largest municipal park in the word!” declared
Fort Worth Parks Commissioner Harry Vinnedge
(see note 1. below), as Lake Worth formally
opened to recreational visitors in June, 1917.
By the end of the first summer season, nearly
75,000 people, equal to the total population of
the city at the time, visited the newest resort
in the country. What began as a reservoir to
provide an adequate water supply to the growing
city, remains today one of the most unique and
valuable urban park resources in Texas.
at the turn of the 20th century was a
dynamic and vibrant community witnessing an
explosive growth. Between 1900 and 1910, the
population nearly tripled, from 23,000 to
73,000, and city services strained under the
pressure. The city still drew the bulk of its
water supply from a series of artesian wells
drilled along the western edge of downtown.
Even though some city leasers were concerned
about the availability of water for the future,
the “Fort Worth Record” newspaper in 1907
declared the artesian supply “inexhaustible.”
Then, in April, 1909, a fire swept across the
South Side, destroying nearly three hundred
buildings across twenty-six square blocks. The
water demand to control the fire virtually
depleted the artesian supply temporarily and the
city immediately began to explore solutions.
John B. Hawley was appointed to head a team to
locate the ideal site for a reservoir. He had
come to Fort Worth nearly twenty years earlier
to design the city’s first municipal water plant
(today’s Holly Treatment Facility), and had then
recommended the creation of a reservoir. City
leaders at the time, however, decided that a
reservoir was not necessary, an attitude that
prevailed until the 1909 fire. Following
Hawley’s report in 1911 that a dam should be
built on the West Fork of the Trinity, about six
miles northwest of town, the city spent $1.5
million to acquire the land and construct the
dam. The West Fork of the river ran through the
heart of the Peters Colony, the Republic of
Texas era colonization effort that brought the
earliest settlers to the Tarrant County region.
By the time the city began land purchases for
the new reservoir, much of the proposed land was
part of the extensive G.T. Reynolds Ranch,
although scattered Native American pictographs
and campsites provided evidence of life in the
river valley prior to the arrival of Anglo
settlement. Following completion of the three
thousand foot dam with its seven hundred foot
spillway, engineers expected it would take up to
two years to fill the lake, but heavy summer
rains in 1914 pushed up the schedule and the
first water tipped over the spillway on August
10 of that year. The City considered several
names for the new lake, including Lake
Minnetonka, Panther Lake and Lake Tonkaway,
before settling on Lake Worth in December, 1913.
1916, the City of Fort Worth completed the land
acquisition for a proposed pipeline from the
lake to the Holly Plant near downtown, paving
the way for the annexation that month of an
additional eleven square miles that included the
lake and surrounding land. A couple of months
later (c. July 1916), work began on the first
leg of the Meandering Road that would eventually
encircle the entire lake with nearly fifty miles
of park roadway. Beginning at the formal
entrance to the lake park just south of the dam,
and initially running west along the south
shore, the new road stopped at the old 19th
century wagon and stagecoach road now named
Silver Creek Road. The new scenic drive,
costing the Parks Department $25,000.00 to
grade, instantly became a preferred Sunday
outing as automobile ownership expanded and
family picnics took advantage of the lakeshore
demands for recreational use began even before
the lake had filled. E.P. Haltom, son of the
city’s most prominent jeweler, launched his
home-built sailboat, the Kingfisher, into what
water there was in the lake in 1913, beginning a
long tradition of inland sailing in Fort Worth.
It wasn’t long before bathers began to appear
along the lake shore, taking advantage of the
cool waters during the Texas summer. The city
administration was criticized for not keeping
swimmers out of the new drinking water supply,
but, by 1915 so many people were visiting the
lake that the city realized that stopping the
public from using their new playground would be
impossible. Fort Worth taxpayers had paid for
the lake and many loudly insisted that they
should have full access to its attractions.
City leaders ordered the lake stocked with four
thousand rock bass and perch and began planning
a resort development to accommodate the
increasing numbers of tourists.
northwest shore, where the old wooden Nine-Mile
Bridge crossed the river, just south of the
present Jacksboro Highway Bridge, the city built
a $30,000 pavilion, complete with changing
rooms, observation decks and diving platforms.
15,000 attended the opening on June 17, 1917,
many catching the first motor buses to run in
Fort Worth, Connecting the lake to the Rosen
Heights streetcar line near the Stockyards. The
next month, the city hosted an “aquatic meet”
with boat races, water fencing and tug-of-war.
Between June and August, more than 73,000 people
visited the lake. Lake Worth would remain the
centerpiece of the Fort Worth park system for
the next thirty years.
of the Lake
soldiers training at Camp Bowie and the army
airfields surrounding Fort Worth took advantage
of the recreational facilities at Lake Worth,
local business leaders raised the money to open
the Ruth Lubin Camp for Underprivileged
Children, and the Boy Scouts opened Camp Leroy
Schuman. Large pleasure boats, including “Miss
Lake Worth,” “Panther City” and “Alvez” began
operations, taking passengers on leisurely
excursions around the scenic park. The last two
were destroyed by fire and sank in the lake, but
with no casualties. While the city offered
lakeshore recreational campsite leases to a
handful of local hunting, fishing and church
organizations as early as 1915, 1918 saw a
dramatic increase in leasing activity. Over the
next few years many of Fort Worth’s most
prominent businesses and organizations developed
camps, including Swift, Armour, the YMCA, Travis
Avenue Baptist Church and the Panther Boys
Club. To meet the demand for public camping,
several families began operating small lakeside
resorts with fishing piers and rental cabins,
including Huffman’s Roach’s, Getting’s and Shady
Grove. By 1926 there were 800 individual
campsite leases recorded around the lake.
years, a handful of large-scale properties were
developed along the shores of Lake Worth. On
July 4, 1919, the Masonic Mosque opened its
doors and welcomed guests to the largest dance
floor in the Southwest. Designed with the
Middle Eastern themes adopted by Texas Masons
for their chapters, the imposing building,
complete with four-story minarets and
spectacular stained glass windows towered over
the lake at Reynolds Point, later renamed Mosque
Point. Hosting special events and Masonic
conventions, the building was sold to the
Methodist Church Conference in 1924 and used a
church retreat until 1926, when it was returned
to Masonic control. It was destroyed by fire in
Mosque still towering above the lake, another
enormous facility took shape on the opposite
shore. In 1926, the city gave a thirty year,
two thousand acre lease to the Lake Worth
Amusement Company, headed by French L. Wilgus,
developer of the acclaimed Indian Lake resort in
Ohio. Wilgus built on the old bathing beach a
$1.5 million dollar facility dubbed “The Coney
Island of the Southwest,” and featuring a
boardwalk, a small zoo, amusement rides and a
dance floor that could hold 1,000 people. Sand
was trucked in and pumped along the old beach to
create a larger swimming area, and a dance
pavilion styled after the Mormon Tabernacle
opened with enough floor space for five hundred
couples. Visitors crowding the new Casino Beach
when it opened Labor Day weekend in 1927 enjoyed
music, dancing and, for the adventurous, a fleet
of ten Dart motor launches that could speed
across the lake at up to 40 mph. With the
crowds expanding and Mayor William Bryce
declaring that he no longer felt safe driving
over the old wooden Nine Mile Bridge to attend
events at the amusement park, work began on a
replacement bridge in 1928. Construction was
about halfway completed when the casino and
boardwalk burned in June, 1929.
bigger and better, the boardwalk was extended to
become the longest west of Atlantic City. A new
roller coaster, the Thriller, was one of the
largest in the South and boasted a mile of track
with a 72 foot drop. The casino ballroom came
back to life with enough room under its new
Mission style arcade to welcome 2,000 dancers.
By the time the new bridge was dedicated in May,
1930, with speeches, a parade and,
interestingly, fireworks, the revamped Casino
Beach became the leading attraction in town.
Even during Prohibition, liquor sales along the
length of Jacksboro Highway did a booming
business as dancers headed toward the
mirror-balled pavilion, where one woman recalled
that “you couldn’t tell where the lights ended
and the stars began.”
1930, local businessman Samuel Whiting began
construction of “Iveness,” a massive stone house
on the South shore of the lake. Built around an
old rock cabin dating from the 1860’s the Lake
Worth Castle, as it became known, remains one of
the most unique properties in Fort Worth.
Reportedly using some materials salvaged from
the Mosque when he began construction, Whiting
spent the next ten years completing the castle
and five guest cottages. He welcomed the
pleasure boaters on the lake to stop at his long
stone pier, complete with lighthouse and special
fishing enclosure. The castle was for a time
used as a recreation resort by Consolidated
Vultee, and hosted actor Jimmy Stewart during
his filming of “Strategic Air Command.”
Carter, owner and publisher of the Fort Worth
Star-Telegram, opened his famous Shady Oak Farm
on 900 acres on Lake Worth in 1923. Over the
next thirty years, Carter would host virtually
every major dignitary who visited Fort Worth,
including several presidents. The famous
“Frontier Bar” is described in the WPA Guide to
Fort Worth: “Immediately beyond the farm house
is the Frontier Bar, with a sign “Howdy
Stranger” over its front; this was the gateway
to the 1936 Fort Worth Frontier Fiesta…Scattered
over the walls are crude signs reminiscent of
early Texas such as: “No shooting, check your
pistol.” “no checks cashed not even good ones.”
“Dallas passport must be okayed.” On the walls
are mounted specimens of native longhorn steers,
one of which entertains with ribald songs
including a humorous tirade against Dallas,
Texas and during its rendition the steer,
symbolic of Carter’s hatred of Fort Worth’s
sister city, will emit snorts and smoke from its
nostril.” Nothing remains today of the famous
farm except a few foundations and the small stop
tanks from which President Franklin Roosevelt
fished for Carter’s specially bred bass.
in 1923, the city commissioned the nationally
renowned Kansas City landscape design firm of
Hare and Hare to develop a comprehensive design
for the city’s parks, including Lake Worth. The
firm developed a plan for the lake that would
create picnic areas, sheltered pavilions and
long vistas, taking advantage of the natural
features of the lake. The first improvements
completed, in 1926, were three pavilions at
Inspiration Point, overlooking the dam and the
1925 Federal Fish Hatchery, a project championed
by Congressman Fritz G. Lanham of Fort Worth.
Additional park improvements were planned but
were delayed by lack of funding. Hare and Hare
completed several other designs for the city,
including the Botanic Gardens and the Monticello
and Park Hill neighborhoods.
development of the park plans for the lake
became a reality with the opening of Camp 1816
of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Between
1934 and 1937, the men of the CCC constructed
roads, built bridges, and completed most of the
recommendations in the Hare and Hare plan. From
the headquarters camp located in the center of
Peninsula Club Circle, CCC workers, making
$30.00 a month, built 110 stone picnic tables,
37 roadside fireplaces, 4 public toilets and 3
water fountains. More than ten miles of park
drives and paths were graded and rocks cut from
the cliffs along the lake shore decorated
drainage culverts and nature trails and were
used to build magnificent shelter houses and
lookouts, many still standing today. A monument
in the Fort Worth Nature Center chronicles the
tremendous work of the CCC. Other federal
program funding helped expand the fish hatchery
and build two WPA bridges on the old stage road
section of the Meandering Road at Silver Creek
and Live Oak Creek.
United States prepared to enter World War Two,
the City purchased 526 acres on the south shore
of the lake owned by Mrs. BenTillar. That land,
along with the lake frontage already owned by
the city was turned over to the U.S. army for
the construction of Air Force Plant Number Four,
a bomber factory operated by Consolidated Vultee
Corporation, known more familiarly as Convair.
Opening in 1942, the plant produced three
thousand B-24s by 1944 when production shifted
to the B-32. The adjacent Tarrant Army Air
Field became home to the 7th
Bombardment Group in 1946 and the Field was
renamed for Major Horace Carswell, the first
Fort Worth native to be awarded the
Congressional Medal of Honor after his plane
went down in the South China Sea in 1944. By
1944, Convair, and the related military
operations on Lake Worth, became the largest
employment center in Fort Worth.
milestones in the lake’s history include the
founding of the Fort Worth Power Boat Club in
1926 and its transition to the Fort Worth Boat
Club in 1929. Following a move to the new Eagle
Mountain Lake in 1932, the Boat Club’s legacy of
Texas inland sailing continued with the Lake
Worth Sailing Club, chartered in 1935. While
Lake Worth was once the premier park in the
southwest, its popularity as a destination
declined during the period after the war with
the development of municipal swimming pools,
air-conditioning, television and the
distractions of modern life. The spectacular
Casino Beach development limped along until the
1960’s when many of the attractions were
demolished. The lake made international
headlines for a brief time in 1969 when the Lake
Worth Monster made his appearance near Greer
Island. His story is celebrated each year at
the Monster Bash in the Fort Worth Nature Center
and Preserve. The opening of the Loop 820
bridge over the lake in 1975 reintroduced the
treasures of what had been proposed back in the
1920s as Lake Worth State Park.
As Fort Worth grows to surround this urban park,
its treasures will again attract visitors to the
natural settings and the magnificent landscapes
so carefully designed and painstakingly
executed. A drive around Lake Worth today is as
inspirational as it was when the first cars
rolled along Meandering Road and Fort Worth
families discovered the wonders of nature in the
city’s own backyard. Many of the CCC built
picnic sites, trails and pavilions still welcome
visitors. A few or the original fishing camps
survive along with stone houses and other
reminders of the lake’s heyday as the recreation
center of North Texas. What began in 1958 as a
mission-run rehabilitation farm for recovering
addicts has grown into the 3,600 acre Nature
Center. The rock pavilions first built in 1926
await restoration and renewed use. A new vision
for Lake Worth will reinstate the lake as an
urban park and recreation oasis in the middle of
a growing city and region.
Lake Worth Chronology
(Short version from Historian Quentin McGown’s
1913 $1.5 million spent to acquire land and
construct dam along West Fork of Trinity River.
1914 August 10. First water flows over the dam.
1915 City limits extended to include Lake Worth.
City stocks lake with fish.
1916 City imports sand and builds public bath
house and diving platforms hosting 100,000
1917 June 17. 15,000 people attend official
opening of public beach and bathing pavilion at
Nine Mile bridge hosting 100,000 swimmers
annually. Parks Commissioner Harry Vinnedge
declares that the 9,214 acre Lake Worth Park,
beats Copenhagen’s 4,200 acre City Part to
become the largest municipal park in the world.
Some 73,260 people visit the lake between June
and August in.cluding soldiers training at Camp
1918 Opening of Ruth Lubin Camp for
Opening of Leroy Schuman Boy Scout Camp.
1919 July 4. Opening of Masonic Mosque with
largest dance floor in the Southwest.
1920’s Camps and picnic areas opened by Swift,
Armour, Y.M.C.A., Travis Avenue Baptist Church
and Panther Boys Club. Public camps and resorts
begin to open around lake, including Getting’s,
Huffman’s, Roach’s and Shady Grove.
1923 Amon Carter opens Shady Oak Farm, later
hosting several US Presidents and every other
visiting dignitary to Fort Worth.
1925 600 passenger pleasure boat “Alvez” begins
cruises on lake.
1926 Control of lake given to Water Dept., 800
“campsites” recorded around lake.
FW Power Boat Association hosts speedboat races
to audience of 30,000.
City signs 30 year 2,000 acre lease with Lake
Worth Amusement Company to construct Casino.
1927 May. Opening of Lake Worth Casino Beach. $1
million investment called “Coney Island of the
Southwest”. Ballroom accommodates 1,000 people.
(Burned June 17, 1929 and rebuilt to hold 2,000)
1930 New Nine Mile bridge opens at Jacksboro
Fish Hatchery becomes largest in Southwest.
Sam Whiting begins construction of Whiting
Castle, on site of 1860 farm house with
fortifications for Indian raids.
January. Lake freezes over. Ice 3” thick at
1934 City commissions Kansas City Landscape
designers Hare and Hare to design master
landscape plan for Lake Worth and all other city
Opening of Civilian Conservation Corps, Camp
1816 at Peninsula Circle. Over next three years,
the Corps constructs park shelters, nature
trails, culverts and picnic areas as designed by
Hare and Hare.
1935 Lake Worth Sailing Club opens.
1936/7 Whiting Castle cottages built across from
1938 CCC Camp closes.
1940 Works Progress Administration projects
include improvements to Meandering Road and the
construction of new bridges.
1943 Lake used as seaplane base.
1944 City employees convert CCC camp into
employees recreational club.
Convair leases Whiting Castle for recreation
1950 Village of Lake Worth is incorporated.
1975(?) Loop 820 bridge constructed providing
easy access to the lake.
1980 City commissions Carter and Burgess to
develop plan for Lake Worth.
1981 City adopts Lake Worth Development Plan and
1989 Landmarks Commission completes inventory of
historic and cultural resources at lake.
1990 Historic Resources Survey published listing
Lake Worth contributing structures and sites.
City demolishes remaining structures at Casino
Beach and CCC built picnic tables.
Landmarks Commission makes formal recommendation
to include historic resources in Lake Worth
City acquires “Alden Haven” lease on Cahoba and
1992 Culvert repair crew demolishes CCC rock
work on Heron Drive.
1993 Landmarks Commission again submits historic
inventory for inclusion in master plan.
1995 City Council adopts “Guidelines for
Development of Lake Worth.”
2008 City Council approves Lake Worth
Comprehensive Capital Improvement Implementation
Plan (CIIP) to improve boat launch ramps, remove
stumps, mark hazards, establish bike and hiking
trails, conduct essential dredging, extend city
water and sewer services to the lake area, etc.
2010 City council approves Lake Worth Vision
Plan including elements a Great Parks and
Sustainable Future Scenarios.
2011 Lake Worth Regional Coordinating Committee
(LWRCC) established as a combined cross-agency
regional group to address watershed improvement
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