Historic Talbott-Wall home as it sits on 1102 Samuels Avenue. (Photos: AP Real Estate Photography)

Imagine Fort Worth in 1903.  From grainy photos I’ve seen, there was a lot of dust, cows, and not much else.  There certainly were not any charming homes that would last 114 years and become historic properties, right?  Wrong.

The 1900 census of Fort Worth showed 26,668 residents, which was up from 1880 when there were 6,663 people living in Cowtown.  The largest building in 1903 was a seven-story building that cost $400,000 to construct. Cowtown in 1903 was a “rail town” — cattle drives and meat packing were the main industry before World War I, World War II, and the oil boom.

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Dillow Fire

(Photo: Glen E. Ellman/Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

So, file this under “Interesting Circumstances”: The 100-year-old Dillow House on the grounds of Texas Wesleyan University caught fire last night and is a pile of steaming ash right now. If you are expecting the folks at TWU to be all beat up about it, well, you’ll be waiting a while.

You see, there was quite a controversy about this home. TWU wanted to demolish it, but Fort Worth preservationists were fighting to keep the historic structure standing. But after last night’s two-alarm fire, Fort Worth Fire Department’s spokesperson is calling the Dillow House a “total loss” according to the Star-Telegram:

John Veilleux, a university spokesman, said school security officers reported the fire. The Dillow House is on Texas Wesleyan’s campus.

“When we first found out about the fire, our concern was for the safety of the firefighters battling the blaze and the surrounding neighborhood,” Veilleux said. “It looks like it’s a total loss. It’s destroyed. No one wanted to see the house burn down.”

Veilleux said he was told fire investigators would be at the property sometime today to try and determine the cause. He said he didn’t think the fire would stop the lawsuit that was filed earlier this year.

Jerre Tracy, Historic Fort Worth’s executive director, said her heart sank when she saw the Dillow House this morning. She said she was hoping to today talk to Art Brender, the attorney representing the nonprofit, to determine what impact the fire will have on the suit.

The longer historic properties sit vacant, the risk for something happening goes up, Tracy said.

“I felt really sad for everyone involved,” Tracy said. “Vagrants are always attracted to empty buildings. Fires happen. It’s always an issue.”

I’m not saying that there’s a conspiracy afoot, but it does tickle my brain. And yes, the longer a structure is vacant, the more likely it is that squatters will move in. I wonder if someone tried to get cozy with a few logs on one of the home’s less than well-maintained fireplaces and ended up burning the whole dang thing to the ground.

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(Photo: Dangr.Dave via Flickr)

Still, I wonder if Historic Fort Worth can still file suit on preserving a property, and thereby trying to close loopholes in the city’s historic preservation ordinance, even if the home isn’t in any condition to be preserved … What do you think?