When Dallas was an island on the Blackland Praire

viewStanding here now…..you can’t see beyond the next street. This story is about the changing landscape.

Not exactly the view I remember  as a child.  Right here at the end of the street of Hillsboro and Shiloh, our housing development ended and across the street there were barb wire fences and old family farm houses up across the pasture. And when it rained a lot, the stock pond about a block down which no longer exist, would overflow and you could catch crawdad up and down Shiloh with a string and piece of bacon.  And up past the farm houses you could see all the way out to Mesquite. One evening in 1967, we stood in our front yard on Hillsboro and watch as the Motley mansion out there in old Mesquite burn to the ground.

The old “Motley Mansion” use to be where East Field College is now. The Motley family cemetery can still be found on East Field’s campus.

This was the corner my neighborhood buddies Kendall Kern, Bud and Craig Revault met and plotted our day in the fields and great out of doors.  For a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon, my old neighborhood was quiet.  I could only imagine the children now, instead of playing tag and soldier with sticks for guns, were now in front of a computer tagging pictures of friends on Instagram or playing soldier, racking up points blowing people away in a far too realistic way on their x-boxs.

My father came to Dallas in the 1940’s.  He lived north of Dallas up near the Red River in Denison Texas, birthplace of our 34th president, Dwight Eisenhower.  After two years the Eisenhower’s moved on to Kansas…..my father endured Denison until he couldn’t stand it anymore.  A better life await 75 miles down the road in Dallas.  Not to denigrate Denison, but for a young man with dreams, it was a place to escape as quickly as possible.

A Texas Electric Railway like my father would have taken from Denison to Dallas.

My father came to Dallas on “The Texas Electric Railway,” which was a historic interurban railroad that operated from Dallas, Texas, to Denison, Corsicana, and Waco.

My father said you knew you were getting close to Dallas when you could see it, like an island out there on the Blackland Prairie.

Image from Traces of Texas, Dallas 1945, taken by William Langley

The Dallas of my childhood still had discernible borders. When I attended St. John’s in the mid 60’s there were still some traces of the old Harter farm that Harter road was named after.  There running through St. John’s play ground was a wind break with pieces of barb wire still attached to it.  That too is now long gone.  The old growth forest along White Rock creek, that my friends and I played in, that had an abandon model T with a tree growing up through it ….long gone and was all bulldozed to build apartments. Now all the little towns and surrounding cities edges all have touched and there is not just a lot of private land inside Dallas that hasn’t been carved up.  And even where there are some vestiges of the old Blackland Praire, invasive species have about choked out the native grasses and plants.

I’m not bemoaning the change in and of itself, but it does speak  to the importance of parks and wildlife areas, not just for ourselves but the wild animals that have been pushed to the limits in trying to survive the ever encroaching city. So whether it’s the preservation of what we have left or creating a park over a highway like Klyde Warren Park, we all need a little green grass to wiggle our toes in.

Even having seen farm land in and around Dallas when I was growing up, thinking about Dallas being like an island out there surrounded by the Blackland Prairie still sort of blows me away.

To find out more information about the Texas Blackland Prairie.

The Nature Conservancy

Texas Park and Wildlife

Texas Blackland Prairies

Traces of Texas

Native Prairies of Texas organization

Local chapter of Native Prairies of Texas



8 thoughts on “When Dallas was an island on the Blackland Praire

  1. Martin, My mother’s family moved around North Texas when she was a child because my grandfather was a sharecropper. He followed work. One location my mom remembers well is a turkey farm in Addison which she called home from 1935 to 1940. That turkey farm is the current campus of the Greenhill School, and the historic wood frame house on the campus that serves as the Volunteer Services building is the very house where my mom and her family lived!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed reading your blogpost, Martin. Although I no longer live in Dallas I see the loss of naturespace just about everywhere I return to that I have been before. I was fortunate that most of my family vacations while growing up in Dallas were Sierra Club backpacking trips to one place or another. I think it was largely these experiences in wilderness that formed the core of the person I was to become along with the long Texas summer nights spent outside somewhere in the neighborhood I grew up in in Dallas near White Rock Lake trying to catch fireflies.WE caught them in Dixie cups and took them inside to use them as night lights for a bit before setting them loose again to light up the night again. I now live in Portland, Oregon, where the geography and weather is far different than my childhood days. But still, when my mind is cluttered by the hectic pace of life or my heart may feel heavy with the inevitable ebbs and flows of life, there is no quicker or better route to peace and solace than simply stepping outside. I am reminded by your blogpost of a book that should be required reading for all new parents called Last Child in the Woods:Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder written by Richard Louv, which highlights the value to children of time spent in nature. With increasing population pretty much everywhere on the planet and the resulting rapid growth of cities consideration of sensible and thoughtful urban growth principles seems especially urgent. I can’t speak for others but I can most definitely say that having the opportunity to spend time in nature provides a peace and joy that I have found nowhere else. Outside is my recharge zone. Thanks again for your thoughtful post.


  3. I was born in Dallas in 1959. In 1963 my parents bought a house accross the pasture you wrote of on Scottsbluff, and they still live there.

    I am a member of a Facebook group “Memories of Dallas” and I would love to share this story with them. If you prefer you could join us in the group, we are all about memories, no political posts allowed, and over 11,000 members. There is even a few Motley descendants in the group.

    Thanks again for sharing your memories and I hope to hear from you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Martín,
    Ah the memories of going to play in “the woods” or the creek to build forts or go exploring! Our youth today are missing out on those rites of passage. We had so many of those places around us growing up in the 60’s and before but alas, progress and building booms have destroyed much of that.


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