(The story in this column was written in 1986 by the late Elizabeth Bledsoe, a popular Denison High School teacher for many years. She titled the piece “Denison: I remember when, 1914-1924.)
The year is 1914, 100 years from the time that Elizabeth Bledsoe remembered Denison High School. In a note attached to the article, she said it was a simple account of recollections of life in the middle lane. Miss Bledsoe lived at 631 West Chestnut. 1914 was a very special time for her.
I ran across the article in my file while searching for stories, columns or anything else with my by line, as Mavis Bryant and I are beginning to accumulate material for a book of my columns about the history of Denison that we are preparing.
Miss Bledsoe wrote:
“1914 was an important year in my life. I was six years old and started to school in January of that year. The regular school age was 7, but if the school was not crowded, one could start at 6 by paying tuition. My first grade teacher was Miss Jennie Jackson, who also was principal of Washington School that was located on the west end of the 700 block Main Street. Miss Jennie was as colorful as the many stories circulated about her.
“September, 1914 the beautiful new Denison High School (later McDaniel Junior High) was opened. As there was extra room in the new building grades one through three were on the south end of the third floor. My second grade teacher was Miss Neva Munson, who was an excellent teacher and a daughter of the famed horticulturist, T.V. Munson. On the last day of school she gave each child in the room a magnolia blossom. … That started my love and appreciation for magnolias.
“Also, the first car my family owned was a 1914 Studebaker, four-door, touring car. I guess it must have been a ‘Sunday car’ for that was mainly when we used it. The rest of the week it was jacked up in the garage to protect the rubber in the tires! When the car was new I stood in the back and held on to the laprobe rail. … Nine years later I was driving it.
“I grew up in a family operated store at 310 West Main. Today we call then variety stores but it was Bledsoe’s Racket Store. I have had people say to me, ‘I knew you when you played in a tub.’ Sure enough they did, for as a baby my family would put me down in a big tub in the back of the store to play. Being in the store six days a week, I learned to be interested in people as well as the activities on Main Street. As I grew up I learned to love and appreciate the beautiful china in the store. Until World War I when the Haviland factories in France and other European factories were destroyed, this store had one of the best selections of china in North Texas.
“I remember especially when the circus would come to town. People from miles around came to Denison to see the parade down Main Street. For most of us, this was the only time we could see live elephants, lions, etc. Denison schools closed during the time of the parade.
“At that time we did not have a radio or TV. The only ‘instant news’ we had was when The Denison Herald would get out an ‘Extra Edition.’ I can remember waking up in the middle of the night hearing boys come up the street hollering ‘Extra! Extra! Read all about it!’ Porch lights in the neighborhood would go on, and my father would go out and buy a paper to see what had happened.
“Also, I remember buying hamburgers for 5 cents in the 200 block West Main. Admission to the movies was 5 cents. Of course, the movies were silent and no air conditioning. I remember sitting out on the front porch of my home in July and August until 11 p.m. waiting for the house to ‘cool off’ so sleeping would be more comfortable. We had electric fans, but did not know about refrigerated fans.
“In 1917, Central Ward opened, and I was a fifth grade student. World War I was in progress, and I remember the War Stamp sales, the programs and the Red Cross knitting that we did. I have often wondered how they could use the knitting by our grimy little hands, but anyway the idea was to get us and our families interested in the war, which they did.
“As Denison was a division point on the railroad while train crews were being changed and the trains were being cleaned, I remember that U.S. troops on their way to France were marched up Main Street for exercise. As a child it was frightening to me and made the war seem so much nearer.
“I well remember Nov. 11, 1918. I was crossing Main Street on the way to Central Ward School when suddenly the shop (MKT) whistles started blowing furiously. I turned and ran back home and my mother said that the war was over and that I did not have to go to school, but to go to the store with her. Later in the day there was the most spontaneous parade down Main Street I have ever seen anywhere.
“As for ‘culture’ in our Denison we looked forward to the lyceum programs during the school year. The highlight of the summer to me was when the Chautauqua came in June. The big tent (no air conditioning), the varied programs of musical numbers, plays and lectures were pure ecstasy. Of course, going to Woodlake on the Interurban was always fun. Too, the Interurban made hourly trips to Dallas.
“I remember the bitter railroad strike in the 1920s when Denison was under martial law and the National Guard was encamped in Forest Park. My family was not connected with the railroad, but I had friends whose families were on both sides of the dispute. I remember reading in The Dallas Morning News each day about the ‘terrible things that were happening in Denison and in the Red River bottoms.’ As long as one stayed away from the Katy Shops, life went on as usual.
“I graduated in 1924 from Denison High … the first class to have 100 members to graduate.
“In conclusion, Denison is a wonderful place to call home, and I am happy to have grown up here. I am also grateful for belonging to a family that was God fearing, law abiding and hard working with a love of and a belief in Denison. Finally, I believe that my favorite memory of Denison is the striking of the clock on McDaniel and the many times I have looked up at that clock or hurried home when it struck a certain hour.”
The Denison High School (McDaniel) that Miss Bledsoe speaks of, and the clock that were her favorite memories, no longer exist. Many of us who have grown up in Denison share that sentiment, but time (pardon the pun) marches on.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.