The bronze plaques don’t tell all.
Each one has the Texas Historical Marker insignia and a brief explanation of why the site deserves the heavy metal distinction. But even if you look around our neighborhood to find the few places where history has been noted, you won’t learn the full story simply by reading the embossed wording.
The only way history comes to life is to hear it told from the mouths of people who know and love it most. To learn more about our past, we talked to the people who are trying to record and preserve it for future generations.
Civilian Conservation Corps Company 2816, near Winfrey Point, 950 E. Lawther
As Kathy Mays Smith describes them, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) alumni are the kindest, most respectful, most patriotic group of men on God’s green earth.
“I tell you, they treat me the way you’d expect the Queen of England or Laura Bush to be treated,” Smith says.
“When they say the pledge of allegiance to the flag, it’s heartfelt, and they don’t stumble over the words to the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ either.”
It’s no wonder, she reasons, considering what they have experienced.
“This was a very dark time in our country — depression, erosion, dust storms,” she says of the decade or so following the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
“The CCC made a huge difference not only for our country at that time, but for the men.”
It’s a part of American history Smith knows well. Her father was the commander of a CCC company in West Virginia, and she has written the only book devoted to the men in their late teens and early 20s who enlisted in this New Deal program.
Every state and territory in the Union was assigned at least one CCC public improvement project, and the east side of White Rock Lake, where the baseball fields are today, was the chosen location for the only camp in Texas.
“I’ve heard from City (of Dallas) people that several other locations in the area had wanted it, but because of the water, and I guess some good sales pitches, we got it, and White Rock Lake would not be the park it is today without it,” Smith says.
More than 3,000 young men rotated through the camp during its 1935-1942 existence, mostly farm boys living in the area who often made their way by hitchhiking or on cattle trucks. Under the command of an Army reservist, the men planted trees and built structures such as the Big Thicket building.
They quarried rock, some of it from the land where Casa Linda Plaza now sits, and made their own gravel.
“Flag Pole Hill is a hill because they had truckload after truckload of gravel going in there,” Smith says.
For this backbreaking work, mostly done by hand, they earned $30 a month, keeping $5 of it and sending the rest home.
“These men were without jobs; they had families who were in dire straits,” Smith says. “At that time, that was enough money to maybe pay the mortgage on a farm, keep food on a table, maybe for a widowed mother who had no other source of money.
“I mean, it was just a godsend.”
The invention of the integrated circuit, TI Boulevard
A world without computers, mobile phones and iPods is hard to imagine, but none of these were possible until Jack Kilby came along.
When the late Texas Instruments engineer invented the integrated circuit, the mechanism that allows electronic devices to work, “things changed for the world,” says Kim Quirk, the company’s public affairs director.
Kilby’s first electronic circuit was half the size of a paper clip, but it paved the way for “just anything today that you can think of, even things like a curling iron, an iron, or your car has lots of integrated circuits in it,” Quirk says.
As the story goes, it was summer 1958, and most TI employees were out of the office. At that time, the company took mass vacations, two weeks in July and another long stretch around Christmas.
A fairly new employee, the 34-year-old Kilby hadn’t worked long enough to build up his vacation time.
“So he was here basically working by himself, just fiddling around with wires and transistors and glue,” Quirk says.
Only one transistor was part of Kilby’s initial model, but because of his invention, today a single microchip can contain billions of transistors. The company honored him by opening the Kilby Center in 1997, and in 2000, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics.
“He kept an office in the Kilby building just about until the time of his death in 2005. He was an inspiration to the young engineers,” Quirk says.
“We called him the gentle giant. He was very tall, six-feet, six-inches, very unassuming, and a very kind and brilliant man. He’s pretty much a legend around here.”
McCree Cemetery, 9920 Audelia
A fence separates the two cemeteries that make up McCree Cemetery. On one side lies many members of the farm families who settled around northeast Dallas; on the other lies a black cemetery.
“They were the slaves, many of them, that the Caruth family had,” says James, better known as The Cemetery Lady. It’s a well-deserved title, considering that she knows more about the 200 cemeteries in Dallas County than most people who have family buried in them.
She loves the story of one of the slaves buried in the McCree Cemetery, a man known as Mr. Bonner.
“When he was freed, he couldn’t read or write, but he knew that owning land was important, so he bought little pieces of land as he could afford them,” James says. “One of the pieces of land he owned was where Medical City hospital was built, and he ended up being a millionaire.”
That’s also why Anderson Bonner Park is located near Medical City, she says. The Bonner slaves “so-called owners,” as James likes to say, was the family of the woman who deeded the land as a public graveyard, Mahulda Bonner McCree. Its first known burial was John Henry Jones, who died in 1862 as a result of being wounded in the “War between the States,” according to a newspaper clipping copied onto the back of a family photo.
Many of the gravestones belong to members of the Jackson family, who built the general store once located near Audelia and Forest. The store included a post office, which was essentially a wooden barrel where residents deposited their mail.
Audelia Road was named for one of the members of this family, but the moniker isn’t quite right, according to the handwritten inscription in a family Bible.
“It was really Ardelia Allen Jackson,” James says, “so Audelia Road is misspelled.”
DeGolyer House, Dallas Arboretum, 8525 Garland
Everett DeGolyer decided the 44-acre dairy farm on the east side of White Rock Lake was the perfect site for a retirement home. He and his wife, Nell, took up residence in 1939.
“She called it their little crooked house,” says Margaret Duncan. “She built this house crooked to preserve the trees. She didn’t cut one tree down to build this house.”
Duncan and Kathleen Cunningham are more familiar with the intricacies of the house and the DeGolyer family history than anyone else at the Dallas Arboretum. When the pair give a tour, it’s not unusual for them to finish each other’s sentences.
“It’s our baby,” Cunningham says. “If it’s known, we know it, and if we don’t know it, it’s probably not knowable.”
The hallmark of the house, she proudly says, is its octagons, a Spanish colonial design element. The shape is first noticeable in the fo
yer, an eight-walled room from which the rest of the 21,000-foot house extends. Another immediate example is the living room ceiling, with its elaborate octagonal coffers. The chandelier in the opposite dining room inspired the mold, and artist John Cassie created each 30-pound coffer on the front lawn.
As evidence that tour guides never know who might stop in, Cunningham recalls a time that she was gushing about the ceiling and “a little lady at the back of the tour said, ‘Oh, I’m so glad you like my daddy’s work.’”
DeGolyer made his riches as an oilman, and his job with an English petroleum company in Mexico greatly influenced the home’s style and furnishings, not to mention its design by Beverly Hills architects. Mexican tiles cover the foyer floor, the breakfast room resembles an English pub, and the banana trees in the courtyard give it a California hacienda feel, the women say.
“They kind-of mixed everything they liked,” Duncan says.
“And she wanted it all,” Cunningham continues.
Cunningham admiringly speaks of Nell DeGolyer as “a liberal before Gloria Steinham was born,” who earned degrees in music and philosophy before marrying Everett and met him while acting as his German tutor. Everett was a renaissance man, the women say, the most obvious proof being the DeGolyers’ library with its wall-to-wall bookshelves.
Roughly 15,000 books rest on its shelves, but they are stand-ins. Everett DeGolyer’s actual collection totaled 85,000 books, “and they’re in the hands of students, being used,” Cunningham says.
After Everett died in 1956, Nell lived in the home until her death in 1972. They left their 44 acres, including the house, to Southern Methodist University, which sold the property to the City of Dallas in 1977. Within a year, it was named the future home of the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society.
The vast majority of the beautiful antiques and furnishings collected throughout the couple’s life together remain in the home today. And thanks to Nell DeGolyer’s meticulous records, very few mysteries exist, and everything is in its proper place, including family mementos.
“When Everett died, Nell put his portrait here, and it’s been here ever since,” says Duncan, gesturing toward the living room’s grand piano.
“We wouldn’t touch it,” Cunningham says.
Highland Oaks Church of Christ, 10805 Walnut Hill
As the 150th anniversary approached, Sheryl Davis was sorting through the church’s archives, trying to find the names of all 29 ministers who had shepherded the congregation throughout its history.
In the midst of her search, she happened upon the names of the six families who began worshipping together in 1855.
“I thought, well wouldn’t that just be icing on the cake to have descendants of the original families here when we have our celebration,” Davis says.
As she pored over the history, she realized how significant these founding families were.
“They were not just obscure people who nobody knew,” Davis says. “They were definitely well-known people in Dallas, the founding fathers of this city, too.”
Names such as John Higgs Cole, as in Cole Avenue, and Jefferson Peak, as in Peak Street, were among the founders. So were Harvey Shepherd, the postmaster, and William Henry Hord, the first judge in Dallas County.
The families originally met in a log cabin downtown, and as the congregation grew, the church moved to Pearl and Bryan, and then Garland Road, before settling in its current location on Walnut Hill. It’s the oldest congregation in Dallas, and many other churches — Skillman Avenue Church of Christ, Western Heights Church of Christ, Mesquite Church of Christ — sprung out of the church as well.
Much has changed during the past century and a half, but some common threads have been woven throughout its history, Davis says, such as the church’s “extensive benevolent ministry” that has its roots in the early days.
Old record books she found noted contributions set aside for the poor, and Davis also found a newspaper clipping that mentioned early members helping those in need. Highland Oaks also has been a diverse congregation since its beginning, she says. Records show that two blacks not only were part of the congregation but also served communion as equals during pre-Civil War days, a time when that was practically unheard of.
“An article in the newspaper in 1896 says they were 73 and 77 and had been ‘with us from the very beginning,’” Davis says.
“A church family had provided their winter clothing since they had been set free, and that tells me they were probably slaves.”