White Rock Lake photo by Desiree Espada

White Rock Lake has been a source of recreation, history and folklore for more than a century. The Lady of the Lake, who reportedly drowned in the 1930s or late 1940s, is a local legend. Reader’s Digest named the lake one of the world’s most haunted bodies of water, thanks to the tale of the ghost dressed in white. And some of White Rock Lake’s history is as quirky as its legends. A few hundred German prisoners of war were housed in barracks at Winfrey Point during World War II. A riot between hippies and police in 1977 culminated in 49 arrests and a few hospitalizations. Some of the lake’s lesser-known history can be found in documents from the 1920s and ’30s, which we uncovered at the Dallas Municipal Archives.

Did you know?

White Rock Lake’s summer resort

Most residents cringe at the thought of privatizing the lake, but it seemed like a viable option in the 1920s. An anonymous letter dated May 21, 1921, proposed transforming White Rock into a resort. 

“You could not hit upon a more popular plan than that of making White Rock a summer resort for persons of moderate means,” the letter reads. “Properly equipped, White Rock Lake would not only furnish Dallas with Club Lake facilities, but it would also pay for itself. Rustic Inns, camping grounds, restaurants, pavilions, etc. coupled with a street car line to the lake (a short extension to the Junius Hts line will fix it) would give Dallas some ark.

“A small fish hatchery should be maintained to assure an ample supply of game fish. A few other improvements would make a summer resort for rich as well as poor.”

City prisoners worked at the lake

City prisoners worked at the lake, and it didn’t always go well. Several City of Dallas office memorandums detail injuries prisoners obtained while working at the lake. On August 6, 1941, prisoners were patching asphalt on Lawther Drive. One man’s face was severely burned after another prisoner turned a barrel over and splashed hot asphalt on the man’s face, according to an archived memorandum. Another memo, written in February 1942, describes a prisoner with seizure-like symptoms who fell and hit his head.  

“On the morning of February 25, approximately at 11:40 a.m., City Prisoner William Stewart was helping load brick on a city stake truck at White Rock, main office, and just as I looked up he was standing at (the) side of the truck, blinking his eyes rather fast. At first I thought he had something in his eyes, but just then he fell over backwards and began to kick and struggle,” truck driver George Trotter wrote. “When he fell, the side of his head hit the running board, which cut a small gash.” 

There was once a Dallas Beach Club, whose dreams of a boathouse were denied 

The club requested to construct a boathouse and pier on 132 acres in 1931 so that its members could participate in water sports. The City of Dallas, unsurprisingly, denied the organization’s request.

“Inasmuch as White Rock is a public lake and playground and as it is against the policy of the Park Board to permit its property to be used for private purposes, it is necessary that the Board deny your request.”