The Quakertown Well:
Historical Archeology of a Displaced
African American Community in Denton, Texas
by Douglas K. Boyd, Kim McCoig Cupit, and Nita Thurman
Historical Archeology of a Displaced
African American Community in Denton, Texas
by Douglas K. Boyd, Kim McCoig Cupit, and Nita Thurman
Civic Center Park. Subsequent investigation by members
of the Denton County Historical Commission and Texas
Historical Commission archeological steward Jim Blanton
revealed that the cavity was a rock-lined well. Nita Thurman,
chair of the county historical commission’s archeology
committee, speculated that the well was associated with the
former African American community called Quakertown.
Prewitt and Associates, Inc. was then contracted to conduct
an archeological investigation of the well to determine its
historical significance. Archeological testing of the well was
done in October 2004, along with archival research to identify
the historical property on which the well was located. The
results of these investigations are reported by Boyd (2005).
Previous Work and Site Setting
The historic well is located in the northwest corner of Civic
Center Park, just north of downtown Denton (Figure 1).
It is part of archeological site 41DN481, which was initially
recorded by the University of North Texas in 1990 (Lebo
1990). Archeologists from Wendy Lopez & Associates, Inc.
did additional archeological work there in 1999 (Kahl and
Proctor 1999). The site was known to be the location of
historic Quakertown, which local historians had documented
as an African American community in Denton from about
1875 to 1922 (Glaze 1991; Odintz 2002). The community
ended in 1922–1923 with the razing of the neighborhood
and construction of the city park. The well was found in a
grass-covered area about 35 feet north of Pecan Creek, which
is now contained within a concrete-lined ditch constructed
sometime after 1937.
The origins of the name Quakertown are not known, but
some believe it was named in honor of the Quakers who
helped African Americans during Reconstruction years
(Odintz 2002). Precisely when the settlement began is not
known, but DeBurgos (1991:8) suggests that “Quakertown
was a town within a town by the early 1870’s.” The U.S.
Black Census for 1870 shows that there were already 187
African Americans living in the “Town of Denton, Prct. 1”
(DeBurgos 1991:7, 28). A Denton County judge signed an
order establishing “colored school #17” in August 1878.
By all accounts, Quakertown was a thriving African
American community in the late-19th and early-20th centuries
(DeBurgos 1991; Glaze 1991). Through the years, the neighborhood had various churches, a school, grocery stores and other businesses, and lodges for different men’s and women’s organizations. The 1921 Sanborn map shows more than 70
structures within the area that would become City Park,
including three churches, a grocery store, a barbershop, two
auto shops, and possibly other unspecified businesses.
The demise of Quakertown happened quickly and is
documented in the Denton City Commission minutes kept by
the city secretary (DeBurgos 1991:155–163). On March 1,
1921, the City Commission approved a petition brought
before them by J.L. Hooper and 150 property-tax-paying
voters. The petition called for a general election to approve
bonds to purchase the property occupied by Quakertown
and turn it into a park. The results of the election were documented on April 7, 1921, with the bond election passing by
a vote of 367 for and 240 against. A committee was immediately formed “to arrange with the negroes in the park area, for a mass meeting of said negroes; at which meeting the committee should appear before the negroes and assure them of fair treatment in their removal.” This meeting was
apparently held not long after the City Commission’s April meeting, and in September 1921 the city appointed members to a park board (DeBurgos 1991:14–15, 155–163).
The park development plan experienced some delays
while people looked for a suitable area to relocate the Quakertown residents and property-value negotiations took place (Glaze 1991). Out of the 58 property owners involved, only one man openly protested the city’s actions. Will Hill filed
a lawsuit against the city, but he eventually dropped the suit
“fearing reprisals against his family” (Glaze 1991:11). Price
negotiations continued through most of 1922 and into 1923.
Twenty-two property owners appeared before the City Commission on one night in May of 1922 to plead their cases. A few settlements seemed to favor the landowners, but many were unresolved and later went to condemnation. At about
the same time, some white citizens filed petitions to prevent
the Quakertown people from moving into adjacent white
neighborhoods (Glaze 1991:11–12).
The city began buying Quakertown property in May
1922 (DeBurgos 1991:15), and by June 1922 a local rancher
had platted a 35-acre pasture southeast of town and offered
to sell lots to the displaced blacks (Glaze 1991:13–14). The
area, about one half-mile east-southeast of Quakertown,
became known as Solomon Hill. “Residents were given a
choice of selling their land and property outright or having
their houses moved to Solomon Hill” (Odintz 2002). By early
1923, most of the Quakertown land was vacant, and “equipment
leveled and graded the once-vibrant residential area”
The historical evidence shows there were two different
perspectives on the Quakertown resettlement episode. Local
historian Mike Cochran (1991) has studied documents prepared
by some of Denton’s white residents for the WPA
Federal Writer’s Project. A letter written in 1938 suggested
that “no friction from the move has been reported.” It went
on to say that “Two old time colored men — Bill Maddox
and Charlie Hinkle — inform the writer that the move was
agreeable and smoothly executed so far as they know and
believe” and that the displaced people reported “no dissatisfaction
among their group.” Cochran (1991:29) notes that
“the statements of Maddox and Hinkle about the ‘agreeable’
circumstances of the Quakertown move should be read with
skepticism. According to correspondence from the Federal
Writer’s Project, there was a tendency for African Americans
of the period to tell white project interviewers ‘what they
wanted to hear.’”
In contrast to the contemporary white historical
record, evidence that Glaze (1991:9–21) compiled from a
variety of sources tells a different story. On the basis of oral
histories and personal communications with African Americans,
Glaze suggests that the Quakertown residents had little
or no say in the relocation process, were usually paid less
than market value for their property, and were threatened if
they tried to resist the relocation plan or tried to move into
white neighborhoods. Most had little choice but to move to
Solomon Hill, a less than desirable area well outside of town.
Some chose to move away completely, and at least one man
was so bitter he “vowed never to return to Denton” (Glaze
1991:17). The black community was slow to recover, and the
psychological trauma associated with the forced move had
lasting effects (Glaze 1991:20–21).
of the Quakertown Well
Hand excavations were done inside the well in October 2004.
The work revealed a rock-lined well about four feet below
surface, but the top of the well had been removed by blading
during park construction. The upper four feet of artificial fill
was removed with a backhoe to allow safe and easy access to
the well. Hand excavations revealed that the rest of the well
was intact (Figure 2a). The fill inside the well was excavated
in rough stratigraphic layers and was found to contain large
amounts of historic artifacts. The fill was hand dug from 4
feet to a depth of 7.5 feet below surface. Probing revealed
that the well went down several feet more, so a smaller hand
test, measuring 16 x 10 inches, was then dug along the west
wall of the well (Figure 2b). The fill became increasingly wet
as this excavation proceeded. The deep test ended at approximately 11 feet below surface when the water table was encountered. Additional probing from that point revealed there were some large objects, presumably artifacts, below the water line. Probing also revealed that a continuous hard
surface was present at about 13.5 feet below ground surface, and this is presumed to be the bottom of the well. The water table in the well is at about the same elevation as the bottom of the modern concrete-lined channel of Pecan Creek (Figure 3).
The rocks used to construct the walls are ferruginous
sandstone from the local Woodbine Formation (Bureau of
Economic Geology 1967). The interior wall is rather smooth,
indicating intentional size selection and great care in the
placement of the rocks. The builders intentionally laid the
rocks so the walls constricted as they went upward.
The artifacts were analyzed in the field, but only a
small sample of 38 diagnostic specimens was collected for
permanent curation. The 163 analyzed artifacts, which are
described in more detail in Boyd (2005), were grouped into
functional categories defined by South (1977) as follows:
Most of the unclassified artifacts are rusted iron
specimens that could not be positively identified. Of the 112
items classified by function, kitchen items are dominant and
consist mainly of ceramic vessel sherds (plate and bowl
pieces), glass fragments (bottles and drinking glasses), and
metal pieces (kettle and stove parts). Kitchen items also
include pig and cow bones that exhibit cut and saw marks
from hand butchering. The next best represented functional
group is architecture, which includes bricks, a concrete
fragment, a ceramic tile, window glass, and a variety of metal
construction items (such as nails, a door hinge, and electrical
wire). Items related to activities are limited to flowerpots
and probable flower-vase fragments, and one wagon box strap
bolt that was used to attach horizontal side boards to a wagon
or truck bed. A small, clear glass medicine bottle and a onepint
brown glass liquor bottle were also found. The two
clothing specimens are a shell button and brass brooch pin.
The artifacts are particularly interesting from a
chronological perspective. Most of the material remains found
in the well are characteristic of mass-produced material
cultural from the very late 1800s and early 1900s. Both cut
and wire nails were found, which is typical of sites occupied
from the 1870s to 1920s. A glass medicine bottle and other
bottle-neck fragments lacked mold seams over the lips, a
characteristic of machine-made bottles with hand-tooled lips
dating between about 1890 and the 1920s. A pint liquor bottle
with an Owens suction scar on its base was manufactured
on an automatic bottle-making machine after 1905. Also
found were a variety of stoneware and whiteware ceramic
sherds typical of homesteads from the late-19th and early-
Three artifacts stand out as particularly good temporal
indicators. A red brick fragment had an impressed
marking “ACME [BRICK]” and “FORT [WORTH]” and was
made by the Acme Brick Company at their Bennett plant in
Parker County between 1895 and 1912, according to a company
vice-president (Acme Brick Company 2004; Bill Sidel,
personal communication, 2005). A second brick fragment had
an impressed diamond on its face, which is the mark of the
Diamond Brick Company of Ellis County, which operated
from 1910 to 1923 (Ellis County Museum, Inc. 2003; Steinbomer
1982:258). Finally, a fragment of a soda bottle had
distinctive embossed lettering showing that it was made for
the Alliance Ice Company, which operated in Denton from
1901 to 1924 (Kim Cupit, personal communication, 2005).
Historical Significance and Conclusions
The artifacts recovered from the well generally date from the
1880s to the 1920s, and the assemblage looks like typical
structural and household items that would have been present
in Quakertown in the early 1920s. The combined archeological
and historical data provides insights into the history of the
Quakertown neighborhood and African American life there
around the turn of the century. By comparing modern city
maps and aerial photographs with the historic Sanborn Fire
Insurance maps, we were able to precisely plot the location of
the well onto the historic maps showing individual property
lots and structure locations. On the 1912, 1917, and 1921
Sanborn maps, the well is located one lot south of the “St.
Emmanuel Baptist Church,” which is marked with the notation
“(Negro)” or “(Colored).” By the time the 1926 Sanborn
map was compiled, the Quakertown neighborhood was gone
and replaced by the “City Park.”
The 1921 Sanborn map provides a snapshot of the
Quakertown community just before it was destroyed (Figure 4).
The well was located on the west, or back side, of a wooden
house owned by a man named George Sanders who lived
at 709 Commercial St. (also called Sanders Street in somesources). This identification is confirmed by an entry in the
1920 Denton City Directory and a 1922 map entitled “Park
Site of Denton, Texas” (reproduced by Glaze 1991) that
shows Sanders as the owner of this lot at the time the city
acquired the park property.
Historical information indicates that Sanders arrived
in Quakertown after 1900 but before 1910. U.S. Census data
for 1910 and 1920 show that Sanders lived at Quakertown
with his wife Ella. George Sanders was listed as a wagoner
and laborer, and his wife Ella was a laundress. In 1910, their
family included a 14-year-old daughter, Mary, and a 13-yearold
son, Sellow. The Tax Assessor’s Abstract of City Lots
(compiled by DeBurgos 1991:57) shows that George Sanders’
Lot No. 7 was valued at $320 in 1920.
Ella Sanders died in September 1920, leaving George
behind. Because he owned a house and lot in Quakertown,
it is likely that George Sanders attended the mass meeting
held in late 1921 between the city’s parks committee and the
African Americans. Not long after this meeting occurred,
George Sanders was forced to move from his home, along
with all his neighbors. No records have been found to indicate
where he went, but it appears that he left Denton.
As for the well on George Sanders’ property, there is
no indication when it was constructed or who built it. It may
have been built before Sanders came to Quakertown, and it
may have served as the family’s personal well. It also is possible
that the well provided water for the St. Emmanuel Baptist
Church located on the lot north of Sanders’. The archeological
and historical evidence suggests that the well was used until
1922–1923 when the Quakertown community was razed.
The top of the well was damaged at the time the park was
built, and about four feet of sediment was placed over the
old well. The fill was placed inside and above the well during
park construction, and it contained artifacts that almost
certainly represent remnants of the Quakertown community.
Quakertown residents were moved out in
1922–1923, and the events must have been traumatic for the
black community. George Sanders’ old well, which has now
been backfilled with clean sand and re-covered with grass,
is but one of the many remnants of the old neighborhood.
Looking back after more than 80 years, the taking of the
property was obviously unfair and racially motivated, but few
people today know anything about this aspect of Denton’s
history. Most people who walk across Civic Center Park are
not aware of the historical events that happened there or have
any idea that portions of the Quakertown community lie
buried beneath their feet. The remains of the old neighborhood,
although extensively disturbed, are in fact preserved by
the nearly instantaneous destruction and burial, a situation
archeologists sometimes call the Pompeii effect.
The Denton County Historical Commission and the
Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum are committed to telling
the story of the history of Denton County’s African American
residents. The museum currently displays an exhibit titled
“Historical African-American Families of Denton County”
that features the Quakertown story. The museum, in partnership
with the Historical Park Foundation of Denton County,
Inc., is developing a new Denton County African American
Museum that will be located in a former Quakertown house
moved to the Historical Park of Denton County. This museum,
scheduled to open in 2007, will be devoted to the rich
African American history of the region and will serve as a
much-needed research center for local African American
The artifacts and research materials obtained through
the Quakertown well investigation will be used in exhibits and
educational programs and made available to researchers interested in Quakertown. The stories of Quakertown and other African American communities in Denton County are a very important part of the region’s history, and interest in the community has increased over the years. The Quakertown neighborhood essentially disappeared when the city of Denton cleared the land for the park in 1922, and no known original residents are alive today. There are family photos of the early
African American families in Denton, but few artifacts of that
era exist. Some church histories and personal memoirs discuss
the early African American communities, and family stories of
the forced Quakertown relocation have been handed down to
descendants who still live in the Denton community today.
The new African American museum must rely on historical
records and archeological investigations to get a glimpse of
daily life in Quakertown and other African American communities
in Denton County.
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Doug Boyd is vice-president of Prewitt and Associates, Inc.,
Kim McCoig Cupit is the curator of collections at the
Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum in Denton.
Nita Thurman is chair of the Denton County Historical
Commission Archeology Committee
This article was originally published in Current Archeology in Texas (www.thc.state.tx.us)
November 2005, Vol. 7 , number 2