Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Thomas W. Milburn in Dallas

My mother’s paternal grandfather was named Thomas William Milburn. Here he is in 1920, holding my mother, Cathryn, in the crook of his arm.

A studio photo of an old couple and two grandchildren.
Anna, Dorothy, Thomas, & Cathryn, 1920

Thomas has closely trimmed hair, rather bushy, overhanging eyebrows, and a small mustache, all silvery-white. His chin is slightly pointy, and his nose is long and high-bridged. (That nose perplexes me, since I don’t know anyone in the family who inherited it.) Standing behind Thomas in the photo is Anna, my mother’s grandmother. The little girl at the left, sitting on a stool and holding a toy chicken, is Dorothy Mynatt, my mother’s cousin. Everyone—even the chicken—is looking at the baby, propped comfortably on her grandfather’s lap.

(Missing from the picture, you might say, are the children’s parents. Dorothy’s mother Pamelia was the older of Thomas’s and Anna’s children. She was married to Dick Mynatt. Pamelia’s brother Jack Milburn and his wife Cogee were Cathryn’s mother and father.)

My mother kept the group photograph hanging on the wall in the house where I grew up. And that’s how I came to learn about Thomas Milburn, from seeing the picture and asking about it. Mother was dearly fond of her grandfather, and always liked telling about him.

When Mother was born she and her parents lived with her Grandfather Thomas and Grandmother Anna in a house Thomas owned on Corinth Street, south of downtown Dallas. There was a short period when her parents took her to live in Kansas City, but after only about a year they came back to Dallas, and back to live on Corinth Street.

She remembered her grandfather as kind and gentle with her, and funny with a mild, whimsical sense of humor. Thomas smoked cigars and sometimes a pipe, and she liked the way he smelled. He would bring treats for her in his jacket pockets, and he called her by the pet name Katrinka. She’d sit with him while he read the funny papers out loud, and they’d laugh over, say, Maggie and Jiggs. It was different, though, with her grandmother. Anna Milburn was a demanding woman who became more and more difficult as she grew deaf in her old age. Mother was a little afraid of her.

Thomas was retired. He had been a telephone company man, a manager for ever-growing Southwestern Telephone and Telegraph until the end of 1909. After that Thomas and Anna did some traveling. There are records showing a trip to Europe in 1910, a passage from Cuba to Boston in 1914 (just as the First World War was beginning), a trip to California, and one to Minnesota where Pamelia was convalescing at the Mayo clinic. Sometime in the middle ’teens Thomas bought the Corinth Street house. His son, Jack, back from Chicago in 1918, brought his bride to live there, too.

Mother’s birth certificate mentions a “½” address for her parents, so maybe the house was a duplex, or maybe they simply divided it. The Corinth Street house no longer exists. I remember that a very long time ago my mother took me down to see the place. It surprised me to find out that she’d lived there as little girl. I think I can remember a dilapidated frame house with two broad porches, upper and lower, that ran the width of the building. The place was painted white but peeling badly.

After the Great War and into the 1920s “everybody” was beginning to move farther away from downtown Dallas. Mother’s parents built their cottage-style house in Highland Park in, I think, 1927. And the Mynatts moved up north, first to the Lakewood neighborhood, and then they, too, bought a house in Highland Park on Lindenwood. In about 1932 Thomas and Anna left Corinth Street, and came to live with their daughter. Really, they were all very close again since 3519 Lindenwood was just a block from Jack’s house at 3701 Gillon.

Gizmo-crazy Jack Milburn had a movie camera. Cogee must have shot these bits of a family party in the back of the Gillon house about 1929. We see Thomas and Anna begin to dance, and immediately they are joined by Dorothy with her Uncle Jack, then Dick and Pamelia Mynatt, and at the end, Cathryn and an unknown friend of hers. (Cathryn’s the taller of the two girls, with a ribbon in her very dark hair.)

Milburns dancing, 1929

Close to the end of his life Thomas had occasion to be photographed again with a child and a baby. This time the young pair were his great-grandchildren, Richard and Carolyn.

A very elderly man holds a young baby in his lap, while a little boy stands close by.
Thomas with Richard & Carolyn, 1942

The place is Jack’s house again, at the edge of the covered porch. It’s a dappled afternoon. The picture has no date, but it must be from about the summer or fall of 1942, the year Carolyn was born. Everbody’s smiling. Thomas is eighty-seven years old.


  1. I remember the house at 3519 Lindenwood (now replaced by a mini-mansion) from when I was a young boy. I was always welcome there with my mother, though I rarely felt 100% comfortable going, maybe because it always seemed somewhat dark and covered with lots of doilies that added to the mustiness of the place. Perhaps to help me be more comfortable, I remember that they kept a large, lidded glass jar with Heath Bars that I could nibble and suck on. One wall in their dining room was covered with mirrors, in which was a 'secret' door that led to the kitchen, which I found fascinating. The door wasn't really secret, just kind of disguised. Unfortunately, one of my most embedded memories was sitting in a chair one day only to realize that it -- and now me -- was soaking in urine. Brother Thomas tells me that it was likely from Dick Mynatt, who would have been quite old at that point and was also living there. The experience has always given me some trepidation about getting older myself.

    1. Yep, those mirror panels got me fascinated, too. To the point, I seem to remember, that I was told not to fiddle with the hidden door any more. Funny, the address now points to the corner lot with Google maps, but I recall a house that was mid-block.