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.
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.