Cobb Park in Its Prime (Part 1): A “Maze of Beauty” and a “Lovers’ Lane”

Recently I biked through Sycamore and Cobb parks from Vickery Boulevard to Berry Street. To someone who spent much of his free time during junior high and high school in those two parks, the ride was like a rolling homecoming. As I rode, my entire adolescence passed in review.

Sycamore Park, conceived as “Southeast Park” and opened in 1910, is not vast (just eighty-eight acres), but in it I, like so many other East Siders, played miniature golf, tennis, and basketball (at the city recreation center). During my brief infatuation with golf, I practiced iron shots in the park with my pawn-shop clubs. But mostly I played baseball in Sycamore Park. Baseball by the hour. In the heat of August we’d keep cool(er) by soaking our T-shirts in the water fountain.

The park also had a shelter house (dominoes, anyone?), a swimming pool, even an amphitheater.

In contrast, Cobb Park a half-century ago offered a much different experience than Sycamore Park. If people went to Sycamore Park for structured sport, they went to Cobb Park for unstructured adventure.

Although for a while an American Legion post and a pet store were located at the southern end of Cobb Park, the rest of the sprawling park was undeveloped—a wilderness—drivable by car on only two dirt roads—the high road along the east and the low road along the west. In between were mere footpaths through the trees and undergrowth. And down the middle was Sycamore Creek, in places clear and running and shallow over its ancient limestone bed, in places murky and still and who knows how deep.

My buddy Larry Roberts and I spent most weekends of junior high in Cobb Park. Larry and I were Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and Sycamore Creek was our Mississippi River.

cobb needleWe waded the length of the creek, oblivious to broken glass on the creek bottom and snakes along the creek bank. We terrorized empty pop bottles with a Crosman pellet gun and ourselves with Indian needles. We caught crawdads and turtles and catfish fingerlings and stuck our hands into mysterious holes along the bank. We rode our bikes along the footpaths. We dug clay out of the bluff above the high road and maligned it in a brief attempt at artistry.

Rites of passage were celebrated on the park’s humble dirt roads. For example, my father taught me to drive on the park’s roads in his 1956 Chevy wagon. As soon as possible afterward I parked on those roads at night with my girlfriend in my own car.

cobb park-given to city 4-16-21-stThis vast inner-city wilderness originally was part of the kingdom of Cobb. In 1921 Horace H. Cobb donated 125 acres adjacent to the Cobb brothers’ brick plant. (Glen Garden Country Club also had been built on Cobb land in 1913.)

cobb rogers 1925The brick plant was in the southeastern corner of the city, and Sycamore Creek was the boundary between the cities of Fort Worth and Polytechnic (Fort Worth would annex Polytechnic in 1922). With time the park as shown here would expand on the north but recede on the south, away from the country club. (Map from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

cobb park terraceThe brick plant was located where the Park Terrace Apartments are east of Riverside Drive and west of Sycamore Creek.

cobb lovers 23In 1923, as development of the park began, the Star-Telegram printed this feature calling the park a “maze of beauty.”

cobb clarke poemCity Parks Superintendent George C. Clarke waxed pure-dee poetic about the park-to-be, even predicting that Cobb Park Drive would be a “lovers’ lane.” (Many other people who grew up on the East Side can attest to the accuracy of Clarke’s prediction.)

cobb crime panelBut the seclusion that welcomes romance also welcomes crime. Cobb Park long had a reputation as a dangerous place.

cobb crime bodies panelMore often than not, the “park” in a headline that read “Body Found in Park” was Cobb. The most infamous body dumping occurred in 2001. Motorist Chante Mallard hit pedestrian Gregory Biggs near the Loop 820-U.S. 287 junction and, with Biggs embedded in the car windshield and still alive, drove home and parked her car in her garage. While Mallard fretted—for hours—over what she had done, Biggs bled to death. Then Mallard and two other people dumped his body in Cobb Park.

cobb entranceToday Cobb Park has a different feel. Less primitive but less dangerous. In fact, Cobb Park, now at 224 acres, is undergoing a rebirth after the city spent $4 million in renovations: a formal entrance, play areas, benches and gazebos, two basketball courts, parking lots.

cobb concrete pathThere is a new network of concrete paths. This path follows the route of the old high road along the eastern edge of the park.

cobb new bridgecobb creek from bridgeThere is a new bridge over Sycamore Creek.

cobb rock wallIn the shadow of U.S. 287 this stone wall, possibly built by the Works Progress Administration in the late 1930s, survives although in need of repair.

cobb low waterThe low-water crossing that connected the high road to the low road near Martin Luther King Freeway (and that foolhardy motorists seemed unable to resist during high water) is permanently closed now.

But this rebirth is not Cobb Park’s first. During four years in the 1950s an area of the park measuring just one-tenth of a square mile underwent dramatic development and transformed the nature of Cobb Park:

Cobb Park in Its Prime (Part 2): Baseballs, Bridles, and the Mystery Mound

Share:Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on Tumblr
This entry was posted in Advertising, Crime, Downtown, All Around, East Side, Life in the Past Lane. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Cobb Park in Its Prime (Part 1): A “Maze of Beauty” and a “Lovers’ Lane”

  1. earl belcher says:

    Cobb Park and Sycamore were two of my favorite places. Got my first kiss in Sycamore Park. Great to see the rebuild. For those wishing to dispose of bodies a tidy dumpster will be installed. I used to love to pilot my BMW R80 motorcycle on the winding upper road. Like a ride thru the country. It was great. As for the dirt bags we should put a bounty on them. Use their dead carcasses to fill in low spots in the road. But, Mike, you are braver than me. Ride a bike thru there? Not me, unless I have a suppressed MAC-10.

    • hometown says:

      I am not a brave person. The first time I biked through the park as an adult, I admit, I was looking back over my shoulder to see who or what might be gaining on me. But by the third time, I was at ease. I think it’s again the safe park we grew up in, not the park it became after we grew up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *