History of Willow Park

The history of the area where the City of Willow Park sits can be traced through records and books back to Parker County’s creation in 1856. Isaac Parker of Tarrant County and Jefferson Weatherford of Dallas County enacted legislation to form the 576,000 acres into a county because an increasing number of settlers had begun to farm the fertile soils of the Clear Fork Branch of the Trinity River and ranch the rolling plains. The Butterfield Stageline ran through the area, and local ranchers could easily herd their stock northeastward to the nearby Chisholm Trail. Weatherford was the terminal for several stage coach lines during the 1870's and one was held up by the notorious Sam Bass gang en route to Ft. Worth at a spot near Mary's Creek.

The area was ripe for settlements in the late 1850’s and 1860’s even though the western part of the county was still suffering an occasional Comanche or Kiowa raid. The area west from Weatherford was not proclaimed “free from hostile Indians” by the Governor until 1877. Evidence of such brutality lies in our own Willow Springs Cemetery located on the north service road at Exit 415 of I-20. The oldest tombstone in the cemetery tells the fatal outcome of Martha Sherman, wife of Ezra Sherman, killed by the Comanche Indians in 1860 near the Palo Pinto and Parker county line, and “buried here because there was a church nearby.” 

The church being referred to was Elm Grove (also called Ellum, Alum Grove) and was begun by Simeon Wright, Rev. B. A. Kemp, and Rev. J. W. Chalk in May, 1854. It was later named Willow Springs after the springs themselves which were located on property east of the cemetery. Unfortunately the springs were extremely disturbed by the construction of Interstate 20. The Willow Springs school was located south of the cemetery a couple of miles away.

As the area grew, new roads were developed to facilitate settlers and by the turn of the century the county was becoming substantially populated. Memories of settlers in our area are conjured up when we see their names on tombstones in Willow Springs Cemetary or in the legal descriptions of deed records. Names such as Yeary, Mirike, Froman, Teater, BlackwellTinsleyFoxRobertsonCarr, McCarver, Headley, and Williams, among others, hold places of honor in our history.

By 1925 the area which is now Willow Park was sparsely populated with farms and ranches and a pastoral scene for travelers going east or west on the newly completed Bankhead Highway. The remnants of that highway are, generally speaking, the southern boundary of much of today’s City of Willow Park. With the improvement of, increasing need for, and popularity of automobile, truck, and bus travel, Bankhead Highway was eventually out-dated and was replaced by the new double-lane U.S. Highway 80 which was constructed a bit farther to the north. It was completed by 1940 and soon after, a lovely roadside park -- complete with native Willow trees and a pond to overlook -- was constructed for weary travelers and Sunday picnickers. It was not until 1968 that Interstate 20 blasted its way through the established town of Willow Park, Texas, and obliterated the picturesque roadside park. The town, however, retains its memory through the name, Willow Park, and the pond is still visible north of the interstate highway.

The City was incorporated in 1963 by petition of 32 resident voters. Many new people had moved to the area, first known as El Chico Ranch Estates, shortly after the completion of the Weatherford Reservoir in 1956-57. The $2,000,000 project had added further allure to a beautiful area, tantalizingly close both to the larger city of Ft. Worth and the county seat with its historic square, Weatherford. For many of the employees of Convair (General DynamicsLockheed-Martin) and military officers of the adjoining air force base, the area was perfect for raising children in a country atmosphere. Both the Aledo Independent School District and Weatherford Independent School District were (and still are) academically attractive as well, so a good education was easily accessible.

El Chico Ranch Estates, north and south of U.S. Highway 80, was the first area to be developed before the city’s incorporation. The previous ranch owners (O.P. Leonard, Sr., sons Bob and Paul, Jr., and sons-in-law James Anthony and Leland Hodges, DBA - Republic Land Company) sold the property to developers Curby and Vera Haynes Mirike, who developed the area keeping an eye toward separating commercial from residential areas. As well, a new subdivision -- Hillcrest-- was developed in 1965, near the privately owned Parker County airport. By the time the town commission was granted in October 1963, at least 200-300 residents had laid down roots and formed this fledgling community. By election, the City of Willow Park had reached its goal of “cityhood” with 45 total votes cast (29 for, 12 against, and 4 void). The first mayor was J.D. St. Clair and the two elected commissioners were W. E. “Tony” Self and T.W. Grubbs. Monthly meetings were held at the “Clubhouse” at 201 Ranch House Rd. (The clubhouse has a history of its own since its erection in the mid-1930’s, but it is now a private residence.) City leaders met in this location until land was given by the Leonard family in February 1971 for a combined City Hall and Fire Department Building which still stands on the corner of Stagecoach Road and Ranch House Road. The first meeting in the new “Municipal Building” was held on 15 November 1971.

Although Mayor St. Clair served the City for six or so months, he soon resigned for health reasons and was followed by Mayor G. Wayne Stevens who served for the next five years. During his tenure, Mayor Stevens and Commissioners Self and J. C. Gilliland led the City through the delicate steps necessary to become a well-organized and carefully planned community. Other pioneers of this time period were as follows:

Town Marshall:
Claude F. Mason (appointed 1964)

Town Secretary:
Mary Ann Boubel (1963-1966)
H. G. Knutson (1966-1968)
Edna Grace (1968-1970)

Town Inspector and Engineer:
Ralph E. Darling (appointed 1965)

Planning and Zoning Commission: (appointed 1969)
Alvist (Al) V. Rice, Bob Phillips, Gene Ward, J. C. Gilliland, and Michael G. Lee

By 1970, the Federal Census reported 230 people living in the City. The Republic Land Company soon began developing the area overlooking Weatherford Lake known as Laguna Vista and other realtors descended on the fertile land -- fertile for residential sales and no longer for agricultural use. Mayor Ralph Darling was appointed to finish out G. W. Stevens’ term after he resigned due to time conflicts with his job. By April 1970, Z.C. Baker had been elected to serve on the council with Tony Self, who by then had served since the City’s incorporation.

Willow Park grew greatly during the 1970’s. Businesses cropped up and Squaw Creek Golf Course was completed giving General Dynamics employees and area residents a beautiful new coarse close to Ft. Worth. William M. Grace was appointed the first Fire Marshall, and Ronald J. Muncy served as Fire Chief. The first fire truck was a 1953 Ford -- one water tank on its back -- named “Old Whitey”. The Ladies Auxiliary members raised money for the department through dinners and chili suppers, and often fought fires themselves while the men were at their own jobs during the day. Squaw Creek Estates was developed as another picturesque subdivision overlooking General Dynamics golf course and reservoir and lots sold rapidly. Buena Vista Estates subdivision was established near Laguna Vista Estates in 1976. The Willow Park Church of Christ was founded in May of 1975 when O. P. Leonard donated a corner lot on Ranch House Rd. near the Municipal Building. By September of 1979, a small group of Baptists formed the First Baptist Church which later built on land adjacent to the Church of Christ. By late 1979, Trinity Bible Church came into being and later in the early 1980’s bought property on Interstate 20 and built their church. Soon after, they added their school which now encompasses grades K-12.

By 1980, the census reported 1,113 residents within the City limits and needs for water and services increased. Jesse and Joy Lee, Roy and Jan Lynch, Bill Bowden and others were having a field day developing land, selling lots, and building houses. Willow Wood Subdivision was developed and Don Dickerson sold his water company to the City of Willow Park. During the same decade Willow Park residents voted to buy Tarrant Utility Co. from the Leonard family and the town became more independent from outside pressure. The churches begun in the 70’s continued to grow and others were established. The Living Way Ministries, and Saint Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church were established and gave even more opportunity for fellowship and worship in the community. The latter added a small parochial school which serves the early grades. Small businesses came into the area including a state-wide grocery chain; medical and pharmaceutical services, television cable services; filling stations and convenience stores; laundry services; a restaurant; and two banks. The Ladies Fire Auxiliary continued to raise money for the ever-growing volunteer fire department.

Following the addition of five new sub-divisions in the mid-80’s (Willow Crest and Northchase on Ranch House Rd.; Willow Springs and Willow Springs Oaks on FM 1187 south of I-20 and the Willow Springs Cemetery; and Pruitt-Cobb Subdivision on Crown Rd.) the Willow Park Women’s Club and the Willow Park Chamber of Commerce were created and gave added opportunity for community involvement. The Extension Homemakers Organization, begun in the 70’s added new members, and a local chapter of Beta Sigma Phi cropped up for a while. Rattlesnake Round-Ups in the canyons of the community became activities of the past, and as the population of the City more than doubled, a need for an official police department became evident. The first Police Chief was David Carrothers, and a small department of reserve officers soon gave the inhabitants round-the-clock protection. Several lawsuits necessitated a City Attorney and the first, Henry Kerry of Ft. Worth, was retained in 1983.

The 1990 Federal Census reported 2328 inhabitants of the City and was proof-positive of the more-than-double growth of the 1980’s. The police force and fire departments began beefing up for the opening of the new Trinity Meadows Racetrack and emergency services were a new focus for those departments. Although the race track flourished only for a short period during the 1990’s, its creation spurred the citizens into action and a Municipal Court was established with community member Glen Wilson serving as the first Municipal Judge. Four new subdivisions were created; Trinity Estates, Oak Manor, Ridgecrest Estates, and Ridge Haven Estates made obvious impacts on the growth of the City, now covering over five square miles. Big-name corporations such as, Texaco, Exxon, Fina, Ramada Inn, Subway, Chicken Express, Popeye’s, and McDonald’s began to appear and replace earlier businesses like Ralph’s, Bino’s, Thrift Mart, and Fast ‘N Fair. Two new churches set down roots, Willow Park Baptist Church, and Cornerstone Assembly of God, both on Ranch House Rd.

At last the little country town had been discovered and national real estate organizations such as Century 21, Coldwell-Banker, and Remax came to stake their claims. The video stores competed and nationally known Winn-Dixie came to feed the growing community and compete with the original grocery store which had by then been purchased by a Texas chain, Brookshire Brothers. Several dentists, an optometrist, and Campbell Health System reinforced the medical community and home-owned small businesses continued to thrive. With this commercial growth, it became obvious to far-sighted city leaders that a waste-water treatment plant was a necessity and the sewer system for the commercial corridor was put into place in the early 1990’s.

At the turn of the century, the 2000 Federal Census for the Willow Park incorporated area was 2,849, but the figure is distorted by the fact that nearby towns and unincorporated areas adjacent to the City are blowing the lid off feasibility and traffic studies being undertaken by private corporate entities and various state and federal departments. Although the biggest problems being encountered by Willow Park residents still remain (water and sewer provisions, and road conditions), the new millennium is being met by groups and individuals determined to rectify the situations expeditiously and correctly. Growth west of the Ft. Worth metroplex area is a given and the release of the massive Walsh Ranch lands which have served as a buffer from that growth in the past, will now insure that fate. Currently planned for the immediate future is a new golf course surrounded by estate homes as well as garden homes for empty-nesters and retirees. As well, Crown Development Corp. has laid the groundwork for a large commercial development on I-20 adjacent to the Clear Fork of the Trinity River where not so long ago, pioneer neighbors hailed each other on their way to the original Willow Springs Church. In two more years, Willow Park will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary and with continued careful planning will be able to weather the certain growth being thrust its way for the next fifty years.

Kay W. Davis
Willow Park Historian
March 15, 2001
c. 2001

Early Leaders

Extracted Council Minutes
(March 1963 - December 1972)

Scrapbook Tidbits

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