Dallas, TX

By: Jackie McElhaney and Michael V. Hazel

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: March 17, 2022

Dallas is on the Trinity River in the center of Dallas County in North Central Texas. It is crossed by Interstate highways 20, 30, 35, and 45. The city was founded by John Neely Bryan, who settled on the east bank of the Trinity near a natural ford in November 1841. Bryan had picked the best spot for a trading post to serve the population migrating into the region. The ford, at the intersection of two major Indian traces, provided the only good crossing point for miles. Two highways proposed by the Republic of Texas soon converged nearby. Unknown to Bryan, however, he had settled on land granted by the republic to the Texan Land and Emigration Company of St. Louis, headed by William S. Peters. Bryan eventually legalized his claim, and the extensive promotional efforts of the Peters colony attracted settlers to the region. In 1844 J. P. Dumas surveyed and laid out a townsite comprising a half mile square of blocks and streets. The origin of the name Dallas is unknown. Candidates include George Mifflin Dallas, vice president of the United States, 1845–49; his brother, Commodore Alexander J. Dallas, United States Navy; and Joseph Dallas, who settled near the new town in 1843. When Dallas County was formed in 1846, Dallas was designated as the temporary county seat; in 1850 voters selected it as the permanent county seat over Hord's Ridge (Oak Cliff) and Cedar Springs, both of which eventually came within its corporate limits. The Texas legislature granted Dallas a town charter on February 2, 1856. Dr. Samuel Pryor, elected the first mayor, headed a town government consisting of six aldermen, a treasurer-recorder, and a constable.

Dallas quickly became a service center for the rural area surrounding it. By the 1850s it had dry-goods stores, groceries, a drugstore, an insurance agency, a boot and shoe shop, brickyards, and saddle shops, as well as a weekly newspaper, the Dallas Herald, founded in 1849. In 1852 French immigrant Maxime Guillot established the first factory, manufacturing carriages and wagons. Alexander and Sarah Horton Cockrell, who purchased Bryan's remaining interest in the townsite for $7,000 in 1852, built a three-story brick hotel, a steam sawmill, and a flour mill. With the breakup of the nearby La Réunion colony in the late 1850s, skilled European craftsmen and artists moved into Dallas, including brickmakers, cabinetmakers, tailors, milliners, brewers, and musicians. By 1860 the population was 678, including ninety-seven enslaved African Americans as well as French, Belgians, Swiss, and Germans. On July 8, 1860, a fire originating in the W. W. Peak Brothers Drugstore spread to the other buildings on the square and destroyed most of the businesses. Suspicion fell on slaves and Northern abolitionists; three slaves were hanged, and two Iowa preachers were whipped and run out of town. In 1861 Dallas voters voted 741 to 237 to secede from the Union. Dallas was selected as one of eleven quartermaster and commissary posts in Texas for the Trans-Mississippi Army of the Confederacy. After the war, freed slaves flocked to Dallas in search of jobs and settled in freedmen's towns on the periphery of the city. By 1870 the population was about 3,000.

The key to economic expansion had always been better transportation in and out of the region. Early attempts to navigate the Trinity River had proved impractical. Dallas businessmen turned their attention to securing rail service and succeeded in attracting the Houston and Texas Central in 1872 and the Texas and Pacific in 1873, making Dallas one of the first rail crossroads in Texas. Like Atlanta, Dallas found itself in a strategic geographical location for the transport of abundant regional products to northern and eastern manufacturing plants. Cotton became the region's principal cash crop, and Elm Street in Dallas was its market. Dallas became the world center for the leather and buffalo-hide trade. Merchants who opened general stores along the railroad route as rail construction crept north settled in Dallas and founded their flagship stores there. By 1880 the population had more than tripled, to 10,385.

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, banking and insurance emerged as major industries under the leadership of such men as William Henry Gaston, William L. Cabell, and J. T. Trezevant. With their close involvement in civic affairs, Dallas businessmen launched the State Fair of Texas, organized a board of trade, and founded a merchants exchange to promote the city's favorable business climate. Dallas acquired telephones (1881), electricity (1882), and several daily newspapers, principally the Dallas Morning News (1885) and the Dallas Times Herald (1888). Having annexed the neighboring town of East Dallas on January 1, 1890, Dallas ranked as the most populous city in Texas in 1890, with 38,067 residents. Three years later, in the wake of a national financial panic, five Dallas banks and several industries failed. Cotton prices dropped to less than five cents a pound. Only sixty-two new manufacturing firms were established in Dallas during the 1890s. The panic also affected unionized labor, which had just begun to organize: the American Federation of Labor granted a charter to the Trades Assembly of Dallas in 1899. Among its early causes was championship of the eight-hour workday and legislation outlawing the firing of union members.

By the turn of the century the economy had recovered, and Dallas was the leading book, drug, jewelry, and wholesale liquor market in the Southwest. It was the world's leading inland cotton market, and it still led the world in manufacture of saddlery and cotton-gin machinery. Its population stood at 42,638. In 1905 businessmen formed the 150,000 Club, aimed at increasing the city's population to 150,000 by 1910. Although the numerical goal was not met until 1920, the population did increase to 92,104 by 1910, and the city doubled in area to 18.31 square miles, partly through annexation of Oak Cliff in 1904. Dallas built its first steel skyscraper, the fifteen-story Praetorian Building, in 1907.

In the second decade of the twentieth century Dallas began to implement the city plan commissioned from George E. Kessler after a disastrous flood in 1908. Oak Cliff and Dallas were connected by the Houston Street Viaduct, at the time the longest concrete structure in the world; the Union Terminal Company consolidated six downtown railroad depots; and the railroad tracks were removed from Pacific Avenue. Dallas was selected as the site for a Federal Reserve Bank in 1914, and Ford opened an auto assembly plant in the city. A wave of immigrants from Mexico helped swell the population to 158,976 by 1920, when Dallas ranked as the forty-second-largest city in the nation. The post-World War I era was marked by the reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan. With 13,000 members, the Dallas chapter was the largest in Texas, and the national "imperial wizard" was a Dallas cut-rate dentist named Hiram Wesley Evans. Some 75,000 citizens greeted Evans on "Klan Day" at the 1923 State Fair. The Dallas Morning News led the attack on the Klan, helping Ma (Miriam A.) Ferguson defeat Dallas judge Felix Robertson, the Klan candidate, in a Democratic runoff for governor in 1925. Dallas women had been in the forefront of movements in Texas for reform in child-welfare practices, pure food and drink legislation, sanitation, and other causes. By 1920 they were also entering the workforce in increasing numbers. In 1927 the local chapter of the National Association of Business and Professional Women estimated that there were 15,000 women working in 125 occupations, trades, and professions in Dallas. Dallas was also a major center for the textile industry, which employed many women as dressmakers (see DALLAS GARMENT WORKERS' STRIKE). Minority businessmen also began to organize. The Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce (later re-named the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce) was organized in 1925, and the Mexican Chamber of Commerce (now the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce) was formed in 1940.

The Great Depression put 15,000 Dallasites on the relief roles by 1933, and retail sales and bank deposits plummeted. The population, which had soared to 260,475 by 1930, climbed only to 294,734 in 1940. The pain of the depression was eased somewhat for Dallas by the discovery of oil in East Texas in 1930. Dallas bankers such as Nathan Adams of the First National Bank in Dallas were the first in the nation to conceive of the idea of lending money to oil companies using oil reserves in the ground for collateral. Dallas soon became a center for petroleum financing. In a massive engineering effort begun in 1930, the channel of the Trinity River was moved, straightened, and confined between levees to prevent future flooding. Dallas businessmen also succeeded in making Fair Park the site of the Texas Centennial celebration, thus providing work for local builders, contractors, advertisers, concessionaires, and construction workers. The city played host to ten million visitors, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt. One of the premier suburbs in Texas, Highland Park, developed on the northern edge of Dallas during the early part of the twentieth century. In it was built one of the first large-scale shopping centers in the nation, Highland Park Village, in 1931. Highland Park incorporated in 1913 and the adjacent community of University Park in 1924. Their battles with Dallas over annexation lasted into the 1940s.

Until World War II, Dallas ranked as a minor manufacturing center in the nation. Its three leading industries were food processing, apparel manufacturing, and printing and publishing. Then war-related industries, such as North American Aviation, pushed industrial employment in Dallas to more than 75,000 in 1944. Dallas businesses experienced a boom after World War II comparable to that following the coming of the railroads. In 1949, five new businesses opened each day and thirteen new manufacturing plants opened every month. In 1950 the population stood at 434,462. During the 1950s and 1960s, Dallas became the nation's third-largest technology center, with the growth of such companies as Ling-Tempco-Vought (LTV Corporation) and Texas Instruments. In 1957 two developers, Trammell Crow and John M. Stemmons, opened a Home Furnishings Mart that grew into the Dallas Market Center, the largest wholesale trade complex in the world (see TRAMMELL CROW COMPANY). The opening of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in 1974 attracted numerous corporate headquarters to Dallas and consolidating the city's reputation as a national financial and business center. The population grew from 679,684 in 1960 to 844,401 in 1970, and from 904,078 in 1980 to 1,006,877 in 1990. The 1990 census reported the ethnic groups in the city as White, 47.67 percent; Black, 28.88 percent; Hispanic, 20.88 percent; Asian, 2.18 percent; and American Indian, .48 percent. By 2000 the population had grown to 1,188,580. Racial integration of public facilities began on August 15, 1961, when a carefully orchestrated plan sent African Americans to lunch counters and businesses throughout the city for equal service. This plan, which proceeded without incident, was the work of a biracial committee appointed by the Dallas and Negro chambers of commerce, which devised a publicity campaign and notified business owners in advance. Integration of the public schools proceeded more slowly, and the school district remained under court supervision for decades.

Dallas suffered its most traumatic experience on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza, only yards from the site where John Neely Bryan had settled in 1841 (see KENNEDY ASSASSINATION). Two days later, his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was killed before television cameras by a Dallas nightclub owner, Jack Ruby. In 1989, after twenty-five years of debate about how the city should commemorate the event, The Sixth Floor Museum opened in the former Texas School Book Depository. In 1993 Dealey Plaza was declared a National Historic Landmark District, the city's second after Fair Park.

The religious composition of the city has changed considerably over the years. Early Protestant settlers looked to traveling missionaries for religious services. The first Episcopal parish was organized in 1856. Catholics celebrated the first Mass in Dallas in 1859. Permanent places of worship were built as the city began to grow: Lamar Street Methodist (later First Methodist), City Temple Presbyterian, and First Baptist, all in 1868. Early Black churches included Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (1869–72), New Hope Baptist (1872), and St. Paul Methodist (1873). The first Jewish synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, was built in 1873, and the first Catholic parish was established in 1872, when Dallas was still in the Diocese of Galveston. Congregationalists organized in 1875, Seventh-day Adventists in 1876, Lutherans in 1878, Unitarians in 1899, Christian Scientists in 1894, and Mormons in 1897. The variety of communions helped to make Dallas a religious stronghold by the turn of the century, and the continued growth of churches marked Dallas as a city of churchgoers. In the early 1980s, Dallas had six churches among the nation's 100 largest: First Baptist, Lovers Lane United Methodist, Cliff Temple Baptist, Beverly Hills Baptist, First United Methodist, and East Grand Baptist. Three more on the list were in suburbs: Highland Park United Methodist, Highland Park Presbyterian, and Park Cities Baptist. Subsequently, as the population has diversified, so have the religious faiths. Buddhists, Eastern Orthodox, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs are now found in Dallas. By 2010, Catholics had the largest representation in Dallas, followed by Southern Baptists and Evangelical Protestants.

The Art Saloon of Adolph Gouhenant, located on the south side of the courthouse square in the 1850s, served as a photograph gallery and was an early expression of artistic interest in Dallas. An 1857 diary reference to a visit "to the courthouse to look at the paintings of the Hudson schollars" may mark the earliest art exhibit in Dallas. Art shows at the annual state fairs after 1886 exposed the public to art, while plans for the Carnegie Library, which opened in 1901, included an upstairs art gallery. The success of early shows there, which featured such regional artists as Frank (Charles F.) Reaugh and Edward G. Eisenlohr, led to the organization of the Dallas Art Association, which began assembling a permanent collection. After several moves and name changes, the Dallas Museum of Art now occupies a building designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes. It opened in 1984 as the first new facility constructed in the Dallas Arts District, which comprises 68 acres on the northeast corner of downtown. It was joined in 2003 by the Nasher Sculpture Center, housing Patsy and Raymond Nasher’s collection of modern art and sculpture in a building designed by Renzo Piano.

By 1873 Dallas had a theater, Field's Opera House, where the first performance of an opera in the city took place in February 1875. The influx of German immigrants with the railroads led to the formation of the Dallas Frohsinn, a male singing society and member of the Texas State Sängerbund, which hosted statewide singing meets in 1883, 1892, 1904, and 1914. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra traces its roots to performances in 1900, and the Dallas Opera was launched in 1957. Both organizations now occupy buildings in the Arts District. I. M. Pei designed the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, which opened in 1989. Norman Foster & Partners and Kendall/Heaton Associations, Inc., designed the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, which opened in 2009. The nearby Moody Performance Hall provides additional space for musical performances. The Dallas Summer Musicals continues to present productions at Fair Park, as it has done since 1941. Classical music fans also enjoy municipally owned WRR-FM, the first licensed broadcast station in Texas in 1921 and the second oldest operating station in the United States.

During the 1920s and 1930s popular music was centered in the Deep Ellum district on the eastern edge of downtown, close to one of Dallas's original freedmen's towns. Major Black jazz and blues musicians such as Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter and Blind Lemon Jefferson performed at Ella B. Moore's Park Theater, Hattie Burleson's dance hall, and other local clubs. . Dramatic productions in the nineteenth century were available as early as 1872 in Thompson's Variety Theater. The Little Theater of Dallas was established in 1921 and won the national Belasco Cup several times; it was followed by such other companies as the Civic Theater, the New Theater League of Dallas, and the critically acclaimed Margo (Margaret Virginia) Jones company. The Dallas Theater Center was founded in 1955 and originally occupied the Kalita Humphreys Theater on Turtle Creek, the only freestanding theater designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In 2009 it moved most of its productions to the new Charles and Dee Wyly Theatre in the Arts District, designed by Rem Koolhaus and Joshua Prince-Remus. Uptown Players and other groups began mounting productions in the Humphreys building, which was slated for significant restoration in 2019. Other longstanding theater groups include Theatre Three (1961), the Dallas Shakespeare Festival (1971), the Dallas Children’s Theater (1984), and Teatro Dallas (1985).

Educational institutions have been present in Dallas since its earliest years. Private schools and academies preceded the founding of the public school system in 1884. The present Dallas Independent School District, with more than 155,000 students, is the second largest school district in Texas and the sixteenth largest in the nation. The oldest institution of higher education in Dallas County is Southern Methodist University, founded in 1911 in what became University Park. On its campus are located the Meadows Museum, focusing on Spanish art, and the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Other institutions of higher learning in Dallas include; the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, founded in 1943; Paul Quinn College, a formerly African American private institution that moved from Waco in 1990; and the University of North Texas, which opened a campus in South Dallas in 2007 and a law school downtown in 2014. Several campuses of Dallas County Community College, established in 1965, are located within the city.

Sporting events and teams in Dallas have their roots in the nineteenth century, when horse racing was popular enough to support a Dallas Jockey Club, founded in 1869. Horse racing was a major attraction at the State Fair of Texas from 1886 until 1909. The national bicycling craze inspired the formation of the Dallas Wheel Club in 1886, and races were held at Cycle Park from its construction in 1896 until its conversion to an open-air theater. Baseball was played in Dallas as early as 1877, when a touring team played a local team. By 1882 Dallas had its first semiprofessional team, the Brown Stockings, which won the league championship in 1883 and 1884. The Dallas Hams, a professional team, won the Texas League pennant in 1888; Dallas continued to field minor league teams until 1970. Football made its first appearance in Dallas with the organization of a Dallas Football Club in 1891. A team formed at Dallas High School in 1900 is thought to have been the first high school team in Texas. SMU sent a team to the 1935 Rose Bowl, and Doak Walker drew crowds to the Cotton Bowl in the late 1940s. Two professional teams, the Dallas Cowboys and the Dallas Texans, competed for fans in the early 1960s, until owner Lamar Hunt moved the Texans to Kansas City in 1963. The Dallas Cowboys (who now play in Arlington) won Superbowl titles in 1972, 1978, 1993, 1994, and 1996. Dallas's first professional basketball team, the Chaparrals, was moved to San Antonio, but the new franchise, the Dallas Mavericks, was organized in 1980; the Mavs won the NBA championship in 2011. Dallas also hosts an NHL hockey team, the Dallas Stars, which relocated from Minnesota in 1993 and won the Stanley Cup.

In 1907 Dallas voters adopted the commission form of city government to replace the aldermanic system. In 1930 the Citizens Charter Association won voter approval for the council-manager form of city government; an amendment in 1949 provided for direct election of the mayor. The CCA and the Dallas Citizens Council, a small group composed of business leaders, dominated local government until a 1971 lawsuit forced election by districts rather than at large. A 1992 amendment expanded the council to fourteen single-member districts, with the mayor elected at large. The new council elected in 1993 was diverse, including nine White members, four Blacks, and two Hispanics. In the next two decades, voters elected Ron Kirk and Eric Johnson and Laura Miller as mayors. Dallas has had several city halls during the past 150 years. The current City Hall was designed by I. M. Pei and opened in 1978. Its predecessor, a 1914 Beaux Arts building, was renovated to house the University of North Texas Law School.

Dallas purchased Fair Park from its owners in 1904 and for more than a century oversaw the management of the facility, which received National Historic Landmark in 1986. The State Fair of Texas continues to present the annual attraction there each fall. In 2019 the city negotiated a contract with Fair Park First, nonprofit entity to manage Fair Park, with promises to make it more accessible to neighboring residents and promote more activities throughout the year. The Dallas Historical Society occupied the Hall of State in 1939, while the African-American Museum of Dallas, founded in 1974, moved into a new facility at Fair Park in 1993. In 2006 two Fair Park museums, the Dallas Museum of Natural History (1936) and the Science Place (1946), merged with the Dallas Children’s Museum (1995) to form the Museum of Nature and Science. With lead funding from the children of Margot and H. Ross Perot, the museum moved in 2012 to a new facility at Victory Park designed by Thom Mayne.

Other municipal facilities include the Dallas Public Library, with twenty-nine branches throughout the city; the Latino and African-American Cultural Centers; Union Terminal and Love Field; and the Dallas Zoo and the Dallas Arboretum, both of which are operated under contracts by nonprofit entities.

Bryan's original survey for Dallas used the Trinity River as the western boundary, with streets laid out at right angles to the river. A competing survey drawn by Warren A. Ferris, done for John Grisby, was laid out at 45 degrees off cardinal directions. A third survey made for the Peters colony laid out sections using cardinal directions. The results are an odd series of doglegged streets downtown. Annexation of adjacent communities added another layer of surveying patterns to the Dallas street map. Although the first residential subdivision, the Cedars, was built south of downtown in the 1880s, most residential development has been toward the north and east. Segregated housing confined African Americans to a few overcrowded areas. Violence occurred as Blacks began to integrate neighborhoods in South Dallas during the 1950s. Freedman's Town, the oldest of the freedmen's towns, in the State-Thomas area northeast of downtown, virtually disappeared with commercial development in the 1980s except for a historic cemetery that was literally unearthed during the widening of Central Expressway. The principal Hispanic barrio, immediately north of downtown, has also been displaced by commercial development.

The building boom of the 1970s and 1980s produced a distinctive contemporary profile for the downtown area, influenced by nationally prominent architects. At the same time, the establishment of the West End Historic District in the 1980s preserved a group of late-nineteenth-century brick warehouses that have been adapted for use as restaurants and shops. Similar efforts have been made in Deep Ellum, where the 1920s-era storefronts now house clubs and restaurants. The Dallas Park Department oversees some 406 parks that cover 50,000 acres. White Rock Lake, Bachman Lake, and Lake Cliff are surrounded by parks, and city-owned greenbelts follow the waterways in the city including White Rock Creek, Turtle Creek, and the Trinity River. The latest addition to the park system is Klyde Warren Park, a privately financed and endowed deck park over Woodall Rodgers Freeway, which provides a green link between the Arts District and Uptown.

Modern historic preservation efforts began in the 1970s with the formation of the Historic Preservation League (now Preservation Dallas). The city's Landmark Commission has designated numerous buildings and several neighborhoods as landmarks, including Swiss Avenue, Munger Place, South Boulevard-Park Row, and State-Thomas. Fair Park is the largest Art Deco art and architecture district in the world. Dallas Heritage Village at Old City Park, a museum of architectural and cultural history on the site of Dallas's oldest public park, is located just south of downtown.

In 2019 the estimated population of Dallas was 2.63 million, making it the ninth largest city in the U.S. and the third largest in Texas.

Sam Hanna Acheson, Dallas Yesterday, ed. Lee Milazzo (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1977). Elizabeth York Enstam, Women and the Creation of Urban Life: Dallas, Texas, 1843-1920 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998). Robert B. Fairbanks, For the City as a Whole: Planning, Politics, and the Public Interest in Dallas, Texas 1900-1965 (Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1998). Michael V. Hazel, Dallas: A History of “Big D” (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1997). Glenn M. Linden, Desegregating Schools in Dallas: Four Decades in the Federal Courts (Dallas: Three Forks Press, 1995). William L. McDonald, Dallas Rediscovered: A Photographic Chronicle of Urban Expansion, 1870–1925 (Dallas: Dallas County Historical Society, 1978). Jacquelyn Masur McElhaney, Pauline Periwinkle and Progressive Reform in Dallas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998). Jacquelyn Masur McElhaney, Pauline Periwinkle and Progressive Reform in Dallas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1998). Darwin Payne, Dallas: An Illustrated History (Woodland Hills, California: Windsor, 1982). Darwin Payne, Big D: Triumphs and Troubles of an American Supercity in the 20th Century (Dallas: Three Forks Press, 2000). John William Rogers, The Lusty Texans of Dallas (New York: Dutton, 1951; enlarged ed. 1960; expanded ed., Dallas: Cokesbury Book Store, 1965). WPA Writers' Program, The WPA Dallas Guide and History, ed. Maxine Holmes and Gerald D. Saxon (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1992).

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

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

Jackie McElhaney and Michael V. Hazel, “Dallas, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dallas-tx.

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March 17, 2022

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Currently Exists
Place Type
Town Fields
  • Has post office: Yes
  • Is Incorporated: Yes
Belongs to
  • Dallas County
  • Collin County
  • Denton County
Associated Names

Peters Colony

  • Latitude: 32.79392430°
  • Longitude: -96.76582800°
Population Counts
People Year
480 1850
2,000 1860
3,000 1870
10,358 1880
38,067 1890
42,638 1900
92,104 1910
158,976 1920
260,475 1930
294,734 1940
434,462 1950
679,684 1960
844,401 1970
904,078 1980
1,007,618 1990
1,188,580 2000
1,197,816 2010
1,358,066 2019
Great Texas Land Rush logo
Adoption Status: ⭐
This place has been adopted and will not be available until July 7, 2025
Adopted by:
Debra Polsky
Dedication Message:
In honor of Jaynie Schultz