I wrote this article for the Summer 2022 issue of Sociability — an online magazine for the greater Arlington, Texas area. Their magazine focuses on local voices, unique perspectives, and the art of being social. It was my first time contributing to their magazine!
You can read the article and see more photos at the link below:
Preservation Month: A Perfect Opportunity to Explore Our Local History
By Jason S. Sullivan, 04-27-22
May is Preservation Month! It’s a month dedicated to promoting historical places and heritage tourism, often led by preservation groups and historical societies. It was established in 1973 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Preservation is Personal
At the heart of preservation efforts are the stories. My story with local history began unexpectedly in April 2020. While exploring Downtown Fort Worth, I stumbled upon a Texas Historical Marker. It wasn’t the first I had ever seen, but it was the first that made me stop and take notice. I had to know more.
Through that chance encounter, a door opened into a world I never knew existed. There is so much local history in our area. It’s presented in books, museums, historical sites, and Texas Historical Markers – oh my, North Texas has hundreds of these bite-sized plaques with stories about local history! What excited me most was that it was all so tangible and vivid. I could visit the sites and learn more about the stories; it became an adventure into the past. I then discovered that Arlington had a local history museum and a historical society. The Arlington Historical Society checked all the right boxes for me. It was a way to learn more about local history and offered a fulfilling volunteer opportunity. Plus, I enjoyed writing about my discoveries so I could share them with others. All the pieces fit.
I always liked history but often couldn’t relate to it. Discovering local history changed that. It also grew into a sense of dutiful pride – someone from my generation has to keep local history alive, or we’ll lose it forever. With tough challenges come great rewards.
Preservation Efforts in Arlington
Historical sites are a fantastic way to explore your city, and Arlington is no exception. Let’s check out the Arlington Historical Society, its historical sites, and a few other places to explore around town.
Arlington Historical Society
The Arlington Historical Society, originally known as the Cemetery Society, was founded on August 27, 1887. It’s an organization almost as old as the city itself. Arlington was founded in 1876, but it wouldn’t officially incorporate as a town until 1884. While the early days of the Society centered around serving as caretakers of cemeteries, today, the mission is different. The Society’s mission is now to promote, develop, and support the process of collecting and preserving documents, pictures, and historical information about the founding and growth of Arlington.
The Society remains dedicated to preserving local history while serving as caretaker of the historic Fielder House, Fielder Museum, Arlington Heritage Memorial Grounds, and Knapp Heritage Park.
Fielder House | 1616 W. Abram Street
The historic Fielder House was built in 1914 for James and Mattie Fielder as their private residence. When construction was nearly complete, the local newspaper referred to the house as a palace. The two-story home was one of the first brick homes built in Arlington. It also has a basement that they used to store fruits and vegetables. Additionally, the home had electric lighting, central heating, hot water, and indoor plumbing – truly luxurious for the time. The Prairie-style home sat on a hill surrounded by 215 acres of farmland. The grounds also had fruit orchards, vegetable gardens, and many oak trees. The Fielder House became known as the “Home on the Hill” and was a popular gathering place for local citizens. The Fielders lived in the home until the early 1950s. It went through some changes over the next few decades until it opened as a museum in 1980.
Fielder Museum | 1616 W. Abram Street
The Fielder Museum, located at the Fielder House, is the headquarters for the Arlington Historical Society. It’s a local history museum for Arlington with themed exhibits and collections. Current exhibits include World War II history, Black history, local businesses and industry, prominent citizens, education, the Berachah Home, and Arlington Downs horseracing track. Recent smaller, rotating exhibits have celebrated Six Flags and Women’s History Month. The museum also includes a replica of Dr. Zack Bobo’s medical office and a replica barbershop. Other rooms include a bedroom with period-piece furnishings, a small library, and a vintage toy room, popular with kids who visit. The museum’s collection contains artifacts, memorabilia, photos, books, documents, letters, oral histories, and much more.
Arlington Heritage Memorial Grounds | 600 W. Arkansas Lane
The Arlington Heritage Memorial Grounds consists of three small historic cemeteries, including the only place in Arlington where Black residents could be buried until the 1950s. Colonel Middleton Tate Johnson – the Father of Tarrant County, yet the namesake of Johnson County – is buried here and recognized with a Historical Marker. Recent renovations have improved the grounds with new fencing, gravestone restoration, and deeper historical research. A future project involving QR Codes will allow visitors to learn more through self-guided tours.
Knapp Heritage Park | 201 W. Front Street
Knapp Heritage Park, dedicated in 2004, contains three of the oldest structures in Arlington: the Jopling-Melear cabin and Watson cabin – both of which date back to the mid-1800s – and a 1910 one-room schoolhouse. Each of the structures has a Texas Historical Marker. The Bardin blacksmith barn is also located in the park, and there’s a general store in James Knapp’s former law office. The heritage site also contains various pioneer tools, making it feel like a step back in time. The park is located in Downtown Arlington and is available for tours.
Other Historic Sites in Arlington
Although these are the historic sites operated by the Arlington Historical Society, there are others. Examples include Texas Historical Markers, Local Landmarks, military memorials, churches, schools, homes, buildings, cemeteries, and small businesses. Top O’ Hill Terrace is a former casino with underground tunnels – and you can tour the site. And, don’t forget the Bankhead Highway – more commonly known as Division Street. Arlington also has two historic districts: Old Town Historic District and South Center Street Historic District. Even Six Flags, which opened in 1961, could be considered a historical site (many organizations consider 50 years of age a starting point for historic preservation). Local history often goes far beyond what many people think of as “history” – it touches on a variety of places and subjects. Arlington has a rich and colorful history filled with fascinating people, places, events, and stories.
To learn more about our local history, check out the Arlington Historical Society’s website at arlingtontxhistory.org. Or better yet, visit one (or more) of Arlington’s historical sites and see for yourself. Preservation Month is a perfect opportunity to explore the history of your hometown!