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 even other Katy Lakes along the railroad line, for example, near Hillsboro, Waco, Georgetown, and Waxahachie. Waxahachie’s Katy Lake still exists. (The town of Katy, Texas also was named for the railroad.)
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 International & Great Northern railroad’s lake (Echo Lake), built in 1903. Lake Como was impounded in 1890 for the Arlington Heights trolley park and streetcar line.
The Katy railroad lake also became popular as a recreation area: People fished there, hunted ducks there. Churches held hayrides and baptisms there. During World War I aviation cadets of Barron Field in Everman, one of the three airfields of the Army’s Camp Taliaferro, swam there.
On May 8, 1923 the Dallas Morning News reported that the nearby Texas Steel Company on Hemphill Street had bought Katy Lake.
In 1926 H. A. McCommas of Dallas bought the property and built Fort Worth’s fifth golf course around Katy Lake. The course had nine holes, five of them along the water. For the eighth hole golfers had to drive their tee shot over the lake to the green.
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,” who was “dormie two” through the sixteenth hole.
In the 1930 census Hogan, then seventeen and living on East Allen Street, listed himself as “professor” at a golf course.
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.
Writer Dan Jenkins also played Katy as a boy. In 2001 he told Golf Digest: “It was a public course only six blocks away. The greens weren’t really sand, I found out. They were dark brown cottonseed hull. Oiled so they wouldn’t blow away. There was an iron rake on every green—you raked your line from the ball to the cup before you putted.”
There was a Katy Lake school on St. Louis Avenue north of the lake.
Early aerial photo of a sparsely settled South Side shows the lake in the 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 . . . wait for it . . . Bolt streets.
Photos show the dam along Bolt Street and Interstate 35 West. Water flowed in from the west.
This detail of an 1895 map has much to tell us. For starters it shows Cowtown’s “little Wisconsin”: The area where Katy Lake would be impounded included at least six dairies, dominated by Shaw brothers where Our Lady of Victory is today. The McClure dairy, on the right, was in the fork of Sycamore Creek and a tributary. That tributary would be dammed to create Katy Lake. The tributary just to the north near the Houston & Texas Central track would be dammed in 1903 to create Echo Lake after the I&GN track was laid. Note the J. Thornhill survey south of where Katy Lake would be. Today South Main Street ends at Thornhill Street south of La Gran Plaza. This map detail foretells yet another lake. Just south of the Shaw dairy was the homestead of A. S. and Laura Biddison. Their “fish pond” south of today’s Biddison Street would become Silver Lake (see link at bottom of post). Biddison Street would still be the southern city limit in 1917. The railroad track running top to bottom in the center of the map was the Katy.
The Sears, Roebuck department store company bought the lake with plans to build Fort Worth’s first “regional shopping center.” A Sears store would be the center’s anchor. In late 1958, as Katy Lake was about to be drained, 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 the Sears people 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.
Seminary South about 1962. (Photo from Jack White Photograph Collection, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries.)
Remember these stores (and these prices)?
Yes, Katy Lake is dead and buried, its tombstone a shopping mall. The creek that fed Katy Lake also is gone. But the water that fed Katy Lake still flows in concrete storm-drain channels. However, now that water 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.
Just west of the mall on Anthony Street this tunnel takes storm-drain runoff under the mall to the east side of the interstate.
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.