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Park History

This timeline has been divided into four eras:

From Water Supply to Urban Oasis book coverWant more? My book, From Water Supply to Urban Oasis: A History of White Rock Lake Park, Dallas, Texas, 100 years plus 10 is now available at AMAZON.COM; $16.99 plus tax and shipping.

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Before There Was A Lake (Prior to 1910)

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1841 John Neely Bryan establishes a trading post on the Trinity River, six miles west of White Rock Creek.
1842 Pioneers begin settling in what is now Dallas County. James Beeman observes massive herd of bison in White Rock Creek valley. Native Americans and white settlers clash.
1847 Some men belonging to White Rock area families volunteer for service in the Mexican War, serving under Col. Jack Hays.
1848 Cox cemetery established on what is now west side of White Rock Lake. First burial is infant daughter of Solomon and Lydia Dixon, for whom Dixon Branch is named.
1891 Jacob Buhrer establishes a dairy on land that is mostly now under water, near present-day dam and spillway.
Through 1909 Area near present-day lake, surrounded by farms and ranches, takes on a rural character. Three small rural communities--Fisher (a.k.a. Calhoun), Reinhardt, and Little Egypt-- established nearby.

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A Water Supply For Dallas (1910-1929)

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1909-1910 A severe drought prompts city commissioners to consider building a reservoir on White Rock Creek.
January 11, 1910 As the drought continues, city commissioners formally adopt plan for White Rock reservoir.
January 16, 1910 First advertisements for bids to build a dam and spillway are published in Dallas, Houston, and St. Louis newspapers.
March 7, 1910 Fred A. Jones Company of Dallas awarded contract to build dam and spillway on White Rock Creek.
May 24, 1910 Shortly after construction of White Rock dam commences, Halley's Comet becomes visible in the sky over Dallas.
November 15, 1910 Seven workmen injured in derrick accident at White Rock dam construction site.
1911 In his "City Plan for Dallas," urban planner George E. Kessler recommends that all city land around White Rock reservoir "be retained in public hands and used for park purposes."
September 1, 1911 Daily Dallas Times Herald reports that White Rock Dam is completed (except for upstream guard of the spillway and sluiceway) and that the reservior already contains 800,000,000 gallons of water.
September 23, 1911 The Dallas Morning News reports "The Board of City Commissioners yesterday [formally] accepted White Rock reservoir, which has been completed by the Fred A. Jones Company."
October 7, 1911 Beneath a tent erected beside the dam, Fred A. Jones hosts a luncheon for 143 civic leaders to celebrate completion of the work.
1913 Dallas' first chlorinated water dispensed by White Rock pump station.
1914 White Rock Lake is completely full for the first time. City establishes a nursery on land beside lake "to supply trees and shrubs for the park system."
April 3, 1917 Joe E. Lawther elected Mayor of Dallas. At the same time, voters approve fishing at White Rock Lake.
1917-1919 During Lawther's term of office, prisoners from Dallas city jail are used to build a gravel road around White Rock Lake.
1918 Kessler's second plan repeats his previous recommendation regarding land around White Rock Lake.
1921 Work begins on new filtration plant.
1923 Road encircling lake is named Lawther Drive, in honor of former mayor; new filtration plant, built at cost of $381,000 put into operation.
October 4, 1924 Work begins on new reservoir for Dallas, at Garza in neighboring Denton County.
October 9, 1925 Opening exercises of the new Texas & Pacific Clubhouse are held at Roxana Point (now called Tee Pee Hill).
Labor Day, 1926 First sailboat race held on White Rock Lake. Four boats entered but only one finished.
1928 Dallas Sailing Club, the lake's first, opens on western shore. (Moves to eastern shore in 1933.)
August 1928 City Water Commissioner, Col. S. E. Moss, ignites controversy when he proposes a "Coney Island" style amusement park for White Rock Lake.
April 9, 1929 A speedboat accident results in city ordinance requiring life jackets to be carried all boats on White Rock Lake.
April 1929 In a run-off election, "Hot Dog" candidate J. Waddy Tate, an outspoken advocate of providing public recreational facilities at White Rock Lake, is elected mayor of Dallas.
1929 Lake Dallas (now Lake Lewisville) completed. City stops using White Rock Lake for water supply.
December 13, 1929 White Rock Lake Park created. Lakeside hunting comes to end since it is against the law to discharge a firearm within the city limits.

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The People's Playground (1929-1958)

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1930 City Park Board establishes a Fish Hatchery at White Rock Lake, at a cost of $23,700.
January 7, 1930 Park Board approves plans for the development of White Rock Lake as a public park, complete with sand bathing beach and a bath house on the eastern shore of the lake, as well as a municipal boathouse for speedboats on western shore.
February 24, 1930 Sheriff Hal Hood leads deputies on a raid on a house near White Rock Lake, where "moonshiners" operated a 500-gallon whiskey still.
Spring 1930 In editorials and an editorial cartoon, The Dallas Morning News opposes any "Coney Island" style amusements for White Rock Lake Park.
April 26, 1930 Responding to a letter from a concerned citizen, Park Board Member Hugh January publicy assures the public that the board does not plan to erect "Coney Island" style amusements at White Rock Lake, stating that only a boathouse, a beach and bathhouse, and a golf course are to be built.
June 1, 1930 17,000 people line the shore of White Rock Lake to watch speedboat races.
June 2, 1930 The Dallas Morning News reports that six picnic areas and playgrounds at White Rock Lake Park will soon be open to the public.
July 4, 1930 The Daily Dallas Time Herald reports that F. W. Day has been awarded a contract for a motorboat sightseeing concession at White Rock Lake. Half-hour rides in the ten-passenger clippers will cost 50 cents per person, with the city receiving 20 percent of Day's revenues.
July 13, 1930 The Daily Dallas Times Herald sponsors a Dally Boat Club regatta.
August 9, 1930 Mayor Tate attends opening of Bath House and Bathing Beach on lake's eastern shore. Street car line extended to western shore, where fleet of speedboats are available to transport swimmers from new boathouse to new bathing beach.
1931 Dallas Sailing Club formally organized.
1931 Park Board lifts ban on "aquaplaning," causing a surge in surfboard orders at local sporting goods stores.
June 7, 1931

A feature article in the The Daily Dallas Times Herald includes a photograph of picnickers enjoying the stone tables at the Dixon Branch area of White Rock Lake Park.

1931 Dallas Sailing Club formally chartered.
April 9, 1932 J. M. Martin's Silver Spray reportedly becomes first snipe boat launched at White Rock Lake (another source credits Bill Crosby, who reportedly sailed a snipe on the lake as early as 1930).
October 2, 1932 Dallas Sailing Club hosts first annual Texas Championship Regatta at White Rock Lake. Meredith Ellis of Fort Worth won the men's championship and Helen Harris of Dallas won the women's competition.
December 7, 1933 Dallas Sailing Club's clubhouse on eastern shore, located in a former restaurant, burns to the ground following a going-away party for Commodore Hub Isaacks.
January 10, 1934

While "stunting" over the lake and surrounding area, a small private airplane crashes into the water near Garland Road and East Lawther Drive, killing the pilot and two passengers, and narrowly missing fishermen. The dead are identified as Oscar Poynter, age 40, Jack Binion, age 24, and Walter A. "Tige" Flowers, age 31, pilot and owner of the aircraft.

1934 Using CWA (Civil Works Administration) money and workers, city constructs a picnic pavilion at Stone Tables. A bridle path is also constructed at White Rock Lake Park as well as a dance pavilion, costing more than $5,000, near the bathing beach. Throughout the summer of 1934, Babe Lowry and her "Rhythm Sweethearts," an all-girl band, entertain lake visitors nightly except Sundays when they perform an two hour afternoon concert. By Labor Day, admission receipts to the pavilion total more than $4,000.
1935 City discontinues use of the "Pea Patch," a prison farm located on western shore of lake, where non-violent offenders worked off fines at a rate of $1 per day by picking up litter along lake shore and cutting weeds. White Rock Lake Fish Hatchery conveyed to Texas Game, Fish and Oyster Commission in exchange for fish hatchery at Fair Park. An automobile, fitted with an "electrolytic carburetor," invented by Charles H. Garrett and his father, Henry "Dad" Garrett, is filmed by Pathé News being fueled with water from White Rock Lake.
August 8, 1935 The Civilian Conservation Corps establishes a camp, designated SP-55-TX, at Winfrey Point. A week later the first recruits arrive to form Company 2896. Over the next seven years, some 3,000 CCC workers plant trees and build a variety of permanent improvements around the lake including the overlook and picnic pavilion at Flag Pole Hill and recreation buildings at Winfrey Point, Big Thicket and Sunset Bay.
1936 City Park Board recovers use of White Rock Lake Fish Hatchery from State in exchange for $1,454 and "accumulated salvage pipe for state use in constructing a new hatchery at Lake Dallas."
September 15, 1937 First major desilting of White Rock Lake commences using a $31,973 dredge named the "Joe E. Lawther." Over the next three and a half years in excess of 500,000 tons of sediment will be removed and 90 acres of land reclaimed.
November 17, 1937 After springing leaks, the "Joe E. Lawther" dredge sinks in six feet of water at Dixon's Branch.
1938 For $69,000, oil magnate H. L. Hunt purchases Mount Vernon, an estate on the lake's western shore that resembles George Washington's Virginia home.
April 1938 After a Galveston diver refloats the "Joe E. Lawther," dredging of the lake resumes.
1939 Corinthian Sailing Club formally chartered.
1939 Geophysicist Everett L. DeGolyer builds Rancho Encinal on lake's eastern shore, site of today's Dallas Arboretum.
July 1939 City of Dallas orders demolition of eleven White Rock Lake private fishing shacks.
1940 Use of prisoners to work off fines by cleaning up lake shore temporarily re-instituted.
January 1940 The entire surface of White Rock Lake freezes over for the first time.
1941 First dredging of lake comes to an end.
1941 Floods in the vicinity of White Rock spillway uncover two ancient Indian graves.
March 1941 Park Director L. B. Houston announces plans to stock city parks with grey squirrels because "this variety becomes tame readily and will be of more benefit from the recreational angle than the red squirrels now found in some parks."
January 15, 1942 Civilian Conservation Corps Co. 2896 ceases operations at White Rock Lake Park.
February 25, 1942 - mid-1943 U.S. Army Fifth Ferrying Command operates a temporary "boot camp" at former C.C.C. campsite.
November 16, 1944 - October 1945: Approximately 300 German P.O.W.s imprisoned at former C.C.C. and Army camp. Most volunteer to work at Fair Park Centennial Building, repairing army supplies.
1946 The Bonnie Barge, a floating dance hall, begins operating on the lake.
April 14, 1946 The Dallas Morning News reports that the Dallas Sailing Club will be enlarging its clubhouse.
June 17, 1946 On a sweltering summer day, White Rock Bathing Beach is overwhelmed by some 10,000 patrons.
1946-1947 Faced with a student housing shortage, SMU uses the old barracks buildings at the former CCC-POW camp site as temporary housing for about 250 of its students, many of who are veterans attending classes on the G.I. Bill.
1947 A 75 lb. catfish, caught inside a sunken boat, is donated to the Dallas Aquarium.
City of Dallas begins demolishing, relocating, or selling surplus buildings at old CCC-POW camp site.
January 22, 1951 The Dallas Morning News reports that 100 new picnic tables and benches have been placed in White Rock Lake Park. The paper also noted that the bathing beach was being enlarged and that 15 acres of wooded land were being cleared "to make the space available to the public."
March 1951 Former German P.O.W. at Camp White Rock Lake writes letter to The Dallas Morning News, expressing desire to emigrate to Texas and seeking a sponsor.
1951 The last remaining CCC-POW barracks building is damaged by a dynamite blast. Police suspect college pranksters. Shortly afterward, the building is demolished by the Park Dept.
April 1952 En route to Indiana from Fort Hood, hundreds of U.S. Army soldiers bivouac at White Rock Lake for several days.
September 1, 1952 White Rock Bathing Beach is open for the last time. When a drought forces the City of Dallas to use the lake as a water supply, swimming is temporarily banned.
1953: The ghostly "Lady of the Lake" legend included in Frank X. Tolbert's book Neiman Marcus, Texas.
1953-1954 During the drought, swimming in White Rock Lake continues to be banned. The ban eventually becomes permanent.
1955-1956 Lake is dredged for second time. Over 15,000 cubic yards of sediment removed.
1958 City passes ordinance forbidding boats with engines larger than 10.5 horsepower on the lake. Bonnie Barge stops operatiing.

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An Urban Oasis (1959-Present)

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1961 White Rock Boat Club formed.
1964 White Rock pump station closes.
1965 Causeway built, connecting Mockingbird Lane and Peavy Road, on lake's northern shore.
November 1966 City of Dallas work crews remove catwalk over spillway.
1968 "Mars Needs Women," a movie filmed in Richardson, downtown Dallas, Fair Park, and White Rock Lake is released.
March 6, 1971 First White Rock Marathon held.
1974 Lake dredged for third time.
1976 Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden, at former DeGolyer Estate, is opened.
1978 Improvements made to White Rock dam.
1979 Park Board divides Lawther Drive into four sections, making it impossible to drive around lake in one continuous direction.
August 1981 Old Bath House converted into Bath House Cultural Center.
1989 White Rock pump station renovated.
1990 Park Board adopts master plan for White Rock Lake Park improvements. The Friends of White Rock Lake, a non-profit organization, is formed.
1994 Series of articles in Dallas Morning News alert public to serious sedimentation problem at White Rock Lake.
1995 With the approval of the Park Board Task Force, the Friends of White Rock Lake becomes the White Rock Lake Foundation. For The Love Of The Lake (FTLOTL, a grassroots activist organization is formed.
1996 Dredging of lake begins. This website, "Scenic White Rock Lake," goes online.
1998 Dredging completed; White Rock Sailing Club disbanded.
June 8, 2001 Off-leash dog park opens at Mockingbird Point.
Sept. 24, 2001 DART's White Rock station opens on site of old Knights of Columbus hall.
April 17, 2004 Statue honoring CCC enrollees, funded by For The Love Of The Lake, dedicated at Sunset Bay. Several former enrollees attend event.
September 18, 2004 White Rock Lake Museum opens in Bath House Cultural Center.
March 19, 2006 Large sections of the spillway retaining wall collapse during heavy spring rains.
September 30, 2006 Texas Historical Commission marker (funded by FTLOTL), commemorating the site of the CCC and POW camp near Winfrey Point is formally dedicated in conjunction with the annual national reunion of the CCC Alumni.
October 23, 2006 The Dreyfuss Club burns to the ground.
October 28, 2006 Texas Historical Commission marker (funded by FTLOTL) commemorating White Rock dam, reservoir and park is formally dedicated and placed near the Garland Road/East Lawther Drive entrance to the park (it is later moved to a location overlooking the spillway).
March-June 2011 Official celebrations of the White Rock Lake Centennial take place.
3012-2020 The White Rock Conservancy renovates the Stone Tables picnic area.

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Original architectural drawings and plans in the archives of the City of Dallas.

The Dallas Morning News

The Daily Dallas Times Herald and The Dallas Times Herald

Jebsen, Harry, et al. Centennial History of the Dallas, Texas Park System, 1876-1976 (Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech University, 1976)

Payne, Darwin. Dallas: An Illustrated History (Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, 1982).

Saxon, Gerald, ed. Reminiscences: A Glimpse of Old East Dallas (Dallas: Dallas Public Library, 1993).

Switzer, David S. It's Our Dallas County: The Story of Self-Government Since 1846 (Dallas: D. S. Switzer, 1954).

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