Image above: Entrance to the Fort Worth Stockyards Historic District, 2014, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Library of Congress.
Spotlight on Lesser Known History
Fort Worth Stockyards, Texas
America's Best History Spotlight
On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.
Fort Worth Stockyards, Texas
With the Texas Revolution and the Republic of Texas over and the statehood of Texas in somewhat full swing, the livelihood of Texas ranchers was coming into force with the need for commerce demanding a diverse ecosystem. Yes, there were the Longhorn cattle grazing across sparse Texas land. Yes, there were still the Indian forces just north in Oklahoma that made cattle drives north demanding. Fort Worth, in central north Texas was a likely location for agriculture to meet commerce without the trek north. So, in 1887, the Union Stockyards would be built, eleven years after the Texas and Pacific Railroad arrived. Eventually the name of the stockyards would change to the more recognizable Fort Worth Stockyards. Today, you can still visit them, but for a less aromatic purpose, to see the history of the stockyards tourist form on ninety-eight National Historic District acres. Oh, and there's still the aroma of the cattle, as witnessed twice daily in their parade. Photo above: Postcard of the Fort Worth Stockyards, 1900-1908, Curt Teich and Company. Courtesy University of Houston Digital Library via Wikipedia Commons.
Info, What's There Now, History Nearby
Fort Worth Stockyards
Prior to 1876, the last place to rest on the Chisholm Trail north to the railheads past the Red River into Indian Territory was in Fort Worth. Fort Worth had been established by the U.S. Army in 1849 as the northernmost of the ten forts built to protect the frontier after the Mexican-American War. Cattle drovers would push over four million head of cattle through the town between 1866 and 1890. Once the railroad arrived in 1876, the need for a stockyards seemed apparent, so in 1887, the Union Stockyards was built by the city on two hundred and six acres. But the apparent need was not yet realized as the Union Company could not buy enough cattle to attract local ranchers. They would need outside money. When Boston investor Greenleif Simpson arrived in 1893, he saw a fortunate sight. The stockyards were filled due to a railroad strike and unusual rain. He thought that was normal and bought the stockyards for $133,333, then changed the name.
Simpson had friends in the meat packing business, and before long, had convinced Armor and Swift to built plants next to the stockyards. Why ship the cattle when you can pack. By 1902, construction of the plants, followed by the Livestock Exchange and Cowtown Coliseum for shows, made the Fort Worth Stockyards a lively and prosperous arena. When 1907 arrived, the stockyards processed over one million head of cattle per year. It would remain one of the most prosperous business concerns in the western United States through the end of World War II.
Photo above: Fort Worth Stockyards and Swift Packing House, 1926, Keystone View Company. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Where Is It
The Fort Worth Stockyards is located at 2501 Rodeo Plaza, Fort Worth, TX 76164. For those uninitiated into all things Texas, Fort Worth is located west of Dallas and west of the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.
What is There Now
The Fort Worth Stockyards is located on ninety-eight acres, including the Livestock Exchange Building, where the Stockyards Museum is located, a Visitor Center, the Cowtown Coliseum, the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, and lots of restaurants, bars, and attractions with that Fort Worth flair. There's also a 12 minute video, Spirit of the West, available.
When Are These Areas Open and How Much to Visit?
The Fort Worth Stockyards are open year round from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 to 6 Saturday, and Sunday from 11 to 5. There's free parking on East Exchange Avenue and parking lots that cost $5. The area is free to enter. Walking tours cost from $8 adults, $5 children. Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame $6 adults, $3 children 5-12. Spirit of the West video $1.
Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District
Visit Fort Worth Stockyards
Visit Fort Worth
Well, you're not far from a whole lot of Dallas history, including those Cowboys just east of the Fort Worth metroplex, plus national park fun all around the great state, including Big Bend National Park, Padre Island, San Antonio Missions, Amistad, Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, and more. And yes, in San Antonio, but not part of Missions, is the separate Alamo.
Photos, History, and More Spotlights
History of its Demise and Rebirth
In 1944, the height of the Fort Worth Stockyards was reached. Over 5.2 million head of cattle were processed there that year. But with the end of World War II and the diminished importance of the railroad with the emergence of paved roads and trucking, a central location was less critical to the industry. Armor would close its plant in 1962; Swift followed in 1971. By 1986, sales of cattle at the stockyards reached a low of just over 57,000 head.
Between the plant closures and the year of its low, various community organizations began to see the potential of the area for the history of the stockyards and its story. In 1976, the North Fort Worth Historical Society was born, which worked toward establishing the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District. That designation occurred on June 29, 1976. In 1989, the Stockyards Museum was opened in the Livestock Exchange Building.
Photo above: Part of the twice daily Parade of Longhorns at the Fort Worth Stockyards, 2014, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Library of Congress.
What Remains of the Original Stockyards
Although the Armor plant was demolished, the Swift Packing Plant remains as offices for XTO Energy. But the more important remains are now part of the Fort Worth Stockyards Historic District, a ninety-eight acre area that tells the story of the stockyards and the Longhorn era, and amazes tourists with a vibrant display of the past and present.
The Livestock Exchange Building and the Cowtown Coliseum remain, refurbished into museum and arena space. Bars, restaurants, and other tourist attractions fill the buildings surrounding them. More than forty-six buildings remain. There's daily Longhorn parades and the Exchange Building still hosts auctions, by satellite, of thousands of head of cattle per week.
Photo above: Display of cattle brands at Fort Worth Stockyards Exchange Museum, 2014, Carol M. Highsmith Collection, Library of Congress.
You won't want to miss the twice daily Longhorn Cattle Drive (sixteen or so head of cattle, not thousands), and taking the walking tour past the Texas Trail of Fame is a good way to do both.
More places to visit include that Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Fort Worth Stockyards and Stable where you can ride a horse, Stockyards Championship Rodeo, the Neon Moon Saloon, famous Billy Bob's Texas, and a plethora of steak houses. In 2019, Mule Alley is being redone with a new boutique hotel, Hotel Drover. Now that would be a cool place to stay, wouldn't it?
Photo above: Texas Gold Sculpture by T.D. Kelsey, 2014, Carol M. Highsmith Colleciton. Courtesy Library of Congress.
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