La Réunion, Dallas Commune

On June 16, 1855, residents of the area around the village of Dallas (population 400) declared a holiday in anticipation of greeting about 200 very foreign-looking immigrants from France, Belgium, and Switzerland. The newcomers, who spoke French and wore odd-looking clothing and sabots (wooden shoes) arrived after a twenty-six-day trip from Houston—some walking, others on horseback. They were accompanied by ox-drawn wagons on which they carried household goods necessary to begin a utopian community. Unlike most frontier settlers, La Réunion colonists were brewers, watchmakers, weavers, and shopkeepers—unsuited to the rigors of farm life. Over several months, more settlers arrived bringing supplies such as an organ, piano, flutes, and violins. One wave of newcomers brought thirteen trunks and had to pay ox-cart drivers three cents a pound to haul the load. An elderly man had broken his leg on shipboard and had to pay the freight rate to ride in a cart.

Victor Prosper Considerant

Victor Prosper Considerant

The groups’ founder Victor Prosper Considerant planned a loosely structured experimental utopian community on the banks of the Trinity River in which members shared in the profits based on the amount of capital each one invested in the cooperative and the quantity and quality of work contributed by each participant. Unlike communism, Considerant advocated voting by both men and women—individuals who owned private property. He had been a leader in the democratic socialist movement in France and had been forced to flee to Belgium in 1851 after taking part in a failed insurrection against Louis Napoleon Bonaparte.

Considerant’s travels led him to select North Texas as a suitable locale for establishing a cooperative utopian society. Upon his return to Paris he established the European Society for the Colonization of Texas and published Au Texas (In Texas) in which he praised the ideal climate and claimed the fertile soil well suited for growing tropical fruit.

Considerant sent advance agents who purchased about 2,500 acres on the chalky, limestone bluff near the forks of the Trinity River, three miles west of Dallas. The land was not suitable for farming, even if the colonists had known how to farm. They did plant a large garden, bought 500 head of cattle, sheep, pigs and some fowls. They purchased equipment for mowing, reaping and thrashing wheat and by the following year they had laid out a town site, built offices, buildings suitable for making soap and candles and operating a laundry. They prepared their meals in a cooperative kitchen and built two dormitories for individual families.

Their Saturday night parties, which included music, singing, and dancing, shocked some of their Dallas neighbors whose Protestant faith led them to believe that violins were instruments of the devil and singing should be limited to sacred songs. La Réunion residents vigorously defended their entertainment by insisting that keeping the Sabbath meant worship and pleasure. It wasn’t long before a few of the younger, more independent Dallas residents began attending the parties and romances soon followed.

Although groups continued to arrive, the population never grew beyond 350. After putting 430 acres into cultivation, a blizzard in May1856 damaged the crops and froze the Trinity River. The heat of summer brought drought and grasshoppers invaded to feast on the remaining crops. Settlers began leaving as tensions developed over Considerant’s poor financial management, unclear land deeds, impractical distribution of work, and disagreements over how meals should be served to provide equal sharing. Some headed back to Europe while others moved into Dallas and surrounding communities.

In 1860 Dallas incorporated La Réunion land and the colonists offered their considerable skills to the growing city. M. Monduel opened the first brewery in 1857; Emil Remond experimented with the white rock on the banks of the Trinity and eventually established a cement plant; Julien Reverchon, who became an internationally known botany professor at Baylor University College of Medicine and Pharmacy in Dallas, had been taught by Jacob Boll, who discovered and classified many Texas plants and flowers. Jacob Nussbaumer opened the city’s first butcher shop. Benjamin Long served two terms as Dallas mayor; John B Louckx, created the public school system; and Maxime Guillot’s carriage factory operated for fifty years, leading to Dallas becoming a world center for the carriage and harness-making industry.

Today, the 561-foot Reunion Tower completed in 1978 in downtown Dallas is about three miles east of the old colony and serves as a handsome reminder of the contributions made by the little band of visionaries.

Reunion Tower

Reunion Tower

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10 thoughts on “La Réunion, Dallas Commune

  1. I found this quite interesting!! A person I work with declares that she’s a seventh-generation Texans. I would love to talk to her father again, he’s done a great deal of geneology research, to see if he’s familiar with this chapter of Texas history!!

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  2. Had no idea where the name came from for Reunion Tower or Reunion Arena, the former home of the Mavericks.

    I was intrigued by the name Jacob Boll. I wonder if the cotton boll or the boll weevil was named after him.

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    • I don’t know of any connection between the name of the casing that holds the fluffy cotton and Jacob Boll.
      In German a boll is a rounded hill. The casing for the cotton is also rounded.
      The boll weevil was a disease that killed the cotton crops all over Texas in the 1920s.

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      • Much more recently than the 1920’s. Farmers in West Texas have had to fight boll weevils most of my life, Myra. A cousin of mine worked at the bool weevil office in Lamesa, TX, as recently as 3 or 4 years ago, although I think they have closed it since then.

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  3. This is amazing. I’ve never heard of this group, or of the Reunion Tower. For that matter, I’ve never heard of Julien Reverchon or Jacob Boll, and I’m interested in Texas plants.

    But, I have a copy of Shinners and Mahler’s Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas, and know about the Botanical Institute of Texas — in the Dallas area. I combined the Institute’s name with Jacob Boll’s, and turned up references to both men in the Texas Master Naturalist statewide curriculum. I’m beginning my Master Naturalist intern training in January, so this is all doubly interesting: history and botany both!

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      • I don’t know all about Lindheimer, but I know a bit. I saw the exhibit in New Braunfels, have been to his home, and one of these days intend to write about “the botany boys” (Lindheimer, Drummond, Roemer, et.al.) They really were a fascinating bunch — more hidden treasures of our history. I’d love to read anything you wrote about Lindheimer.

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