Sometime when I am looking for something special, I find the most interesting thing. Such was the case of today’s column. This town has had some interesting characters and happenings and while it was not the first town in Texas, its reputation is right up there among the leaders and it sometimes has been called a “city of firsts.” I have always thought it would make a good subject for a movie — even a documentary.
Several years ago, a program for the Newcomers’ Club here was about “Denison Firsts.” There were a lot of them. As Denison grew into the city it is today, Denisonians have recorded “first” after “first.” Some are documented and others have been passed along by word of mouth.
First thing that comes into my mind is the ice cream soda that I have written about numerous times. That is a semi-documented happening. Joseph A. Euper who operated a confectionery in the street level Security building, has been given credit for the first ice cream soda.
Euper not only was a confectioner, he was a city councilman, street railway system builder and an ice cream lover at heart. He probably devised his ice cream soda in desperation trying to meet the “stiff competition” of saloons up and down Main Street in the late 1870s. Pardon the pun in that last statement.
The claim has been challenged a couple of times in magazine articles, giving the credit to someone in another part of the state. But Denisonians know that Euper came up with the recipe. Written reports tell how merchants and other friends were his taste testers and brushed aside their handlebar mustaches to sample his creations.
On May 7, 1873, the Denison City Council officially selected the location of what was to become Texas’ first free public graded school here, known as the Washington School, and also the Educational Institute. When a location on Main Street was chosen, the citizens went into an uproar because the 700 block was considered “too far from town” to be accessible to the majority of school children. McDaniel Junior High later occupied the 1914 school that housed Denison High School that replaced the Educational Institute abandoned at the closing of the school year because the school had outlived its usefulness. The school building was demolished in 2007. The grounds have been vacant since then except for a few events, but who knows what eventually might occupy the 700 block of Main that now stands empty just waiting for what might be in the future.
Mavis Anne Bryant and I wrote a book, “Two Schools on Main Street; The Pride of Denison, Texas, 1873-2007,” in 2007 that is a history of the high school that included all 11 grades up until 1914.
Sam Houston School was the first white elementary school built in 1886, but in 1874, Denison opened its first black public school, Langston. The last black school, Terrell, was closed in 1967 when the local school system was totally integrated. Terrell now operates as an elementary school.
An electric refrigerator sent ice wagons to the barn here when a Denison company pioneered the shipping of fresh beef across the country in refrigerated railroad cars.
The first session of court was held in Grayson County in 1846 on property near Iron Ore Creek, southwest of Denison near Loy Lake Park, several years before Denison was established in 1973. A log cabin, that may have been a small stable beside a huge oak tree, was the scene when the first court case was against a man for allowing his stock to stray. He pleaded guilty and was fined $8.12.
Harrison Tone, founder of Tone Abstract Co., at his own expense, opened the first post office in Denison in 1872 and served as postmaster for the first year at a salary of $1.
In 1876, Denison acquired an ice factory, the Crystal Ice Co., first in North Texas.
In 1880, the first baseball team was organized and a streetcar line was built to the ballpark in what now is the 1200 block West Bond Street.
In 1890, an event happened that is no secret to any of us living today. On that date, Dwight D. Eisenhower was born here. Our native son was first a five star general during World War II, then several years after he retired, he was elected president of the United Sates. He visited the town of his birth three times, he last in 1965 after he had served his term as president.
The same day Ike was born, a group of Denison women organized the XXI Club, second oldest women’s literary club in Texas that later built the first women’s clubhouse in the state.
In 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt got his first welcome to Texas here when he stopped briefly while en route to a Rough Riders’ Reunion and encampment in San Antonio.
Denisonians got their first glimpse of a flying machine on Oct. 11, 1911, when the Vin Fiz, a box-kite aircraft passed over town and became the first airplane to do so. If you are a regular reader of this column, you read about the Vin Fiz last week.
I’m running out of room, but want to mention briefly a few more firsts.
The Annie P was the first steamboat to navigate the Red River, stopping at Riverside Park just north of Denison in 1890.
The first cattle trail driven out of Grayson County toward Kansas City was headed up the old Preston Trail to where the herd forded the Red River.
Denison was the first town in Texas to be built by the arrival of the MK&T Railroad during its extension to the south in 1872. A community known as Red River City sprang up near the river, but gradually shut down or was absorbed by Denison as the Katy settled down here.
The first electric interurban to be built in Texas ran from Denison to Sherman in 1901. It was in 1896 that J.P. Crearer purchased the mule streetcar line of both Denison and Sherman then installed electric cars to inaugurate his interurban.
One of the first public parks in the state was Forest Park, which still stands in the center of town and is home to Munson Stadium where the Denison Yellow Jackets and other athletic groups play.
We probably could go on and on if we gave it some more thought, but that’s enough for today.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.