Texas from a nine-year-old’s point of view

Pictures: Fort Worth Jewish Archives

Nine-year-old Doris Rae Levy died May 24, 1936, without ever seeing the Lone Star flag she won in the Texas Centennial Scrapbook Contest.  The day that judges in Austin awarded the child’s scrapbook a statewide honorable mention, she was in a coma, battling pneumonia, strep throat and peritonitis following an emergency appendectomy. 

A fourth grader at Lily B. Clayton Elementary, Doris Rae had spent months researching “Six Flags Under Texas,” a theme of the state’s centennial exposition.  From Native tribes (Caddo, Comanche, and Kiowa) to native flowers (bluebonnets and buttercups), her album is an encyclopedia bulging with picture postcards, yellowed news clippings, and lots of Lone Star facts and lore.   

What has local historians buzzing the most are the six photographs Doris Rae took of “neglected” landmarks, all relics of the city’s frontier past. “Doris had a good eye,” said Quentin McGown IV, author of Historic Photos of Fort Worth. “Her pictures add another view to a limited stock of images.” 

At the top of the scrapbooker’s list of the “few visible landmarks of the original Fort Worth” was the Van Zandt Cottage, then a dilapidated shack at 2900 Crestline Rd. Built in the late 1860s, it is the oldest dwelling in Fort Worth still on its original site. The schoolgirl’s Depression-era photo shows a hovel with a front porch supported by empty oil drums.  

 “What a treasure,” said Rena Lawrence, historic site supervisor at Log Cabin Village, which oversees the cottage.  “It’s wild. The cabin’s longevity is amazing.” Months after Doris snapped that photo, Lawrence said the premises were “reimagined” by architect Joseph R.  Pelich (1894-1968), who supervised a “romanticized restoration” that added shutters, larger windows and a wider, sweeping porch. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.    

Frenchmen’s Well – pictures: Fort Worth Jewish Archives

Another landmark Doris photographed was the Frenchman’s Well, a 10-foot-tall, conical mound of rocks that resembles a giant beehive. Dating to the mid-1850s, the rocks formed a protective hood over a 90-foot deep water well dug by French émigré Alexandre Barbier, a stonemason.  The well, 50 feet from his cabin, was located at 212 N. Taylor Street, on a slope leading to the Trinity River. 

According to Doris’s news clippings, the Chamber of Commerce envisioned surrounding the well with a replica of the city’s original military post.  That never happened. Instead, the hive-shaped structure was moved in 1951 to the west lawn of the County Courthouse, then  dismantled when the courthouse expanded.  A preservationist salvaged the stones and rebuilt the  rock igloo in the Grecian garden of a Fort Worth mansion, where it remains out of public view, according to McGown.  

Also piquing Doris Rae’s curiosity was a drag stone — a heavy, flat circular rock, 36-inches in  diameter with a 10-inch hole in the middle. On the frontier, drag stones,  pulled by oxen or mules, mashed, packed and leveled the surfaces of dirt roads.  This drag stone — no longer round but jagged —  dates from 1850, according to a plaque commissioned in 1924 by the local Daughters of the American Revolution. When Doris photographed it in 1936, the rough, aggregate stone was still on Taylor St., mounted on a concrete block. Today it rests upon a metal stand at the entry porch to Log Cabin Village. 

Doris also wandered, camera in hand, to Pioneers Rest Cemetery on Samuels Avenue overlooking the North Fork of the Trinity. There she photographed the “neglected” grave of Major Ripley A. Arnold (1917-1853), commander of the military outpost for which the city is named.  The major’s burial marker was barely visible above a crumbling rock retaining wall.  In October of 1936, a grander monument was dedicated — a granite boulder with a bronze plaque engraved with dragoons on horseback. The engraving was created by sculptor Eveline Sellors (1903-1995). 

Doris Rae Levy, the award-winning scrapbooker,  is buried at the site of another local landmark, Emanuel Hebrew Rest, a cemetery deeded to the city’s Jewish pioneers in 1879. Next to Doris Rae is the grave of her father, Ellie A. Levy, a jeweler who died a year after his daughter.  Levy’s widow, Margaret McManus Levy, moved to California with the scrapbook. Her descendants donated it to the Fort Worth Jewish Archives a decade ago. Brittle with age and too fragile to casually leaf through, the scrapbook was recently digitized under a Rescuing Texas History Grant and placed online at the Portal to Texas History, maintained by the University of North Texas Libraries. The public can thumb through Doris Rae’s scrapbook on the internet at https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth1091118/  and find her historic snapshots on page 1,032.