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Welcome to the Centennial Anniversary site for
Lake Worth
@ Fort Worth, TX

1914 - 2014
 


A BRIEF HISTORY OF LAKE WORTH

BY RENOUNED HISTORIAN

QUENTIN MCGOWN

 Early Years

 “The 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.

 Fort Worth 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.

 Engineer 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.
 

 In May, 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 views.
 

 The 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.
 

 On the 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.

 Development of the Lake

 While 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.
 

 Over the 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 January, 1929.
 

With the 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.
 

 Rebuilding 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.”
 

 About 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.”
 

 Amon G. 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.

 

Beginning 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.

 

Further 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.

 

As the 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.

 

Other 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 original)

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 swimmers annually.

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 Bowie.

1918 Opening of Ruth Lubin Camp for Underprivileged Children.
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 Highway location.
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 Greer Island.

1934 City commissions Kansas City Landscape designers Hare and Hare to design master landscape plan for Lake Worth and all other city parks.
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 castle.

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 center.

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 Management Program

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 Master Plan.
City acquires “Alden Haven” lease on Cahoba and sells property.

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 initiatives, etc.

 

 

 
 

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