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Unconventional History: El Paso, Texas according to an early-twentieth-century postcard

By Savannah Pine (@savannah_pine)

El Paso, Texas (my hometown) features in the news frequently nowadays because of the migrant crisis and the administration’s desire to build a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico. The border, which lies along the Rio Grande, separates a large urban area into two cities: El Paso in the US and Juárez, in Mexico. But people have long travelled across the border, as this early-twentieth-century postcard demonstrates: a streetcar rides the El Paso & Juárez Streetcar Line from downtown Juárez, over the international bridge, and down El Paso Street to downtown El Paso. My professor sent me this postcard last year as a graduation gift and I decided to find the modern version. However, it was more difficult than I thought without institutional access to research resources. This is the story of how I did unconventional historical research.

The first issue was that El Paso Street has changed a great deal over the past hundred years and I did not know where on El Paso Street the postcard depicted. Since it shows that the streetcar line turns, I decided to find where the El Paso & Juárez line turned after coming up El Paso Street. Google was useless in finding a map of the line, but the University of Texas at El Paso’s library had an exhibition on mapping the borderland, including a map of El Paso’s bus and streetcar lines from 1941. It showed that the El Paso & Juárez line went up El Paso Street and turned at San Francisco Street (nowadays, Mill Avenue).[1] Therefore, I was able to find the modern location (pictured).

IMG_6401

I had accomplished my goal, but I was curious about the writing in the middle of the postcard: “Arthur A. Kline & Co., El Paso, Tex., No. 1. Made in Germany.” I Googled the company, but only found a blog about borderland postcard companies which did not cite any sources. Nonetheless, I learned that it was an El Paso company which operated during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and I used that information to find primary sources about the company. I stumbled upon a public database, called the Portal to Texas History (from the University of North Texas), and, through it, I found directories, censuses, and newspaper articles and advertisements related to Arthur A. Kline and his company.

This “Mexican and Indian Curio Company” (as Arthur described it in his advertisements) was a staple of the community. In fact, people were only able to buy tickets for a bull and lion fight in Juárez (April 1902) and for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show (October 1902) at the store.[2] None of the events’ announcements listed an address, which suggests that people knew exactly where the store was. Arthur himself was important in the El Paso community because he was a director of the Associated Charities of El Paso, a prominent businessman, and highly involved in the community of the synagogue Temple Mt. Sinai.[3]

Arthur was a Jewish immigrant from Alsace; he emigrated in 1868 when he was eighteen years old, and then later his eventual wife, Florine, and his brother, Max, also immigrated to El Paso.[4] When they came to the U.S., they followed in the footsteps of other German/Western European Jewish immigrants who came to Texas, decided to stay in hospitable (i.e. not too anti-Semitic) places, and opened mercantile stores.[5]

This connection to Alsace is important because Arthur’s postcards were made in Germany, to which Alsace belonged at the time. Postcards were typically hand-colored lithographs, which were developed from the black-and-white negatives of photographs.[6] I think that Arthur sent the negatives of photographs which he took of El Paso to his family members in Alsace, who produced lithographs of them, and then Arthur sold the postcards in his store.

Due to this, I had a gut-feeling that the red building in the postcard was Arthur’s store. The newspaper advertisements said that Arthur A. Kline & Co. was at 100/102 El Paso Street. To corroborate this, I used the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps (digitized by the University of Texas), which were detailed maps of various cities in Texas from the early twentieth century. According to them, Arthur’s store resided at the corner of El Paso and San Francisco streets — exactly where the El Paso & Juárez Streetcar line turned.[7] So, the postcard seemed to depict Arthur’s store; however, I was not a hundred-percent sure, until I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a photo which an El Paso history group page had posted and which looked south down El Paso Street and showed a sign on the red building which said, “A.A. Kline & Co.”[8]

Thus, I discovered that this postcard depicted the Arthur A. Kline & Co. store and that Arthur chose to sell postcards of his store. I was able to learn all of this because of luck. I was lucky that the University of Texas at El Paso had an exhibit displaying maps of El Paso when I was looking for a specific map. Moreover, I was lucky that the University of North Texas and University of Texas digitized so many resources and made them available to the public. Additionally, I am utterly indebted to the El Paso Public Library, to the Texas State Historical Association, to the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, and to the El Paso County Historical Society for allowing public access to scholarly works about El Paso’s history. I am also grateful to El Paso history societies which use Facebook to educate and communicate with the public about El Paso’s history. Like them, I posted everything that I had learned about this postcard and three others which also depict various places in El Paso on Facebook. My posts sparked conversations with my friends who wanted to know more about our hometown’s history. Some even went on a walking tour of downtown El Paso with me where I lectured about El Paso in the early twentieth century. Public history allowed me to do this research and to relay it to others.

 

References:

[1] “1941 El Paso City Directory,” Map Collection at the University of Texas at El Paso Library, Special Exhibit (May 2018).

[2] “Ad,” El Paso Daily Times, vol. 22, Ed. 1 (El Paso, Texas), December 11, 1902: 2; various ads in the El Paso Times, El Paso Morning Times, El Paso Herald, and El Paso International Daily Times from 1885 and 1917; “Betting Odds Favor the Lion,” El Paso Daily Times, vol. 22, Ed. 1 (El Paso, Texas), April 12, 1902: 3; “Ad for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show,” El Paso Daily Times, vol. 22, Ed. 1 (El Paso, Texas), October 1, 1902: 2. Accessed via texashistory.unt.edu.

[3] J.B. Gwin, “Gives Aid to 116 Families: Associated Charities Helps Poor Out of Their Poverty,” El Paso Herald (El Paso, Texas), Ed. 1, August 25, 1917: 28; Temple Mount Sinai, “Early History: 1880’s-1928,” templemountsinai.com/Who-We-Are/History/Early-History-1880’s–1928.

[4] Census: 1900, El Paso Ward 3, El Paso, Texas, pg. 2, Enumeration District: 0023 (June 1-2, 1900); Census: 1910, El Paso, Texas, Roll T624_1549, Page 10A, Enumeration District: 0074, FHL Microfilm: 1375562 (April 20, 1910); Cornelia Scharder-Muggenthaler, ed., The Alsace Emigration Book, Volume II (Apollo, Pennsylvania: Closson Press, 1990), 103.

[5] Rabbi James L. Kessler, “Jews,” Texas State Historical Association, tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/px; 01; “Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities – El Paso, Texas,” 2017 Golding/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, www.isjl.org/texas-el-paso-encyclopedia.html.

[6] Bamber Gascoigne, How to Identify Prints: A Complete Guide to Manual and Mechanical Processes From Woodcut to Ink Jet (New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991, 1986), 1c.

[7] University of Texas (Austin, Texas), “Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of El Paso from 1883, 1885, 1888, 1893, 1898, 1900, 1902, 1905, 1908, and 1927,” in Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection.

[8] Trish Long, “El Paso mayoral election was contested and marriages hit a high in 1897,” El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas), April 22, 2018, online. The photo is from the El Paso County Historical Society.

Images: photographs by author

(Featured) Postcard, El Paso, Texas. I dated this postcard between 1902 and 1910 because the electric streetcar replaced a mule-drawn one in El Paso in 1902 and because there are not any automobiles in the picture, which did not appear in El Paso until 1910.

(In text) Modern day location of the postcard.

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