Before this mall on the South Side was La Gran Plaza it was Town Center. Before it was Town Center it was Seminary South. And before it was Seminary South it was Katy Lake.
As this Fort Worth Telegram news story from July 30, 1907 indicates, on that date the Katy (Missouri-Kansas-Texas) Railroad announced that it would build a “large storage lake” in the south part of town to supply water for its steam engines. The lake began supplying water in 1908.
This 1903 map shows how extensive the Katy line was in Texas. There were other Katy Lakes along the railroad line, for example, near Hillsboro, Waco, Georgetown, and Waxahachie. Waxahachie’s Katy Lake still exists.
The Katy line was a major railroad for Fort Worth for a half-century. This ad is from a 1933 Fort Worth Press.
The railroad may have impounded Katy Lake for purely practical reasons, but the little lake soon became popular with anglers. This fishing roundup in the May 21, 1919 Star-Telegram mentions two railroad lakes in south Fort Worth: Katy Lake and the International & Great Northern railroad’s lake (Echo Lake), built in 1903. Lake Como was impounded in 1890 for the Arlington Heights trolley park.
On May 8, 1923 the Dallas Morning News reported that the nearby Texas Steel Company on Hemphill Street had bought Katy Lake.
But soon W. G. McCommas of Dallas bought the property from Texas Steel. And in 1926 McCommas opened Katy Lake public golf course, a nine-hole course with sand greens.
The Katy course may have been modest by today’s standards, but it would have its place in golf history. On August 31, 1928 the Dallas Morning News, in reporting on the River Crest Invitation and Southwestern Golf Association tournament, referred to “Ben Hogan, youthful Katy Lake golfer.”
On July 14, 1953 Dallas Morning News columnist Paul Crume told another story of a youthful Ben Hogan at the Katy Lake course in the 1930s.
On Christmas Day 1955 another golf great looked back on his start at the Katy Lake course. Clip is from the Dallas Morning News.
Early aerial photo of a sparsely settled South Side shows the lake in upper-right corner. The grain elevator (1924) still stands on Alice Street. That’s Hemphill Street bisecting left to right. The side street with the jog in it is Butler Street. That factory on the right edge of Hemphill was Fort Worth Iron and Steel Company, which opened in 1905. Commonly called the “bolt factory,” it was located at the intersection of Hemphill and Bolt streets.
Photos show the dam along Bolt Street and the freeway. Water flowed in from the west.
In late 1958, as Katy Lake was about to be drained for Seminary South mall, Star-Telegram outdoor editor George Kellam said farewell to Katy Lake and its fish.
In 1959, after a life of a half-century, Katy Lake was drained. When you think about it, there must have been something very special about the Katy Lake property (location? price?) to cause developers to look at it and think, “You know, if we just drained those fifty million gallons of water and then dug out eleven million cubic feet of dirt we’d have a dandy hole in which to build an eighty-five acre shopping center.”
And so they did.
As the lake was drained of its fifty million gallons, catfish weighing thirty to forty pounds were revealed. Some found a new home at the James R. Record Aquarium at the zoo. Then enough dirt was removed to fill TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium four and one-half times.
Seminary South opened on March 14, 1962. Some vital statistics of the finished product: 900,000 square feet of floor space walled in by two million bricks, forty-five acres of paved parking for five thousand cars, 160 million pounds of concrete, three hundred trees planted and watered by twelve miles of sprinkler system, 148,000 feet of plumbing pipe, 10,000 electrical outlets and 9,500 electrical fixtures connected by fifty-six miles of conduit and 210 miles of wiring.
By the time Seminary South opened, three thousand workers had been involved in transforming a place to fish into a place to shop.
Yes, Katy Lake is dead and buried, its tombstone a shopping mall. But the water that fed Katy Lake still flows. However, now that water—mostly storm runoff—is diverted under the mall on the west at the Katy railroad tracks near Anthony Street. The water resurfaces east of the mall and I-35W near Malta Street and flows to Sycamore Creek.
Storm-drain runoff that fed Katy Lake now flows under the mall by entering this tunnel on Anthony Street.
Want more lost lakes? Read about Tyler’s Lake and Elliot Lake on Riverside Drive, Tandy Lake on East Lancaster Avenue, Hust Lake on the East Side, Silver Lake on the South Side, Lake Togo on the North Side, and Lake Erie in Handley at From Katy to Tandy to Togo: The Lost Lakes of Cowtown.