Arlington, TX


By: Gayla Weems Shannon

Revised by: Evelyn Barker

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: February 3, 2022


Arlington is halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth in eastern Tarrant County. It was founded in 1876 on the Texas and Pacific Railway as a market town for the surrounding farms but was not officially incorporated until 1884.

Prior to the 1840s the land was inhabited by American Indians including Caddo, Cherokee, Tonkawa, and Comanche. The Village Creek area near the site of present-day Lake Arlington was one of the largest American Indian settlements in the region. In the battle of Village Creek, fought on May 24, 1841, Gen. Edward H. Tarrant attacked the settlements, which ultimately resulted in the removal of the tribes from their homes to a reservation and opened the area for White settlement.

Afterward the area attracted farmers for its fertile Blackland Prairie soil in the eastern part and the sandy loam, good for growing fruits and vegetables, in the western part. The site was also watered by the Trinity River and its tributaries. Early settlements included Bird’s Fort, Watson, Fish Creek, Sublett, and Johnson Station. Johnson Station was a frontier outpost and stagecoach stop founded by Middleton Tate Johnson in 1846.

When the Texas and Pacific Railway Company planned to lay tracks through Tarrant County, a route was chosen between Fort Worth and Dallas that lay north of Johnson Station. A Presbyterian minister, Andrew S. Hayter, was asked by the railway company to survey the area and the land on either side of the tracks. He is credited with laying out Arlington’s first town plat. The stores and many of the settlers made the move a few miles north to the new location from Johnson Station. When citizens of the new settlement applied for a post office under the name Johnson they were turned down because of the proximity to Johnson Station. The settlement’s post office was established under the name Hayter in 1875 and was renamed Arlington, after Robert E. Lee’s home in Virginia, in 1877.

The first train, Engine No. 20, arrived on the newly-built railroad on July 19, 1876, and ushered in an economic boom for the area. Arlington became the site of large produce sales and a distribution center for shipment to other towns. Area farmers raised cotton, hay, oats, corn, peanuts, potatoes, sorghum, and other crops, as well as dairy cattle and other livestock.

Another early source of revenue was the mineral well located in the middle of town at the intersection of Main and Center streets. Arlington merchant Rice Woods Collins saw the need for a public water supply and started a public subscription to drill a well in the middle of town. The contractors finished drilling in 1892. To the dismay of the citizens, the water from the well was mineral water and judged not ideal for drinking. However, enterprising citizens bottled the water and declared it to be medicinal. The well, with its increasingly ornate fountains through the years, became a popular landmark for gatherings. In 1951 the fountain was deemed a traffic hazard, closed, and paved over. The city’s first newspaper was the Arlington Journal, founded by George A. Byrus in 1897.

Responding to a lack of adequate public schooling for the growing town, Arlington citizens founded a private school, Arlington College, which opened in 1895. The tuition-based school served students in primary and secondary grades until it closed in spring 1902. That fall, James McCoy Carlisle reopened the school as The Carlisle School for Boys, soon renamed Carlisle Military Academy, which taught both girls and boys from ages ten to eighteen until 1913. After a few more name changes, the school became a branch of Texas A&M University known as Grubbs Vocational College in 1917. From an initial enrollment of sixty-six students, Grubbs continued to grow and subsequently became North Texas Agricultural College in 1923 and Arlington State College in 1949. In 1967 the college ended its affiliation with Texas A&M and joined the University of Texas system as the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA). As of September 2021 UTA enrolled 41,515 students.

Arlington built its first permanent school building, South Side, in 1904. South Side accommodated students from elementary to high school grades. Arlington opened its first high school, Arlington High School, in 1923. In 1956 Arlington High School moved to a newly-constructed building on Park Row Drive. As of 2021 the Arlington Independent School District had seventy-eight schools, including fourteen high schools.

During the 1930s Arlington gained fame for both legal and illegal gambling opportunities. On November 1, 1929, oil magnate and cattleman W. T. Waggoner opened Arlington Downs, a 1.25-mile horse-racing track. Arlington Downs was known for its luxurious clubhouse, landscaped track, and large purse distributions. Its convenient location off the Bankhead Highway (later designated U.S. Route 80 and then State Highway 180 in Arlington) made it easily accessible to residents in Fort Worth and Dallas. In 1929 pari-mutuel betting was illegal in Texas; so wagers were handled surreptitiously. Waggoner, however, lobbied tirelessly for the law to change, and in 1933 the Texas legislature legalized pari-mutuel betting. In 1937 the legislature again outlawed pari-mutuel betting. Arlington Downs turned to hosting rodeos and auto races until it was demolished in 1958, when the area was converted into the Great Southwest Industrial District. In 1978 a Texas historical landmark was placed on the site of the track.

In western Arlington, along the Bankhead Highway, sat Top O’ Hill Terrace, an opulent and notorious casino. Top O’ Hill opened around 1921 as a tea room but it was sold to Fred and Mary Browning in 1930. The Brownings converted the tea room into a nightclub that hosted illegal gambling and prostitution and served alcohol during the period of Prohibition. The casino was raided by the Texas Rangers in 1947 and closed in 1949. In May 1956 the land and buildings were acquired by Arlington Baptist College.

Arlington’s population had steady growth from 3,031 people in 1920 to 4,240 people in 1940. After World War II the town’s population exploded from 7,692 in 1950 to an estimated 19,000 in 1953 and kept growing. The problems attendant with such rapid change fell on the shoulders of Arlington’s “boy mayor,” Tom J. Vandergriff, when he took office in 1951 at the age of twenty-five. He remained Arlington’s mayor until 1977.

Prior to his election as mayor Vandergriff helped to secure Arlington as the location for a new General Motors plant in 1951. The plant opened January 6, 1954. The first car off the assembly line was a four-door black Pontiac Chieftain. As of December 2021 the Arlington plant produced approximately 1,300 vehicles a day.

The General Motors plant accelerated the pace of change for Arlington with its promise of hundreds of jobs. As of May 1954 an estimated 125 new families were moving to Arlington each month. The influx of residents made expanding Arlington’s water supply a top priority. The city increased its supply by drilling wells, but it needed a longer term solution. Arlington voters approved a bond for construction of a reservoir in 1954. The dam was completed in early 1957, just in time for the basin to catch torrential rains after years of drought. Within a month Lake Arlington was nearly overflowing. Arlington’s first hospital, Arlington Memorial Hospital, opened in 1957.

The opening of the Dallas–Fort Worth Turnpike (later incorporated into Interstate 30) on August 27, 1957, was another milestone in Arlington’s development. The Turnpike, which ran through the northern part of Arlington, was hailed for cutting travel time between Dallas and Fort Worth by thirty minutes. Arlington had always touted its location between the two cities, but the Turnpike meant that Arlington could both entice families to move to the smaller city and cater to industries that required easy access to transportation thoroughfares.

The Turnpike was essential to the establishment of the Great Southwest Industrial District (GSWID), a 5,000-acre industrial park between Arlington and Grand Prairie. The district was developed by Angus G. Wynne, who planned additional social and commercial developments alongside the district. Inspired by a visit to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, soon after its 1955 opening, Wynne sought to establish a similar amusement park in Texas. Six Flags Over Texas opened in Arlington on August 5, 1961. The park paid homage to the state’s heritage through its six themed areas, each representing a nation that flew its flag over Texas at some point in its history: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States.

While Six Flags established Arlington as a tourist destination the arrival of a major league baseball team cemented its position as a top tourist destination in the state. Mayor Tom Vandergriff spent years pursuing the dream of bringing major league baseball to Arlington. Turnpike Stadium, which opened in 1965, was built to attract a team. In 1971 the Washington Senators moved to Arlington and became the Texas Rangers while Turnpike Stadium was renamed Arlington Stadium. The team’s opening home game was on April 21, 1972. In 1994 Arlington Stadium was demolished, and a new $191 million ballpark was built on the site of one of the old stadium’s parking lots. Originally named The Ballpark in Arlington, it was renamed Globe Life Field in 2014 and then Choctaw Stadium in 2021 after the Rangers moved to a new Globe Life Field, which opened in 2020.

Arlington continued growing throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. The city’s population was 44,775 in 1960; 89,723 in 1970; 160,123 in 1980; and 261,717 in 1990.

Arlington’s first enclosed shopping center, Six Flags Mall, opened in 1970 on State Highway 360. The same year, Forum 303 Mall opened farther down the highway. Six Flags Mall closed in 2016 and was demolished. Forum 303 was demolished in 2007. The Parks Mall at Arlington opened in 1988 on the south side of the city and, as of 2021, was still in operation and was one of the largest malls in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Sports again took center stage in Arlington when the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys announced in 2004 that the organization would leave its home in Irving and move to a new stadium in Arlington. The $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium opened in May 2009. It was renamed AT&T Stadium in 2013. As of 2021 the stadium was considered to be the largest domed stadium in the world and boasted one of the world’s largest high-definition video screens.

In addition to baseball and football teams, Arlington is home to the United States Bowling Congress, the governing body for ten-pin bowling in America which manages players representing the United States in international competitions. Its headquarters includes the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame, which opened in 2010, and the International Bowling Training and Research Center.

While Arlington as a whole has grown and thrived, the downtown area was not so fortunate. Interstates I-30 to the north and I-20 to the south diverted business and traffic away from the old Bankhead Highway, which ran through downtown Arlington. During the 1950s and 1960s Mayor Tom Vandergriff implemented a city-wide development style that mimicked that of Anaheim, California. The Anaheim model promoted a decentralization of downtown commercial and government services in favor of smaller, self-contained areas surrounded by housing developments.

By 1972 downtown Arlington had practically vanished; however, renewal efforts, led by the Downtown Arlington Management Corporation, have resuscitated the city center. In 2008 the Levitt Pavilion opened in the downtown area. The outdoor venue hosts free concerts and performances. The University of Texas at Arlington opened College Park Center in 2012. Located blocks away from downtown, the 7,000-seat venue hosts sporting events, concerts, and graduations. In 2018 the city opened the George W. Hawkes Downtown Library. The new three-story public library replaced the previous library built in 1973.

In 2020 Arlington had an estimated population of 394,266.

Arlington Citizen-Journal, July 4, 1985. Evelyn Barker and Lea Worcester, Images of America: Arlington (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2011). Evelyn Barker, et al., Historic Tales of Arlington, Texas (Charleston: History Press, 2018). O. K. Carter, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington (Arlington: Arlington Woman’s Club, 2012). Vickie Bryant and Camille Hess, Top O’ Hill Terrace (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2012). Lea Worcester and Evelyn Barker, Legendary Locals of Arlington, Texas (Charleston: Arcadia, 2013).

Places:
  • Communities
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Gayla Weems Shannon Revised by Evelyn Barker, “Arlington, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 18, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/arlington-tx.

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1976
February 3, 2022

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects:


Place
Arlington
Currently Exists
Yes
Place Type
Town
USGS ID
2409731
Town Fields
  • Has post office: Yes
  • Is Incorporated: Yes
Belongs to
  • Tarrant County
Associated Names

Hayter

Coordinates
  • Latitude: 32.69896440°
  • Longitude: -97.12537400°
Population Counts
People Year
664 1890
1,079 1900
1,794 1910
3,031 1920
3,661 1930
4,240 1940
7,692 1950
44,775 1960
89,723 1970
160,123 1980
261,717 1990
332,969 2000
365,438 2010
391,409 2019
Great Texas Land Rush logo
Adoption Status: ⭐
This place has been adopted and will not be available until August 11, 2023
Adopted by:
Floreen Henry & Family