Notes on the Geography of The Western United States: Glen Rose and Las Colinas
Glen Rose is a place from which people over the last 50 years have taken money; Las Colinas is a place into which people in recent decades have put money. Which place is more appealing? You'd think the answer was obvious, but it isn't.
We're in Glen Rose, about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth, 75 from Dallas. The nearest Wal-Mart Supercenter is 25 miles to the northeast, in Cleburne.
The biggest building in town is the courthouse, built to administer and symbolize Somervell County. It's a small county, formed in 1876 from a 200-square-mile slice of Hood County. An earlier courthouse went up in 1882, but it burned in 1893 and was quickly rebuilt in limestone. The sensibly modest tower is a reconstruction, erected after a tornado in 1902 removed its predecessor.
Why a town here? Glen Rose is on the Paluxy River, a slim tributary of the lazy Brazos. That's important to its history, because the town began about 1860 as a grist mill. The mill changed hands, and the new owner's wife was British. At her suggestion, the place became Glen Rose in 1872. Its population rose to 600 by 1890 and 1,000 by 1910. There probably wasn't a lot of grist milling by then, but the Paluxy, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, had waters "valuable for medicinal purposes," and so Glen Rose became a town for people seeking health. Perhaps they found it, but 50 years later the town still had only 1,000 people. It's doubled since then, thanks (if that's the right word) to the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant, which opened a few miles to the north in 1981 and is now the town's largest employer. With Cleburne half an hour down the road, however, Glen Rose's downtown hasn't benefited much from the town's population growth.
If all these flourishes were in marble and in Europe, Michelin would give them stars, but they're only stamped metal and this is Texas, so they're pretty much ignored.
Upstream a mile on the Paluxy, this is the entrance arch to an abandoned set of cabins.
Last rented in the 1950s? The Paluxy is just behind the cabin, where the ground slopes away.
Is this more interesting? We're three miles east of DFW, although you can't get there from here, at least not directly. Hackberry Creek used to flow east across this land, which was part of--surprise, surprise--the Hackberry Ranch. As late as 1980, the only local action besides the ranch was gravel quarrying a couple of miles farther east, where Hackberry Creek flows into the Elm Fork of the Trinity.
The ranch survives only in the Mustangs of Las Colinas, commissioned from Robert Glen in 1976 by Ben Carpenter, who was the ranch owner. His father, John Carpenter, had come from Corsicana in 1928 to work at Dallas Power and Light, but these weren't poor folk: the Carpenters also had a real-estate company and from 1939 controlled Southland Life Insurance. The Hackberry Ranch, at 600 acres, was hardly their core business, but it did become the core of Las Colinas when the Carpenters, with financing from Southland, enlarged the ranch to 1,500 acres in 1948 and 6,000 acres in 1959. That was four years before the federal government's decision to locate DFW where it is now. Not bad, for a spin of the real-estate dice.
By 1972, a year before DFW opened, Ben Carpenter controlled 12,000 acres on which he intended to build on what had become prime real estate. One of the early steps was the replacement of the name Hackberry with the more mellifluous Las Colinas, "the hills." (Where the hills are, exactly, is a question best asked of the real-estate gurus who regularly bring you Apple Creek, Rolling Meadows, and Shadow Valley.) Next, in 1974, came the replacement of Hackberry Creek with Lake Carolyn, flanked with docks for Venetian water taxis and, on the far side, an elevated people-mover. "I used to chop hay right there on that very land," said Gilbert Colwell in 1987.
Carpenter intended to build a place where 180,000 people would work and where 50,000 would live. Those numbers have proven too ambitious: 30 years later, Las Colinas has a daytime population of 100,000 and an overnight one of 30,000. Still, Las Colinas is one of the biggest office parks in the United States, and its "A-list" tenants include Exxon, Citigroup, General Motors, Hewlett Packard, and Microsoft.
The development road was so bumpy in the 1980s that Las Colinas was taken over by the Teachers' Insurance and Annuity Association. Property management went to Cousins Properties, which offers the following Las Colinas statistics for 2004: 21 million square feet of office space, 8 million square feet of light industrial, 1 million of retail, 10,500 multifamily residential units, and 3,200 single-family homes.
It wasn't what Ben Carpenter had in mind. As he said, "I wanted a focal point in the middle of the Urban Center." But as the phrase "urban center" suggests, focal points aren't easy to make. Here the waters of Lake Carolyn flow under the street and into a canal. Focal point?
The canal is there, next to the clock tower.
Down on the ground, we're being taken to Europe.
The canal is as straight as an engineer could make it, and the curve avoe is a garage ramp.
Any guesses about the buildings in the foreground?
Think there are rooms back there, maybe for rent? Ha!
You're looking at a garage. Some focal point.
The Hackberry ranch house? It was knocked down after the 56 acres on which it sat were sold in 1997 to GTE, now Verizon. Where would you rather spend an afternoon: Glen Rose or Las Colinas? One's at the leading edge of economic development; the other's at the trailing edge. Every conditioned bone in our economic bodies says "Las Colinas, of course," but is it so?
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