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Historical Markers Project: Anson Mills Site

Survey of thirty-three historic sites in the El Paso area, with research materials, interviews, and summary materials.

Anson Mills Survey and Plat

Research Packet and Narrative by:  Jesse Clark and Dr. George D. Torok

Honors Project, Spring 2002

National Endowment for the Humanities Historical Markers Project

Narrative:    Anson Mills Survey and Plat 

Anson Mills SiteIn 1858 a new stagecoach route was opened to connect St. Louis, Missouri  with San Francisco, California. The Butterfield Overland Mail Company, carrying mail and passengers, joined the end of the railroad line at Tipton, Missouri with California, completing the trip in less than twenty-five days. The Overland Mail’s 2700 mile route ran directly through the El Paso area. At the time, El Paso was a still series of five small scattered settlements on the north bank of the Rio Grande with just a few hundred residents.[i] Anson Mills (1834-1924) a native of Indiana, had come to Texas in 1857. Looking for new opportunities, he arrived at the Pass of the North in May 1858. During his journey west he “traveled through the most desolate country” and when arriving on a bluff overlooking the Rio Grande he thought it “was the most pleasant sight {he} had ever seen.”[ii]  He decided to stay and was soon appointed district surveyor for the state of Texas.

Image caption: Anson Mills Plat, 1859. Image provided by the El Paso Public Library.

During the summer he was hired by the Overland Mail Company to design and build its stage station in Franklin which was located midway across the 2700 mile route. By September the Butterfield Overland Stage was in operation. Mills’ station became largest and best equipped on the route. It spread over a two-acre site, had corrals and a large prominent building that dominated the small frontier settlement.[iii] After completing the station, Mills was hired by the U.S. Army and conducted surveys of several military installations in the west, including Fort Bliss.

He was then contracted by a group of land speculators, the El Paso Company,  to survey one of five area settlements, the town of Franklin.[iv]  At the time, Franklin was simply a ranch site owned by “Uncle” Billy Smith, a Kentuckian. Smith had been selling small lots to new settlers who staked out a site. Mills complained that because the lots had been randomly built, with little regard to location or design, the “few streets were neither parallel nor at right angles.”[v] Mills had to negotiate with the all six property owners to reach an agreeable survey. In 1859, Mills finished his survey and created a plat, or sketch, of the new town. Although many features have changed over the years, the basic outline of his survey can still be seen today. Missouri Street was the northern edge of the settlement and Second Street (present-day Paisano Drive) along the river was the southern boundary. South of San Antonio and San Francisco Streets were rich agricultural lands including vineyards, orchards, wheat and cornfields. An acequia, or irrigation system watered the lands. The main street names indicated the direction that the roads headed from the center of town. For example, the stage route to San Antonio was named San Antonio Street. Other destinations, such as Santa Fe and San Francisco, also became main streets. El Paso Street ran south to El Paso del Norte (today’s Ciudad Juarez). Today’s Pioneer Plaza is identified and a public square is at the site of today’s San Jacinto Plaza. Mills’s plat shows a basic outline of the today’s downtown El Paso most of the urban features are still in place.[vi]

Mills is also responsible for changing the name of the settlement from Franklin to El Paso. He noted in his autobiography that Franklin was located at the only feasible crossing of the Rio Grande and suggested that the name “El Paso” would emphasize the importance of the location.[vii]

Mills stayed on after his work and played a major role in the development of the new city. He served in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, invested in commercial properties, and became an important promoter and developer of El Paso. In 1913 the city changed the name of St. Louis Street to Mills Avenue in his honor. Mills died in 1924 at the age of ninety and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


[i] John D. Peterson and Mark D. Willis. The Union Plaza Downtown El Paso Development Archaeological Project: Overview, Inventory, and Recommendations (El Paso, TX 1998), 44; Leon Metz, El Paso: Guided Through Time (El Paso, TX 1999), 51.

[ii] Anson Mills, My Story (Washington, D.C. 1918), 51.

[iii] W.H. Timmons, El Paso: A Borderlands History (El Paso, TX), 141.

[iv] Mills, My Story, 53-4.

[v] Mills, My Story, 53.

[vi] Metz, El Paso, 51; Timmons, El Paso, 142.

[vii] Mills, My Story, 54.


Related Sources

For information on Anson Mills please see:
Arlington Cemetery
Handbook of Texas 
El Paso Scene Monthly History

For more information on the Butterfield Overland Mail please see:
Handbook of Texas



Metz, Leon. El Paso: Guided through Time. El Paso, Texas: Mangan Books, 1999.

Mills, Anson. My Story. Washington, D.C.: Anson Mills, 1918.

Peterson, John A. and Mark D. Willis. The Union Plaza Downtown El Paso Development Archaeological Project: Overview, Inventory, and Recommendations. El Paso, Texas: City of El Paso, 1998.

Sonnichsen, C. L. Pass of the North: Four Centuries on the Rio Grande. 2 vols. El Paso, Texas: Texas Western Press, 1968.

Staski, Ed. Beneath the Border City: Urban Archaeology in Downtown El Paso. Las Cruces, New Mexico: New Mexico State University, 1984. 

Timmons, W. H. El Paso: A Borderlands History. El Paso, TX: Texas Western Press, 1990.


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