Denison in 1886
Henry Wellge was an experienced bird’s-eye-view artist by the time he began his Texas tour in 1885. With more than fifty prints to his credit, he produced an India-ink drawing of Denison, more or less the northern entrance into Texas, that one correspondent claimed “shows at a glance the character of the country, the location and development of our city.” Denison was a city literally built by the railroad. The Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad crossed the Red River into Texas in 1872 and located its roundhouse and shops at a new town site named after George Denison, the vice president of the railroad.
Wellge’s view, looking to the northwest, is an accurate document of the city and its environs. The city was established on the largest area of level land available near the best crossing of the Red River (shown on the distant horizon and appearing to be much closer to the city than it actually is). Appropriately, the railroads—the Missouri, Kansas and Texas and the Houston and Texas Central—are shown in the foreground and on the right-hand side of the print. The “Katy” arrived from Kansas City, with one branch going on to Denton and Fort Worth and the other to Greenville, Mineola, and Tyler. The H&TC arrived from Sherman and Dallas and joined with the Katy for points north.
Wellge uniformly eliminated the outhouses and other small structures in his view. There is no courthouse to depict, because Denison is not the county seat, but Wellge provided an outsized drawing of the Washington Building (H on map), the first free public high school in Texas, established in 1873. The handsome double row of buildings along either side of Main Street is emphasized with enlarged details in the lower right-hand corner of the lithograph, as are new additions to the city (in the lower left-hand corner) that fall outside the scope of the view. Denison, of course, is in the heart of cotton-farming country, but the stock pens near the railroad depot bear witness to the importance of livestock to the community as well.
“Every street, business house, public building and private residence is shown to advantage,” concluded the editor of the Sunday Gazetteer. “We are more than pleased with our city since seeing the way we look on paper,” he wrote and predicted that the views will be “the best advertisements Denison can possibly have.”
This was not the first bird’s-eye view of Denison, according to the editor. An artist named J. W. Pearce had published one in 1873, and D. D. Morse produced another three years later. The 1873 view had “become so scarce,” according to the editor, “that they are considered very valuable.” Neither of these prints is known to exist today.