First lady Eleanor Roosevelt once stood in a yard on Arkansas Lane and proclaimed the surrounding land a good fit for one of her husband’s subsistence homestead colonies. That’s how Dalworthington Gardens came to be founded 80 years ago as a “back to the land” New Deal project early in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. The town will celebrate its milestone birthday Friday and Saturday.
The most profound recent change in the city’s look came in the late 1990s. That’s when Bowen Road, on the city’s eastern border, became a five-lane thoroughfare connecting Pioneer Parkway to Interstate 20, and Arkansas Lane was expanded along the city’s north side.
Now, as the city looks to its next 80 years, its course seems to be set: Keep the country atmosphere while carefully controlling commercial development along those two corridors.
It was on a visit to Carl Mosig’s house on Arkansas Lane that Eleanor Roosevelt became sold on the area. Mosig, Fort Worth bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News, knew the Roosevelts’ son Elliott, who married a local girl and settled near Fort Worth.
Dalworthington Gardens was chartered in late 1933 for the federal subsistence homestead program, established to help “rebalance” the population from overloaded industrial centers. Homesteads were built outside cities but close enough that residents could still work in them.
In early 1934, the government allotted $250,000 to buy 593.3 acres south of Arkansas Lane near Arlington. Civil Works Administration workers arrived in June to remove all fences and clear out most of the woods, according to research done for a state historical marker. The smallest lot was 3.7 acres, the largest 24.4.
Forty-three acres were reserved for a park and community house. Six gravel roads provided access. Construction on the homes, of which there were two models, began Aug. 5.
Because fences weren’t built until 1937, cows, chickens, pigs and other livestock often roamed free and had to be herded back to their owners. Indoor plumbing was required, but a faulty sewage system caused problems until more lines and septic tanks were installed. The main water pipe was contaminated from previous use in an oil field, forcing residents to carry water from a spring in 5-gallon cans until new piping arrived.
The homestead program ended in May 1936. A few weeks later, on June 1, the Dalworthington Gardens Homestead Association signed a management contract with the Resettlement Administration, which had taken over. Homesteaders who made it through the first year received a form letter saying they could become permanent residents. In June 1949, residents voted to incorporate as a town.
To tell the history of Dalworthington Gardens is to describe the homesteaders’ perseverance, says Velma Bogart, a longtime resident and former councilwoman who is spearheading the 80th anniversary celebration.
“The story about DWG is its early residents, the difficulties they faced and their determination to live here and raise their families, “ she said in 2011, when the town turned 75. “Then, as we moved forward, development occurred, new homes were built alongside the original homes, government ruled the city, utilities were improved, roads were built, the water system was improved, housing developments were approved.
“Now, from those 600 acres to 2 square miles, over 2,000 residents call DWG home and over 150 businesses offer their wares.”
Although it has diminished over the years, the rural heritage lives on, with horse pastures, barns and livestock trailers part of the picturesque landscape.
A closer look at DWG
- Eighty lots were platted and 79 original homes were built in 1936-37. One lot already had a house on it.
- The lots ranged from 4 to 25 acres and came with a one-, two- or three-bedroom house, a chicken coop, a shed and maybe a garage.
- The federal government offered a 40-year loan at 2 percent interest, and payments were around $25, including taxes, water, maintenance, management and insurance.
- In 1949, homeowners elected five aldermen and a mayor, who then wrote the incorporation documents.
- Early on, most elementary students attended Johnson Station Elementary at South Cooper Street and Matlock Road. Some went to Pantego. Arlington High was the only high school for many years.
- Key Elementary opened in 1975 on a lot that used to be a horse pasture.
DWG anniversary committee research