The Original Owner
Originally claimed by a Peters Colony settler named Martin Sitzer, the land that is now Huffhines Park became part of a 640-acre Republic of Texas land grant (Abstract No. 574) to Peters Colony settler Mary Hargroeder, who applied for it on October 19, 1850 after the Sitzer claim was cancelled and allocated elsewhere. One of the witnesses that attested to the veracity of Mary Hargroeder's application was John Neely Bryan, the founder of Dallas, Texas.
Thanks to public records, we know that when Mary Hargroeder (maiden name Cochran) applied for her grant in 1850, she was the 43-year-old widow of Michael Hargroeder, that she was born in Louisiana about 1807, that she had a ten-year-old daughter named Sydney Vigalina Hargroeder, and that she (Mary) was the owner of five enslaved African-Americans (two male, three female) ranging in age from 18 to 48. Records of Dallas County show that a year earlier, she sold a sixth enslaved person, a woman named Masceletta, for $500, to John W. Smith and James M. Patterson (see The Dallas Quarterly, Volume 31, Number 2, June 1985, p.112). At the time of her death on or about February 1, 1854, Mary Hargroeder owned only one slave--a woman named Harriet.
Dallas County Probate packet no. 261 (consisting of 30 documents) shows that Mary Hargroeder had a will, in which she named two sons--John and William--but left the bulk of her estate to her daughter, Sidney. The record shows also that John W. Smith and William L. Murphy, a Kentucky-born merchant who married Sydney Hargroeder, were her court-appointed administrators. The record also shows that the 640 acres Mary had been granted in northern Dallas County was worth $1,280. At the time of her death, she also owned a block in the town of Dallas, worth $300, which is probably where she was living at the time of her death.
The Land Passes Through Many Hands
On February 16, 1858, William L. and Sydney Murphy sold the west half (320 acres) of Mary Hargroeder's land grant--the part on which Huffhines Park is situated today--to W. L. Neal (see Dallas County, Texas Deed Book G, p.50). After that, it passed through several hands until November 9, 1869, when Robert Fisher sold a portion of the property--the part on which Huffhines Park is now located--to Kentucky-born Silas Neely Lawler and his wife, Mary A. (Davis) Lawler, also a native of Kentucky (see Dallas County, Texas Deed Book L, p.618). When Silas Lawler died in 1900, he left all his property to his wife, and when Mary died in 1906, the land that is now Huffhines Park was sold by her sons, for $4,500, to their sister, Mary Belle Lawler Huffines, and her husband, Robert S. "Bob" Huffhines (see Dallas County, Texas Deed Book 393, p.280), who either built or inherited an extensive 16-room farmhouse on the property, and then upon his death in 1943 passed the land on to his only son, Neely Huffhines.
During all that time, the property that is now Huffhines Park was almost certainly used as farmland.
The map below shows the approximate location of present-day Huffhines Park, represented by a shaded block in the northwest corner of the Hargroeder Survey.
Neely and Jackie Huffhines
Davis Neely Huffhines (who rarely used his first name), a farmer who was also a carpenter and building contractor by trade, was born in Richardson on December 28, 1895. He was the only son of R. S. "Bob" Huffhines and his wife, Mary Belle Lawler Huffhines. During the First World War, Neely served as a Private First Class in the United States Army and saw action in France, where he received some serious wounds. When he married Miss Ruby Jacque Harpool in Fort Worth on December 18, 1929, The Richardson Echo recalled that Neely was "born and reared here" and said further that he was "a fine young man."
During the first fourteen years of their marriage, Neely and Jackie, as his wife was called, lived with his parents in their large farmhouse at what was called Lawler Springs Farm. Neely's mother died in 1936 and his father in 1943. They were both buried at Big Spring Cemetery in nearby Garland. After Bob Huffhines' death, Neely and Jackie, who had no children, had the place to themselves. It was located where the Huffhines Recreation Center sits today. On March 17, 1945, the farmhouse was hit by lightning and burned to the ground. Living temporarily with friends, the couple built a smaller house, with a later addition, on the site.
Jackie Huffhines was an outgoing, civic-minded woman who was very active in all sorts of local community activities and organizations. She was also a deputy Dallas County clerk. She is best remembered for her support of the Richardson Fire Department and the Richardson Community Fair, of which she was the manager for many years. Neely, in contrast, was a quiet man who kept a low profile and tended to his farming.
Huffhines Park is "Born"
On March 17, 1966, for $100,000, Neely and Jackie Huffhines sold the City of Richardson the bulk of the property (50.58 out of 54 and one-half acres) that became Huffhines Park, which, said The Richardson Echo, "had been in Neely's family 98 years," being "a portion of the 320 acres his grandparents the S. N. Lawlers, bought in 1868 [sic], less than 20 years after the first settler came to what is now Richardson." Most of the initial development and improvement of the nearly 55-acre park, bounded on the west by Plano Road, on the north by Apollo Road and on the north and east by the grounds of Apollo Junior High School, and also partly on the east by St. John's Drive, and on the south by University Village Apartments, took place between 1967 and 1968.
In view of "the active role" that the property owners had taken in the city's development and particularly in "appreciation of Jackie Huffhines" many "years of service to the community," the park was named in her honor.
As originally planned, the new park was to include a recreation center, four lighted baseball diamonds, two football fields, a lighted tennis center with twelve courts, eight handball courts, a tree nursery and greenhouse, a model plane airport, a petting zoo, and a 50-meter swimming pool. In the end, all but the handball courts and the last three named facilities were built. A picnic pavilion was built in 1973.
The Huffhines Park Recreation Center, originally located on Apollo Road, where Fire Station number 4 now stands, was opened in the fall of 1978.
In early 1986, a feature article about Neely and Jackie Huffhines appeared in the Dallas Times-Herald and other newspapers across Texas. It told how they still lived on what was left of the larger farm that had been in Neely's father since just after the Civil War. Later that year, Neely Huffhines died and was buried at Big Spring Cemetery. In 1988, Jackie sold the remaining nearly 4 acres of land on which their house stood to the City of Richardson, the site where the present Huffhines Park Recreation Center now stands.
The first Huffhines Park Recreation Center stood until 2006, when it was demolished and replaced in 2009 by the present recreation center at 200 N. Plano Road.
In 1994-'95, three ponds or "lakes" were created in Huffhines Park when Huffhines Creek was dammed as part of the City of Richardson's 1993 Bond Proposition 5 for improved drainage. Retaining walls also built. In the fall of 2019, the lakes were drained, relined, and then refilled, to keep them in good shape.
In December 2022, owing to an earlier City Hall fire, the City-sponsored "Santa's Village" event was held in Huffhines Park, instead of City Hall Plaza, its usual venue. It will also be held in Huffhines Park in 2023 and presumably every December until the new City Hall is built.
In 2022, the City Council decided to move the Hill-Robberson House, one of the oldest residences in Richardson, to Huffhines Park, after developers purchased the site of Owens Spring Creek Farm and the building had to be moved to a temporary location near the Fire Department Training Center on Lookout Drive. As of October 2023, the move to the park has not yet taken place.
Still photo of Jackie Huffhines (above) from: WBAP-TV (Television station : Fort Worth, Tex.). [News Clip: Air Force Exhibit, Fashions, Richardson Fair], video, August 22, 1956; Fort Worth, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc307631/m1/?q=richardson%20texas: accessed October 28, 2023), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.