Waco in 1892
Although Waco was only the sixth largest city in the state in population in 1892—behind San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Galveston, and Austin—it had grown to be one of the most important cotton markets in the South. According to one estimate, nearby farmers brought more than 40,000 bales of cotton to Waco to be ginned, and railroads brought another 80,000 bales from smaller cities that did not have their own compresses. Also, the Slayden Kirksey Woolen Mills (i on map), on Mary Street between Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets, was on its way to becoming one of the largest in the South.
A. L. Westyard’s picture of the city viewed from the east suggests this growth and vigor even as the cotton prices were headed downward. The city’s reputation as an educational center had grown when Baylor University (shown between Fifth, Seventh, Dutton, and Speight streets) moved from Independence and merged with Waco University (J) in 1887. A gas plant had begun operation in the 1880s; and in the 1890s the city began a system of public parks. Trolleys, which converted from mule-drawn to electric in 1891, eased transportation to the growing suburbs such as University Heights, Arwell Heights, Provident Heights, and Proctor Springs. Waco was also a city of churches (eighteen are identified in the key), including Catholic, German Evangelical, Norwegian Lutheran, Jewish, and African-American congregations in addition to the usual Protestant denominations, whose spires could often be seen for miles as one approached town.
But Waco was also something of a tourist destination, with hot artesian springs discovered beneath the city in 1890. Two springs were located near the public square and another in the southern part of town, where Padgitt’s Park was established. Good rail connections made it possible for people from other parts of the state to come and partake of the soothing waters. The hotel business picked up, with the Pacific and the Royal hotels being among the larger establishments. In addition, the city boasted the only legal prostitution district in the state, and one of only two in the country; Omaha, Nebraska, was the other.
The promotional vigor of Waco businessmen is exemplified in the three bird’s-eye views of the city made between 1873 and 1892. With colors made possible by improved printing technology, Westyard’s view seems to accent Waco’s growth and success with a rosy red sunset in the distant western sky (upper right-hand corner of the print).