East Fort Worth - Historic Handley

The Beginning, Yesterday, and Today with an Eye Focused on the Future.

An eastern section of Fort Worth — with a diversified mix of historic, vintage, and contemporary buildings and homes.

In 1876, Handley was established by retired Confederate Major James Madison Handley of Georgia when he created a plantation on land that was in the Sara Gray Jennings Survey of 1856. This site was considered a good hunting ground for wild animals such as foxes, but despite this, the area began to flourish when the Texas and Pacific Railway arrived twenty years later. Soon there were a post office, a church, a school and about six stores. The census revealed that by 1903 there were one hundred fifty-six residents. Then the population grew to nine hundred fifteen residents in the next twelve years and supported a mercantile section of forty businesses. (As reported by Janet L. Schmelzer in her Where the West Begins: Fort Worth and Tarrant County, published in 1985.)

The Northern Texas Traction Company began in 1900 when George T. Bishop purchased the City Railway of Fort Worth and began operating the electric streetcar system, known as The Interurban lines. On July 1, 1902, the Dallas Oak Cliff Railway was acquired and connected Dallas to Fort Worth with a railway service. Then, Handley connected to Dallas and to Fort Worth since its streetcars traveled to the west. Stone and Webster of Boston founded the North Texas Electric Company and bought stock in the Northern Texas Traction Company. Soon a power generating plant and workshops for The Interurban lines were built in Handley next to Lake Erie because the electrical plant needed water for cooling purposes. At the time, this electrical plant was considered a technological marvel, for it was the first outdoor steam generation plant of its kind in the nation.". Soon thereafter, Northern Texas Traction Company bought additional land south of Handley that was alongside Lake Erie for the development of a trolley park. As a forethought, Northern Texas Traction Company expanded the trolley park into a resort center that was named Lake Erie Pavilion which became quite the fashionable and favored place to be for entertainment and recreation as it had a roller skate rink, a dance hall and a restaurant. Amusement rides were even extended over an enormously sized pier into Lake Erie, so many youngsters learned to swim there. Additionally, there were hot air balloons and canoes. Too, a two-story auditorium extended over the edge of the lake where many local outings and social events were held. When individual automobile ownership took precedent over public transportation, The Interurban declined, then ceased to operate and Lake Erie Pavilion closed. None the less, the power plant has been enlarged several times throughout the years to accommodate the increased need for electricity. Today, the Exelon Corporation owns the Handley Generating Station and Lake Erie has evolved into what is currently known as Lake Arlington.

Lake Erie, in the good old summer time, Fort Worth, Tex.
image from UTA Library

During the height of its population explosion when The Interurban and the Lake Erie Pavilion were in their prime, Handley's commercial climate flourished. Tom Kell opened Kell's Laundry and Cleaning and used a slogan that is still used today; "Home of the happiest shirt in town since 1932." First National Bank of Handley, Miss Vergie's 5 & Dime, Howell's Feed Store, and three washaterias were all actively busy with customers. There were three garages and service stations. Obie and Lou Cotter had Cotter's Grocery, Mr. Hester owned Zig-Zag Grocery and the Steele family operated another one in the vicinity. Husband's Drug was a popular place because it had fountain service, and another well-liked location was the Gem Theater.

The citizens of Handley have always been interested in education of its youth. Just south of the railroad tracks on land owned and donated by Tom Hart, a small, one-room, wooden school house with a front and back door and two windows on each side was simply constructed in 1876 with the help of the local people. The teacher, parents and trustees selected the books; Swinton and Maguffey's Readers and Rays's Arithmetic. Students sat on wooden, homemade benches with girls on one side of the room and boys on the other. The Reverend J.J. Cannafax was the first teacher and the first minister of the Handley United Methodist Church which was established in 1877. Cannafax helped organize many things during the early years. Various religious groups met at the one-room school house until 1882 when the Union Church was built using the shared funds of the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and other religions.

Education continued to be a most important aspect of life in Handley. Its first high school, a most impressive structure, was constructed in 1907 and became the place for all eleven grades. Another school building was built. in1922 with an auditorium and gymnasium added to it in 1951.

In 1925 the Handley High School selected "The Sky Rockets" as its mascot, but then in 1931 the name of the mascot was changed to "The Greyhounds," a suggestion made by Bobby Young's oldest brother because greyhounds are great sprinters, muscularly sleek, and friendly. During the heyday of Handley High School, the Stout family's one greyhound portrayed the mascot role and was paraded around on a four-foot rope at the school's academic and sporting events. Handley High School's class reunions are still held today, even though the last class of students to graduate from Handley High School was in the spring of 1959 as it merged with Eastern Hills High School in the fall of that same year. Then in 2011 on the twelve acres where Handley High School once stood, Jean McClung Middle School opened its doors and the Trojans are its mascot. Nevertheless, Handley Middle School opened in 1980 and its students have kept the "Greyhounds" spirit alive since that is the name of their mascot.

The first Handley firetruck was housed in the Roper family's garage and had a volunteer—Bobby Young. This volunteer fire department was one of the first original ones in the DFW vicinity. Bobby Young, born and reared on Craig Street, quit high school, joined the US Navy, and returned to live in Handley awhile before relocating to Hurst where only 600 people resided at that time. The current Fort Worth Fire Department Station #24, 3101 Forest Avenue, has a station motto that reads, "Protecting Handley since 1937." The old volunteer fire department unit in Handley even had a mascot, more than likely established to show support for the local school. The local firemen who are assigned to Fort Worth Fire Department Station #24 still refer to themselves as "The Handley Hounds," and do so with pride.

When considering greyhounds, some may ask or wonder just how or why greyhounds play a prevalent role in the Handley community. Greyhound racing, an imported sport from England, had its beginning in the United States in 1906. According to the National Greyhound Association, there has never been an official greyhound racing track located in Tarrant or Dallas County. Despite this, William T. Waggoner opened the Arlington Downs Racetrack in 1929 even though pari-mutuel betting was illegal at the time of its opening. However, pari-mutuel betting was legalized by the Texas Legislature in 1933. No data was discovered as to whether thoroughbreds and greyhounds ever shared the track. However, there is written documentation that greyhound practice races were held at a location between Handley and Arlington on US Highway 80—-the site was past Rosehill Cemetery, at the top of the hill and just around the bend. During those days there was a motel named The Bend, and the greyhound practice races were held in the nearby. There were individuals who had kennels and raised greyhounds. Some of the Handley male students had after school jobs such as feeding, grooming, and exercising the greyhounds. Ira Howell opened Howell Feed Store in 1924 and had a very good business, as back then there were several dairies and most families had a cow, several horses, some chickens, and most everyone had a garden. Mr. Howell sold feed from a wagon and deliveries were made in a Model T Ford truck. Blocked and crushed ice were popular items and so was dog food, especially since a train car load was sold each month for the greyhounds that were in the area undergoing training for the races.

During its glory days, there were many colorful characters living in or visiting Handley. O. D. Stevens was owner of the petrified wood pharmacy at the corner of East Lancaster Avenue and Handley Drive. (That corner structure still proudly stands and graces that same location.) Mr. O. D. Stevens was known as a generous person who helped his neighbors and the community, but paradoxically, he did not have the same good rapport with the local law enforcement officials, as he was indicted with three others for triple murder that was connected to a train robbery of seventy-one thousand dollars from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Stevens's two-story home on spacious land situated on Morrison Lane, overlooking I-30, was filled with mazes of secret hiding places, sliding doors, hidden closets and rooms with no apparent entrance or exit—all skillfully concealed. Today, the two-story home still remains on Morrison Lane. Since the Stevens family sold the property, it has transitioned—-first, to a restaurant, but for quite some time now functions as a daycare facility.

Other well-know dignitaries and families of distinction were very instrumental in the important transition and establishment of many impactful things connected to the early years of the development of Handley. In 1926, Mather Morrison was the conductor of the Interurban on the North Texas Traction Company. The famous golfer, Byron Nelson and his family lived across the street from the Morrison family. United State President Franklin D. Roosevelt's motorcade passed frequently through the area, and he was on first name basis with Mr. Morrison. It was often stated that the Morrison sisters liked to brag that Handley was the largest unincorporated town in the world, not just in the USA. On Christmas Eve in 1934, the final, historic ride of The Interuban was made with the Morrison family and a number of illustrious personalities all aboard.

Wherever one looks in Handley, the monikers of the streets list the names of many of the prominent and founding families of the establishment. The Haynie families were relatives of Major James Madison Handley. The Haynie's daughter Ada married Tom Kell. The Peelers were neighbors to Major Handley. The names of McRae, Harrison, Randol, Beggs, Swanson, McBee, Barnes, Thomas, McClendon, Byrd, Bishop, Burgess, Schwier, Hart, Roth and Halm are some of the earliest ones that surface. The Tidwell ancestors donated land for a cemetery. Ophelia White's father was in charge of the power plant during the time of the Interurban. Leslie Smith was scout master for BSA Troop 83 from 1929 to 1959.

At the time of annexation by the city of Fort Worth in 1946, the town of Handley had a population approaching 1,000 residents with 510 of those persons being school students. Dr. W. C. Foster, MD, a true supporter of Handley, tried to convince the residents to incorporate, but not enough citizens agreed with him. Fort Worth annexed Handley with many overnight changes, causing unhappiness among the Handley residents. Francis Morrison, daughter of Mather Morrison, was most disappointed and said, "Handley will only be an oasis in the big world." The annexation to the city of Fort Worth may have caused Handley to lose its independence, but neither the area nor its proud citizens have lost its sense of identify. A true source of pride is very evident as the current residents of Handley treasure the past, while they consider and encourage new opportunities that will enrich the lives of all within its realm.

Currently, the Handley community has as its boundary the western side of Cook's Lane, the eastern edge of Weiler Boulevard, the southern margin of Meadowbrook Drive, and the northern perimeter of East Rosedale Street. Its mapped area consists of approximately 5.017 square miles and is about seven miles from the center of Fort Worth.

The Handley Neighborhood Association is the central organization in the Handley area, henceforth known as HNA, was formed in1998 and is made up of persons working together to make Handley a better place in which to live and work for today and all tomorrows, as the interesting and great history of the area is respected. HNA, a 501-3c organization, meets monthly at Handley United Methodist Church.

As an out-reaching arm and a valuable extension to the HNA, The Historic Handley Development Corporation was successful in having the Central Handley Historic District added to the National Register on January 17, 2002, and contains thirty acres and ten buildings. Handley's distinctive historic qualifiers define the image and character of a specific part of the neighborhood and community with its landmarks and do play an essential element in the daily commerce of the area, as well as have connections to transportation. The Handley Historic District is what is bordered by East Lancaster Avenue, Forest Avenue, Kerr Street and Handley Drive. The locality is in Fort Worth Council District 5 and uses the Secretary of Interior's Standards and Guidelines of preserving, rehabilitating, restoring, and reconstructing its historic buildings. The Handley community has 569 homes that were constructed in 1939 or earlier and 429 homes that were built during the next decade.

The Historic Handley Development Corporation organized for the purpose of preserving and developing economic growth of the historic Handley neighborhood and its business district, as well as to inform local citizens as to what they could do to assist in the planned projects for the benefit of the community. This corporation, along with the HNA and a school at the Handley Baptist Church were able to convince the city of Fort Worth of the need to demolish the old and dilapidated Cowtown Inn on East Lancaster Avenue. Other conjoined and completed projects have included such things as the installation of Handley neighborhood identity street signs; revitalization of twenty-three homes; reconstruction of two streets; placement of vintage lights on Forest and Halbert Streets; recipient of a 2002 HUD and City Model Block Program; and the publication of both the Handley Cook Book and Handley Calendar.

In 2006, another important undertaking was begun by the combined efforts of the HNA and the Historic Handley Development Corporation; the groups accepted the maintenance of the Texas Historic Handley Cemetery that is located on the south side of the 6700 block of East Rosedale Street (Spur 303) about one-half mile east of Loop 820 in east Fort Worth. In 2011 with the assistance of the bordering Ryanwood Homeowners Association, the involved entities replaced missing sections of the cemetery fence in an effort to provide better protection and to help preserve the site. The Texas Historic Handley Cemetery is bordered on three sides by the TXU Electric Power Plant, now operated by Exelon, and is fenced on two sides. It is considered to be in fair condition. Approximately twelve graves are marked with field stones or old markers and are illegible. The earliest grave is that of Jane E. Thomas (1832-1878) and the latest burial was in 1967. Samford M. Haynie, (18 Oct 1834 - 5 Nov 1918) and Georgia A. Hayney (sp) (7 Apr 1844 - 13 Dec 1923), more than likely husband and wife for whom a Handley street is named in their honor, remain unmoved. Several early important settlers, including namesake Civil War veteran Major James Madison Handley, who died in 1906, have been re-interred in the nearby Rose Hill Cemetery. This historic burial ground originally served the pioneer homesteaders of the Handley community who settled the area in 1876 soon after the Texas and Pacific Railroad built a railway. Additionally, a small church, built in 1882, stood alongside the cemetery for forty-eight years.

The annual Handley Street Fest and Car Show was the brainchild of Mr. William Lugwig, (1934-2013), a seventy-four-year resident of Handley who was instrumental in promoting and documenting Handley history and did so as the editor of the Handley Herald that was printed and distributed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Handley Street Fest, usually held annually in the month of October, was initiated in 1998 to acquaint visitors with the east side and to bring in revenue to enhance the historic section and to make improvements. Every year the Handley Street Fest showcases an antique car show; exhibitors of fine arts, crafts, and pottery with a juried art event; a pet costume contest; a children's entertainment section; a variety of entertainment stages; a musical venue; multiple food vendors; and booth spaces for lease to business and service organizations. Handley Street Fest is generally operational from 10 AM until 10 PM. The greyhound mascots are on display. The East Fort Worth Fire Department and East Fort Worth Police Department are active participants. Not only do the surplus funds from Handley Street Fest pay for advertisement and promotional fees, but are applied to the targeted improvements of the historical district. Some of the enhancements are as following: street banners; replacement of the antique clock; upgrades to the park and gazebo; and other things that are not quite so apparent at the present time.

An additional milestone was made when Historic Handley Railroad Museum, another creative idea of William Lugwig, filed with the State of Texas on November 1, 2010. An old caboose sits on the south side of East Lancaster Avenue near the train tracks and the circa 1928 Cultural Center holds a collection of railroad history. The Historic Handley Railroad Museum is being carefully developed.

The Central Handley Historic District will within the near future have its own public art sculpture, a monument by Austin, Texas artist, John Christenson, to be placed at the southeast corner of Handley Drive and East Lancaster Avenue. This selected site is visible to anyone who is visiting or just passing through Handley. The amusing and creative sculpture, made of steel, depicting three train cars in a vertical, twenty-foot position, with the name "Handley" on the middle railroad car is most appropriate because Handley has a rich railroad history. The artwork will be a true, modern day place marker that symbolizes the importance of Handley's beginning and its rich history. New sidewalk and additional landscaping are currently installed. The Central Handley Historic District is becoming a place of vision and letting its history be known. Even though a variety of very successful businesses exists in and near the commercial strip on East Lancaster Avenue, there is space to welcome more. Recently, new stores with different services have been added. As each progressive step is made, the mercantile strip will be strengthened and more visitors will be attracted to the area.

One more important sector that enhances the HNA is the Neighborhood Empowerment Zone, otherwise known as an NEZ. It was established in December 2010, and is the tract of streets that include Old Handley Road at the railroad tracts to Weiler Boulevard, then Weiler Boulevard to Meadowbrook Drive stopping at Loop 820 service road, while including Craig Street to Sandy Lane, add Buttercup Lane and Bosewell Drive, turn westward along Rosedale Street (Spur 303) to Cravens Road where it connects to Old Handley Road. The NEZ is a segment of the city of Fort Worth that has the eligibility criteria to receive incentives to promote affordable housing and economic development and to improve the equality of social services, education or public safety for its residents. The NEZ in Handley is used mainly as a vehicle and an incentive to permit fee waivers to investors-owners and developers proposing new construction or rehabilitative projects in the area, and it works closely with the Planning and Development Department of the city. So far, the Handley NEZ has completed some projects with others in the planning stages.

Inside the mapped Handley NEZ is a section that was designated as an Urban Village in 2002. This Urban Village includes the northern side of the railroad tracts to slightly west of Louise Street, takes in a small portion of Malcolm and Haynie Streets, turns south-ward just past Handley Drive and follows Kerr Street eastward to Chilton Street, onto Chilton Street until it connects to Church Street, continues eastward a short distance, turns southward so a reconnection is made at the railroad tracts that lay just south of East Lancaster Avenue. An Urban Village is frequently located at significant intersections with transportation connectors, with pedestrian activity, and with a mix of uses that also has some public space (The preceding information was obtained from fortworthtexas.gov/uploadedFiles/HED/Housing/Incentives/Historic_Handley_NEZ.pdf).

Historic Handley seems to blend quite easily into all parts of the greater Handley area. It is rather difficult to visualize Handley without truly knowing the history of its beginning, knowing the reasons behind its development, and knowing something about its founding leadership. Learning about the past helps one to come to an understanding as to how the Handley of today has evolved and integrated the old with the new—-letting others know how vital it is to preserve the past and forge forward while welcoming innovations of technology and other changes to meet the challenges of today. The intertwining of the vintage with the modern is what provides the Handley community with its charming, original characteristics that are not replicated anywhere else within Tarrant County. Since its founding in 1876, Handley, Texas has had plenty of movers and shakers to provide that needed momentum to propel it forward and keep it focused.

Displayed on the following pages are views of the historic sites and buildings and, if still existing, their modern days uses, plus a diversified mix of both the commercial and the residential areas illustrating how the vintage houses blend with the modern architectural styles of today.

Written by La Wayne Hauser, June 9, 2014 For East Fort Worth Inc..