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50 Events That Shaped Dallas and Fort Worth

By Tom Peeler |

This is a crash course in local history. Dallas is a city on the move, fast on its feet, able to shift from oil to technology without losing its competitive edge in the global market. Fort Worth is more laid back, comfortable with its Western heritage but moved by strong cultural undercurrents. Here’s a capsule account of what made us what we are,

THE BIRTH OF DALLAS. In 1841, Tennessee attorney John Neely Bryan, riding a horse with the Indian name of Walking Wolf and accompanied by his dog Tubby, built a dugout home on a small bluff overlooking the Trinity River at a spot above what is now the triple underpass. Population: one.

THE ESTABLISHMENT OF FORT WORTH. Eight years later, Major I Ripley A. Arnold and a handful of troops established what would become Fort Worth in a bend of the same river to protect settlers from attack by Comanche Indians.

THE SEAT OF DALLAS COUNTY. In an 1850 election, the town of Dallas received 191 votes; Hord’s Ridge (now a part of the Oak Cliff area), 178; and Cedar Springs (a tiny spot on what is still called Cedar Springs Road), 101. Dallas won the runoff election by only 28 votes.

THE TARRANT COUNTY THRONE. Six years later, in the race for the Tarrant County seat, Fort Worth edged Birdville by luring local voters with free whiskey and importing friends from neighboring counties. The total vote cast exceeded the county’s population.

OPENING OF THE CHISHOLM TRAIL. In 1867, Fort Worth became a popular gathering point for drovers putting together herds of longhorn cattle to drive up the Chisholm Trail to Kansas and Missouri. The trail was named for Indian trader Jesse Chisholm, who died a year later from eating poisoned bear grease.

COMING OF THE RAILROAD. The first rail line for the Houston and Texas Central (H&TC) was laid into Dallas in 1872. This brought Sanger Bros department store, E.M. Kahn clothiers, wholesale grocer Jules Schneider, and other commercial establishments, making Dallas an important regional shopping locale and distribution point.

AND THEN THE CROSSROAD. More significantly, Dallas became a rail crossroads the following year, thanks to State Rep. John W. Lane’s rider to the Texas and Pacific grant requiring the railroad to cross theH&TC at a point within a mile of “Brow-der Springs, which happened to be Dallas’ water source at what is now Old City Park. The extension of the T&P line to Fort Worth was delayed another three years by an economic depression.

THE STATE FAIR. The first State Fair of Texas was held in Dallas in 1886. Since then, the event has featured Buffalo Bill, Tommy Dorsey, Harry Hou-dini, Gypsy Rose Lee, Richard Nixon, Hopalong Cassidy. Enrico Caruso, William Howard Taft, Audie Murphy, Annie Oakley, John Philip Sousa, William Jennings Bryan, and Elsie the Cow.

THE SHOOTOUT. In 1887, gambler Luke Short, owner of the White Elephant Saloon, gunned down ex-marshal “’Long Hair Jim” Courtright on Main Street in Fort Worth. The event shocked the city into demanding law and order and cemented the city’s image as the place “Where the West Begins.” The shootout is still re-enacted each February.

BECOMING THE BIGGEST. With a population of 38,067 in 1890, Dallas was officially declared the largest city in Texas. This was the only time it would be so acclaimed, but the urge to recapture the title of “biggest” spurred the city’s growth through the 1950s.

THE STOCK SHOW. The Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show was called the Fat Stock Show when it opened in 1896, but that term is no longer politically correct. The annual event, compared to the state fair, typifies the philosophical differences between Dallas and Fort Worth as to what constitutes a roaring good time.

LANDING THE PACKING HOUSES. In 1901, paying a $100,000 “bonus” Fort Worth induced Swift and Armour to open packing plants in the city. The massive facilities at the head of the Stockyards transformed the city from a shipping point to a processing station and contributed significantly to nearly tripling the population in the next 10 years.

AMON. In 1905, Anion G. Carter went to work for the Fort Worth Star, forerunner of the Star-Telegram, which he later bought by pledging four diamond rings and a scarf pin as collateral. Carter became Fort Worth’s No. 1 booster and an avid antagonist of neighboring Dallas. The Amon Carter Museum, boasting a superb collection of the Western art of Remington and Russell, is a unique civic treasure.

THE PARK CITIES. When the first section opened in 1907, Highland Park claimed to be 10 degrees cooler than Dallas. Separately incorporated, as is neighboring University Park, the Park Cities enclave is inhabited by some of the area’s most prominent financial and cultural leaders.

BIRTH OF THE STORE. That same year, Herbert Marcus, Al Neiman, and Carrie Marcus Neiman gave the women of Highland Park a place to shop-a clothing store at the corner of Elm and Murphy streets. Neiman-Marcus brought worldwide fame and notoriety to Dallas as an oasis of fashion fueled by the excesses of oil-rich Texans.

SEATS OF HIGHER LEARNING. Add-Ran College fled Fort Worth in 1895 to escape the town’s rowdy influence but returned home in 1910 as Texas Christian University. Five years later. Southern Methodist University opened its doors to 400 relatively eager students at a campus carved from farm land on a North Dallas hilltop.

KESSLER PLAN. Released in 1911, Dallas’ first city plan developed by George Kessler, who was raised here and later became a nationally recognized civic engineer, was remarkably fore-sighted. It called for flood control, street improvement, and park development that would chart the city’s path for decades.

WINNING THE BANK. In 1914, local bankers pulled off a coup when Dallas was named site of a regional Federal Reserve Bank, an honor denied bigger, more established cities like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Within 20 years, Dallas was the financial center of the Southwest.

ESTABLISHMENT OF LOVE FIELD. In 1917, the U.S. Army Air Corps set up a training field in a remote area on the north side of Dal las. Ten years later, Dallas took over Love Field from interim managers to become one of the first cities in the country to operate a municipal airport.

THE MAGNOLIA BUILDING. The 29-story structure at Commerce and Akard streets was the tallest building south of Washington, D.C. when it opened in 1922. Pegasus, the flying red horse added in 1934 to welcome delegates to an oil industry convention, became the symbol of Dallas.

THE DISCOVERY OF OIL There’s no oil to be found in Dallas or Fort Worth, but the influence of discoveries in East and West Texas has been enormous. By 1922, Fort Worth had 22 refineries. In 1930, H.L. Hunt closed a colossal lease purchase from CM. “Dad” Joiner at Dallas’ Baker Hotel, leading to the development of the Hunt Oil Company.

THE ANTI-KLAN RALLY. In the early ’20s. the Ku Klux Klan controlled many of the top political and law enforcement positions in Dallas. In 1922, 400 courageous citizens signed a strongly worded anti-Klan statement published in the local newspapers and held an emotional rally at City Hall. By the mid-’20s, the Klan had lost its clout.

THE TRINITY LEVEE. In 1928, work commenced on the Trinity levee, which helped control the unpredictable river and converted thousands of acres of swampland along what are now Stemmons and Carpenter freeways into one of the country’s premier industrial, commercial, and marketing developments.

A LITTLE-NOTICED EVENT. An obscure company by the name of Geophysical Services Inc.. founded in 1930, later became Texas Instruments, innovators of transistor and semiconductor processing. In 1958,lack Kilby invented the integrated circuit in the TI lab, which revolutionized the world.

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY. In the throes of the Great Depression in 1936, Dallas hosted a grand bash celebrating the 100th birthday of Texas’ independence, a production called the Texas Centennial Exposition that featured an appearance by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

ANION’S ANSWER. Meanwhile, in Fort Worth, Amon Carter hired Broadway showman Billy Rose to stage the Frontier Centennial, a competing extravaganza highlighting fan dancer Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch. Carter’s slogan: “Dallas for education. Fort Worth for fun.”

FORMATION OF THE CITIZEN’S COUNCIL. In 1937, Robert L. “Uncle Bob” Thornton, a prominent banker and later mayor, spearheaded the formation of the Citizen’s Council to. in his words. “organize the boss men so we can act quick.” This powerful, behind-the-scenes clique and its political shadow, the Citizen’s Charter Association, called the shots in Dallas for nearly 40 years.

THE AIRCRAFT PLANT. In 1941, construction began on the Consolidated Aircraft factory in Fort Worth. Later to become Convair, then General Dynamics, and now Lockheed Martin, the facility employed 30,000 people during World War II making Liberator bombers and led to the development of Dallas-Fort Worth as a major force in aerospace.

BEGINNING 0FTHEC0RP0RATE RELOCATIONS. In 1948. Chance Vought moved here from Connecticut, at that time the largest industrial move in U.S. history. Dresser Industries followed two years later. Exxon, JCPenney. Halliburton, Kimberly-Clark. American Airlines, and Diamond Shamrock have headquartered here since.

THE COLLINS RADIO MOVE. In 1951. Collins Radio announced plans to build a $ I million factory in the Dallas area. The huge facility in Richardson, now a part of Rockwell International, anchored what has become the world’s largest concentration of telecommunications companies in an area known as the Telecom Corridor.

THE GREAT DROUGHT. 1951 was also the last year it rained, at least for a long time. Dallas hired Dr. Irving P. Krick to fog the clouds with silver iodide to encourage rain, but to no avail. By the time the rains did come in 1956. alarmed Dallas leaders had set in motion plans for the series of reservoirs that quench our thirsts to this day.

REPUBLIC’S SKYSCRAPER. Republic National Bank set off a skyscraper war with its friendly rival First National when it opened its magnificent 36-story facility at Bryan and Ervay streets in 1954. The downtown building boom that followed exemplified the boundless optimism of the ’50s.

JIM WRIGHT’S ELECTION. Fort Worth’s fortunes improved dramatically in 1955 when Jim Wright was elected to Congress. Through Lyndon Johnson-sty le politics, he wedged his way into powerful positions, including House majority leader and speaker of the House. Until his resignation in 1989 following charges of ethics violations. Fort Worth benefited handsomely from his influence.

THE TANDY RELOCATION. In 1960, Fort Worth native Charles Tandy moved the Tandy Corporation to his hometown from New York. Tandy’s Radio Shack division became the world’s largest chain of consumer electronic stores, and the Tandy Center, an eight-block development in the late ’70s, helped save downtown.

THE VAN CLIBURN COMPETITION. In 1962, a few years after teenage Texas pianist Van Cliburn won first prize in Russia’s Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, Fort Worth’s cultural establishment began hosting an annual Van Cliburn competition. This world-renowned event proves there’s more to Cowtown than string ties and silver buckles.

THE DARKEST DAY. The instant paranoia of those who were in Dallas in November 1963 extended even to fears of an aircraft attack on the city in retaliation for what “we” had done to President John F. Kennedy. Dallas to this day struggles with the stain of that infamous event.

EVOLUTION OF SINGLE MEMBER DISTRICTS. By the late ’60s, more people were demanding a voice in local affairs. In 1968, Dallas voters approved a change in the City Charter placing residency requirements on eight city council posts. Then after more than two decades of court squabbling, the city established 14 full-fledged, single-member districts in 1990. Less efficient, but more interesting.

FLIGHT OF THE PEANUT AIRLINE. Since its first takeoff from Love Field in 1971, Southwest Airlines has turned Texas and the surrounding states into one big neighborhood. Seats are all the same in the melting pot of the air; the only class distinction is the envy earned by lucky holders of boarding passes one through 30, who get to board first.

THE ORDER. Also in 1971, federal judge William Mack Taylor ordered the Dallas Independent School District to implement busing to achieve racial balance, an action that spurred “white flight” to the suburbs. To this day, dedicated educators still tackle the challenge of teaching amid a dizzying assortment of diversions.

THE COWBOYS WIN THE BIG ONE. WHEW. Everyone knows the Dallas Cowboys can win Super Bowls, now that they have racked up five, but for a long time, we weren’t so sure. After two classic NFL Championship losses to Green Bay, then a Super Bowl loss to Baltimore, the 24-3 win over Miami in 1972’s Super Bowl VI was mighty sweet.

THE KIMBELL Started in 1972 with the collection of the late Kay Kimbell, who amassed a fortune in food, flour, feed, and oil, the Kimbell Art Museum is a major stop for traveling exhibitions of the world’s finest art. The museum’s own extensive permanent collection is displayed in a remarkable accommodation of space and light.

OPENING OF DFW. In a rare demonstration of cooperation. Dallas and Fort Worth, which had about given up on ever becoming port cities on a navigable Trinity River, combined forces in 1974 to realize a 20th century equivalent in transportation-Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, which rivals Chicago’s O’Hare as the busiest in the world.

THE WRIGHT AMENDMENT. Five years later, to protect Fort Worth’s interests at DFW, House majority leader Jim Wright succeeded in getting legislation passed to prohibit flights out of Love Field beyond neighboring states.

SAVING THE STOCKYARDS. The North Fort Worth Historical Society, formed in 1975, was instrumental in saving the area now designated as the Stockyards National Historic District, the place where Dallas residents take out-of-town visitors to show them the “real Texas.”

TELECAST OF “DALLAS.” The soap opera, which premiered in 1978, topped even Neiman-Marcus and America’s Team in bringing worldwide recognition to the city during its 13 melodramatic years as a television hit in % countries. Southfork Ranch near Piano is one of the area’s premier tourist attractions.

THE URBAN RENAISSANCE. Sundance Square, downtown Fort Worth’s I4~square-block restoration started in 1981 by the wealthy Bass brothers, is a model for downtown planners. The entertainment, shopping, dining, and residential complex is named for the Sundance Kid, who posed here at the turn-of-the-century for a famous group photo with Butch Cassidy and other outlaws.

THE GREAT LAND BUST. From the mid-’80s into the early ’90s, Dallas was turned topsy-turvy with bankruptcies of scions of prominent families and scandal in the lending industry. The recovery has been grounded on more involvement from sources outside the city and a sobering introspective from those within.

OPENING OF THE MORT. The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center opened in 1989 as the focal point of the Dallas Arts District. Mega-millionaire H. Ross Perot, the primary contributor, named the world-acclaimed, I.M. Pei-designed concert center for his longtime business associate.

BACK ON TRACK. On June 14, 1996, after years of controversy and debate, bands played as thousands watched the .state’s first light rail commuter cars-the sleek yellow, electric Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) trains- glide into downtown Dallas on their way to the 21st century.

AND THE BEAT GOES ON.OnMay2,1998, Dallas voters approved a record $543.5 million bond issue, about half of which will pay for street and public improvements and the other half for the Trinity River project, a monumental system of levees, lakes, parks, and toll roads along the river near the downtown area.

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