A woman’s contribution to development

Posted by    |    August 23rd, 2010 at 9:11 am

So, we’ve learned about the men who began some of Dallas’ most historic retail companies.  Although nearly all women of those early times served as homemakers, some even taking in a little money as seamstresses or teachers, one stands out as having had great influence on the development of the city.

In the year 1847, Alex and Sarah Cockrell planted their meager roots in Dallas County.  Alex was an involved and respected businessman having opened a sawmill, a gristmill, a lumberyard and a freighting business. 

In 1852, Alex added to his business portfolio when he purchased  the Trinity River ferry and ferry license from John Neely Bryan.

In the early 1850s, Sarah began to become more involved in her husband’s businesses taking over the books since Alex had never learned to read or write. 

Sarah Horton Cockrell


According to the Dallas Historical Society, “In 1855, he replaced the Trinity River ferry with a toll bridge. In 1858, Alexander was killed in a gunfight with the city marshal, Andrew Moore. His wife continued to run the family business.”

Sarah took on the family businesses in addition to raising four children.  When Alex’s toll bridge collapsed in 1858, she “renewed the license to put the ferry back into service and thus maintained access to the major roads south, west and north.” (Legacies).

However, the farmers and businessen still needed something more reliable for transporting supplies in from the farms and goods out from the city.  Despite surprising opposition from those who did not want toll charges to rise, in 1859 Sarah successfully petitioned the legislature for a “charter to build a permanent (iron suspension) bridge across the Trinity River.” (Legacies.)

The opening of the bridge not only eased the ins and outs of business freight, but also hastened development within and outside of the city proper. 

Sarah’s inexhaustible business savvy and energy contributed to the city’s development in other ways as well.  Completed in 1859, Sarah’s latest business venture, the St. Nicholas Hotel (later renamed the Dallas Hotel) opened to the public.

“Lauded by the (Dallas) Herald as if it were a public service instead of a private business, the Saint Nicholas had suites for families and parlors for special occasions, as well as rooms for individual guests… Equally important in the community’s point of view, the hotel provided accommodations for travelers and visitors, including potential investors and business owners.” (Legacies)

Sarah was the first woman in Dallas to have such an influence on local business.  Over the years following her husband’s death, she built up an enormous amount of businesses and assets.  In fact, according to WomenInTexasHistory.org, “When she died in 1892, her properties were so extensive that her will had to be published in pamphlet form.”


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  1. What an interesting account of an early female entrepreneur. Inspiring!