Before Grand Prairie had its Lone Star Park, Arlington had its Arlington Downs. And before Arlington had its Arlington Downs, Fort Worth had its driving park, where people rode, raced, and bet.
An 1886 bird’s-eye-view map of Fort Worth shows the “North End and Driving Park” in the Samuels Avenue neighborhood (see Part 1). That oval is the driving park’s track.
Here is a closeup of the driving park, which was located about where a county jail facility is today on Cold Springs Road.
Among the men who opened the new driving park in 1883 were attorney and real estate developer Robert McCart, former mayor G. H. Day, Jake Johnson, a gambler who was Luke Short’s partner in the White Elephant saloon, and J. T. Wilkes and George L. Gause, who were partners in a livery stable and undertaking parlor. The middle clip indicates that an earlier driving park had existed nearby.
For the grand opening of the driving park, the Texas and Pacific railroad operated special trains to bring race fans from Dallas.
Horse riding and horse racing weren’t the only sports offered at the driving park. In 1885 former tugboat captain James Dalton fought John Clow in a prize fight. There were also baseball games and shooting matches.
On June 6, 1885, the Gazette announced a grand celebration at the driving park on July 4. Robert McCart would read the Declaration of Independence. Orators would include John Peter Smith and B. B. Paddock. Races would include wheelbarrow, greased pig, blindfold, pony, and sack.
All that blood, sweat, and gunpowder brought a lot of men to the Samuels Avenue area. An enterprising woman named Frankie Brown gave men another outlet for all that testosterone: She opened a brothel in a two-story brick “steamboat gothic” house on Cold Springs Road where Ripley Arnold Park is today.
In 1886 Madame Brown was fined for keeping a “disorderly house.” But about 1889 the driving park closed, and so did the brothel. About 1890 Madame Brown’s house was converted into the Fort Worth Benevolent Home for orphans. About 1908 the orphanage moved to the East Side.
These clips from 1902 and 1903 show that Fort Worth would have other driving parks.
And in 1905 still another driving park, with seating for almost two thousand people, opened just north of where the Montgomery Ward store would be built in 1928 on West 7th Street. In 1905 West 7th Street was named “Arlington Heights Boulevard.”
Like the Samuels Avenue driving park, the new one on West 7th offered more than horse riding and racing: rodeo events, motorcycle and auto races. And in January 1911 an air show featured the French daredevil Roland Garros (pictured), who made Fort Worth’s first powered flight during that show. Garros would be shot down and killed in World War I.
The driving park closed about 1920.
Tomorrow: Samuels Avenue (Part 3): No “Roughs, Toughs and Hoodlums”