20 Moments That Transformed Fort Worth

20 Moments That Transformed Fort Worth

They say you're the sum of everything you've been through...

So how easy is it to come up with 20 moments that have transformed Fort Worth? Relatively easy, as it turned out, even in this fast-changing city. In conjunction with the magazine’s 20th birthday this December, we decided to see if we could come up with a story outlining 20 moments that changed Fort Worth forever.

Fort Worth is rich in history, and it’s maintained so much of its character and fiber from when Major Ripley Arnold staked out the original fort, which, of course, is the first transformational moment in our story. From there, we looked for segments, like cattle, railroads, defense, oil, aviation, neighborhoods and others.

We spent a fair amount of time trudging through museums for inspiration, information and ideas, like the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Sid Richardson Museum, North Fort Worth Historical Society, Amon Carter Museum of American Art and C.R. Smith Aviation Museum. We talked this up with some people outside the magazine. We read a lot.  (Research sources are in text.)

We tried for more than just dates on a calendar. Originally, we had the opening of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport as a transformational moment. That changed to airline deregulation.

We weren’t trying for geographic representation, but as it turns out, we found transformational moments in neighborhoods across Tarrant County that thrive today: downtown, the Northside, West Side, Near Southside, TCU, southwest Fort Worth, Arlington, Alliance and DFW Airport.

Number One
Collage of FIRST, THE FORT, Spring 1849
1: Major Arnold and wife Catherine. Source: University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collections | 2: Major General William Jenkins Worth. Source: University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collections

U.S. Army, moving to establish forts from the Rio Grande to the Red River, orders Major Ripley Arnold to stake out a site up the Trinity River. In May 1949, Arnold, with a small team of troopers and civilians, plants a flag near the confluence of the Clear and West forks of the Trinity — the future site of Fort Worth, named after the late Maj. Gen. William Jenkins Worth, former commander of the Department of Texas. A week later, Arnold was back with his entire 42-man command, Company F, 2nd Dragoons. The group completed the fort by the end of August. A small community of as many as 100 grew up around the fort. Nearby, the county of Tarrant, created by the Legislature in 1849, attracted homesteaders who favored the soil and security of the U.S. Army. In the next four years, the population grew to 350. In 1853, the troops were redeployed and fort vacated.

– City of Fort Worth

Number 2: Board! Rail Arrives, 1876
Collage of Board! Rail, 1876

1. Laying streetcar tracks on the median of Arlington Heights Boulevard in the early 1900s. Source: University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collections | 2. Electric streetcars and horse-drawn buggies shared Main Street in 1888. Trolleys replaced all mule carts by 1890. Source: University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collections | 3. The Stockyards in 1890. Photo from City Library | 4. Cotton sale in downtown Fort Worth in the 1880s. Courtesy of the Genealogy, History, and Archives Unit, Fort Worth Library | 5. Texas and Pacific Railway in 1910. Photo by the City Library

The Chisholm Trail put Fort Worth on the map — literally — as a big trading post on the long cattle drives to Kansas between 1867 and 1884. During breaks, cowboys rode into town, firing their pistols and riding their horses into saloons. Hells Half Acre — the red-light district that developed — became the foundation for many Wild West conceptions. But we picked 1876 as our transformational moment, for the arrival of the Texas and Pacific Railway, which connected the city to the east. Other rail soon arrived, making Fort Worth a stop on the transcontinental route to California and on the line from the country’s heart to the Gulf Coast. With the emergence of rail, stockyard facilities began opening the rail lines. Investors purchased the stockyards and organized the Fort Worth Stockyards Co. in 1893 and put on its first livestock show in 1896. In 1903, the Swift & Co. and Armour & Co. meatpackers opened major plants in the Stockyards. They processed as many as 5 million head of cattle, hogs and sheep at their peak in 1944, becoming the country’s third-largest stockyards and Fort Worth’s major industry, employing thousands and helping feed the nation through two world wars. New roads, the emergence of trucking and mechanization ended the dominance of rail in livestock shipping and the need for centralized stockyards. Armour closed in 1962 and Swift in 1971. The Stock Show was renamed the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show in 1918 and, in 1944, relocated to the Will Rogers Memorial Center. Western heritage remains an enduring piece of the city’s character today. The Stockyards, a monument to the history, is undergoing a controversial renovation that forced conversation about the degree to which the city should protect the district. Fort Worth has moved for years to build up Will Rogers, with the goal to make the city the nation’s top equestrian center. And rail access is a big part of the city’s economic development offering: The Tower 55 intersection south of downtown is one of the nation’s busiest rail intersections.

- Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, North Fort Worth Historical Society, City of Fort Worth

3: Amon Carter and the Star Telegram, 1909
Collage of Amon Carter and the Star Telegram
1. Josephine Hirshfield Ryan shows a silver bowl, allegedly confiscated from Santa Anna, to Amon Carter at the Parker log cabin, then located at Carter’s Shady Oaks ranch | 2. Star Telegram Composing Room in 1904. Photo from the City Library

Budding entrepreneur Amon Carter moved to Fort Worth in 1905 and became advertising manager of the Fort Worth Star newspaper a year later. In 1909, with backing, he bought the paper, merged it with the Fort Worth Telegram, and renamed the publication the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In 1922, Carter established WBAP, Fort Worth’s first radio station. In 1923, he became Star-Telegram president and publisher. He was the youngest president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. Carter sold oilmen on moving to Fort Worth after oil was discovered in North Texas; encouraged construction of big buildings such as the Sinclair, W. T. Waggoner and Life of American; served as director of the American Petroleum Institute as an oilman himself; headed a committee that brought the first airplane to the Fort Worth area; was a director and part-owner of American Airways; helped bring to Fort Worth the Consolidated Vultee bomber plant; and persuaded Bell Aircraft Corp. to locate a helicopter plant in Hurst. Carter, known for major philanthropy driven by his oil investments, in 1945 established the Amon G. Carter Foundation for cultural and educational purposes. Upon his death in 1955, under the terms of his will, he started the Amon Carter Museum from his collection of Remingtons and Russells.

- Texas State Historical Association, Amon Carter Museum

4: War! World War One Breaks Out, 1914
World War One Collage
1 and 3. 36th Infantry Divison. Parade in downtown in 1918. Courtesy of the Genealogy, History, and Archives Unit, Fort Worth Library | 2. Camp Bowie with rows of barracks in 1918. Source: University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collections | 4. A group of men, some in matching uniform pose on an unhitched wagon in 1907. Courtesy of the Genealogy, History, and Archives Unit, Fort Worth Library

The business of war has historically been generally very kind to Fort Worth. In 1917, the U.S. entered World War I and built and opened Camp Bowie, 3 miles west of downtown, to train the 36th Infantry Division. More than 5,000 workers put up 1,500 buildings on the 1,410 acres. Named for the Alamo defender James Bowie, the camp’s greatest monthly strength was more than 30,000. After the Armistice in November 1918, the government designated Camp Bowie as a demobilization center. It closed in August 1919 and was redeveloped into a residential area.

– North Fort Worth Historical Society, City of Fort Worth 

5: Gusher! Oil Strike at Ranger, October 1917

Texas’ oil hunt having been touched off by the big strike at Spindletop near Beaumont in 1901, W.K. Gordon, superintendent of the Texas Pacific Coal Company of Thurber, had his company drilling around Ranger, 90 miles west of Fort Worth, when he received a message from his bosses: “Believe you have made mistake; suggest you stop drilling.” The president let Gordon go a little deeper; he struck oil on the McCleskey Farm, turning Ranger into a boomtown of 30,000 people. Subsequent strikes came in at Desdemona, south of Ranger, growing that town to 16,000 inhabitants; Breckenridge, 30 miles northwest of Ranger; and Burkburnett, 135 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Hundreds of wells were drilled at Ranger-Desdemona-Breckenridge and hundreds more at Burkburnett. Fort Worth, between the districts, experienced its own oil boom. All chairs at the Westbrook Hotel lobby were removed to make room for the operators, promoters and speculators who swept into town and even packed the sidewalks outside the hotel. Before the rush, Fort Worth had three refineries. By the late summer of 1920, five others had been built, with four more under way. Bank deposits soared; office buildings constructed; and grand homes built. Fort Worth continued to surge between the two world wars with the construction of new public schools; lakes for critically needed stable water supply; historic office buildings; the Texas, Worth, and Blackstone hotels, T&P Station, T&P Warehouse, U.S. Courthouse, U.S. Post Office, West Lancaster elevated highway and bridge; Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum and Auditorium; new City Hall and public library; and city-county hospital.

– City of Fort Worth

6: Marvin Leonard Opens Colonial Golf Club, 1936
Marvin Leonard Golf Collage
1 and 3. Marvin Leonard, with Ben Hogan at Colonial | 2 and 4. Leonard, playing at Colonial. Photos courtesy Marty Leonard

Fort Worth businessman Marvin Leonard, advised by his doctor to get fresh air, took up golf. During his play at Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth, Leonard met a caddy named Ben Hogan. In 1934, Leonard purchased 157 acres in southwest Fort Worth and began to build a golf course. The Colonial Golf Club opened Jan. 29, 1936. After redesigning the course, Leonard persuaded the United States Golf Association to hold the 1941 U.S. Open at Colonial. From this grew the PGA Tour’s Colonial National Invitational. In December 1942, Leonard sold Colonial to its members. Restless to build another one, Leonard in 1955 found 1,220 acres of farm land in the Westover Hills residential area, 7 miles from downtown. He built and opened Shady Oaks Country Club.

– shadyoaks.com

7: Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Plant Opens, April 1942
 Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Plant Collage
1. Air Force Plant 4, 1944, Fort Worth, celebrating final C-87 variant of B-24 | 2. Air Force Plant 4, 1953 | 3. Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth-made F-35 

World War II brought construction of a quartermaster depot, Marine Air Base and Fort Worth Army Air Field to Fort Worth. The opening of Air Force Plant 4 — the “bomber plant,” initially operated by Consolidated Vultee, is one of Fort Worth’s transformational moments. Built on Lake Worth alongside the airfield, the mile-long factory built more than 3,000 B-24 Liberators during World War II, with a peak employment of 32,000. Successor contractors — General Dynamics, and today Lockheed Martin — have produced some of the world’s important planes, from the B-36 Peacemaker to the F-111, F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-35 Lightning II. The factory has produced more than 7,000 aircraft and provided jobs for more than 250,000 people, many from multiple generations of family members who’ve worked at the plant. Today, the factory employs about 14,000 workers and is Tarrant County’s second largest employer. It’s had jolts, including Defense Secretary’s decision in 1991 to cancel the troubled A-12 contract, which forced thousands of layoffs in Fort Worth. The Army airfield was renamed Carswell Air Force Base in 1948 and became headquarters of the 19th Air Division in 1951. B-52 bombers of the 7th Bomb Wing called Fort Worth home. Carswell was repurposed as the Fort Worth Naval Air Station and Joint Reserve base in the 1990s, keeping Fort Worth connected to its military foundations. It employs about 10,000 today.

– City of Fort Worth, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, Lockheed Martin

8: Post-Slavery Segregation, 1942
Segregation Building

The government opens two segregated housing projects in Fort Worth to address poverty — Ripley Arnold Place downtown for whites and H.H. Butler Place east of downtown for blacks. The Fort Worth Housing Authority issued a report noting “at least 30,000 citizens live in decrepit, disease-breeding homes.” The Housing Authority sold Ripley Arnold in 2001 for the construction of a new RadioShack headquarters and relocated residents. Butler still exists today, as does Cavile Place, a third project the Housing Authority built in the 1950s, both memorials today to the city’s history of segregation. The Housing Authority is working on plans to redevelop the Butler site, relocating residents. A plan to redevelop Cavile into a significantly less dense community and redistribute half its units elsewhere in Fort Worth went by the wayside, and the Housing Authority now plans to demolish Cavile and redistribute all residents through housing vouchers.

– Fort Worth Housing Authority

9: Edwards Family Begins Developing Ranch, 1956
Zoes Kitchen and Trailhead Gate Entrance
Rancher Cass O. Edwards and sister and business partner Colleen Edwards Geren started Cassco Land Co. in 1955 to help sell and develop land the family owned. The 7,000-acre Edwards Ranch once spanned from north of Bellaire Drive to Granbury Road and takes in the path of South Hulen Street today and the north portion of the Chisholm Trail Parkway, which the family donated right of way for. The family developed the Tanglewood, Overton Park, Overton Crest and Overton Woods neighborhoods. It sold the land for the development of Hulen Mall. Today, it’s developing the 270-acre Clearfork, made accessible by the Chisholm Trail opening — likely its own transformative moment for generations to come — and Riverhills neighborhood.

– Cassco Land Company

10: DFW Turnpike Opens: 1957
DFW Turnpike Collage
1. DFW Turnpike connects Dallas and Fort Worth when it opens. Source: University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collections | 2. Rangers ballpark in Arlington | 3. Turnpike helped draw Six Flags.

The turnpike, which operated between 1957 until 1977 when tolls paid off the cost and it became Interstate 30, connected Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas. It stimulated growth in Arlington and Grand Prairie and helped draw Six Flags Over Texas, an anchor in Arlington’s entertainment district.

– City of Fort Worth

11: Cliburn Wins Moscow Competition, 1958
Van Cliburn

At 23, Fort Worth pianist Van Cliburn won the first Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the height of the Cold War in 1958, achieving unprecedented renown for an American concert pianist. Cliburn’s victory inspired many American artists and opened the door to a new era of cultural relations between East and West. The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, established in 1962 to perpetuate Cliburn’s unique legacy, put Fort Worth on the international stage and is one of the city’s cultural crown jewels.

12: Oilman Sid Richardson Dies, Bequeaths $10 million to Basses, 1959
Sid Richardson

Old wildcatter Sid Richardson, busted at age 40 before striking it rich again in West Texas’ oil fields, bequeathed much of his estate to creating the Sid Richardson Foundation when he died in 1959. He left a combined $10 million to his nephew Perry Bass of Fort Worth, with whom he’d been business partners for years, and Bass’ four sons. Bass set up Bass Brothers Enterprises in 1960 to manage the family’s businesses in ranching and oil and drew his four sons — Sid, Ed, Robert and Lee — into the business. Today, the combined fortune of the four brothers (Perry Bass died in 2006 and his wife, Nancy Lee Bass, in 2013) is an estimated $13.2 billion, according to Forbes magazine. The family has driven development of downtown with its investments over 40 years in the vibrant Sundance Square, a 35-block area anchored by Sundance Square Plaza, which opened only five years ago, and the Bass Performance Hall, which opened in 1998. The family’s deep investments in the community include stewardship by Ramona Bass, Lee Bass’ wife, of the award-winning Fort Worth Zoo, which draws 1 million visitors annually and is one of the city’s leading attractions. The foundation has distributed millions in grants for education, health and human services, and culture.

- Forbes; “The Big Rich,” Bryan Burroughs, Sid Richardson Foundation

13: Kimbell Art Museum Opens, 1972
Kimbell Art Museum Collage
1. Kay Kimbell | 2. The west entrance of the Kimbell Art Museum, designed by Louis Kahn. Courtesy of the Genealogy, History, and Archives Unit, Fort Worth Library

Industrialist Kay Kimbell bequeathed his private art collection to a foundation when he died in 1964 for the establishment of a world-class museum. Designed by the architect Louis Kahn, the museum, supported by an established oil royalty trust, has established a reputation as one of the world’s finest museums. By the time Kimbell died, the collection had grown to 260 paintings and 86 other works of art, including such singular paintings as Hals’ “Rommel-Pot Player,” Gainsborough’s “Portrait of a Woman,” Vigée Le Brun’s “Self-Portrait” and Leighton’s “Portrait of May Sartoris.” The museum president and board adopted a policy statement in 1966 that the museum would acquire and retain works of “definitive excellence” — that may be said to define an artist or type regardless of medium, period, or school of origin.

14: President Carter Deregulates Airlines, 1978
Airport Collage

1. American Airlines announced its move to DFW after the airport opened and President Carter signed airline deregulation into law. | 2. DFW Airport opened in 1974 and has become North Texas’ biggest economic engine. Source: University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collections 

Picking one transformational moment out of the deep annals of Fort Worth aviation history was a difficult one. We picked airline deregulation for the impact on the region and Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. The airport opened in 1974. Five years later, American moved its headquarters to the DFW area, initially in temporary quarters in Grand Prairie and later to permanent offices in Fort Worth’s CentrePort. Deregulation opened the door for competition for routes and passengers, and airlines set up hub-and-spoke networks, feeding regional traffic into airports like DFW, which American staked out as its first hub. In the years after deregulation, American acquired Air Cal; Reno Air; TWA, which had purchased Ozark; and US Airways, which had merged with America West, Pacific Southwest, Piedmont, Empire, and the US Air, Trump and Eastern Air shuttles. American launched American Eagle in 1984 to feed its hubs. And with international a source of greater profits for airlines and competitive domestic, American has steadily grown its international routes. The airline also early on offered its SABRE computer reservations system to travel agents, dramatically altering how airlines were selling tickets and creating more customers. Today, American is Fort Worth’s largest employer, and the strength of DFW Airport is a key piece of the region’s economic development pitch internationally.

15: Hillwood Forms, 1988
Hillwood Collage
Hillwood’s master-planned Alliance development, led by Ross Perot, Jr. and anchored by the major industrial airport, has transformed North Fort Worth.

Hillwood’s Alliance development, anchored by Alliance Airport, has transformed the Interstate 35 corridor from North Fort Worth to Denton County since developer Ross Perot, Jr. established it in 1988. Alliance has augmented Fort Worth’s logistics profile and put the city in the hunt for numerous major relocations. Hillwood donated 350 acres to the City of Fort Worth for the airport. Alliance has attracted more than $8 billion in private investment, generated about $64 billion in economic impact, created nearly 47,500 jobs and has more than 4.3 million square feet developed, Hillwood reports. Hillwood’s first master-planned community in the corridor, Park Glen in Fort Worth and the Keller school district, was developed 10 miles south of the airport. Hillwood Communities has since grown to include 35 active communities in 28 cities, seven states and two countries.

16: Fort Worth South Form, 1995
South Fort Worth Collage

1-5. The Near Southside’s West Magnolia Avenue, brought back to life and a hub for the city’s creatives. | 6. Business leaders David Motheral and Joan Kline, who helped lead the Southside revitalization

Fort Worth South, the organization that led the revitalization of Fort Worth’s rundown Near Southside, formed by happenstance. Developer David Motheral needed to get a loan for a building rehab there. To get the loan, Motheral, who was working with former Mayor Bob Bolen, had to form a neighborhood organization. Motheral, Realtor Joan Kline and others formed an organization that turned out to be predecessor to Fort Worth South and were key in driving the Southside’s rebound. Fort Worth South, now Near Southside, Inc., has a deep toolbox that includes a plan, design rules and corresponding zoning, and financial incentives.

17: Engineer discovers slick water mix for natural gas fracking, 1997
Natural Gas Drilling Collage

The Barnett Shale, the gigantic, deep natural gas shale play underneath North Texas, was discovered in the 1950s. But it didn’t become commercially viable until three decades later. Even then, it was difficult to extract the gas. That is until an engineer from Mitchell Energy came up with a new mix of water, sand and polymers for fracking the shale to release the gas. That transformed gas exploration and production and Fort Worth’s energy industry. Barnett Shale activity peaked in 2018, with 4,065 drilling permits in the Barnett, according to the Texas Railroad Commission. That compares to 83 for the year to date.

18: Tornado Rips West Fort Worth, March 2000
Tornado Damage Collage
Downtown Fort Worth and the Bank One Tower after the 2000 tornado. Montgomery Plaza and Pier 1 building rose after the tornado.

The tornado that swept down West Seventh Street and into downtown, slammed into the modest Linwood neighborhood, hit the old Montgomery Ward distribution center, took out the Calvary Cathedral church and, once downtown, shattered the Bank One Tower. In the aftermath of the storm, which killed two, a development group acquired the Bank One building and converted it into an enduring condominium tower, Pier 1 Imports acquired the Calvary property and built a headquarters tower, and development in the West Seventh corridor west of the Trinity River accelerated. That included redevelopment of the Montgomery Ward property into Montgomery Plaza, which included demolition of the distribution center, and the redevelopment of Linwood.

19: TCU Names Victor Boschini its Chancellor, 2003
TCU Collage
1. The new Schollmaier Arena at TCU | 2. TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini and Michael Williams, UNTHSC’s president

Lots of things have happened to TCU since Victor Boschini landed as chancellor in 2003. Donors funded the university’s Campaign for TCU to the tune of $434 million, $184 million over goal, doubling undergraduate scholarship support and allowing the construction of more than a dozen academic facilities and residence halls. Accomplishments under Boschini’s watch: new Brown-Lupton University Union and Campus Commons; renovation of Amon G. Carter Stadium; construction of Intellectual Commons on the east side of campus; establishment of the John V. Roach Honors College; membership in the Big 12 Conference; new M.D. school in collaboration with UNT Health Science Center; and renovation of the Daniel-Meyer Athletic Complex, featuring the Ed & Rae Schollmaier Arena. The Horned Frogs’ victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl helped dramatically expand student applicants and their quality. The student population has grown, as has the number of out-of-state students attending.

20: Fort Worth Embraces Trinity River, 2012
Trinity River Collage
For years, Fort Worth turned its back on the Trinity River, which, at its worst, caused catastrophic flooding. But in recent years, the city has finally embraced the river’s value. Chef Tim Love was first in, with his Woodshed Smokehouse.

Fort Worth has finally figured out that residents and visitors like strolling, picnicking, biking along the Trinity River, and putting their feet up and relaxing with a cold beer and happy-hour bites. Chef Tim Love’s Woodshed Smokehouse broke the ice when it opened on the Trinity in 2012 and actually oriented the restaurant and its outdoor spaces to the water, instead of away from it.