Oak Cliff was on the south bank of the Trinity River two miles south of downtown Dallas in central Dallas County. The original township was in the area bordered by Colorado Boulevard, Cliff Street, and Thirteenth Street. In 1845 a community named Hord's Ridge was at the site. In 1880 the Dallas, Cleburne and Rio Grande Railway was completed through the area. The community grew slowly until 1887, when Thomas L. Marsalis and John S. Armstrong bought several hundred acres of land, including the community of Hord's Ridge, on the south bank of the Trinity River. They named the area Oak Cliff. Armstrong and Marsalis began to develop the land into an elite residential area, which by the end of 1887 had proved to be a tremendous success with sales surpassing $60,000. However, after a disagreement between the partners Marsalis secured complete control over Oak Cliff's development. He began a number of projects to enhance the development of Oak Cliff. The first such project was a steam-powered railway to connect the community with downtown Dallas. The transportation system was modeled on one in the city of New York and was heralded as "the first elevated railway in the South." In reality, the railroad operated at ground level almost its entire course down Jefferson Boulevard and towards Lake Cliff; it became only slightly elevated as it crossed the Trinity River. Marsalis began two other development projects with the intent to promote Oak Cliff as a vacation resort. One was Oak Cliff Park, now called Marsalis Park and Zoo, a 150-acre park that included a two-mile-long lake and a 2,000-seat pavilion in which dances and operas were held. Another was the Park Hotel, modeled after the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, which included several mineral baths fed by artesian wells.
In 1890 Oak Cliff incorporated with a population of 2,470 and secured a post office which operated until 1896. The community had four grocery stores, two meat markets, a hardware store, and a feed store. Businesses included the Texas Paper Mills Company (later Fleming and Sons), the Oak Cliff Planing Mill, the Oak Cliff Artesian Well Company, Patton's Medicinal Laboratories, and the Oak Cliff Ice and Refrigeration Company. A number of new elite residential areas developed by the Dallas Land and Loan Company had pushed the community's boundaries westward to Willomet Street. Oak Cliff's first mayor was Hugh Ewing. In 1891 the community's first newspaper, the Oak Cliff Sunday Weekly, was published by F. N. Oliver. Over the next three years Oak Cliff's development continued, but during the depression of 1893 the need for vacation resorts such as Oak Cliff decreased, and the community's growth stagnated, forcing Marsalis into bankruptcy. Consequently, the Park Hotel was converted into the Oak Cliff College for Young Ladies. Another educational institution, the Patton Seminary, was established two years later by Dr. Edward G. Patton. By 1900 Oak Cliff was no longer an elite residential and vacation community. Many of the lots once owned by the Dallas Land and Loan Company were subdivided by the Dallas and Oak Cliff Real Estate Company and sold to the middle and working classes, a trend which lasted well into the early 1900s. The census of 1900 reported Oak Cliff's population as 3,640. Oak Cliff was annexed by Dallas in 1903, after numerous attempts beginning in 1900. The proposal had met with little success until the community's depressed economy produced a vote for annexation by eighteen votes. In 1992 Oak Cliff still retained much of its identity as a separate community within the city of Dallas.