Dr. Alexander W. Acheson was a man who wore many hats. Since 1869 he was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic. In 1902 he was elected surgeon general of the National Encampment in Washington, D.C. He was named a councilman of the second ward in Denison in 1873 and in 1904 was elected on the citizens’ ticket to the office of mayor.

Dr. Alexander W. Acheson was a man who wore many hats. Since 1869 he was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic. In 1902 he was elected surgeon general of the National Encampment in Washington, D.C. He was named a councilman of the second ward in Denison in 1873 and in 1904 was elected on the citizens’ ticket to the office of mayor.


It is his term as mayor that we will discuss in this column. It is said that he gave to the city a public spirited and progressive administration, watchful of needed reforms and improvements and exercised his prerogatives in support of all plans and movements for the general good of the citizens and the town.


It was one of these suggest reforms that brought unneeded attention to Denison on Feb. 9, 1906, when The Spokane Press, a newspaper in Washington State ran an article credited to a "special correspondent to the Press" published a story that very few newspapers would choose to publish.


Jim Sears, who is great at ferreting information out from many different sources, found the article headlined "Let Tax Dodger’s Home Burn; Bar His Child From School" – Mayor Acheson, Denison, Texas.


Jim said it also gave him an opportunity to mention the digital collection of historic newspapers in the Library of Congress called Chronicling American that can be found at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. Some of the newspapers included are from the North Texas State University collection.


It’s hard to believe that a person would make such a statement, but the story went on to give details of what he had to say. He claimed that withdrawal of the benefits of fire protection and the right to send their children to school would be a means of forcing tax delinquents to pay up.


He formally submitted the suggestion to the Council, and, at that point, a committee was appointed to report on the matter. No doubt, the suggestion was not carried out.


To the Council, the mayor said that about $30,000 in taxes were delinquent and that was a pretty good sum of money in 1906.


"These delinquents are not always the shiftless or poverty stricken. Some of them are among the most successful businessmen in the community. One-third of the delinquent taxes are due the school fund," the mayor was quoted as saying. "If they were paid, the directors could increase the salary of every teacher $20 a month."


The mayor pointed out that one man paid only $3.75 taxes on a four room house and sent three children to school. Another, who complained at a tax of 47 cents, had four children at school. He said their negligence in promptly paying taxes was a blow at the intelligence of the generation and a slap at their own children.


Regarding the advisability of letting the property of the delinquents burn, Mayor Acheson said: "When a man stops paying his fire insurance premium, the insurance ceases. If a dozen men are in line passing buckets of water to a burning house, should they be expected to continue work when the owner stands idly by and does not lend a hand to extinguish the flames?"


He said "of 27 runs by the fire department lately, nine were to property of people who refuse to pay taxes which keep the machines running; while six more delinquents lived in adjoining houses which would have burned had the fire hoses not reached them.


"As these people have set themselves in a class separate from the rest of its citizens, it is no more than proper that we should recognize them as declining to participate in the cost of running the business of the city and therefore entitles to a minimum of its benefits."


The newspaper made a statement that Mayor Acheson was thoroughly in earnest in his proposition made to the Council.


One can hardly imagine a mayor making such a proposition to a city council, but you know what, some of his thoughts make sense.


No doubt, however, Acheson was a good mayor because he was elected to four terms. He realized the supply of water at that time being furnished by Waterloo Lake that was supplemented by a few wells was inadequate, so, due to his efforts and those of the council, particularly Pat H. Tobin, the Randell Lake dam was built. But, due to the fact that when it was completed it was a very dry year, it was months before water accumulated. One July 4, a baseball game was played in the bottom of Randell as a prospective lake was regarded as being a mistake and often was referred to as "Acheson’s folly." But this title proved erroneous many times as the city grew. Many gallons of water were needed and Waterloo, which was supplemented by the wells, would not supply enough water for the city.


Many years ago, when Waterloo dam washed out, the city would have been in serious condition if it had not been for Dr. Acheson’s forward thinking.


It was during his term as mayor that a city hospital was built and what then was the high school was built in 1913 on Main Street. This was what became known as Denison High School, then McDaniel Junior High and was demolished a few years ago.


An early advocate of navigation on Red River, he was instrumental in securing the steamboat "Annie P," which came from Shreveport and landed at a point known then as Acheson Park.


He visited Jay Gould and urged the extension of the Texas and Pacific railroad into Denison and as a result of that visit, the Texas and Pacific built from the Sherman junction to Denison.


He was the first to drill for oil near Denison, financing a well on the Preston Bend highway. He supported a canning factor, the Cotton Mill, the motor belt line, a soap factory and the Denison Oil Mill.


Always advanced for the times, he was the first to use a telephone in Denison with a private line running from his home at 1419 West Sears to his office in Jones Drug Store downtown. He was the first to equip his home with anything other than oil lamps. His house was supplied with a gasoline system in the cellar. When acetylene gas came into use, he changed to that, and later to electricity.


Dr. Acheson was the first to own a rubber-tired buggy, quickly followed by pneumatic tires, and was one of the first to own an automobile in Grayson County, a one-cylinder vehicle with oil lamps and wooden fenders.


It was said that the women in town didn’t want to be on the streets when he was out driving because the horses were not used to such a "contraption."


He may not have had a good idea for collecting delinquent taxes, but he certainly had other good ideas that, no doubt, were good for the benefit of Denison at the time.


Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at d.hunt_903@yahoo.com.