Dallas in 1892
By 1892, Dallas had had rail service for twenty years, time enough to witness the often-repeated practice of railroads lowering their freight rates to drive river transportation out of business, then raising the rates again. Not that Dallas ever had effective river transportation, but community leaders had tried several times, beginning in the 1840s, to get Congress to provide federal funds for the improvement of the Trinity River. When the price of shipping a bale of cotton from Dallas to Houston on the H&TC railroad increased from $1.05 per bale in the 1870s to $2.65 per bale in the 1880s, and especially after the price of cotton began to decline in the 1890s, Dallas business leaders were sufficiently concerned to renew their efforts to open the Trinity to navigation. Paul Giraud’s view of the city resulted from these efforts.
In July 1891, business leaders formed the Trinity River Navigation and Improvement Company to raise money for a renewed effort to get Congress to appropriate money for the river’s improvement. The Dallas leaders purchased a 64-foot stern-wheeler named Snag Boat Dallas in 1892 to clear the river of rafts and overhanging branches and soon added a 113-foot steamboat, the H. A. Harvey. At the same time, Giraud, who was secretary of the Commercial Club of Dallas as well as an artist, produced his view of Dallas from the west to publicize the projected river improvements—docking facilities, turning basin, and widened river—depicted in the foreground. Giraud envisioned a widened Trinity River that would accommodate steamboats pulling barges and a network of bridges crossing the river. It is not a bird’s-eye view in the usual sense, because the perspective is lower. It is difficult to see many of the streets that run horizontally across the print, and Giraud did not bother to name them. The buildings do appear to be individual portraits, and in a few cases of one-to-one comparisons, the drawing seems to be accurate.
Following the Snag Boat, the Harvey finally reached Dallas on May 21, 1893, to great celebration but was immediately confined to the stretch of the river between Dallas and McCommas Bluff, because of low water. The Harvey transported lumber between the bluff and Dallas and served as an excursion boat for day-long trips, but the excursion business declined within a few years, and the boat was tied up alongside the snag boat until both were sold in 1898. Efforts to make the Trinity navigable for barge traffic continued until well into the twentieth century, but to no avail. Paul Giraud’s panorama of the city is one of the more interesting documents of the effort.