Other Views of Waco

Other Views from 1886

Where is Waco?

Above: Henry Wellge (1850–1917). Waco, Tex. County Seat of McLennan Cty. 1886. Population: 16000, 1886. Lithograph, 18.9 x 30.7 in., by Beck & Pauli, Litho. Milwaukee, Wis. Published by Norris, Wellge and Co. Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth.

Waco in 1886

Considerable growth had taken place in Waco from the time Herman Brosius produced his view in 1873 to 1886, when Henry Wellge provided a careful update in his view. Two more railroads—the Houston and Texas Central and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas—had built lines through the city, including two new railroad bridges over the Brazos River. Waco was in the process of becoming a transportation and commercial hub for a large portion of the fertile Blackland Prairie of Central Texas as citizens built substantial schools, businesses, government buildings, churches, and residences. Wellge estimated the population at 16,000, which was probably a bit of an exaggeration, since the census of 1890 counted only 14,445 there, but it suggests the significant growth that had occurred in the number of factories, mills, gins, and presses shown in the drawing. “There have been several attempts to make a picture of Waco in years past,” concluded the editor of the Waco Daily Examiner, “all of which were incomplete and unsatisfactory… A sketch just completed by Norris, Wellge & Co., publishers…presents the character and extent of our city in such a manner that the casual observer will at once recognize it to be Waco.”[1]

Wellge pictured the city from the east, with the railroads and several mills and factories featured in the foreground. The rest of the city spreads westward across the prairie, with Waco Creek (a tributary of the Brazos) circling around its southern and western fringes. The public square, at the foot of Austin Avenue, is missing the small courthouse shown in Brosius’ view, as it was replaced by the graceful new Second Empire-style courthouse at the corner of Second and Franklin streets, leaving the public square vacant for the future City Hall.[2] By this time, Waco had become one of the more important inland cotton markets in the South, and cotton brokers gathered around the cotton wagons in the public square each summer day to talk with farmers and sample the stable-length and quality of their cotton. The quantity and bulk of cotton bales also explain the number of presses in town, which could, under heavy pressure, reduce the size of a cotton bale by 50 percent, making shipping more economical. [3]

Waco was an educational center, with Waco University (C on map), Sacred Heart Academy (F), Waco Female College (D), and Paul Quinn College (E) for black students. Baylor University would move from Independence to Waco in 1887 to combine with Waco University. Wellge once again provided convincing detail, including the Jenney Electric Light and Power Station on the square, even though it had not yet been built.[4]

Wellge also recognized the significant proportion of Waco’s African-American population, approaching one-third of the total population by 1880, with Paul Quinn College and several black churches (X) all located on the geographical margins of the city. This probably is a remnant of the pre–Civil War settlement patterns, and the black population had not yet been segregated into a separate neighborhood.

“Mr. Wellge…remained in Waco three weeks, going over every street and alley in the city and carefully drawing every building and a complete plan of the city,” wrote the editor of the Waco Day. “The picture is all that could be desired.”[5]