

But by approving the marker application in 1985, the Texas Historical Commission cast into aluminum a position opposed to both city-name accounts of the Texas State Historical Association.



This article originally appeared in the Garland/Mesquite section of the Dallas Morning News on Friday, June 9 1995



By Michael R. Hayslip


Pronounced Split


Even folks who live in Rowlett can’t agree on how to say it

  A continuing mystery of evolution is the pronunciation of the name “Rowlett,” as applied to the city and the creek that meanders through it.

Telephone calls to an unscientific sample of three dozen businesses and agencies whose name begin with the word “Rowlett” found the following pronunciations:  ROW-let, 30 percent; Row-LET, 30 percent; and ROW-LET, 15 percent.  Other answers, some from machines, avoid confusion in favor of something noncontroversial, such as “water department.”

Folks in Rowlett are agreeably disagreeable about the pronunciation.

Take Lorene and Vernon Schrade, who hail from pioneer Rowlett families and marked their 49th anniversary Sunday.

She celebrated in Row-LET, but he stayed in ROW-let for the occasion.

Why the split over all these years? ROW-let’s “quicker and easier,” Mr. Schrade said.

Meanwhile at City Hall, the receptionist uses Row-LET, as does Mayor Mark Enoch, possibly suggesting official intent to cleanse the accent from the first syllable to sound more cosmopolitan.  The mayor also insists that his favorite color is plaid, which makes him adaptable.

The voice on the Chamber of Commerce telephone recording says ROW-LET, but executive director Mary Alice Ethridge claims to be a ROW-let type “by conversion,” whatever that means.

Casual listening indicates that area residents with at least 30 years’ tenure gravitate by habit to ROW-let, unless appealing to a newcomer with a high income, a luxury automobile or a big mortgage.  Pronounced while chewing something, the name becomes RAULT. Over a dip of snuff it sounds like MRAUL.

Most newcomers favor Row-LET, especially for the city name, but then some who live in Row-LET still fish in ROW-let Creek. (Anyone who fishes in Row-let CRICK is immediately marked.) Ask a ROW-let type where Row-LET came from, and you will likely hear him say, “The Yankees did it.”

English teachers sometimes duck the issue by pointing out that “Rowlett” is, in each case, a proper noun and, therefore, exempt from the usual pronunciation rules.

Reared in this atmosphere of split pronunciations, some Rowlett youngsters feel “OK” with Row-LET, which may widen the generation gap, but seems to have more snap to it.

Carolynn Canon, an officer with Security Bank in Garland, allowed that while she now spoke Row-LET, she still thought ROW-let and was ready to revert as required.

A final respondent expressed relief that virtually no one used Rou-LAY; that might be a tad highbrow.