The Caruth family once grew cotton, raised cattle, and operated a dairy on a vast 11,000-acre spread that comprised much of what is now North Dallas. About 4,500 acres of the sprawling homestead land appears on the map in green.
It is impossible to establish exactly what William and Walter Caruth and their descendants paid for the land. Some parts, including the original homestead, were purchased foras little as $5 an acre. All the acreage was acquired over the second half of the 19th century in a variety of business deals. The gradual sale and lease of the family land for commercial and residential development over the past 50 years is thought to have earned the Caruths about $1 billion. Today, the portion of the original homestead pictured here is estimated by Dallas County tax officials to be worth as much as $9 billion.
A 150-Year Epoch
It was a vast North Texas farm kingdom, begun 150 years ago with the profits from a family dry goods store in the hard-scrabble Trinity River village of Dallas.
Brothers William and Walter Caruth, Kentucky transplants who fought for the South in the Civil War, founded the empire with the acquisition of about a thousand acres near the present-day intersection of Southwestern Blvd. and Central Expressway.
Beginning with this patch of black-earth prairie, by the turn of the century William’s son, WW. Caruth St, had bought and bartered the estate to its fullest extent of 30,000 acres or more (no one ever knew exactly how much land the Caruth family owned), including their 11,000-acre Dallas County homestead that stretched west to east from Preston Road past White Rock Lake and north to south from Forest Lane nearly to downtown Dallas.
A donation of Caruth land helped persuade the Methodist Church to establish Southern Methodist University in Dallas; the sale of a 722-acre gift-a major portion of present-day University Park- helped rescue SMU from bankruptcy during the Depression.
From that point forward, it fell to WW. Caruth Jr. to lease, trade, and sell off the huge farm, to “harvest,” as he put it, the lands his grandfather and father had acquired, a process that by one estimate eventually would bring a billion dollars to his children’s, nieces’, and nephews’ collective bottom line.
In time, Will Caruth’s “backyard,” as North Dallas sometimes was known, would sprout dozens of familiar developments and landmarks, from Ray Nasher’s NorthPark Center (built on leased land) to the University Park United Methodist Church.
Now, nine years after his death, the very last stretch of open prairie left on the Caruth Homestead- acreage that, ironically, was part of William and Walter’s original 1,000-acre purchase-has been excavated into Lincoln Park and residential projects rising on all sides of the 123-year-old clapboard family manse.
An epoch hi Dallas history has come to a close.