A Look Back: Celebrating More of Arlington’s History During National Preservation Month
By O.K. Carter, Landmark Preservation Commission
Posted on May 28, 2020, May 28, 2020

Downtown Arlington
In celebration of National Preservation Month, please enjoy this collection of Arlington stories from author and historian O.K. Carter, who serves on the Landmark Preservation Commission.

Giving the Town a Ghostly Hue

Newcomers stepping off the train in Arlington in the 1890s and early 1900s–or visitors on horseback–would often be surprised to see a white powderish pallor on almost everything: Houses. Fences. Yards. Horses. Dogs.

Why so? When a community well built at the intersection of Main and Center streets came through in 1892, the fluid that emerged forth was heavily mineralized. It had a strong odor and tasted worse, residents dubbing it “Carlsbad water.”

Fortunately, livestock would drink it if they were really thirsty but, generally speaking, people would not. A livestock trough was built (and then a second trough nearby) but the well had its own pressure and flowed an estimated 50,000 gallons a day for a while. Right down the middle of Center street, which slightly slopes downhill from north to south.

A solution was needed and a two-for-one emerged: All the city’s streets were dirt in those days, which on windy days–of which there were many–tended to blow grit everywhere. Portable tanks on wagons were filled with the mineral water, that water then being sprinkled on the sandy streets. This helped but also created a problem–a white residue looking something like frost began to accumulate, itself blowing in the wind unless, of course, more mineral water was used to dampen it down.

There was also a second benefit to the portable tanks. They made it possible to take water to the occasional fire, there–in those days–to be distributed by bucket brigade until the fire was diminished.

There was also another bright note of sorts. When it rained and the white powder washed off, the town suddenly showed itself in color–sort of like switching from a black and white movie to technicolor.

They Wanted Free Silver

 Unlimited coinage of silver money hasn’t been an issue in Arlington for a very long time, but, back in 1896, Arlington Democrat Editor John B. McGraw found himself confronting angry protestors outside his newspaper.

 McGraw, it seems, had written an editorial denouncing William Jennings Bryan and his free silver policy.

 Historical background: A financial panic in 1893 resulted in a depressed economy, and a sort of recessionary domino effect created after a sharp reduction in the amount of gold available at the U.S. Treasury. Subsequent congressional legislation attempted remediation, resulting in some benefiting and others–particularly those living by agriculture–to be harmed. By 1896, Democrats made unlimited coinage of silver the principal plank in the national party platform, with support from Bryan. Supporters of free silver included owners of silver mines in the West, farmers who believed that an expanded currency would increase the price of their crops, and debtors who hoped it would enable them to pay their debts more easily.

 Those ideas resonated with local farmers, who showed up more than 100 strong with a powerful request for Editor McGraw: Get out of town. In 24 hours.

 McGraw–himself a large, powerfully built man–confronted the men. He declined the invitation to leave town and vowed to keep the paper publishing.

 The outcome? The protesters dispersed with no harm coming to anyone. But McGraw sold the paper the next year, the new owner decided to drop “Democrat” from the paper’s name, redubbing it the Arlington Journal.

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