Standing tall amidst the cotton fields and the black and brown blobs of cattle and the scattered dirt roads disappearing over the horizon more than 60 years ago, one-legged grocer Jack Rainey reigned supreme.

Rainey, a jovial sort who hobbled about atop a wooden leg, owned Lake Highlands’ one and only grocery store, located at what is now the intersection of Kingsley and Plano roads.

Candidates running for County office knew if they wanted to give their spiel to Lake Highlands farmers, they needed to make the trip to Jack Rainey’s grocery store.

Families who needed food and sundries knew that Rainey stocked them all, and they made the pilgrimage from their small farm homes scattered throughout the area to the small grocery store.

Even children gathered at Rainey’s to watch him dance about, tapping his wooden leg soulfully to the rhythms of unheard music.

And when the sun went down on this quiet farming community northeast of Dallas, the pitch black night was pierced only by tiny yellow light trickling from the windows of the scantily clad farmhouses.

These times are the stuff of neighborhood lore and legend now. But there are plenty of residents who not only remember these days, but lived them.

The pioneers, so to speak, featured in this month’s Advocate helped foster the growth of our community and its spirit by cutting roads, building homes and settling down on the once-barren land that today is Lake Highlands.

In the Beginning….

In 1885, deep in the mountains of Tennessee, Samuel Goforth gathered his wife, children and possessions and ventured into the nearest town to barter every item they had. The Goforths then stuffed their pockets and quickly emptied them at a nearby Tennessee train station for train tickets that would take them as far west as possible.

The tickets took them as far as the Duck Creek train station, otherwise known as Garland, Texas. Shortly after their arrival, the Goforths met a farmer who let them live in a shack with a dirt floor near White Rock Lake.

Times were harsh, though, and Samuel died of a broken heart shortly after arriving in the area. He missed his family and the Tennessee mountains, and he felt he had led his family astray.

After he died, one of his sons, C.D. Goforth, became the family’s leader. But the brutal life hardened C.D. and pushed him to succeed. He allowed himself no time for hobbies or fun in his life – he just farmed, says grandson Sam Goforth, who was raised on a farm on Plano Road between Kingsley and McCree.

During the Great Depression, C.D. acquired numerous farms as people abandoned them to look for jobs in Dallas.

“There were a lot of people who hated my grand dad. All he knew was work,” Goforth says.

“He would always say: If you didn’t have anything, you didn’t deserve anything.”

The original Goforth shack was located in the middle of what is now White Rock Lake, according to C.D. Goforth’s son, David. And the family farm covered a 900-acre area roughly bounded by the northern half of what is now the lake, and Plano, Church and Audelia roads.

Church Road is named after C.D.’s brother, Church Goforth, whose farm at one time was at the end of Church when it was a dirt road.

At one point, C.D. owned Flagpole Hill, but he sold it to the City of Dallas because, he told family members: “It’s an old rock thing, and it won’t grow anything.”

David was born when C.D. was 48 years old, and he continued the family farming tradition. After World War II, the Goforths began selling some of their land to J.M. Tuttle and Charles Ladenberger, who were housing developers at the time, Sam says.

C.D. passed away in 1959, and David kept farming and selling land to developers with beginning prices at $1,500 per acre.

The first tract of land David sold north of Northwest Highway was purchased by Tuttle for the Northlake Shopping Center.

Finally, in 1976, David traded a land parcel at the corner of Church and Audelia for a ranch in Athens, Texas, where he lives today.

And even though the land he was born and raised on now is covered with paved roads and stately neighborhoods rather than farmhouses, David remains true to his roots.

“Lake Highlands was good cotton ground,” David says, “I was born and raised there. I’m still 100 percent Lake Highlands.”

A Developer With The Building Edge

When Lake Highlands resident Charles Ladenberger hears about treehuggers in Dallas, he can’t help but chuckle.

When he came to Dallas after World War II, the area was nothing more than treeless farmland. Few trees were here until people moved in, he says.

Before the war, Lake Highlands consisted primarily of cotton fields, scattered farm houses and dirt roads, along with a paved Buckner Boulevard.

“Along Buckner Boulevard was all the Lake Highlands there was,” he says.

But slowly, the glamorized wild west and its prairies lured people to Dallas, and many of them wanted to make their homes in this area.

Ladenberger played a big part in helping people settle into Lake Highlands by constructing their homes.

He started developing in 1946, building hundreds of the homes located mainly within the boundaries of Plano, Audelia, Kingsley and Northwest Highway.

“At the time, houses were a scarce item,” says Ladenberger, whose homes were constructed primarily of brick and had three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Ladenberger jumped into the business after World War II. At the age of 25, he married Peggy Echols, whose father was in the mortgage and loan business and sparked Ladenberger’s interest in home building.

“At the time, all I knew how to do was fly airplanes and drive nails,” says Ladenberger, who was raised in St. Louis, Mo.

He quickly learned how to do otherwise, constructing almost all of the homes surrounding Lake Highlands Junior High and many off Buckner south of Northwest Highway.

(Ladenberger also constructed homes in other areas of Dallas.)

In 1953, Ladenberger started to build north of Northwest Highway, becoming one of the first builders to do so, he says.

There were no sewer or telephone lines in the area, which made the construction a huge undertaking for the developers, Ladenberger says.

“We kept right on going all the way to LBJ,” he says.

Ladenberger attributes a lot of his success to Lake Highlands developer J.M. Tuttle, who passed away several years ago.

“He was more or less my mentor. He showed me how to do it all financially,” he says.

“He was the moving force behind making Lake Highlands go,” Ladenberger says.

Ladenberger has lived in the same house off Peavy with his wife for the past 41 years and has three grown daughters in Dallas.

Ladenberger, 75, is a charter member of the Lake Highlands Exchange Club that was founded in the late ’50s.

He retired 20 years ago and says he spends his time “loafing,” among other things.

Ladenberger says when he moved to the area, he liked it because it was a rural community. But even though it has developed into another faction of the City, he likes it all the same.

“I think of Lake Highlands as a real neat community. One of the better in the country and certainly the best in Dallas,” he says.

Hamilton Park’s Guardian

The first time Sadye Gee heard her grandson talking about CDs, she was a bit disillusioned.

She thought he was carrying on zealously about certificates of deposit.

“No, Granny,” he said. “It’s a compact disc.”

“Talk about changes,” she says with a smile as she looks out her front window.

Seventy-five-year-old Gee has seen many since she moved to Hamilton Park in 1957. She made the move from Downtown Dallas after her family was forced to sell their home to the City. Her birth home, located near what is now CityPlace, was then bulldozed for City development.

Gee’s family then moved to Hamilton Park. They relocated to the area at a time when the drive from Downtown was still a dark one on Central Expressway. There weren’t any buildings between Downtown and Forest Road, she says.

“We had to cross over the rickety bridge to get to Hamilton Park,” she says.

Hamilton Park was situated between two hills off Forest Lane.

“I called them mountains,” she says. “I had not seen mountains at the time, so they looked like mountains to me.”

The neighborhood had only one street, Oberlin, named after the college a female resident had attended. Back in those days, it was a big deal when a woman attended college, Gee says.

In her early days in Hamilton Park, Gee worked as a librarian for 27 years at B.F. Darell Elementary, which closed down in 1969, she says.

She spent a total of 38 years with the Dallas Independent School District. Since retiring, she still lives in Hamilton Park with her husband of 56 years, Cleophus, who she calls her “’ole’ pardner.”

She is currently on the steering committees for the Cancer and Diabetes Societies, the African-American Family Heritage, the Back Home Folk Festival, and the list goes on.

She helped write and edit a book titled “Black Presence,” which discusses African-American culture in Dallas and is sponsored by the African-American Museum.

Ever since moving to Hamilton Park, Gee has worked hard to maintain the neighborhood by participating in the Hamilton Park Civic League Homeowners Association.

The Civic League works to bring better lighting, flood and traffic control, public works, and voter organization to the neighborhood, she says.

She describes the organization as the umbrella of the 750 homes, three churches, one school and shopping center within Hamilton Park.

Gee also organized the first chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons in the neighborhood.

Many of the positive changes in Hamilton Park – such as building a recreation center – have been chronicled in the Civic League’s newsletter, which Gee has edited for the past 20 years.

Gee keeps track of Hamilton Park’s past and present activities, she says. In the back corner of her living room is a tall cabinet with rows of photo albums containing relevant clippings of each phase of her life in Hamilton Park.

“This really was the country,” Gee says of the old days in the neighborhood. “It was like heaven when we moved out here.”

“Many of things that have changed, though, have been for the better, such as transportation and utilities – in the midst of the best access to supermarkets.”