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Tales from the Dallas History Archives: 120 Years Since the Annexation of Oak Cliff

In 1903, the city of Dallas annexed Oak Cliff. Let's dig through the archives of the Dallas Public Library to see what the neighborhood looked like a century ago.
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The Dallas skyline as seen from Oak Cliff taken through the trees, circa 1928. From the Frank Rogers Collection, Dallas Public Library
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Tales from the Dallas History Archives: 120 Years Since the Annexation of Oak Cliff

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This year marks the 120th anniversary of Oak Cliff’s annexation by the city of Dallas, in 1903. The neighborhood’s history stands out in many ways. Perhaps the most notable event was the capture of Lee Harvey Oswald in the Texas Theater on November 22, 1963, when he attempted to evade police by hiding out in a screening of the film War Is Hell after he assassinated President John F. Kennedy and killed Dallas Police Officer J. D. Tippit.

Oak Cliff was the site of the Hord’s Ridge community, founded by slave owner William H. Hord in 1845. Another notable settler, William Brown Miller, moved to what is now the eastern Oak Cliff area in 1847. Miller, born in Kentucky, built a plantation and became one of the largest slave owners in Texas. Many descendants of the Miller slaves still gather for family reunions.

After the Civil War, flourishing Freedman’s Towns developed in the areas bound by the Trinity River to the north, Fleming Street to the west, Compton Street to the south, and the Trinity Heights streetcar line to the east. One of the only remaining intact Freedman’s Towns in the country is the Tenth Street Historic District. The Freedman’s Town along the Trinity River levee between the streetcar line, the Corinth Street bridge, and Eighth Street was known as The Bottom.

In 1887, Hord’s Ridge and several hundred acres on the south bank of the Trinity were purchased by Thomas L. Marsalis and John S. Armstrong. Initially conceived as a high-end residential area, the duo renamed the area Oak Cliff. By year’s end they sold over $60,000 worth of land for the project before Marsalis took over development following a dispute with Armstrong. Some of his projects included the Park Hotel, Oak Cliff Park—which later became the Marsalis Park and Zoo—and a railroad that operated down Jefferson Boulevard and toward Lake Cliff, eventually crossing the Trinity River.

In May 1908, heavy rain caused the Trinity River to crest over 50 feet, leading to major devastation throughout Dallas including Oak Cliff. Floodwaters in Oak Cliff was an issue that continued into the future. Over 200 homes in South Dallas and Oak Cliff were destroyed by floods in 1989 and 1990.

The area known as The Bottom saw a decline in the 1930s as the Great Depression and the construction of the Trinity River levee led to many residents moving away. The Bottom and the Tenth Street area were further impacted in 1955 when hundreds of homes were torn down for the construction of Interstate 35E, which also resulted in the bifurcation of Tenth Street from the western portions of the neighborhood.

Then came a tornado on April 2, 1957, tearing through Oak Cliff along with parts of West Dallas.

The photograph gallery herein shows a portion of the varied and important images of Oak Cliff’s enduring history. They can all be found in the archives of Dallas Public Library, from an image of the Texas Theater to the infamous 1908 flood and 1957 tornado. There are also several images Tenth Street neighborhood and The Bottom.

The Dallas Public Library has many other images showing Oak Cliff’s past. You can learn more by searching through the library’s online catalog. Go to “Advanced” and use the “Limit By” option to select “Digital Archive” then type in your topic.

In addition, I encourage you to visit the 7th floor Dallas History & Archives Division at the Central Library to see our current exhibit, “From The Bottom to Tenth Street,” on display until October 20. In partnership with the Tenth Street Residents’ Association, the exhibit celebrates the rich history of the Tenth Street and The Bottom neighborhoods by combining historic imagery from the archive with items of historic significance provided by the residents of Tenth Street and The Bottom. You can read more about that project here.


Brandon Murray, a librarian and archivist in the Dallas Public Library’s Dallas History & Archives Division, writes about North Texas history for D Magazine. See more of this series here.

Contact Dallas History & Archives Division at Dallas Public Library at (214) 670-1435 or email [email protected] with questions about the many fascinating photographic resources available.

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Brandon Murray

Brandon Murray

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Brandon Murray is a librarian and archivist in the Dallas Public Library’s Dallas History & Archives Division. He writes about…

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