Medina County, Texas and surrounding areas: [circa 1911-1914]. 5” x 8”. String-tied faux leather over pasteboard. 34 pages with 78 black and white photographs adhesive mounted. 60 photos measure approximately 2¾” x 4½”; the rest are 1¾” x 2½” or slightly larger; nearly all are captioned. Album very good minus with heavy edge wear and small losses; photos generally very good or better.
This is an album compiled by George McCombs of tiny LaCoste, Texas, in Medina County. George apparently worked for the Medina County Irrigation Company (“MCIC” and also known as the “Medina Irrigation Company”) as this album is mostly a compilation of images of MCIC projects in the early 1910s. The company was founded by Frederick Stark Pearson around 1910 in conjunction with its construction of the Medina Dam and Canal System. Pearson was originally from Massachusetts and was an internationally known engineer by the time these photos were taken as he developed Boston's electric transportation system, served as the chief engineer for railways in New York City, and helped develop railway and electrical systems for a number of cities worldwide. This album documents the height of MCIC's work and success as Pearson and his wife died on the Lusitania in 1915 and the company collapsed soon after.
All but a few images in the album are devoted to construction and farming projects as well as the men who worked them. Images include essential tools of their work such as a four horse water wagon team, the use of dynamite for excavation and shots of a hoisting engine and other large machinery. One shows men attaching pipes to a completed well for irrigation. Many show the development of a dam spillway at what we read as “Chinon” lake, though we have not been able to locate a lake by that name in Medina, and may be related to the Medina dam. At least 10 photos show Mexican laborers including a group of men planting onions in Devine, other groups excavating spillways, and there's a great shot of several men in the act of swinging sledge hammers while building a well. There's also at least one image of the compiler's young daughter playing with Mexican children. At least three photos show African Americans, including two with captions of “ni**er,” one of whom is shown at an MCIC stable and mule corral.
There are several images of the construction of the Medina canal and dam as well as a camp where laborers lived during construction. At the time, it was the fourth largest dam project in the United States, and, according to bmawater.org,
“A crew of 1,500 men worked around the clock to mix 292,000 cubic yards of concrete and form it into a waterproof wall 164 feet high, 128 feet wide at the base, 25 feet wide at the top, and 1,580 feet long. Laborers received $2 a day, which were good wages for those days. Most were Mexican nationals who had prior experience building hydroelectric dams with Pearson in Mexico, and most of them brought their families. At least 70 people were killed by accidents and disease during the year of construction.”
MCIC also apparently owned farmland as there are several images showing cotton and sugar cane cultivation and one depicts the planting of pecan trees in Lytle. One great image shows a cotton compress in Sinton right next to a shack with a huge sign reading, “Magnolia Brewing Co. Beverage House.”
In addition to construction projects, the album documents several other minute Texas towns, most of which were founded by the MCIC. Several show Sea Drift, including its wharf, bath house, and more than one of dredges in the water. There are two shots of the construction of a hotel in Natalia, taken not long after the town was founded by the MCIC. It was named for Pearson's daughter, Natalie, but they spelled her name wrong. There's also a couple of shots of the town of Pearson which was a stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad. This was also created by the MCIC and named for its founder. There are also at least two photos taken in Castroville.
An outstanding collection of early 20th century small town Texas imagery, documenting construction projects, farming operations, and the laborers that made them happen. Item #4104