GR US

Where "The West" Begins: The Hellenes of Ft. Worth Texas

The National Herald Archive

The original nave of St. Demetrios of Fort Worth was notable for its noble Byzantine architectural form.

For well over a century the Greeks of Fort Worth Texas have not only lived but markedly changed the community they now call home. A convergence of unexpectedly dissimilar historical events gradually led to the establishment of this now vibrant Greek-American colony. In 1890, Demetrios Anagnostakis, a native of Crete, was the first Greek to settle in Ft. Worth. As community memories attest Anagnostakis was so influenced by his reading of Zane Grey novels that he came West to be a cowboy. Rather than a life on the trail driving the long horns to the rail heads Anagnostakis first worked for the “Fort Worth Trading Company as a yard man in the cattle pens. By 1904, Anagnostakis was general manager and part owner of the company. In 1912 he returned to his homeland to fight the Turks.” (Arizona Daily Star Feb 9, 1994).

After 1902, additional Greek workers began to gradually join Anagnostakis. Drawn by work in the ever expanding Swift and Armour meatpacking plants other Greeks soon began to settle in Ft. Worth forming an enclave located on North Calhoun and North Jones streets at Central Avenue – all within walking distance of the packing plants. A series of violent events unexpectedly were soon underway that brought additional Greek immigrants to Ft Worth.

The ceaseless attacks in south Omaha against Greeks in 1909 as well as continued anti-Greek violence later in 1910 led to a significant Hellenic out migration from this city. As one headline reads: Omaha Greeks Leave For Fort Worth, Texas, then added “Railroad officials here state that a majority of the Greeks, about 400 in number, who sought refuge in Council Bluffs from the fury of the South Omaha rioters, purchased tickets for Fort Worth, Texas, and left at once for that point. The recent erection of a large packing plant at Fort Worth is thought to have influenced them in their selection of the southern city,” (The Ogden Standard (UT) Feb 26, 1909).

The National Herald Archive

Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver during a visit to the Church of St. Demetrios of Fort Worth.

Just as this American series of attacks against Greeks in Nebraska were taking place Turkish oppression led to Asia Minor Greeks from the politically unstable regions of Alatsata and Smyrna to chain-migration to Ft Worth and surrounding Texas towns. Consequently, by 1911, approximately an additional 200 young Anatolian Greek men, mostly single, had arrived in Ft. Worth.

As all this violence was underway other forces were also at play. In January 1910, Father Chris Angelopoulas of New Orleans was visiting various Greek colonies in Texas in order to establish a Greek Orthodox church. While various other collectives of Greeks scattered throughout Texas were approached by the end of the year we read the headline First Greek Church in Southwest is Planned, and that in Ft. Worth “the first Orthodox Greek church in the southwest will soon be established in this city. At a preliminary meeting today funds for the building were subscribed. Rev. Chris Angelopoulas of New Orleans will take charge. There are several hundred Greeks in Fort Worth,” (El Paso Herald October 11, 1910).

In January 1910, five men met to formally organize the St. Demetrios parish. On November 7, 1910, a charter was issued by the Office of the Secretary of State of Texas, making St. Demetrios the first Greek Orthodox parish in Texas. In 1911, while money was being raised to build a church, services were first held at 104-1/2 Houston street on the second floor of a building across from the county courthouse. Father Angelopoulas who served as the first priest was replaced that same year by Father Leonidas Adamakos. Then in October 1912, “the congregation was, however, closed for a time as many young men – and most of the Greeks in Fort Worth at this time were men – went to Greece in 1912 to fight for their country in the first Balkan War,” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram November 22, 2019).

But at this time everyday life was not all anti-Greek attacks and open warfare. In the Greek Texans we learn “the first Greek wedding in the community, that of Gus and Angela Sparto, was held in 1914. It was an outdoor ceremony, with a day-long festival following,” (1974:10).

Accounts vary but it seems that at some point after the Balkan Wars the congregation first purchased a modest wooden building. On February 26, 1917 the congregation laid the cornerstone of a fine brick church building. This church building was located at Northwest 21st Street and 2022 Ross Avenue, near the packing plants. Completed in 1917, services were held almost entirely in Greek. “This brown brick church has a square plan and was designed in the Byzantine style. Fort Worth Architect L.B. Weinman has been indicated by historical information to be the designer of the church. A cross-gabled roof covers intersecting false vaults on the interior and each gable is concealed by semi-circular parapets. The front parapet is recessed, forming an arch over the rectangular entry portico. Inside the arch is an arched cast stone panel inscribed with Greek letters,” (www.fortwortharchitecture.com/north/stdemetrios.htm).

Other community organizations soon followed: in 1923, the first Texas chapter of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) a national service organization was formed in Ft. Worth. And the intrepid Hellenes of Ft. Worth continued to determine their own futures. “Few of the immigrants regarded a job at the packing plants as a lifelong career. Some Greeks saved their money and opened small businesses such as bakeries and restaurants. For example, in 1921 Greek immigrants George Koutsoubos and Gus Voites opened the G & G Hamburgers that would evolve into Famous Hamburgers, the walk-up eatery that operated for decades at the corner of Main and east 1st streets...or...In 1951, the Phiripes family opened George's Cash and Carry store at 4424 White Settlement Road,” (https://hometownbyhandlebar.com/?p=27747).

Having shrewdly assessed the local conditions the majority of Ft. Worth's Greeks gradually saved their wages to buy mules and plows to farm as tenants. They kept saving until they could buy their own farm. In North Of The River: A Brief History of North Fort Worth, its author J'Nell Pate reports in chapter 4, Sort of An Ethnic Pot Melts that “by the 1930s about seventy-five percent of the Greeks of Fort Worth were truck farmers.” Pate goes on to clarify that, “the word 'truck' in 'truck farm' has nothing to do with motor vehicles. The motor vehicle truck comes from the Greek word trochos meaning 'wheel.' The truck in truck farm comes from the Old French word troque meaning 'barter',” (1994: 60).

That Fort Worth, situated as it is in northeast Texas, might seem, initially, as an unlikely farm region. Yet “[E]arly in the twentieth century most of Fort Worth was south of the river. North of the river plenty of undeveloped land remained, especially along the Trinity River. The Greek truck farmers bought land along the river for three reasons: 1) The river provided water for irrigation. The property line of the Greek farmers extended to the middle of the river channel, and they had riparian rights to pump as much water as they wanted; 2) the land was cheap. Why was it cheap? Because it was prone to flooding (1908, 1922, 1949). But that flooding brings us to the third reason for farming land along the river: its floodplain was fertile. Centuries of flooding had deposited tons of rich sandy loam silt. Thus the farmers had a love-hate relationship with the river. Floods had made the land along its banks fertile. But floods also could wipe out a farmer’s crop, especially before the river was constrained by the flood way in the 1950s and 1960s.

“The Greek farmers of the flood plain could look south across the river at the growing skyline of downtown Fort Worth, look north at the bustling, bawling stockyards-packing plants area where they once worked,” (https://hometownbyhandlebar.com/?p=27747).

By 1940, according to WPA workers the local Greek population reached an estimated 1,400. It is no wonder then that local and regional newspapers of the war years are a mix of news accounts describing the volunteer work of Greeks in the local war efforts from enlistments of the local Greek youth to the community's Greek War Relief efforts. Without missing a step, after the war was won, the Greeks of Ft. Worth continued in their daily work and community efforts. In 1947, the Greek American Youth Club was established. Then, in 1969, the first (now annual) Greek Festival was held.

In 1982, the doors to the St. Demetrios Community Center were formally opened. On April 21, 2002 the parish held its first service in their new sanctuary at 2020 Northwest 21st Street near Jacksboro Highway. On August 18, 2002, the parish celebrated the formal opening of the doors at a 'thyranixia' service with Metropolitan Isaiah officiating. Clearly for more than a century St. Demetrios church has been the religious and social center of the Ft. Worth Greek community.

As this quick and hardly complete account of the Greek community of Fort Worth Texas suggests, there is much more to the local accomplishments of this hard working collective of Hellenes than any one news account can hope to report.

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