“Oak Cliff derives its name from the massive oaks that crown the soft green cliffs.”

We Called it "Home"

Oak Cliff History

Oak Cliff was on the south bank of the Trinity River two miles south of downtown Dallas in central Dallas County. The original township was in the area bordered by Colorado Boulevard, Cliff Street, and Thirteenth Street. In 1845 a community named Hord's Ridge was at the site. In 1880 the Dallas, Cleburne and Rio Grande Railway was completed through the area. The community grew slowly until 1887, when Thomas L. Marsalis and John S. Armstrong bought several hundred acres of land, including the community of Hord's Ridge, on the south bank of the Trinity River. They named the area Oak Cliff. Armstrong and Marsalis began to develop the land into an elite residential area, which by the end of 1887 had proved to be a tremendous success with sales surpassing $60,000. However, after a disagreement between the partners Marsalis secured complete control over Oak Cliff's development. He began a number of projects to enhance the development of Oak Cliff. The first such project was a steam-powered railway to connect the community with downtown Dallas. The transportation system was modeled on one in the city of New York and was heralded as "the first elevated railway in the South." In reality, the railroad operated at ground level almost its entire course down Jefferson Boulevard and towards Lake Cliff; it became only slightly elevated as it crossed the Trinity River. Marsalis began two other development projects with the intent to promote Oak Cliff as a vacation resort. One was Oak Cliff Park, now called Marsalis Park and Zoo, a 150-acre park that included a two-mile-long lake and a 2,000-seat pavilion in which dances and operas were held.

In 1890 Oak Cliff incorporated with a population of 2,470 and secured a post office which operated until 1896. The community had four grocery stores, two meat markets, a hardware store, and a feed store. A number of new elite residential areas developed by the Dallas Land and Loan Company had pushed the community's boundaries westward to Willomet Street. Oak Cliff's first mayor was Hugh Ewing. In 1891 the community's first newspaper, the Oak Cliff Sunday Weekly, was published by F. N. Oliver. Oak Cliff was annexed by Dallas in 1903, after numerous attempts beginning in 1900. The proposal had met with little success until the community's depressed economy produced a vote for annexation by eighteen votes.

The boundaries of Oak Cliff are roughly Interstate 30 and the Trinity River on the north, Interstate 35E on the east, Camp Wisdom Road on the south, and Cockrell Hill Road on the west. In practice nearly every neighborhood south of the Trinity River (excluding west Dallas) is called Oak Cliff, though much of it was never part of the original town. For example, the neighborhoods south of Illinois Avenue, were never part of the original town of Oak Cliff. Neighborhoods east of I-35 are normally considered part of Oak Cliff as well, in addition to the undeveloped parts of the Mountain Creek area.

The 1960s started out bright for Oak Cliff. Houses were being built and businesses were thriving. The Guinness Book of World Records even mentioned that 10th Street in Dallas had more churches per mile than any other street in the world. And the Tyler Street UMC's Sunday School was the largest in the nation -- it was a mega church before the term existed.During the 50's and 60's, Oak Cliff had its own hangouts: The Marsalis Zoo, Kiest Park, Wiess Park, Lake Cliff, Wee Saint Andrews, Sivil’s, Polar Bear, Pig Stand, Penguin, Dairy Queen, Dairy Mart, and plenty of other places for baby boomer kids to play, swim, watch movies, and view exotic animals.  Wynnewood Village retail was brisk. A. Harris Center opened at the intersection of I-35E and Kiest Boulevard, and brought the first downtown retailer to the suburbs. The Oak Cliff Tribune cranked out the local news, and fall Friday nights found high school football stadiums filled to capacity.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: William L. McDonald, Dallas Rediscovered: A Photographic Chronicle of Urban Expansion, 1870-1925 (Dallas: Dallas County Historical Society, 1978). Bill Minutaglio and Holly Williams, The Hidden City: Oak Cliff, Texas (Dallas: Old Oak Cliff Conservation League, 1990).Matthew Hayes Nall  ---  The Handbook of Texas Online is a project of the Texas State Historical Association (http://www.tshaonline.org).

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