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What was once Hell's Half Acre in Fort Worth

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

See those little houses in the Bird's Eye View of Fort Worth from the 1880s? Many were "cribs" and "female boarding houses," aka brothels. Unlike its Dallas counterpart, Fort Worth did not try to regulate Hell's Half Acre. Instead, the city demolished it twice.

The Tarrant County Courthouse is located squarely in the middle of Main Street in Fort Worth. From its perch on a bluff by the Trinity River, it bestows its attention onto the Stockyards in the north. To the south, the courthouse has a wonderful view of the strange disc that is the city's Convention Center (now slated for demolition, though).

Until the 1960s, the courthouse left an imposing impression on those plying their trades in old Hell's Half Acre, Fort Worth's red light district. Once featuring saloons, gambling halls, and bordellos, it would in later years house pawn shops, strip joints, betting parlors, and pubs. Its dilapidated glory was obliterated during Fort Worth's urban renewal project. The only thing left from Hell's Half Acre is the 1880's St. Patrick Catholic Church, which no doubt had heard many a confession during Fort Worth's sinful days, and the old Santa Fe train station on the east side.

The neighborhood that once housed "Hell's Half Acre" was actually a black business district. African Americans were not the proprietors of the saloons and brothels, though. Vice establishments tended to open in areas that the city neglected, which in the South was invariably the "Black Ward." Thus, when the city demolished the urban density of the district at the beginning of the 20th century, it also displaced African Americans. This is a VERY COMMON THEME throughout the South.

But the vice district reappeared. The reputation for this quarter, plus its location as a "black business district," left rents depressed. This meant the establishments Fort Worth desperately tried to remove continued in some form or another, until the entire infrastructure was wiped out in the 1960s to make way for the Convention Center and the Fort Worth Water Gardens, designed by Phillip Johnson.

Today, many tourists mistakenly believe that the Fort Worth Stockyards was the location of Hell's Half Acre, mainly because the famous White Elephant Saloon relocated there. The sign at the front of the saloon tells of a gunfight that happened out front, but note that the original shoot-out occurred at Hell's Half Acre.

Train Station
The old Santa Fe station now houses a university; its location inadvertently anchored the east side of Hell's Half Acre.

Women comprised the victims of crimes and despair in Hell's Half Acre -- it's important to note that much the business in the vice district was based on human trafficking. In this 1906 article, a woman committed suicide inside a bar in the "Acre."

An Irish immigrant woman may have been killed by a German immigrant man in this murder that happened in the district in 1893. Both of the protagonists attended St. Patrick's Cathedral, too. This murder has been erroneously linked in local lore to a "woman nailed to an outhouse door," but that seems to have never occurred. Tewmey, the victim, was inebriated and then mugged, which led to her murder.
Even more victims of the human trafficking that occurred in Hell's Half Acre, like this short paragraph from the Fort Worth Star Telegram in 1890 makes clear. But please, keep giggling about and glorifying prostitution and porn.

Hell's Half Acre in 1885 consisted of shot gun houses, many of which were used as "cribs" for prostitutes, and female boarding houses, aka brothels. African Americans lived here, too.

By 1911, the "Acre" had expanded into brick "female boarding houses," aka brothels, that took up entire city blocks. This was also the prominent black business district.

By the late 1890s, attempts spearheaded by Fort Worth's founding family, the Daggetts were made to clear out the "Acre." Daggett ended up buying and redeveloping the portion of the city. The city used eminent domain in his favor, and although he was sued due to title disputes, the Texas Supreme Court sided with him.

The Fort Worth Star Telegram was not shy about the city's intentions, and used racism and misogyny to get the point across.

City buildings
The "Acre" as it appeared in the 1960s prior to demolition was a typically dense urban area where people could both live and work. This was demolished for the sake of the city's convention center and the Water Gardens (UT Arlington, by Jack White).

The last remnants of the Acre before its demise by wrecking ball in the 1960s (UT Arlington by Jack White).

The old neighborhood had a true urban flair until it was demolished (UT Arlington by Jack White).

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2 Σχόλια

Ann Lucas
Ann Lucas
31 Οκτ 2023

Excellent writing and information; especially appreciate the "keep giggling." Human trafficking is SO funny.

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Robin Cole-Jett
Robin Cole-Jett
07 Ιαν
Απάντηση σε

Right?! I cannot stand the "nudge nudge wink wink" commentary about prostitution.

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