Some neighbors say their favorite stories from Jim Barnes’ research are about the notorious and the fabulously wealthy. Here are a few:
• One circuit court case Barnes has researched involves a trespassing dispute between William Myers and Milton Merrifield (at right). “It’s quite complicated, but both claimed that they owned this land here,” Barnes says. And despite oft-circulated claims that the Merrifelds were the first settlers in Oak Cliff, it’s false information, Barnes says. That distinction most likely belongs to Captain Mabel Gilbert and his family, who arrived in 1841 and left within a couple of years. “There’s a lot of misinformation about, ‘Oh, the Merrifields were the oldest family in Oak Cliff’ or ‘Judge Hord was the oldest,’ but none of it’s true.” Judge Hord is the namesake of the town of Hord’s Ridge, Oak Cliff’s predecessor. (Isn’t it too bad the name didn’t stick?)
• Dallas history has recorded one of Oak Cliff’s founders, Thomas Marsalis, as dying in poverty, but Barnes says it isn’t so. Looking at the probate records shows that the family didn’t have any money, but soon before Marsalis’ death, “there’s an ad in the New York Times where the Marsalis family is advertising a diamond platinum bar pin — a platinum diamond with a big emerald in the center — lost on Broadway,” Barnes says. “Their son, meanwhile, is founder of the New York Stock Exchange and one of four people on the board.” When talking to an attorney friend about the conundrum, Barnes was told, “‘Oh, it’s simple — they’ve got all the money in a trust.’ Those were the days before income tax, and there’s nothing public about a trust and certainly no information about how big the trust is.” Marsalis’ wife was the daughter of former Dallas Mayor J.W. Crowdus, a doctor who went into pharmaceuticals, and the Marsalises made a fortune just off the stock dividends from the drug company, Barnes says. After Marsalis left Dallas, he lived on a corner near where the Museum of Natural History stands today — “one of the key real estate pieces in New York,” Barnes says. “When Mr. Marsalis died ‘in poverty’, they just happened to live on Riverside Drive, which is like dying in Dallas in poverty while living on Beverly.”
• On Marydale in the late 1940s was a house with steel shutters on the inside, and when the owners closed the shutters, the house became a gambling casino. “It’s like operating a drug house in a neighborhood like this,” Barnes says. “Nobody would think anyone would be operating a gambling casino.”
• Did you know the former windmill at Kessler Lake might have been the “World’s Tallest Windmill”? Manufacturers out of Chicago were quoted in the 1950s as saying they knew it was tallest windmill in the United States, and maybe the tallest in the world. “This was built down in a valley,” Barnes says. “And to get the blades high enough to be above the trees, they had to build the world’s tallest windmill. The wheel at the top was so big that it wouldn’t turn in a light breeze — it had to be really windy for it to work at all. It turns out to be an accomplishment like the world’s largest microchip.”
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