The Settlement of Arlington TX
Settlement of the Arlington area dates back at least to the 1840s. After the May 24, 1841 battle between General Edward H. Tarrant (Tarrant County is named for him) and Native Americans at the Village Creek settlement, a trading post was established at Marrow Bone Spring in present-day Arlington. The rich soil of the area attracted farmers, and several agriculture-related businesses were well established by the late nineteenth century.
Arlington was founded in 1875 on the Texas and Pacific Railway as a market town for surrounding farms. A Presbyterian minister, Andrew Hayter, was asked by the railroad company to survey the area that became Arlington, he is credited with laying out the first town plat. Originally named Hayter, the city was re- named in 1877 after General Robert E. Lee’s Arlington House (in present-day Arlington County, Virginia).
After the arrival of the railroad in 1876, Arlington grew as a cotton-ginning and farming center, and incorporated in 1884. The city could boast of water, electricity, natural gas, and telephone services by1910, along with a public school system. By 1925 the population was estimated at 3,031, and it grew to over four thousand before World War II.
During this period before the war, Downtown Arlington was the center for business, commerce and community. It had as many as five gins to process cotton and other crops, and became the site of large produce sales and served as a distribution center for shipment to other towns. Besides agriculture, another early source of revenue was the mineral well in the center of town. Though it was dug as a public water well, it yielded mineral water, from which medicinal crystals were produced and sold. The water was also bottled for sale, and a sanitarium was built for using it to treat illness.
Arlington began its quest as a visitor destination when Arlington Downs was built in 1933, a racetrack that drew thousands of visitors until pari-mutual betting was declared illegal in Texas in 1937. The railroad helped define the town early, and this area of the original town was active with one and two-story brick buildings housing a mix of businesses, churches, and government services. The automobile and the growth to come would shape dramatic changes in the coming decades.
Following World War II, Arlington welcomed troops back with thousands of new homes in previously-undeveloped areas, and the City began feeling the effects of growth and change. 1951 was a turning point year for Arlington, with the announcement of the Bell Helicopter plant and the General Motors assembly plant fueling new employment in the area. 1951 was also the year that the frame structure over the historic mineral well at Center and Main Streets was demolished, signaling the end of an era.
Automotive and aerospace development gave the city one of the nation’s greatest population growth rates between 1950 and 1990. Arlington became one of the “boomburbs,” the extremely fast-growing suburbs of the post-World War II era. U.S. Census Bureau population figures for the city tell the story: 7,692 (1950), 90,229 (1970), 261,721 (1990), and 359,467 (2004 estimate). Tom Vandergriff served as mayor from 1951 to 1977 during this period of explosive development. Six Flags Over Texas opened in Arlington in 1961, and in 1972 the Washington Senators baseball team relocated to Arlington and began playing as the Texas Rangers, firmly establishing Arlington in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as a major sports hub for the region.
During these decades of enormous growth, cultural values in America placed more emphasis on the new, and emerging improvements in road construction and neighborhood design paved the way for the urban sprawl and center city disinvestment that has dominated the last two decades in Arlington. Many of the early buildings dating from the turn of the century through the 1930’s were torn down during this urban renewal phase of history. Downtown Arlington today includes newer public and private buildings dating from the 1970’s and 1980’s, and a few remaining historic buildings. While the lost architecture can never be rebuilt, we can learn from our past and build on what’s here today.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Arlington Historic Resources Survey, History of Arlington, Kamatsu and Associates and cited sources, 2006. Arista Joyner, comp., Arlington, Texas: Birthplace of the Metroplex (Waco: Arlington Bicentennial-Centennial Celebration Committee, 1976). Leonard Sanders, How Fort Worth Became the Texasmost City(Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum, 1973). Janet L. Schmelzer, Where the West Begins: Fort Worth and Tarrant County (Northridge, California: Windsor, 1985). Vertical Files, Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin.