2020 Project Spotlight: FM 756 (AmaTerra Environmental)

12/31/2020 2:18 PM | ACRAsphere Blog Team

ACRA is celebrating the work of its member firms through this new series highlighting 2020 projects. To be featured, submit your project here.

Landing Strip - Google Earth Pro 2019

FM 756
Tyler, Smith County - Texas
AmaTerra Environmental, Inc.

AmaTerra Environmental, Inc. completed a historic structures resources survey for a 6.8 mile road widening project for TxDOT. The project included a survey of land originally owned by Bobby Manziel - the grandfather of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, all completed from the ROW. Subsequent research yielded a fascinating story that includes an appearance from heavyweight boxing great Jack Dempsey, the history of cockfighting in the area, and more. Read below for the full report!

Camera facing north. NETROnline 1965.

Property 10 is owned by the Manziel Family Rental Partnership with buildings located on two large parcels, 149 acres and 197 acres. According to the Tyler librarian, this land was owned by the grandfather of football Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel. The grandfather, Bobby Manziel, was notorious for cock fighting. Three different news articles verified the librarian's information with the exception that Bobby Manziel was the great grandfather of Johnny.

Bobby Joe Manziel, born in Lebanon, immigrated to the United States and became a bantamweight boxer (Tedesco 2016). When Bobby retired from boxing, he borrowed money from heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Dempsey, to drill for oil. He had a successful well in Gladewater, Texas, around 1936 (Tedesco 2016). At the age of 33, he married 18-year old Dorothy Nolan in 1937 and settled in Tyler, Texas, where he purchased property outside the city limits then built a house (Tedesco 2016).

In addition to his continued success in oil ventures, Bobby was interested in cockfighting, even though the sport was illegal in Texas. Bobby developed his own breed of birds aptly named Manziel greys and reds (Townsend 2013). Another enthusiast, Jay Goode, recalls fighting his roosters at the Dripping Springs pit in Waco, Texas. Jay stated he fought against some of the toughest cockers in the world, of which Bobby Manziel was one of the men he named (Goode 2001). He also had cattle, some of which were a gift from Richard Kelberg of King Ranch.

During a 1956 interview, a reporter stated they could see Bobby's herd of Santa Gertrudis cattle and some 1,200 fighting gamecocks from the windows of the Manziel house. Bobby died four months after that interview at the age of 51 (Tedesco 2016). One of his pallbearers was the Texas State Attorney General.

Camera facing north. NETROnline 1970.

The Manziel's had seven children; their son Norman Paul, was the grandfather of Johnny Manziel. Norman's son was John Paul. John moved his family to Kerrville, Texas when Johnny was young. Dorothy passed away in 2003. The Manziel family still owns the property but based on the title, lease it out. Cattle are visible in the 2019 aerial photographs. The 1965 aerial photograph appears to have a collection of small structures, possible bird shelters and feeders, west of the house, which are no longer visible on the 2019 aerial photograph.

Although Bobby Manziel was a notorious cockfighter and created his own gamecock breed, the structures associated with the gamecocks do not appear to be present when viewing historic aerial photographs. It is not known if Manziel organized gamecock fighting events on his property. Due to the lack of information, the historian was unable to fully evaluate the property for its historic use as a gamecock farm and therefore no recommendation is made for Criterion A.

While Bobby certainly was an interesting man possessing both wealth and local importance, his only known significant accomplishment was developing a gamecock breed. There is no additional information providing evidence of whether that breed was pivotal to the industry in any way, nor is it an unusual hobby, although illegal. Based on the information so far known, Bobby's contributions fail to rise to the level necessary to be listed in the National Register, and therefore Property 10 is recommended not eligible for Criterion B.

Because right of entry was not granted for Property 10, access to the property and the buildings was not available. Examination of use, material condition and determination of architectural integrity was difficult to determine based on the distance of the buildings from the ROW. The determination of resource types/uses was based on professional experience and may not be correct, particularly for 10e (slaughterhouse), 10g (mobile home) and 10f (barn) . Structures on the south parcel included the house (10a), brick entrance gate (10b), Quonset hut/equipment shed (10c), beef cattle barn (10d), barn (10f), barn (10h), and small stock pond (10n). Structures on the north parcel included slaughterhouse (10e), mobile home (10g), landing strip (10i) and associated buildings (10jkl), and large stock pond (10m). According to TxDOT's Historic Resources Toolkit, guide "South Texas Ranching", post-war buildings often used pre-manufactured metal buildings which were transported to the site whole or had to be assembled (Moore 2013: 4:53). The ancillary buildings are constructed of different materials; wood (10df), concrete block (10e), and metal (10c) which indicates some of the buildings may have been constructed before World War ii. Analyzing historic aerials, the extant buildings are located in a large circular pattern with a holding pen in the middle, atypical of the cluster pattern of work/agricultural zones. The buildings do not appear to display any noteworthy craftsmanship or construction methods and are typical examples and forms for their era and the region. The historian is unable to fully evaluate the buildings individually or as a collective whole and therefore no recommendation is made under Criterion C.

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