Trolley Parks: Lake Como (“Most Beautiful Spot in Texas”)

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Fort Worth had several streetcar companies in addition to the interurban to Dallas and to Cleburne. Such mass transit was popular at a time when most people did not own an automobile. To motivate folks even more to become passengers the interurban company and some streetcar companies built “trolley parks” on their lines. These parks were the Six Flags Over Texases and Disney Worlds of their day: popular destinations for families, lodges, unions, companies, and public school classes.

For a brief time early in the twentieth century, Fort Worth had four trolley parks. The first was Rosedale Pavilion (1885-1907) on Samuels Avenue, opened by the Rosedale streetcar line to anchor the northern end of its line, which ran south to the Missouri Pacific Infirmary. Next came Lake Como on the Arlington Heights streetcar line in 1890, Lake Erie on the interurban in 1903, and White City on Sam Rosen’s streetcar line in 1906.

grunewald grand opening 03By the early twentieth century Fort Worth’s first trolley park, Rosedale Park, was called “Grunewald Park.” Owner Peter Grunewald did not advertise much in local newspapers, but his grand opening ball of the 1903 season did get into the Fort Worth Telegram’s daily column “City in Brief,” which contained as many ads as news items. The running ad for Nash Hardware Company did not even get a complete sentence. Charles E. Nash probably paid to have his company’s name appear at the top of the column each day.

all 3 ads 8-5-06 teleBy 1906 ads for the other three trolley parks—Lake Como, Lake Erie, and White City—could be read on the same page of the Telegram, such as on August 5. Water sports and band concerts were common attractions at all the trolley parks. Note that the White City ad mentions Nellie de Vaughn. Two days later the “queen of the clouds” would be dead.

como all 3 preview 4-20-08 s-tAfter Rosedale Pavilion closed in 1907, each year at the start of the “picnic season” the Telegram also published a preview of the three parks. Clip is from April 20, 1908.

como all 3 trolley parks 4th of july 7-5-08 telegramAnd each July 5 the Telegram printed a roundup of the Independence Day fun at the trolley parks. Streetcars ran into the early morning. Clip is from 1908.

como amon carterLet’s take a virtual trip first out to Lake Como trolley park. The story of Lake Como trolley park is inseparable from the history of Arlington Heights. Lake Como was the creation of Denver developer Humphrey Barker Chamberlin, a British-born capitalist who in 1889 bought almost four thousand acres of prairie west of Fort Worth and began developing his Arlington Heights suburb, envisioning it as an upscale suburb similar to his development in Denver. (Photo from Amon Carter Museum.)

como denver 89Chamberlin’s business partners were his brothers A. W., F. J., and W. H. Henry W. Tallant, treasurer of the Denver mint, would become manager of Chamberlin’s Fort Worth dealings.

como chamberlin companiesIn the early 1890s Chamberlin and his brothers, along with Tallant, hit Cowtown like a Rocky Mountain mafia and soon were wheeling and dealing. The 1894 city directory lists the local “land companies” in which the Chamberlins and/or Tallant were officers. Not included are the Arlington Heights water, streetcar, and electric companies.

como power 3-14-90 gazOn March 14, 1890 the Fort Worth Gazette reported that work had begun on the powerhouse at Chamberlin’s Lake Como to provide electricity for his Arlington Heights streetcar line, streetlights, and the new homes to be built.

como AH 9-25-90 gazBy September 25, 1890 the Gazette reported more progress at Arlington Heights and Lake Como. Chamberlin built a “magnificent macadamized boulevard” to Fort Worth (originally the Weatherford Road, later Arlington Heights Boulevard, then Camp Bowie Boulevard). He had impounded thirty-five-acre Lake Como, fed by “clear pellucid body of artesian water.” At the lake he had built the powerhouse plant to provide electricity. And the lofty (ahem) “elevation” of Arlington Heights would assure “cool breezes in summer.”

1893 FW AH Arlington Heights Power-WaterThis Sanborn map of 1893 shows the powerhouse beside Lake Como.

como streetcar line 96In 1896 the Arlington Heights streetcar line ran from East Front (Lancaster today) downtown north to Jones Street, west on 7th Street to Arlington Heights Boulevard and on to Lake Como.

como AH ad 9-25-90 gaz“Nature gave Texas Arlington Heights”: In that same edition the Gazette featured this ad promoting Chamberlin’s Arlington Heights as “the most desirable place of residence in Texas.” The ad has images of the powerhouse and of one of the fine residences.

como inn schwarzChamberlin hired Fort Worth’s uberarchitect, Marshal Sanguinet, to design for Arlington Heights a grand hotel (Ye Arlington Inn) and some model houses. (Image of Ye Arlington Inn from Photographs of Fort Worth by D. H. Swartz.)

como houses 1891Two Arlington Heights homes in 1891. The top house was that of Henry W. Tallant and later Robert McCart (another Chamberlin associate) on Bryce Avenue. (From Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

como inn ad 7-3-02 dmnOn July 3, 1892 the Dallas Morning News ran this ad proclaiming the Ye Arlington Inn, with electric lighting, steam heat, hydraulic elevator, telephone connections, and en suite bathrooms, to be “a thoroughly first-class hotel.”

como fire 11-11-94But the years 1893-1894 hit Chamberlin with a double whammy: The national silver panic of 1893 battered his finances; on November 11, 1894 the Gazette reported that his Ye Arlington Inn, located at today’s Merrick and Byers streets, had burned.

como 1895 Sam StreetThis 1895 map shows Lake Como, the powerhouse, Ye Arlington Inn (“Burnt”). Note the “Stove Works” to the east. (From Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

Development of Arlington Heights and Lake Como trolley parkwas slowed for a few years. During that time the lake provided little more than fishing and boating. In 1897 Chamberlin died while bicycling in London.

But new owners bought the Lake Como park, and by early in the new century Lake Como had fulfilled Chamberlin’s promise. The park had a grand pavilion on the water, a boardwalk, a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel, gazebos, a boathouse, a shooting gallery, rowboats, and naphtha launches (boats propelled by a motor that ran on naphtha vapors).

Streetcars ran every forty minutes from downtown to the lake. Fare was a nickel.

como 1905This Telegram ad in 1905 told the world that after a few years of stagnation “beautiful Arlington Heights” was booming, and Lake Como was “smiling.” And what’s not to smile about “where nature has been lavish with her gifts”? Improved “electric road.” More fine houses in “the most fashionable suburb in Fort Worth, if not in all Texas.” A new country club. (In the lower left, Fairview, the house of Mayor William Bryce, still stands on the street named for him.)

Lake Como was advertised as “the cool spot,” with its “breezy skating rink” “where they all go,” the “most beautiful lake in the south.”

The lake hosted concerts, pageants, water carnivals, and fish bakes. Early in the 1900s popular actress and singer Lillian Russell visited the lake.

como ad 5-9-08 tele“Go where the crowd goes”: On May 9, 1908 the Telegram announced that “Niles and Hart, the monarchs of mirth,” and “Edwin Winchester, the musical monologist,” would entertain at Lake Como. Other attractions included a vaudeville bill, band concert, and figure-eight roller coaster.

como rowing 5-11-91 dmnOn May 11, 1891 the Dallas Morning News reported a rowing contest on Lake Como between sporting goods dealer A. J. Anderson and William H. Ward, proprietor of the White Elephant Saloon.

como dallas 8-24-91 dmnThe society pages of the newspapers regularly mentioned Lake Como as the setting for moonlight picnics, boating parties, hayrides, watermelon parties, and dances for young socialites. Such events were usually chaperoned. This clip is from the August 24, 1891 Dallas Morning News.

(To complicate matters, there was a Germanic Como Social Club that in the 1890s hosted Maifest at a Como Park on east side of town.)

como jollity 9-15-01On September 15, 1901 the Telegram reported on a chaperoned dance at Lake Como pavilion that was replete with “ejaculations of enjoyment.”

como-1907In 1907 Lake Como boasted of having earned “the patronage of the very best people of the city” and reminded those folks that Professor Cooper, who had walked over Niagara Falls on a wire, would perform a similar feat over Lake Como.

como ad fishing 2 5-11-08 teleEven with all the added attractions, in the new century Lake Como continued to be a favorite fishing hole. This ad by A. J. Anderson is from the May 11, 1908 Telegram.

como 1910 ut libIn 1910 W. C. Stripling Department Store held its first company picnic at Lake Como. (Photo from University of Texas at Arlington Library.)

But the new century that had begun so favorably for Lake Como dealt the park a blow. In 1913 the city of Fort Worth dammed the Trinity River to build Lake Worth. The new lake, with its competing attractions at Casino Beach, rendered Lake Como less popular. Finally the city bought Lake Como to maintain as a municipal park.

como lakeToday, of the Gay Nineties trolley park “where the crowd goes” only the lake survives.

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