White Rock Lake Over Time


8000 B.C.

Archaeological finds indicate that the fertile area along White Rock Creek between today’s lake and the Trinity River was a favorite settlement area.


1500 B.C.

Indians tribes use the area on the eastern side of White Rock Lake for a bison kill site. Artifacts and potsherds also indicate an extensive campsite existed near the present-day spillway.


Several thousand years later …


1909 A.D.

The City of Dallas is running out of water.


The situation is so grave that insurance companies are threatening to remove all fire insurance coverage from the city.


White Rock Park is acquired by the City for $176,420. Municipal officials choose the area because it has a slightly higher elevation than the City, and the slope assures adequate water pressure to reach the tops of Dallas’s tall buildings.



After two years of acute water famine, the City decides to dam the waters of White Rock Creek, creating a lake for the cost of $253,070. Many ridicule the idea and consider the action taken by the City to be capricious, but dam construction proceeds. A pumping station and filtration plant are completed, bringing the total cost to about $800,000. The new lake is placed under the control of the municipal water department. Capacity stands at 5.7 billion gallons.


Carriages are encouraged to drive across the dam to pack it down. Citizens are able to purchase yearly leases, and build little fishing and camping cottages in the park.


Non-violent prisoners are allowed to work off their fines or sober up by gathering litter, cutting weeds or growing vegetables in an area around the lake that became known at “The Pea Patch” (closed in 1935).



The White Rock Lake pumping station ceases operation and White Rock Lake is re-assigned to the City Parks department to be developed for recreational use. A boat house and fish hatchery are constructed almost immediately.  A Municipal Bathing Beach and Bathhouse go up — 25¢ admission for adults, 15¢ for children.


Lawther Drive — which runs about two-thirds the distance around the lake and was named for Former City Mayor Joe E. Lawther in 1923 — is paved.


Below the dam, on the banks of White Rock Creek, a newsboys camp is maintained by the YMCA, including a shelter, barbecue and playground donated by the Kiwanis Club.


Nearby homeowners rise up in protest and quash plans to build “a cheap dance hall” adjacent to the Lake.



The Dallas Sailing Club is established and leases a building at the lake. It burns down. The club rebuilds on the same site. This building also burns down. Club members decide to build their facility on another site.



The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), one of FDR’s “New Deal” work programs, establishes camp at Winfrey Point. In cooperation with the CCC, an extensive program of dredging, building and road making is underway. A rock gateway is constructed at the entrance of the park and picnic areas are beautified. Retaining walls are placed along the shores and the marshy area at the north end of the lake is drained and an archipelago of small, artificial islands are constructed from the silt.


The National Park Service concludes that the number of private fishing shanties have begun to restrict the public use of the park area. Protests arise from the owners, and several years of negotiations take place before the last of the structures are removed. A key resolution factor is the construction of the Winfrey Point recreation building.


By 1940 …

White Rock Lake has become one of the major pleasure resorts of North and Central Texas, with horseback riding, fishing, boating, picnicking, and annual regattas for sailboats and inboard and outboard motor craft. The Dreyfuss Club is purchased and the Big Thicket building goes up. Also the lake is stocked annually with bass, crappie, bream and channel cat. It has become the winter habitat of ducks, geese, coots, cranes, and other waterfowl — even a four-foot alligator turns up. Hunting is prohibited.



The CCC camp is converted to a U.S. Army boot camp during World War II. Some local residents and church groups are scandalized on the day that 22,000 soldiers go skinny dipping in the lake.



The CCC facilities are adapted once again, this time to house for a year the prisoners of war from General Rommel’s elite Afrika Corps.



The Bonnie Barge sets sail. The pleasure boat, built from two surplus platoon boats, accommodates 150 people and is 65 feet long. It is described as “the largest sailing ship in Dallas.”


A Dallas sailing club caretaker sets the White rock fishing record by landing a 65-pound catfish.



Other roadways around the lake are paved.



A polio scare results in the closing of the bathhouse.



Swimming, water skiing and surfboard riding are prohibited as the lake once again is needed as a source of drinking water. Water purity tests at this time indicate that the lake is not safe for swimming and is never again available for that purpose.



A limitation of 10.5 horsepower is placed on boats at the lake.



The first Miss White Rock Lake pageant is held.



Life magazine covers the efforts of ABCD (A Beautiful Clean Dallas) and their litter drive at White Rock Lake.



The first White Rock Lake marathon is held. (The original number of participants was 85, and has grown to around 4,000.)



Improvements totaling $680,000 are approved for parking lots, jogging/biking paths, tennis courts, ball diamonds, fishing docks and soccer fields. Construction takes several years.



The lake is dredged again to remove silt.



The Dallas Water Department raises the dam’s height to improve flood control.



Problems with traffic, noise, crowds and “rambunctious” youthful behavior at the lake reach a fever pitch. Numerous citizens complain to the City Council that the lake is no longer safe or assessable to families, children or senior citizens. Nearby homeowners protest the situation passionately. The controversy persists for years.



The City implements a new traffic plan to alleviate congestion at the lake.



On Halloween, psychic Marry King hold a séance at White Rock Lake to summon “The Lady of the Lake,” a doomed beauty in a flowing white dress that legend has it haunts the lake where she perished under mysterious circumstances.


After use as a training center for the Northeast Dallas boxing team and as a dog obedience school, the abandoned bathhouse is renovated and becomes an art center. Numerous performances and exhibits contribute to the cultural enrichment of the community.



“Friends of White Rock Lake” and a number of nearby community groups (later organized under the umbrella organization “The White Rock Lake Foundation”) begin to work with the City’s Park Department toward long-term restoration, improvement, maintenance and preservation of the lake’s natural health and beauty. The group combines private fundraising and volunteer efforts with campaigning for the passage of city bond issues that will enable a visionary ideal for the lake’s future. The group is instrumental in the city’s commitment of $18 million to dredge the lake, improve roads and replace playgrounds.



“For the Love of the Lake” organizes to make immediate improvements to the shoreline and park. Two years of private sector fundraising and thousands of volunteer hours result in increased usability and present-day enjoyment of the park including: monthly trash pick-ups, murals in restrooms, litter and recycling receptacles, decaying park buildings painted and equipped, benches with bike racks, drinking fountains, signage, an outdoor exercise station, a children’s train at Tee Pee Hill and artistic bird identification plaques.



High-tech dredging is begun. Projected for completion in the summer of 1999, the project finishes in the fall of 1998 under budget. Excess funds are earmarked for a mini-dredge to clean up the shoreline.


With the support of the White Rock Lake Foundation, City planners formulate a $10.6 million package of improvements including: redesigning the Gaston-Garland-Grand intersection to improve traffic flow, with an urban square with fountains and benches; new parks near the historic Filter Building; new trails, separating cyclists and in-line skaters; street and landscape design, including tree-lined parkways; and park building restorations. In the1998 city bond election, $3 million is approved toward initial implementation. The Foundation proceeds with private fundraising to supplement the plan’s advancement.


The Water Department initiates plans and scheduling for a multi-million dollar renovation of the dam and spillway for safety reasons. Public meetings are held to address environmental, aesthetic and neighborhood concerns. Final plans announced in March include, among the structural plans, pledges to significantly reduce the number of trees to be removed; to install ornate wrought iron fencing in several areas; to re-grade eroded channel banks and steep slopes in Winsted Park and install boulders; and to construct several sections of new bike trails separate from hiking trails.


More than half a dozen major residential and retail developments start up near the lake including a $50 million apartment-retail project by Trammell Crow Residential; a 300 single family home development by Len-Mac Development; and a seven-acre commercial/residential plan adjacent to the DART Mockingbird rail station.


The East Dallas YMCA announces plans to locate their new facility at the corner of Gaston and Garland road; proximity to White Rock Lake is a major factor and principals hope to incorporate the Y with lake activities.


An ecological center including a bird sanctuary is currently in the design phase by a private group.


Late in the spring of 1999, the “Sake of the Lake” fund is established, also to facilitate implementation of the lake’s master plan.  A major three-day fundraising public festival is planned for the fall.




Size: 2,115 acres including the lake

Shoreline: 9.5 miles

Tree species: 49

Plant and grass species: 135

Wildflower species: 190

Wildlife species: 34 mammals, 54 reptiles, 20 amphibians, 18 fish, over 220 birds




May 22

The Cross Country Club of Dallas is hosting the White Rock ’N Roll Run will include a five mile run, a Y2K Fun Run or Walk or Waddle (1.2 miles). Event will have musical entertainment, clowns, food and more. Eighty percent of proceeds will go to benefit the lake. For more information, contact 972-622-SAVE, lovelake@mail.explore.net, www.whiterocklake.org.


June 11

The Exchange Club of Uptown Dallas will be hosting their second annual “Cash Fish” tournament. All ages are eligible and one tagged fish is worth $10,000. A portion of the funds will be donated to “For the Love of the Lake.” Entry fees are $20 adult; $10 child (must be accompanied by an adult). For more information, contact Randy Roberson, 972-669-9088, rroberson@rlroberson.com


June 12

The North Texas Windriders will be sponsoring “Windsurf White Rock.” There will be a regatta for experienced participants, acrobatic demonstrations by industry professionals, a land-based simulator, a tethered training board on the water, kayak demonstrations, paddling clinics and more. All proceeds go to the “For the Love of the Lake.” For more information, contact 972-622-SAVE, lovelake@mail.explore.net, www.whiterocklake.org.


September 17-19

The White Rock Junior Chamber of Commerce will sponsor a weekend-long fundraiser to benefit the lake that will include: concerts with headliners — Lyle Lovett and the Isley Brothers scheduled at press time; morning and sunset performances by the Dallas Chamber Orchestra; a celebrity golf tournament hosted by actor Burton Gilliam; fishing lessons; a sailboat regatta; a festival village set up “Olympic” style; and other interactive activities lakeside. For more information, contact Barbara Adamson at 972-601-2164.


TBA in 1999

“For the Love of the Lake” usually holds“Bake for the Lake” in the fall. Participants support the lake by buying bread and cookies, baked by volunteers, at the Great Harvest Bread Company. The group is also hoping to organize another concert featuring folk singer John McCutcheon.


The White Rock Lake Marathon is usually held in December. This will be the 28th anniversary of the event.