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Fort Worth, TX

Janet Schmelzer Overview Entry

Fort Worth is located on the Clear Fork of the Trinity River near its confluence with the West Fork of the Trinity in Tarrant County. It lies at 32º 46’ north latitude, 97º 18’ west longitude, putting it on the edge of the Great Plains, which explains why the eastern area of the city is part of the Cross Timbers while the western area is flat, arid prairieland.

Fort Worth began life on the grounds of an abandoned U.S. Army post (see FORT WORTH) in 1853. Local settlers moved into the empty structures on the bluff over the river and began building out into the surrounding area that was once part of the Peters Colony. They first called themselves Fort Town to distinguish their little community from the military post. They numbered less than 100. Among the pioneer settlers were Ephraim Daggett, who generously gave land for civic improvement; John Peter Smith (often referred to as the “father of Fort Worth”), who started the first school in 1854; Henry Daggett and Archibald Leonard, who opened general stores; and Julian Feild, who started a flour mill and served as the first postmaster in 1856. The little village was connected to the outside world by the U.S. mail stage line that began operation to surrounding communities in 1856, followed by the Butterfield Overland stage line two years later. In 1878 mail and passenger service from Fort Worth to Yuma, Arizona, began. The 1,560-mile route was the longest in the United States and took seventeen days to traverse one way.

Although Fort Worth was indeed a frontier town for more than two decades and would later call itself “The City Where the West Begins,” it was never seriously threatened by American Indians. Virtually all the tribes that came through the area were weak, peaceful groups more interested in gifts and protection from their warlike neighbors than in raiding. Local legend may say otherwise but is not supported by written records.

After Tarrant County was created in 1849, Birdville was the first designated county seat.  Seven years later, in 1856, the residents of Fort Town challenged the status quo by getting the state legislature to hold a special election to determine the best location. Fort Worth narrowly won amid charges of illegal voting. A second and just as bitter election was held in April 1860, and this time Fort Worth overwhelmingly carried the day.

Fort Worth citizens first started to build a courthouse—a three-room, wood-frame structure—on the bluff in 1857. The site, on what is now the west lawn of the current courthouse, was on the block regarded as the center of town and known variously as the public square and the courthouse square. Construction of a more permanent two-story stone courthouse began in the center of the courthouse square in 1860, but the privately funded project moved slowly, stopped with the outbreak of the Civil War, and the building was not completed until 1869. The structure burned on March 29, 1876, destroying most of the county records. Daniel O’Flaherty was hired to design the new courthouse on the same site, which was completed in 1877 and enlarged in 1882 by adding a third story in a mansard roof. It was replaced by the current iconic pink granite building, designed by Gunn and Curtiss, in 1895.  

Fort Worth was incorporated by act of the state legislature in 1873, giving it the traditional mayor-council form of government. W. P. Burts served as the first mayor. Municipal elections were held in April of every year, and members of the council (aldermen) were elected to represent a particular ward. In 1907 the city adopted the commission form of government, replacing aldermen with commissioners elected at-large, each focusing on a particular aspect of municipal administration.

The city’s population dramatically increased over the years. From no more than 350 citizens recorded at the beginning of the Civil War, to approximately 2,500 before incorporation and then to possibly 4,000 or more in the fall of 1873 after incorporation. The coming of the Texas and Pacific Railway in 1876 spurred growth to 6,663 by 1880, 23,076 by 1890, and 26,688 by 1900. In 1890 Fort Worth was the fifth largest city in Texas—behind Dallas, San Antonio, Galveston, and Houston. The city expanded its territory from an original size of a little more than one-third square mile that constituted the original townsite to a metropolitan area of 100 square miles in 1949. Most of the early growth was to the south and east. The north side of the river and the “heights” on the west were slow to develop due to a variety of circumstances.

Two things saved Fort Worth from drying up and blowing away after the Civil War: the cattle drives, which gave it the famous nickname “Cowtown,” and the coming of the railroad, which literally put Fort Worth on the map. In 1867 the first “long drive” of longhorn cattle from South Texas up the trail to Kansas railheads came through Fort Worth. The drives continued to come through seasonally every year until the early 1880s. By that time Fort Worth had built its own stockyards and was shipping cattle north on rail lines. In the 1890s the city built its own packing plant north of the river where the animals could be slaughtered and dressed for refrigerated shipment to northern markets (see MEAT PACKING). The long drives ended, but Fort Worth would always be known as “Cowtown”; that was the face it showed to the world. In 1896 the city put on the first Fat Stock Show, on Marine Creek a mile north of town. That event evolved into the annual Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, which was still going strong in the twenty-first century.

The coming of the railroad in 1876 also revived Fort Worth’s economic prospects, and the arrival of the first Texas and Pacific Railway (T&P) locomotive on July 19 was a red-letter day in the city’s history. Fort Worth remained a terminus of the T&P until 1880 when the line pushed on west toward El Paso. In the next several years other lines came to town: the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (the “Katy”); the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe; the Fort Worth and Denver City; and the Fort Worth and Rio Grande. Fort Worth was on the way to becoming the rail center of the Southwest.

The railroads not only brought wealth and population; they also brought a veneer of civilization. The town built a waterworks, a gasworks, and a streetcar line and made a beginning on a sanitary sewage system. City fathers also created a public school system, organized a volunteer fire department, and began paving the main streets. Early periodicals brought news of the day—the Fort Worth Standard (1873–78), the Greenback Tribune (1878–89, later the Fort Worth Tribune), the Democrat (1873–76), Daily Democrat (1876), the Democrat-Advance (1881), and the Gazette (1882–98). Fort Worth’s coming out party was the Texas Spring Palace, a statewide agricultural exhibition built in record time in the spring of 1889. The local community came together to create a kind of Xanadu on the prairie. The exhibition ran for two seasons (1889–90) and challenged the State Fair in Dallas. Unfortunately the Texas Spring Palace closed in spectacular fashion at the end of May 1890 when it burned to the ground in a matter of minutes. Citizens talked of rebuilding, but nothing came of it in the years that followed, mostly for financial reasons.

Opportunities for higher education came to Fort Worth with the establishment of Fort Worth University in 1881, which included schools for law and medicine. Local businessmen W. D. Hall, A. S. Hall, and George Tandy donated a large tract of land southeast of the city for the establishment of Polytechnic College (forerunner to Texas Wesleyan University), which opened in 1891. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary moved to Fort Worth from Waco in 1910, and in 1911 Texas Christian University (TCU) moved from Waco to a fifty-acre site four miles southwest of downtown.

Beneath the veneer of civilization, lawlessness was a chronic problem, epitomized by the red-light district known as Hell’s Half Acre on the south end of the business district. It sprang up in the 1870s after the city incorporated to serve the cowhands that converged on the city with the cattle drives and continued to grow and drive the economy for the next two decades. The ill-defined district housed illegal activities such as gambling and prostitution that operated openly with the connivance of the authorities. Local citizens expressed disgust over the immorality and violence that was endemic to the district. Periodically, city fathers launched a clean-up campaign to wipe out “the Acre,” but money spoke louder than morals, as officials recognized that the activities contributed significantly to the local economy. Hell’s Half Acre lingered in fading glory into the twentieth century and finally succumbed to the efforts of ministers J. T. Upchurch and J. Frank Norris, as well as the U.S. Army in 1917.   

Fort Worth’s population for most of its early history was more than 90 percent Anglo. The 1887 agricultural report for Tarrant County (published in The First Annual Report of the Agricultural Bureau of the Department of Agriculture, Insurance, Statistics, and History) listed a total county population of 28,848; of that number, 24,908 were Anglo, 1,983 were African American, and 1,957 constituted various European ethnic groups and other nations—349 English, 57 Scots, 370 Irish, 93 French, 609 Germans, 71 Italians, 13 Spaniards, 7 Danes, 51 Swedes, 24 Norwegians, 27 Poles, 31 Russians, 27 Mexicans, 4 Hebrews, 7 Chinese, and 217 “all other nations.” African Americans, who made up less than seven percent of the county population, occupied the lowest rung on the socio-economic ladder. Although Fort Worth’s minorities, particularly African Americans, may not have suffered the intense degradation and violence that those in East Texas and the traditional Old South endured, their lives were hardly free of troubles. Local newspapers, specifically the Democrat, Standard, and Gazette, routinely referred to African Americans in demeaning terms.

Fort Worth newspapers reported little about lynchings and claimed that there had been only a handful of legal hangings in the town. The 1860 hangings of White abolitionists William H. Crawford and Anthony Bewley were reported in greatest detail. The record suggests, however, that there may have been several deaths that were more lynching than lawful execution. Isom Capps (also spelled as Isham Kapp), a former Buffalo Soldier, was convicted of the rape of an Anglo woman and on May 7, 1880, hanged from a gallows erected in Ham Branch, an African American residential area. Frank Vaughn, convicted of rape in 1882, then disappeared from the record on the same date that “A Special Edict” from the Ku Klux Klan was circulated and reprinted in the newspaper. Rush Loyd, also accused of rape in 1879, narrowly avoided being lynched when law enforcement held off a mob that attempted to take him from the jail. Loyd was later acquitted of the charges. Fort Worth’s most high profile lynching took place in 1921 when Fred Rouse was first beaten, then later pulled from the City County Hospital, and hanged after he crossed a Swift and Company meat-packing house picket line.

Fort Worth had a small Black population from the beginning. After the end of slavery, Whites and Blacks lived in separate communities, in fact if not by law. By the early twentieth century, however, Jim Crow segregation reigned supreme, with the Black population consigned to the river bottoms or the southern edge of town. The ethnic Mexican population was miniscule (consisting of only twenty-seven “Mexicans” in the 1887 county census) until the early twentieth century when two things happened—the opening of Swift and Armour packing plants in 1903 and the Mexican Revolution of 1910. As jobs drew ethnic Mexicans to Fort Worth, they settled in three districts: La Corte in the river bottom northwest of the courthouse, “Little Mexico” on the eastern edge of Hell’s Half Acre, and El TP (for the Texas and Pacific Railway) near the railyards on the southern edge of town.

The opening of the Swift and Armour plants a mile north of the river in 1903 also sparked a population boom north of the Trinity River. They replaced an earlier, failed meat-packing plant. Coupled with rail sidings and stock pens, they jump-started residential and business growth in the area that came to be called “the North Side.” Fort Worth’s population ballooned to 73,312 in 1910. In 1914 the connection between the two sides of the river was improved when the Paddock Viaduct, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, replaced a much smaller 1889 iron bridge. The packing plants more than any other factor brought ethnic diversity to Fort Worth, not just Mexican immigrants but also Eastern Europeans. The newcomers settled in neighborhoods north of the river, and the North Side was still the most ethnically-diverse section of Fort Worth in the early twenty-first century.

World War I brought another major increase in Fort Worth’s growth. City fathers successfully negotiated with Uncle Sam by leasing to the government a large piece of empty land on the heights west of town. The resulting Camp Bowie opened in the summer of 1917. Before it closed two years later, it trained more than 100,000 soldiers, including 3,000 Blacks. That massive operation built the infrastructure west of town that brought the development of Arlington Heights in the years that followed. It also brought an end to Hell’s Half Acre, as both city and federal officials worked to shut down the red-light district, forcing prostitution and gambling into the shadows. Camp Bowie brought a significant increase in the city’s Black population, particularly in the Como and Rock Island Bottom neighborhoods.

Fort Worth prospered in the 1920s thanks to the railroads, meat packing, oil, and the beginnings of aviation, which was built on the foundation of World War I pilot training in the area. The city was home to two early airlines—Bowen Air Lines, formed in 1930, and Texas Air Transport, which began flying in 1928 and was acquired a year later by Southern Air Transport, a forerunner of American Airlines. Both airlines initially relied on airmail for revenue but also transported passengers. Meacham Field north of town became a municipal airport in the 1920s. Also, north of Fort Worth, the world’s first helium extraction plant, constructed by the U.S. government during World War I, was a refueling stop for the great airships known as dirigibles in the 1920s. The plant closed in early 1929 when a new facility was built at Amarillo.

Fort Worth’s long-held boast of being the gateway city to West Texas became a reality with the discovery of oil at Breckenridge in Stephens County in 1916 followed by gushers at Ranger (1917) and Desdemona (1918) in Eastland County (see RANGER, DESDEMONA, AND BRECKENRIDGE OILFIELDS). The West Texas strikes transformed Fort Worth overnight into an oil town and created several millionaire families, including the Waggoners and Moncriefs. Jobs abounded, and in bars and hotel lobbies wildcatters cut deals worth tens of millions on nothing more than a handshake. Some of those deals, most notably involving promoter and geologist Frederick A. Cook, who organized the Petroleum Producers Association in Fort Worth in 1922, subsequently wound up in court on charges of fraud.

Transportation and highway development was at the forefront of activity in Texas in the 1920s as counties sought funding for their own road improvements. For Fort Worth, the extension of then State Highway 34 from Fort Worth northwest towards Jacksboro represented a “direct highway connection” and thus new opening to West Texas, and voters approved an almost $5 million bond issue in 1928. Known locally as the Jacksboro Highway, a stretch of the road also facilitated gambling, prostitution, and other illegal activities forced into the underground by the clean-up of Hell’s Half Acre years before. This strip became notorious for various vice-filled establishments as well as home to a music scene of big bands and later blues epitomized by the infamous Skyliner Ballroom. A city crackdown on vice along with the use of eminent domain for highway expansion by the late 1950s brought an end to the strip’s heyday and the demolition of many of the structures.

The 1920s also brought a change to the council-city manager form of government (1924), requiring another change in the charter. The new structure put daily operations in the hands of a city manager, leaving the mayor to be the public face of the city.

The early decades of the twentieth century brought advancement in the field of media for Fort Worth—much of this due to newspaperman Amon G. Carter, who moved to the city in 1905. He helped establish the Fort Worth Star in 1906 and in 1908 purchased (with Louis J. Wortham) the rival Telegram. His new paper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, began publication in 1909. In 1922 Carter (with Harold Hough) founded Fort Worth’s first radio station, WBAP. The station call letters stood for “We Bring A Program,” and WBAP pioneered in broadcasting regularly-scheduled newscasts, livestock market reports, weekly church services, barn dance programs, and was the first station in the Southwest to air a baseball game and football game. The station also played a pivotal role in popularizing a new country music genre—western swing—through its broadcasts in the early 1930s of the Light Crust Doughboys (who were managed by Fort Worth resident and future governor W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel). Their popularity helped further the concept of shared programming and led in 1934 to the formation of the Texas Quality Network, which consisted of stations WBAP, WFAA (Dallas), WOAI (San Antonio), and KPRC (Houston). WBAP later established the first television station in Texas when it went on the air in 1948 and boasted a studio housed in the first building specifically designed for television in the United States.

Women’s organizations played a significant role in the cultural development of the city. Clubwomen actively promoted charitable causes—instigating programs for the poor and support for the local orphanage and hospital, for example—and maintained ties to the business community. The Woman’s Club of Fort Worth formed in 1923 when representatives of several organizations in the city came together to create a shared space for meetings. The club succeeded in acquiring a building, the first of a series of structures that were purchased (and also built) in Near South Fort Worth fronting Pennsylvania Avenue. The complex received a National Register listing in 2017 and underscored the critical work of clubwomen on the “cultural and civic advancement of Fort Worth,” according to the bylaws of The Woman’s Club of Fort Worth. In addition to stewardship of their building and landscape beautification, the women advocated “the study of literature, science, painting, music, and other fine arts.” They amassed a Texana library (reportedly the first project of its kind undertaken by a woman’s group in the state) by the early 1930s, featured monthly art exhibitions, sponsored lectures, and gained the distinction as the first woman’s club in Texas to have its own radio program (beginning in 1931 on station KFJZ). The Woman’s Club of Fort Worth, which eliminated all racial restrictions from its bylaws by 1970, has remained relevant in the community into the twenty-first century.

 Oil and construction booms delayed the Great Depression that descended over the rest of the country after 1929. Fort Worth was also still an important agricultural market for North Texas, and the 1930 census recorded a population of 163,447. Retail sales remained strong, and Fort Worth was still adding to its skyline as late as 1931 before being dragged down into the depths. The New Deal after 1933 was kind to Fort Worth, and government money helped fund construction of the Will Rogers Memorial Complex, Fort Worth Botanic Garden, a new city hall, and a new public library among other structures. This generosity was thanks in part to the warm relationship between the Roosevelt family and Amon Carter. The Texas Centennial celebration of 1936 helped raise the spirits of Fort Worthers and put the city in the national spotlight while costing upwards of $2.8 million in Depression-era dollars. Fort Worth’s Texas Frontier Centennial was a direct slap at Dallas which had won the right to hold the official Centennial celebration. The Frontier Centennial, put together by Amon Carter and friends, was built on 162 acres; some of its centerpieces, namely the Will Rogers Auditorium and Coliseum, laid the groundwork for what later evolved into a thriving cultural district. The extravaganza attracted two million people before closing on November 14, 1936. One part of the gala, Casa Mañana (House of Tomorrow), which included an amphitheater with a revolving stage and a show business extravaganza produced by Billy Rose, lasted another three seasons before being shut down by the coming of World War II. It was resurrected on July 5, 1958, as a theater in the round for another run that is still going strong in the twenty-first century.

World War II brought the city out of the Great Depression with the construction of the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation’s factory (known as the “Bomber Plant”) for the production of B-24 Liberator bombers just west of town in 1942. The Bomber Plant brought a jump in population (adding to the city’s 1940 census of 177,662) as thousands of newcomers poured into the city to take one of the well-paying jobs on the assembly line. The war effort presented new opportunities for women to enter the workforce; in 1942, 23 percent of the employees at the Bomber Plant were women. The Bomber Plant and the nearby Tarrant Field Airdrome, which became Carswell Air Force Base (see NAVAL AIR STATION JOINT RESERVE BASE FORT WORTH) in 1948, cemented Fort Worth’s partnership with the U.S. military which continues in the twenty-first century.

Coming out of World War II, the city continued to grow and expand both economically and population-wise. The 1950 census recorded 278,778 residents, an increase of more than 100,000 during the previous decade. There were good jobs to be had in manufacturing and retail. New neighborhoods sprang up on the south and east side of town. By 1954 General Dynamics had assumed operations of the Bomber Plant, which since the close of World War II had produced the B-36 Peacemaker and the B-58 Hustler bombers and remained a major employer in the city. (In 1992 the facility was purchased by Lockheed, which became Lockheed-Martin in 1994.) In the early 1950s major airlines Braniff Airways and American Airlines (see AMR CORPORATION) served Meacham Field until the opening of Greater Fort Worth International Airport (renamed Amon G. Carter Field) in 1953. Throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s Fort Worth and Dallas airports competed as each tried to gain the upper hand as a regional air facility until the cities finally came together to create the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport connecting North Texas to the world at large. Opened in January 1974, the airport was the biggest cooperative venture for which the two rival cities had ever joined forces. The name was changed to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in 1985.

The interstate highway system, a product of World War II, saw rapid development across the United States during the 1950s. Construction of Interstate Highway 35 West (formerly U. S. Highway 81) to Fort Worth was completed in the early 1960s and included the state’s first four-level interchange (1958). It intersected just southeast of downtown Fort Worth with old U. S. Highway 80 which became Interstate Highway 30. Construction on Loop 820, encircling Fort Worth and a few suburban communities, also began during the late 1950s. Interstate construction continued downtown into the 1960s.

Although it remained relatively peaceful—a point of civic pride—Fort Worth was not at the forefront of the modern civil rights movement. Practices adopted during the Jim Crow era proved difficult to reverse, and official paternalism tended to mute protests and demonstrations. European immigrants arriving after the turn of the twentieth century found it easier to assimilate than Hispanics and others who came later. Access to education in the aftermath of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling was followed in 1959 by a local suit, Flax v. Potter. Fort Worth was the last major city in Texas to establish an integration plan. A stair-step year-by-year integration program for the elementary grades was established in 1963, with a side step for upper grades, because three schools (Como, Kirkpatrick, and Dunbar) constructed as Black elementary and junior high schools, were converted into “neighborhood” junior-senior high schools. In 1972 Rufino Mendoza, Sr., filed a suit to gain equal education access for Mexican American students, who had previously been classified as White for integration purposes. At-large elections made it almost impossible for people of color to be elected to either the city council or school board.

A powerful change occurred in 1978 when the Fort Worth Independent School District Board, forced by a state law, began to hold its first single-member district election which facilitated the election of African American and Mexican American trustees. The first Fort Worth City Council single-member district election was held in 1977 and brought about a similar change in municipal representation and advocacy. Early African American civil rights leaders included physician Marion J. Brooks, attorney L. Clifford Davis, and Lenora Rolla. Brooks was an activist during the early 1960s and led picket lines at stores including Safeway and Leonard Brothers. Davis worked through the court system and filed suits over school and park integration, single-member districts, and housing discrimination. Rolla worked for the elimination of the poll tax, better housing, and the revitalization of historic African American neighborhoods. She also founded the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society in 1977 to preserve the county’s Black history. The Tarrant County Precinct Workers Council, founded in 1953, worked in the political arena and focused on the poll tax and supporting candidates sympathetic to Black concerns.

Gilbert Garcia founded the Mexican American Chamber of Commerce (later the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce), the Fort Worth chapter of the American G.I. Forum, the Chicano Luncheon, and the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council 601, using those organizations to advocate Mexican American concerns and interests. He was joined in these efforts by Sam Garcia (no relation) who had a special interest in education. The pair raised scholarship funds for Mexican American students and challenged local government to hire and award more contracts to minorities.

Housing integration brought the most sustained racial violence in Fort Worth. Homes purchased by African Americans in the Riverside area in 1953 were bombed, and Whites staged confrontational demonstrations in 1956 when African Americans bought homes and a church in the Morningside neighborhood. White flight and red lining turned both neighborhoods into majority minority communities with segregated schools by the early 1960s. IH 35, completed during this time, divided and even eliminated neighborhoods, including the east side of Morningside neighborhood. Como, a historically-Black neighborhood on the west side, was separated from the Ridglea neighborhood by a wall dubbed the “Como Wall,” that ran for ten blocks along the west side of Bryant Irvin Road. The wall was eventually demolished.

There were successes in the civil rights movement prior to the national 1964 Civil Rights Act. University Baptist Church, adjacent to Texas Christian University, integrated in October 1963. TCU integrated in January 1964 at the same time that the Fort Worth Bar admitted African American attorneys. The city established a Community Relations Commission (later Human Relations Commission) in 1967 which led to passage of a public accommodation ordinance in November 1969. About this same time, the United Front, a more activist group, was formed to picket White-owned businesses in African American neighborhoods and demand progress on school integration. In the decades since the 1960s, citizens have continued to address inequities in education, housing, economic opportunity, and the legal system. The Race and Culture Task Force, formed in 2017, is a continuation of the earlier Community Relations Commission.

Since the late 1950s Fort Worth has shown an abiding interest in the arts and backed that interest with money. The Fort Worth Symphony was reorganized in 1957. Fort Worth Opera, which had begun in 1946, produced an average of four operas each season. Perhaps Fort Worth’s greatest association with classical music came with the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which was inspired by concert pianist (and later Fort Worth resident) Van Cliburn’s winning of the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958. Fort Worth’s inaugural competition occurred in 1962, and the prestigious event has been held every four years and has featured some of the world’s best young pianists at Bass Performance Hall in downtown Fort Worth.

Fort Worth’s Cultural District, which had its beginnings in the 1930s, experienced significant development in the 1960s. Businessman and philanthropist Amon Carter directed that an art museum, free to the public, be established under the terms of his estate. The Amon Carter Museum was founded in 1961. The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, which was chartered as the Fort Worth Children’s Museum in 1941, had major expansions in 1961 and 1968. Construction of the Kimbell Art Museum began in the 1960s, and the gallery opened in 1972. The city’s oldest art museum, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, is also located in the Fort Worth Cultural District, which has remained a major tourist attraction for the city.

For a town that has never had a major league football or baseball team, Fort Worth has a varied and rich sports history. The Pastime, an amateur baseball team and earliest mentioned sporting team, was formed in 1873. The first professional baseball game played in Fort Worth took place in 1887 when John McClosky brought the Joplin Independents to play an exhibition game. The minor league Fort Worth Cats (1888–1964, originally called the Panthers) played primarily as part of the Texas League. The Cats won several championships during the early years of the twentieth century and sent several notable players and managers to the major leagues. A rebooted Cats team also played between 2002 and 2014. An unnamed Black baseball team played as early as 1875, and others included the Wonders, the Yellow Jackets, the Black Panthers, and the Black Cats.

TCU’s Horned Frogs football team prospered under Leo Robert “Dutch” Meyer, who coached between 1934 and 1952 and led the team to a national title in 1938 and three Southwest Conference championships. Quarterback Davey O’Brien was a 1938 Heisman Trophy winner and one of the most successful TCU players. Gary Patterson, who arrived in 1998 and became head coach in 2000, revived the Horned Frogs football program from a long drought and led the team to seventeen bowl appearances between 2000 and 2020.

Rodeo is a major sporting activity in Fort Worth and emerged from events at area ranches to a place of prominence at the stock show. The world’s first indoor rodeo was held at the North Side Coliseum on March 12, 1917. It continued at the Will Rogers Memorial Center and eventually in Dickies Arena as the longest-running rodeo in the United States. There is also a year-round Stockyards Championship Rodeo at the Cowtown Coliseum.

Golf has thrived in Fort Worth on both public and country club courses. The Fort Worth Country Club course, the first in the city, opened in late 1903, followed by the River Crest Country Club course in 1911. Worth Hills, which opened in 1923, was the first public course and was initially called the Municipal Links. In 1936 businessman Marvin Leonard opened what is now the Colonial Country Club. Colonial was the site of the U.S. Open in 1941 and since 1946 has hosted the Colonial National Invitational Tournament—called the Charles Schwab Challenge after 2019. Two of Fort Worth’s most famous golfers were Ben Hogan, who won the first Colonial tournament, and Byron Nelson.

Auto racing on a major scale is a more recent Fort Worth sporting event. While the Fort Worth Speedway operated from 1938 to 1942 and Riverside Drive Speedway featured daredevil events between 1949 and 1955, it was not until Texas Motor Speedway held its inaugural race on April 5, 1997, that the city hosted national races. The 1.5-mile oval track and racing complex hosts NASCAR and IndyCar series races.

Fort Worth’s downtown business district thrived after World War II, and business leaders sought to extend the boom as the city grew by proposing an unfulfilled concept called the Gruen Plan which would have removed all traffic from downtown streets. During the 1960s downtown began to wither as businesses fled to the suburbs. From population highs of 356,268 in 1960 and 393,476 in 1970, the city actually decreased slightly to 385,141 in 1980. The hollowing of downtown was not reversed until Bass Brothers Enterprises (owned by brothers Sid, Robert, Ed, and Lee Bass) launched the Sundance development in the 1980s. The development completely remade the downtown and utilized a blend of rehabilitated historic buildings and businesses that provided a range of goods and services geared to higher income markets. Upscale residential living completed the revitalization bringing life back to downtown for the first time in decades. Ultimately, the Sundance development became a model for the rest of the country for saving America’s central cities. Beginning in the mid-1980s XTO Energy also hitched its wagon to downtown Fort Worth by renovating seven historic buildings and creating thousands of white-collar jobs before the company moved its headquarters to Houston in 2017.

In the 1980s and the 1990s growth of the city also turned north, filling the empty IH 35W corridor between Fort Worth and Denton with Alliance Airport, which opened in 1989. The geographic expansion has led to exploding suburban development. Population figures rebounded to 447,619 in 1990 and grew to 534,694 in 2000. According to the 2010 census, Fort Worth’s population numbered 741,206. As of 2019 Fort Worth—spread out over 272 square miles—was the thirteenth largest city in the United States, and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex was the fourth largest metro region in the United States. Most of the population growth has been in the Hispanic, African American, and Asian communities. While the White population grew at about a 1.9 percent annual rate in recent years, the African American population grew at 32 percent, and the Hispanic population increased at 26 percent. The Asian population had the most dramatic increase of 40 percent. All the new development brought not only economic benefits but also all the problems that come with rapid population growth: traffic congestion, municipal services, ethnic divisions, and environmental quality.

Fort Worth’s future is bright as a transportation hub, national defense center, tourist destination, and educational mecca. As one-half of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Fort Worth is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the country. The Trinity Railway Express commuter rail system, which reached Fort Worth in 2001, connects the two metropolises for the first time since the Interurban stopped operations in the 1930s. The Panther Island development, which began life as the Trinity River Vision, is a billion-dollar flood control and economic development project to re-channel the Trinity just north of town, thereby preventing flooding and creating an island for recreation and retail development. First proposed in 2005 to cost $500 million, the cost soared to $1.2 billion in the next fifteen years with no completion date in sight. When completed, the work will create an 800-acre man-made island, redirect the Trinity River, protect 2,400 acres from the threat of flooding, and spur an economic renaissance on the North Side. 

The city hosts an array of events throughout the year with music events such as the Fort Worth Opera Festival, Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering and Western Swing Fest, and the Rockin’ the River waterfront stage. Residents and tourists alike can enjoy the Lone Star Film Festival, Food and Wine Festival, and Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival, which the city promoted as “Fort Worth’s largest and most popular annual event.” Popular sporting events include the annual Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, held at Amon G. Carter Stadium on the campus of Texas Christian University; the Charles Schwab Challenge professional golf tournament, held at the Colonial Country Club; and Race Week at Texas Motor Speedway. The Bell Fort Worth Alliance Air Show takes place each year at Fort Worth Alliance Airport. In keeping with the city’s moniker as “Cowtown,” Fort Worth celebrates National Day of the American Cowboy every July. The city’s longtime and premier cowboy event, the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, opened in the new Dickies Arena in 2020. Construction crews broke ground on the city-owned multipurpose venue, situated adjacent to the Will Rogers Memorial Center campus in the Fort Worth Cultural District, in 2017.

“Annual Events,” Visit Fort Worth (https://www.fortworth.com/events/annual-events/), accessed February 9, 2021. “Cadillacs and Caskets: Fort Worth’s Highway to Hell,” Hometown by Handlebar (https://hometownbyhandlebar.com/?p=12972), accessed February 9, 2021. The Cliburn (www.cliburn.org/), accessed February 9, 2021. “Cowtown Sallys Forth: The Frontier Centennial,” Hometown by Handlebar (https://hometownbyhandlebar.com/?p=10644), accessed February 9, 2021. Carlos Cuellar, Stories from the Barrio: A History of Mexican Fort Worth (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 2003). “Dateline: Somewhere in the Southwest–‘We’re Digging Hitler’s Grave Here’,” Hometown by Handlebar (https://hometownbyhandlebar.com/?p=1151), accessed February 9, 2021. John Mark Dempsey, The Light Crust Doughboys Are on the Air: Celebrating Seventy Years of Texas Music (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2002). Fort Worth Daily Democrat, July 20, 1876. Fort Worth Daily Gazette, September 28, 1890. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 20, 1928; October 30, 1949; July 5, 1958; February 18, 2011; May 23, 2019; June 20, 2019. Fort Worth Telegram, March 6, 1903; May 9, 1906. L. L. Foster, Forgotten Texas Census (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2001). Julia Kathryn Garrett, Fort Worth: A Frontier Triumph (Austin: Encino, 1972; rpt., Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1996). Jim Gatewood, J. Frank Norris, Top o’ Hill Casino, Lew Jenkins, and the Texas Oil Rich (Garland, Texas: Mullaney Corp., 2006.) “Interstate 35W, Fort Worth,” TexasFreeway.com (http://www.texasfreeway.com/Dallas/photos/i35w/i35w.shtml), accessed February 9, 2021. Oliver Knight, Fort Worth: Outpost on the Trinity (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953; rpt., Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1990). Mike Nichols, Lost Fort Worth (Charleston: The History Press, 2014). Buckley B. Paddock, History of Texas: Fort Worth and the Texas Northwest Edition (4 vols., Chicago: Lewis, 1922). J’Nell Pate, Livestock Legacy: The Fort Worth Stockyards (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1988). Harold Rich, Fort Worth: Outpost, Cowtown, Boomtown (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014). Janet L. Schmelzer, Where the West Begins: Fort Worth and Tarrant County (Northridge, California: Windsor Publications, 1985). Richard F. Selcer, Fort Worth: A Texas Original! (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2004). Richard F. Selcer, The Fort That Became a City (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1994). Richard F. Selcer, Hell’s Half-Acre (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1991). Richard F. Selcer, A History of Fort Worth in Black & White: 165 Years of African-American Life (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2015). “A Slow Swift Death (Part 1): The Rise and Fall of a Packing Plant,” Hometown by Handlebar (https://hometownbyhandlebar.com/?p=5234), accessed February 9, 2021. Joseph C. Terrell, Reminiscences of the Early Days of Fort Worth (Fort Worth, 1906). “The Woman’s Club of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Texas,” National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2017 (https://www.thc.texas.gov/public/upload/preserve/national_register/final/Fort%20Worth%20Woman%27s%20Club%20NR.pdf), accessed February 9, 2021.

Places:

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

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

Janet Schmelzer, “Fort Worth, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed April 19, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/fort-worth-tx.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

1952
March 11, 2021

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects:

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