Meacham, Henry Clay (1869–1929)

By: Ray F. Lucas

Type: Biography

Published: July 30, 2021

Updated: July 30, 2021


Henry Clay “H. C.” Meacham, merchant, general store owner, city councilman, and mayor of Fort Worth, the son of Henry Banks Meacham and Mary Ann (Robinson) Meacham, was born on October 10, 1869, in Senatobia, Mississippi. Meacham was the youngest of six siblings, four boys and two girls, all born in Mississippi. He was orphaned at a young age, and from 1879 to 1886 he worked on a cotton farm owned by an older brother. By June 1900 he had moved to Walker County, Texas, and was married to Margaret Bean, who was also born in Mississippi. He operated a small dry goods store with C. B. Henderson in Huntsville in 1903. The next year, he opened a store in Athens, Texas. In 1905 Meacham moved his business to Fort Worth.

The store did well in Fort Worth, and in 1913 Meacham announced a major expansion of his business with a new building on Main Street. The new structure had three stories and a full basement. The company continued to expand its business, using the floor space on all three floors and the basement by February 1915. That same month, Meacham was selected to serve on a committee put together by the local chamber of commerce to work with the city and the school board to improve parks in Fort Worth.

In addition to his work for public parks, Meacham served on another public service committee—the Fort Worth Health Board. In September 1916 Meacham and two other non-physician members were removed from the board when it was reorganized. The three had not attended board meetings on a regular basis and were replaced by medical doctors. Despite pushing for the reorganization of the city medical board after criticism from the local physicians organization, Mayor E. T. Tyra praised the work done by the board. That same month, Meacham publicly opposed an attempt to impose prohibition on Fort Worth in the local option elections. The election, which the anti-prohibition supporters won by more than 860 votes, had the highest voter turnout in Tarrant County history to that date. The election was so polarizing that Meacham and other city businessmen took out a half-page advertisement in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and called for the opposing sides to bury their acrimony and get back to business promoting Fort Worth.  

Meacham’s public opposition to prohibition was not the end of his political involvement. A movement for the creation of a new city government for Fort Worth began in January 1924. Meacham was a member of the Fort Worth Non-Political Civic League, the original committee to propose a new city charter. Later that year, he served as the chairman of the Citizens’ Association for Civic Advancement, a citizens group that lobbied for the creation of a new charter based on the city council-manager form of government. On December 11, 1924, the voters of Fort Worth adopted a new charter utilizing the council-manager system.

The first election under the new government was held on April 7, 1925. Reverend Pat H. Beckham, pastor of the Sylvania Heights Baptist Church and an independent candidate, ran against Meacham for Place No. 2 on the city council. Mecham defeated Beckham by 1,418 votes in the city-wide general election. The other eight council seats were filled by candidates who, like Meacham, campaigned under the Citizens’ Association banner. The nine new city councilmen were sworn in on April 15, 1925, and officially replaced the city commission that had governed Fort Worth for eighteen years. Under the new city charter, the city councilmen drew lots to establish the length of their terms, either two years or four years. Meacham drew a lot for a two-year term. The new charter made the position of mayor an appointed one. The former mayor, Willard P. Burton, refused an offer of appointment to his old office by the new city council. The council appointed H. C. Meacham, who accepted the position. Thus Meacham was city councilman for Place No. 2 and mayor of Fort Worth for his two-year term. The council later selected Ossian E. Carr as the first city manager of Fort Worth.

During Meacham’s first year in office, members of the Tarrant County Baptist Ministers’ Association accused the mayor of turning a blind eye to moral lapses in the city, including violations of prohibition. Meacham had previously spoken out against prohibition and found no fault with the way the district attorney handled alcohol violations. In 1926, one of Mayor Meacham’s close friends, Dexter E. Chipps, was shot and killed by the Reverend Dr. J. Frank Norris, a fundamentalist Baptist minister and pastor of the First Baptist Church in Fort Worth. The shooting resulted from the public argument between the pastor and the mayor. Norris had attacked Meacham in his church’s newspaper, the Searchlight, and from his pulpit on several occasions. Meacham then barred any of his employees from membership in Norris’s church. Chipps, the shooting victim, went to the First Baptist Church to confront Norris about his accusations against Mayor Meacham and was shot by the pastor. At his trial for the shooting, Norris was found not guilty of murder on grounds of self-defense. Adding to the sensationalism of the trial, Meacham had personally paid for a special counsel to try the case for the prosecution.

Shortly after the end of the Norris trial in February 1927, the members of the city council announced they would run for re-election, including Meacham. Under the council-manager government, councilmen were nominated by a minimum of 300 signatures on a petition, after which, the candidate submitted a written acceptance of the nomination. Meacham gathered 1,102 signatures on his nomination petition for council Place No. 2. He was again challenged by Reverend Beckham, then the pastor of the Riverside Baptist Church. The mayor’s opponents alleged that Meacham had not paid all of his property taxes for 1926 and allegedly had his tax liability reduced that year. Meacham’s defenders argued that he did not own the property at issue until after January 1, 1927, thus he was not liable for the 1926 taxes. Meacham won re-election in the April 5, 1927, city-wide election by 169 votes—6,509 to 6,340. On April 12, 1927, H. C. Meacham resigned his city council seat and his potential reappointment as mayor due to ill health. He ran in the 1927 campaign to prove his detractors wrong and to make a point—that the council-manager form of government was good for Fort Worth and there to stay.

In addition to his political involvement, Meacham was a charter member of the Fort Worth Ad Men’s Club, a group that lobbied for companies engaged in any type of local advertisements. He was an early proponent for combining the various merchant, advertising, and real estate clubs under the banner of the chamber of commerce. He was a member of the Steeple Chase Club, the Texas Retail Dry Goods Association, the University Club, and the Fort Worth Exposition and Fat Stock Show where he sat on the executive committee and the board of directors. He was also a director of the Farmers & Mechanics National Bank of Fort Worth and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Meacham Field (Fort Worth Meacham International Airport) was built during his term as mayor and named in his honor in 1927. After his retirement, Meacham reportedly spent $1,500 of his own money to beautify the airfield. Always involved in advertising for his store, Meacham saw the advertising power and profit-making ability of the nascent radio industry. This led to his purchase of radio station KFJZ in 1929.

Meacham and his wife, Margaret (Bean) Meacham, married in 1900. Margaret was a charter member of the Fort Worth Women’s Club. The couple had four daughters. One of their daughters, Minnie (Meacham) Smith, married Amon G. Carter, Sr., in 1947, after the death of her first husband.  

H. C. Meacham had reportedly been in poor health since 1926, and this was the reason he left politics in 1927. He died of an aortic aneurism on December 7, 1929, and was buried at Greenwood Memorial Park and Mausoleum in Fort Worth.

Austin American, April 13, 18, 1927. Austin American-Statesman, December 7, 8, 1929. Fort Worth Record, November 25, 1924; December 7, 1924; April 15, 16, 1925. Fort Worth Record-Telegram, February 26, 1927; April 4, 5, 6, 7, 1927. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 3, 14, 26, 29, 1916; January 16, 1924; April 3, 6, 1925. Galveston Daily News, January 10, 1927. Emile Guidroz Collection, Tarrant County Archives. Historic Election Ledgers, Tarrant County Elections, 1908–1929, Tarrant County Archives (https://www.tarrantcounty.com/en/tarrant-county-archives/holdings/tarrant-county-historic-ledgers/tarrant-county-historic-ledgers-elections.html), accessed July 21, 2021 . Junior Women’s Club of Fort Worth, “History of the JWC House” (https://jwc.clubexpress.com/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=345843&module_id=46416), accessed July 21, 2021.

Categories:

  • Business
  • Journalism
  • Radio and Television
  • Politics and Government
  • Civic and Community Leaders

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era
  • Texas in the 1920s

Places:

  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Ray F. Lucas, “Meacham, Henry Clay,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 26, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/meacham-henry-clay.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 30, 2021
July 30, 2021

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects:

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