Fort Worth Stockyards Keep the Old West Alive
The sounds of saloon singers, lowing cattle and jingling spurs still echo on Exchange Avenue in the Stockyards National Historic District. But they aren’t ghosts of past inhabitants. They’re real.
The area grew as a satellite of Old Fort Worth, located 2.5 miles to the south of the Stockyards. Fort Worth first was settled in 1849 as an outpost along the Trinity River. It became a stop for cowboys driving cattle from South Texas along the Chisholm Trail to Abilene, Kan.
By 1876, rail lines that extended like spider’s legs from downtown Fort Worth included the Fort Worth Stockyards Belt Railway, which began moving livestock from the Stockyards area to the packing plants.
Within a few years, both Swift and Armour, the country’s two largest meat-packing companies, located packing houses in the Stockyards. The area was the second-largest stockyard in the country and headquarters of several agricultural companies.
Cattle pens extended for nearly a mile and property values were so high in the area, incorporated in 1911 as Niles City, it became known as the “Richest Little Town in the World.”
By the 1960s, the cattle industry slowed, and although the Fort Worth Stockyards continued to function, the area deteriorated. But civic leaders with sentimental attachments to the historic area launched major efforts to restore it. The entire area is on the National Register of Historic Places, a fitting recognition to the great care taken to preserve one of the most beloved attractions in all of Texas.
Today, Western festivals throughout the year commemorate the history of the pioneers who once settled here and celebrate the city’s heritage on the Chisholm Trail.
In shops that line brick-paved Exchange Avenue, craftsmen use time-worn tools to hand-craft saddles, chaps and boots. Some of the finest Western shopping found in America is located here, along with a number of restaurants and saloons to rest your heels.
At the legendary White Elephant Saloon, named one of the Top 100 Bars in America by Esquire magazine, live country music is performed seven nights a week. And the famous 1887 gunfight between the White Elephant’s owner Luke Short and T.I. “Long Hair Jim” Courtwright (a former marshal) is re-enacted on February 8 each year.
The mission-style Cowtown Coliseum (built in 1908) was home of the world’s first indoor rodeo, and hosted performances by Enrico Caruso and Elvis Presley. It’s alive most weekends with professional rodeo competitions and wild west shows.
The Stockyards Hotel (where Bonnie and Clyde once stayed) has been restored to its original splendor, its lobby decorated in “Cattle Baron Baroque.” Within the hotel, the restaurant and saloon sports saddles for bar stools.
The old hog and sheep pens have been restored and now house Stockyards Station, a festival marketplace and depot for the Tarantula Excursion Train. The 165,000-square-foot space has a selection of merchandise varying from art galleries and antiques to clothing, gourmet items and music, and Texas fare to please every palate.
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