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FLORENCE RANCH HOMESTEAD
FLORENCE RANCH HOMESTEAD. Florence Ranch Homestead, located at 1424 Barnes Bridge Road in Mesquite in Dallas County, was founded in 1871 by David Walker Florence and Julia Savannah (Beaty) Florence. The son of John Hicks and Martha (Walker) Florence, David was born on October 28, 1848, in St. Clair County, Alabama. Eight-year-old David, along with his parents and extended families, migrated from Alabama to Texas in 1856 and eventually settled in Van Zandt County.
David Florence married Julia Savannah Beaty on December 29, 1866, in Van Zandt County. Beginning in 1871 Florence bought land in eastern Dallas County. He made an initial purchase of 207 ½ acres from the estate of Caroline Lyons in the William Little Survey in January 1871 for $2,075. Florence began the construction of their farmhouse while Julia planted from seeds a bois d’arc hedgerow around the homestead. A few of these trees have survived into the twenty-first century. The homestead was complete by September 6, 1872, when their daughter Martha was born.
Regarded as one of the most successful stock farmers in Dallas County, Florence increased his Mesquite farm to 730 acres by 1892. At this time 300 acres were in cultivation, and the rest of the acreage was used for prairie hay production and pasture. To diversify his holdings, Florence and his son John Hicks Florence patented 1,280 acres in Taylor County in 1890. In 1894 they purchased 1,000 acres near Cedar Hill in Dallas County. Florence dedicated part of his property for a school which in 1946 was incorporated into the Grand Prairie School District. The school and surrounding community were known as Florence Hill. The last remaining part of the ranch owned by a Florence granddaughter was taken by eminent domain for the construction of Joe Pool Lake in the late 1970s.
David and Julia Florence retired from their farming interests by 1909. In 1913 they purchased several lots in the Duff addition north of the Mesquite town square and built a Victorian-style home where they remained the rest of their lives. The Florences were instrumental in the development of Mesquite since before its founding as a small railroad town in 1873 and were active members of the community. Julia Florence died on March 1, 1914. David married Mattie (Parker) Bennett, widow of William J. Bennett in 1920. David Walker Florence died on December 7, 1932, and was buried beside Julia in the Florence family plot in Mesquite Cemetery.
The Florence homestead was passed to the Florences’ brother Emet David Florence, who was born in the homeplace on November 20, 1885. On December 23, 1906, Emet married Perle Curtis, the daughter of Robert and Elzora (Porter) Curtis. Their daughter Florence was born at the homeplace on October 22, 1909. As a young husband and father, Emet already had performed much of the ranching duties, and in 1909 he acquired the original family homestead from his parents. In 1911, by purchasing more parcels of land, his farm increased to more than 600 contiguous acres. After completing a course in animal husbandry at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Texas A&M University) in 1906, Florence implemented new objectives for farming efficiency and introduced purebred livestock. At this time the Florence Ranch was known as Meadow View Farm, and he adopted the Terrapin brand for his stock.
Florence’s 320-acre native meadow was part of the rich Blackland Prairie area north and west of Mesquite, and Emet Florence became a prime producer of high quality prairie hay. More than 100 acres were dedicated for planting feed crops—oats and corn—for Florence’s stock. He raised Hampshire Down sheep. He also bred purebred Shorthorn and Hereford cattle. In later years, many students of Future Farmers of America bought calves and lambs from him for school projects.
Meadow View Farm became well-known for its Percheron horses. Heavily imported from France by the turn of the twentieth century, this sturdy breed was prized for its ability to draw the heaviest farm equipment. Florence started his string of Percheron horses in the 1910s; his horses were sought nationwide by farmers wanting quality animals for farm work as well as for breeding. To promote his horses, Emet Florence regularly entered them in exhibitions. His prize stallion Robert Olbert won Grand Champion Stallion four consecutive years at the Dallas State Fair and at the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show. This stud horse became a celebrity in his own right by appearing on the cover of a 1923 Farm and Ranch magazine. With the onset of the Great Depression and the more cost efficient tractor replacing the horse in agriculture, Emet refocused the farm’s direction by replacing his beloved champion horses with breeder cattle. While maintaining his high volume production of good prairie hay, he diversified to cotton and feed crops. His operation then was known as simply the Florence Ranch.
Emet’s wife Perle Florence was very active in civic affairs in Mesquite and Dallas County, including membership in the Dallas Woman’s Forum, Dallas Woman’s Chamber of Commerce, Mesquite Woman’s Club, Democratic Women of Dallas County, Mesquite’s First Christian Church, and the Mesquite Parks Board (the first woman to serve on the board). She also worked as deputy county clerk for Dallas County for ten years, and for many years she headed the Pioneer Picnic and Homecoming in conjunction with the Mesquite Community Fair.
In 1955 as urbanization encroached on the farm, Florence had the remains of seven members of his family, including his parents, removed from the Florence Cemetery on property east of Mesquite Creek to be reinterred in Mesquite Cemetery. The earliest grave, that of Florence’s mother Martha Walker Florence, dated to 1893. Much of the Florence Ranch land was appropriated for roads and highways, including construction of Highway 67, which became Interstate 30. In 1956 Emet Florence received the first check ever issued by the state of Texas for an interstate right-of-way. He sold other parcels of land to ensure financial security and a good retirement. At the time of Emet’s death on September 20, 1963, his cattle still grazed on Florence Ranch prairie meadow. Perle Florence continued to operate the farm and once again gave up a portion of the hay meadow for the construction of the Interstate 30 and Interstate 635 exchange in the late 1960s. Perle died on June 30, 1976. Both Emet and Perle Florence are buried at Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas.
Upon Perle’s death the homeplace and remaining acres passed to her daughter Florence Florence Schulz and granddaughter Julia Schulz Morris. Perle Florence wished to protect the house and last remnant of the farm as a reminder of the roles pioneer families played in settling the area. She did live to see part of her wish realized when in October 1975 Florence Ranch was honored by the Texas Department of Agriculture by inclusion in its second Texas Family Land Heritage Registry, which recognizes family ranches that have been in continuous operation for at least 100 years.
In 1978 the Florence Ranch Home received designation as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark. Little of the original 1871 house had changed in 100 years, having been lived in continuously by Florence families. The house, a fine example of late nineteenth-century rural Texas architecture, was constructed of rough-sawn longleaf pine and square head nails with a central chimney of handmade bricks. A gallery with gingerbread trim fronted the main two rooms that faced west. Double loft rooms were accessed by an inside box stairs. An 1890s addition connected by a dogtrot added a dining room and kitchen that featured an inside well. During the 1920s and 1930s the house was modernized by adding a Delco power plant for electricity and indoor plumbing. At that time the route of Barnes Bridge Road was changed to go north of the house, and a larger gallery was added to that side to make it more attractive from the road. Over the years several out buildings were built close to the house, including a smokehouse, hen house, workshop, and two-story garage with office. Other structures included a corral, stud barn, catch pens, and a water well. A large wooden barn to the north stored grain and hay as well as farm equipment. This barn burned after being struck by lightning and later was replaced by a larger metal one in the 1940s.
In 1987 the Florence Ranch Home and surrounding four acres were given to the city of Mesquite by heirs Florence Florence Schulz and Julia Schulz Morris. The house was restored to its 1890 time frame, and the complex became Mesquite’s first historical park. In 2017 Florence Ranch Homestead was under the care and auspices of Historic Mesquite, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of and education about Mesquite history. The home is furnished with original Florence items, including furniture, household goods, portraits, photos, and other memorabilia. Tours of the park are offered on a regular basis, and school tours offer children a glimpse into the history of their Mesquite community.
Dallas County Pioneer Association, Proud Heritage III: Pioneer Families of Dallas County (Dallas: Dallas County Pioneer Association, 2002). Family Land Heritage Registry, Volume 2 (Austin: Texas Department of Agriculture, 1975). “Florence Ranch Homestead,” City of Mesquite (https://www.cityofmesquite.com/200/Florence-Ranch-Homestead), accessed January 30, 2017. Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. Memorial and Biographical History of Dallas County (Chicago: Lewis, 1892; rpt., Dallas: Walsworth, 1976). Texas Highways, February 1957.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Julia Schulz Morris, "FLORENCE RANCH HOMESTEAD," accessed September 24, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ggf04.
Uploaded on June 19, 2017. Modified on April 13, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.