The Handbook of Texas is free-to-use thanks to the support of readers like you. Support the Handbook today.

Font size: A / A reset

White, Zachariah Taliaferro (1850–1932)

Arthur H. Leibson Biography Entry

Zach White, businessman, financier, and city administrator in El Paso, was born on March 23, 1850, in Amherst County in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, one of twenty-two children born to Willis and Jane (Drummond) White. In 1875, after receiving a grammar school education, he and an older brother arrived in Austin, Texas, and built the city's first waterworks. Two years later he built the first waterworks in Dallas, and in 1879 he constructed a water system in Waco. He had achieved such success that in October 1880 he left for El Paso on a stagecoach with $10,000 sewn in his vest. Anticipating the arrival of the railroad, in 1881 White built a mercantile store, and in the next few years he built the first brick company, the first gas company, the first electric company, the first mule-drawn streetcar system, and the first bridges across the Rio Grande to Ciudad Juárez. He bought thousands of acres of land in El Paso's upper valley, raised cotton, and played a major role in bringing about the construction of Elephant Butte Dam, a project that greatly stimulated the development of the regional agricultural economy. In 1912 White built his dream hotel, the Paso del Norte, long a showplace of the Southwest with its Tiffany dome lobby. For twenty years White was a director of the First National Bank; he also served on the school board, the city council, and as county commissioner. He donated the land for the construction of El Paso Country Club. White's first wife, Maggie Matthias, whom he married in 1882, died in El Paso in 1890. In 1893 White married Maude Bounds of Sherman, and they had two daughters. White died in El Paso on January 31, 1932. A public school near the country club is named in his honor, and his home on Mesa Street has been restored. The restoration of the Paso del Norte Hotel was completed in 1986.

H. Crampton Jones, "Mr. Zach T. White," Password, Winter 1968. Harriot Howze Jones, comp. and ed., El Paso: A Centennial Portrait (El Paso, 1972). Vertical File, Southwest Collection, El Paso Public Library. Owen P. White, Out of the Desert: The Historical Romance of El Paso (El Paso: McMath, 1924).


  • Business

Time Periods:

  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era

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

Arthur H. Leibson, “White, Zachariah Taliaferro,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 31, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: