Of Maps and Mysteries (Part 1): Greenway Park

Seems I always find something new in old photos. The other day I was hovering over Fort Worth via an aerial photo taken in 1952 when I saw a couple of features on the East Side that I—as an old East Side boy—did not recognize. Here is the first mystery feature:

Unlike today’s Google aerial photos, this photo has no labels. That wide street running from seven o’clock to two o’clock is East Belknap Street. But what is that large rectangular open area just north of Belknap stretching between the railroad tracks (left) and the river (right)?

Turns out that was the original Greenway Park. Its layout appears rather formal, with a U-shaped driveway and rows of uniformly spaced trees along the long sides.

gateway detailI can make out a tennis court, a baseball diamond, and a structure at the curve of the U-shaped driveway that might have been a stage or shelter house.

greenway 1926Greenway first shows up as unlabeled parkland on a 1926 map, when part of the park was still outside the city limits. East Belknap Street would not cross the river until about 1929. (Hare & Hare was Sidney Hare and son Herbert, who had studied under Frederick Law Olmsted, considered by many to be the father of American landscape architecture. For years Hare & Hare served as landscape consultant for Fort Worth parks, including Botanic Garden.) (Map from Pete Charlton’s “The Lost Antique Maps of Texas: Fort Worth & Tarrant County, Volume 2” CD.)

This map from 1943 shows the shaded area of the park on both sides of Belknap. (Map from Pete Charlton’s “The Lost Antique Maps of Texas: Fort Worth & Tarrant County, Volume 2” CD.)

greenway 31During the era of segregation, Greenway, along with Harmon Field and Dixie Park, was one of the city’s few parks for African Americans.

Bobby Stanton, as a youth growing up in Mosier Valley’s African-American community, commuted to I. M. Terrell High School on the East Side. He remembered that Greenway was the only city park open to African-Americans when he was growing up in the 1940s. (Bobby Stanton eventually was able to get into any park he wanted: He grew up to be Robert Stanton, appointed by President Clinton in 1997 to be director of the National Park Service.)

greenway 43 leonards2The Star-Telegram picnic for its African-American employees was held at Greenway Park. And Leonard’s Department Store sponsored “free park movies” at Greenway.

greenway sport panelgreenway 87 gay prideOver the years Greenway Park hosted events ranging from softball and volleyball tournaments to gay pride parades.

greenway 50 big jumpBut for most of its history Greenway was an African-American park at a time when most of the social, educational, and business facilities of the African-American community were located in eastern downtown or on the eastern side of downtown. This story says that in 1950 Greenway was the only “fully developed” city park for African Americans. The story says that Greenway Park was being used as a makeshift golf course. In 1954 the city built Harmon Field golf course for African Americans.

greenway 55 mixed baseballEven into the 1950s segregation was so entrenched that the idea of whites playing at an African-American park was controversial.

greenway 57 easter eggEven the Easter bunny was not colorblind. Easter egg hunts were segregated: whites at Trinity Park, blacks at Greenway Park.

greenway 72 bob rayIn 1972 Bob Ray Sanders, fresh out of journalism school at the University of North Texas, recalled Juneteenth celebrations at parks such as Greenway.

greenway 59 sell landWith the extension of I-35W north, Greenway Park lost much of its acreage, and consultant Herbert Hare of Hare & Hare of Kansas City recommended that the remaining land be sold.

But Greenway Park survived on a reduced patch of real estate, offering a baseball field and a small playground.

Today Greenway Park is a floating paradox: It’s just over the levee from the river and the Trinity Trails, not far from downtown, tucked into the junction of Airport Freeway and Interstate 35W. Ironically, the park’s nearness to two freeways makes it hard to get to and from by car because the freeways’ connections to the park are tricky. Better leave a trail of bread crumbs.

Of Maps and Mysteries (Part 2): Ethel Ransom Memorial Hospital

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4 Responses to Of Maps and Mysteries (Part 1): Greenway Park

  1. Mary Walthall says:

    As a Riverside kid, I remember the park from the 40’s and 50’s. I was fascinated by it when my parents would drive by it, and that it was for blacks only . I remember also that on the south side of Belknap there was a black Masonic Lodge and I believe a dance hall. I attended the same schools in Riverside that my mother attended. It was basically a good life and there was an innocense that I believe kids these days miss out on.

    • hometown says:

      Mary, I grew up in Poly but have no memory of the park or the lodge hall. But I have spent the last few days tracing the lodge backward and forward in time.

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