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 pedaled, 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 other 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.
We waded the length of the creek, barefoot and oblivious to broken glass on the creek bottom and to 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 abused 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.
This vast inner-city wilderness that has been all things to all people 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.)
The brick plant—founded on that deposit of clay that Larry and I later found—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.”)
The brick plant was located where the Park Terrace Apartments are: east of Riverside Drive and west of Sycamore Creek.
In 1923, as development of the park began, the Star-Telegram printed this feature calling the park a “maze of beauty.”
City 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 people who grew up on the East Side can attest to the accuracy of Clarke’s prediction.)
But the seclusion that welcomes romance also welcomes crime. Cobb Park long had a reputation as a dangerous place, especially at night.
More often than not, the “park” in a headline that read “Body Found in Park” was Cobb.
The most infamous body dumping occurred in October 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.
Today Cobb Park has a different feel. Less primitive but also 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.
There is a new network of concrete paths. This path follows the route of the old high road along the eastern edge of the park.
There is a new bridge over Sycamore Creek.
In 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.
The 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: