Fort Worth was founded as a small, lonely military post in 1849 and evolved into a small trading post over the early 1850s. It began growing after the Civil War as the city evolved into cattle drive center. But the city really took off when the railroad reached it in the late 1870s. Fort Worth then became a major cattle drive destination and meatpacking center.
Fort Wort experienced explosive growth as a transportation hub as west Texas oilfield’s began producing huge volume of crude in the mid-1920s and 1930s. The crude had to be transited to refineries and customers. By the 1960s and 70s, the economy further evolved into technology, defense, medicine and other growth industries.
Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District
The city’s emergence as a tourist destination, however, focuses primarily on its history as a cattle town. In 1849, the city turned a 125 acres into the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District. The District provides a glimpse into Texas’s role in the livestock industry.
Take a guided tour. Or just wander among the numerous interpretative panels to learn more about this lively time period. Every where you turn you are reminded of the time when cattle were rounded up and taken to market.
Live Cattle Drive
One of the highlights of the District is the “cattle drive”. Two times a day, cowboys “drive” a few photogenic longhorns down the street. These longhorns weigh from 1,500 to 2,000 pounds and have horns that range from six to ten feet long.
Multiple stockyard structures include cattle pens, livestock shoots and a pig/sheep subway and descriptions of processes such as the formations of cattle drives and the roles played by different cattle herders.
The 1870 building used to house offices for the Livestock Commission, Standards Bureau and cattle buyers who handled the sale of up to 5 million animals per year. While the central exchange has generally been replaced by smaller local auctions, the building continues to house livestock-related offices and now the Stockyards Museum, which recounts the history of the city’s cattle drives, stockyards and meatpacking industry.
Cowboy and Cowgirl Museums
Built in 1908, the Coliseum was used for rodeos and expositions (as it is today, as well as for concerts).
Built in 1912, the alley was the site of the largest draft animal (especially horses and mules) market in the world. While the market for draft animals peaked during World War I, their only real use today is in pulling tourist carriages, stagecoaches and covered wagons through the streets of the Stockyards and other tourist areas. The street is now lined with bars, restaurants, a winery, a brewery and a large concert venue.
The former train station spurred the rapid growth of Fort Worth and its stockyards. Today it is a large marketplace of tourist-focused stores and restaurants.
Billy Bob’s Texas
The 100,000 square-foot entertainment center is billed as the world’s largest honky-tonk. It includes more than 30 bar stations, multiple dance floors, dozens of pool tables and video games, a guitar collection and an indoor rodeo arena that hosts professional bull riding and concerts be some of country music’s biggest stars.
Other District Historic Sites
Several other 19th-century buildings along East Exchange Street that have been renovated to house bars, restaurants and tourist-oriented Western stores.
The Armour and Swift Plaza commemorate the opening of branch meat processing plants in 1901 and 1903 respectively and operated for more than 60 years and led to the creation of many smaller, local support businesses. The adjacent River Ranch Stockyards meanwhile has been transformed into an event center.
More Than Livestock and Cowboys
Not everything in Fort Worth is about cowboys, cowgirls and herds. Fort Worth has some lovely areas and things to do outside of the District.
This lovely square is about 3 miles from the Stockyard Historic District. In the late 1800s, this downtown historic district was called “Hell’s Half Acre”. It housed the lawless saloon, gambling, and brothels. Outlaws including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (for whom the square is named) hid out here. Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, “Doc’” Holiday and others were drawn to its saloons and gambling halls.
Today the square is home to a prettily lit, child-friendly water feature, a stage for live performances, a mural commemorating the Chisolm trail and a huge silver cowboy hat. It is also the center of downtown Fort Worth’s primary entertainment district with popular bars including the Red Goose Saloon, The Library, Thompson Book Store and Pete’ Piano Bar.
The area is filled with a number of rodeos and country music venues as well as a number of museums and reconstructed frontier-era buildings.
A network of bronze plaques line the streets commemorating individuals and events that played significant roles in the industry and the city’ development.
Not everything in Fort Worth is tied to the city’s cowboy history. The Water Gardens is a three-pool, cypress- and oak-shaded park that includes one pool with steeply terraced 38-foot walls whose water empties into a blue pool and another with multiple lit spray fountains.
The Cultural District is the home to a number of museums.
- Kimball Art Museum has about 350 works from Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceanic and Ancient Americas.
- Amon Carter Museum of American Art contains American art from early daguerreotypes to contemporary.
- Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth contains painting, photos, sculptures, prints and video;
- Fort Worth Museum of Science and History‘s collection focuses on interpreting science and stories of Texas and the Southwest.
Fort Worth also has numerous universities (including Texas Christian, Texas Wesleyan and University of North Texas Health Sciences Center), arboretum, gardens and a zoo.
Fort Worth Restaurants
Our very nice dinner started with chicken-fried oysters with chipotle butter mango pico and cumin crema. Joyce opted for a wood-grilled Caesar salad topped with a huge fillet of salmon. Tom enjoyed a huge chicken-fried half pheasant with fingerling potato salad and slaw. And we couldn’t resist finishing our meal with a large serving of bourbon-glazed pecan pie with vanilla ice cream. Our wine was a nice bottle of 2017 Provenance Merlot.
Our casual, but not very exciting lunch started with guacamole for which we had to request double supplements of onion, pico de gallo and jalapenos. We followed up with hickory-smoked ribs that were the least interesting of our trip.