Grand Prairie is thirteen miles west of downtown Dallas in western Dallas and eastern Tarrant counties. It is crossed by State highways 161, 180, and 303, Interstate highways 20 and 30, and Farm Road 1382 (Belt Line Road). The townsite comprises approximately eighty-one square miles enclosed by Dallas, Arlington, Irving, and Cedar Hill. Mountain Creek Lake is on the east, a portion of Joe Pool Lake is in southern Grand Prairie, and Kirby, Cottonwood, and Fish creeks flow through the community, as well as the West Fork of the Trinity River. Settlers arrived in the area before the Civil War and built several stores, including the M. M. Miller store and the Phillip Goetsell store. The community was not organized, however, until 1863 when A. M. Dechman's wagon broke down on his trip from Jacksonville, Texas, to Fort Belknap with supplies for the army commissary. He traded his broken wagon, ox team, and $200 of Confederate money for a 239-acre tract that had originally been granted on May 1, 1850, to William and Walter Caruth.
The community became officially known as Dechman or Deckman when it received a post office in 1874. W. M. Haskett was the first postmaster, and the post office was on land donated by Dechman. By that time a daily stage ran through Deckman on its way from Dallas to Fort Worth, and in 1875 a stage was robbed right outside the community. Early churches in the area included the West Fork United Presbyterian Church, built in 1870 and located in Tarrant County in a community then known as Watson, and the Valley Church on the Dallas County side with a log building that served as both a nondenominational church and a school.
In 1876 Deckman grew when the Texas and Pacific Railway was built to the site from Eagle Ford, just east of Dallas. When Dechman surveyed and platted the townsite, he gave the railroad alternating lots in blocks A, B, C, and D, in exchange for the operation of a depot. The post office continued to call the community Deckman until 1877 when it changed the name to Grand Prairie to agree with the railroad which had called the town Grand Prairie since 1873. The community was supposedly so named because a woman stepped off the train and said, "What a grand prairie!" By 1890 the town had a population of 300, two churches, a public school, a steam gristmill-cotton gin, a broom factory, a wagon factory, and general stores.
The first telephone was installed in 1900. In that decade rural free delivery was implemented, Grand Prairie received its own school district, and several newspapers were published. These included the Grand Prairie Enterprise, the Texan, and the Graphic. The North Texas Traction Company, better known as the Interurban, began service to Grand Prairie. Grand Prairie incorporated in 1902 with S. R. Lively as mayor. By 1907 the Dallas-Fort Worth Pike, later U.S. Highway 80, was gravelled, and good bridges were built, making travel easier between the cities.
An electrical plant and volunteer fire department were established before 1920 when Grand Prairie had four churches, two cotton gins, a bank, a furniture factory, a planing mill, and several cottonseed-oil mills. The railroad shipped cotton, grain, and livestock. The Little Motor Kar Company manufactured the "Texmobile" until it went out of business in 1920. In the 1920s the city streets were paved, and Highway 80 was macadamized. The Airdrome, Grand Prairie's first movie theater, opened. In 1921 the first Grand Prairie Stock and Poultry Show was held; it continued every year until the 1940s.
The future of the community was changed when Dallas built Hensley Field (see NAVAL AIR STATION, DALLAS) on 300 acres two miles east of Grand Prairie's city limits in 1928. The field, named for William H. Hensley of San Antonio, became the site for all army operations in Dallas, which were moved from Love Field. The army rented Hensley Field from Dallas for a dollar a year. Improvements to the field as well as school construction in Grand Prairie took place under the Public Works Administration in the 1930s. Mountain Creek Lake was completed just east of the city limits in 1931. The Curtis-Wright Airport of Fort Worth-Dallas was built to the west of Grand Prairie in 1929. After failing as a flight school operated by the Curtis Flying Service Corporation, it served as the Grand Prairie municipal airport from 1930 until 1940, when it was purchased by the Lou Foote Flying School. During World War II the field was used as a training school for the navy. Because it was too small for jets, it was bought by the city and turned into an industrial park.
The population of Grand Prairie had increased from 1,263 in 1925 to 1,595 by World War II. The first wartime-era addition was the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, built in 1940 on thirty acres of Hensley Field to be used by the army and navy for flight training. After Pearl Harbor was bombed a $1.5 million expansion was implemented. The area just east of Grand Prairie was chosen as the site for a federally operated defense plant, North American Aviation, Incorporated. By 1941 the plant had 5,000 employees. This led to a severe housing shortage in Grand Prairie and the formation of the Grand Prairie Housing Authority. The city rushed to provide services and expanded utilities, built new schools, increased fire protection, and implemented city mail service. At its peak production the airplane plant employed 38,500 workers. Between 1940 and the end of the war the population of Grand Prairie grew from 1,595 to 18,000. On August 14, 1945, there was a complete shutdown of the airplane plant, and the remaining 15,000 employees lost their jobs. Grand Prairie feared a collapse of its economy, but it was able to recover by encouraging the development of such businesses as furniture, boat, and chemical manufacturing. At that time there were 2,400 dwellings and twenty-one businesses in Grand Prairie.
The town had another setback in 1947 when the city of Dallas annexed the industrial area to the east of Grand Prairie, including the aircraft plants, Hensley Field, and Mountain Creek Lake. In 1948, however, Chance Vought (then a subsidiary of United Aircraft Corporation) moved to the site of the old aircraft plant with 1,500 employees. Many of them lived in Grand Prairie, and the town provided city services without receiving the industrial taxes. In 1948 Grand Prairie began annexing land around it in order to keep Dallas from taking it. To facilitate annexation Grand Prairie voted in a new home-rule city charter with a city manager. Over the years communities near Grand Prairie had been annexed, including Dalworth Park in 1943 and, by the 1980s, Burbank Gardens, Florence Hill, Freetown, Idlewild-Mountain Creek, and Shady Grove. By 1960 the population of Grand Prairie was 30,000. In 1955 the city unsuccessfully attempted to persuade Dallas to disannex the strip with the factories.
Through the next several decades Grand Prairie continued to grow, and by 1990 the population was 99,616. Of this number, 81,527 lived in Dallas County, 18,086 in Tarrant County, and the rest in Ellis County. In 1980, 84 percent of the population was White and 7 percent Black; Hispanics made up only 1 percent. The city was run by a council-manager form of government and had 181 police officers, 137 paid firemen, ten banks, a library, and churches of fourteen communions. The Grand Prairie Independent School District had seventeen elementary, six junior high, and two high schools. Industries produced aircraft and aircraft parts, plastics, machine parts, and mobile homes. Tourism became another important business because of the city's proximity to such attractions as Six Flags Over Texas. Grand Prairie had its own tourist attractions. Traders Village, a market, was open on weekends, and special events included Cinco de Mayo, the Prairie Dog Chili Cookoff, the National Championship Indian Pow-wow, the Oktoberfest, and the Western Days Rodeo. Nearby Joe Pool Lake and Mountain Creek Lake provided water recreation. Lone Star Park, a one-mile-long horse racing track, opened in 1997. A 6,300-seat indoor theater and convert venue (later renamed Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie) opened in 2002, followed by a minor league baseball stadium in 2008. In 2000 the population was 127,427, and in 2010 it was 175,396.