Spring Lake Park trail recounts area’s history
TEXARKANA, Texas — A good bit of Texarkana history was made on the property we now call Spring Lake Park.
This year, city officials and a variety of other stakeholders came together to formally mark the completion of a path that winds around the park — more than a decade in the making.
“This got started back in 2010,” said Robby Robertson, director of Texarkana, Texas, Parks and Recreation. “We improved the trail around the pond, added the trail around the park. Eventually, we began adding the plaques denoting information about the park, the history, the wildlife.
This park is over 100 years old, with lots of history that has happened here. Aviation, the Four States Fair, so much more.
“The grant money to help much of this get done was awarded in 2017, though we did not receive it until 2019, COVID delays and what not,” he said. “But here we are.”
The walking trail began as the brainchild of Partnership for the Pathway, an organization formed 14 years ago to help fund a series of walking trails in and around town.
“We love it, we are so excited,” said Julie Ray Harrison, one of the Partnership for the Pathway founders, at the event. “We provided matching funds for the city on this project, raising it with efforts like our Run The Line half-marathon. It is so exciting to see so many excited for this project coming together, enjoying this path.”
Partnership for the Pathway helped raise the money to support various part features. Among the items done to enhance and preserve the path include reinforcing the path around the lake, improving the bridges. Also, expanding the route around the entire park, with signs placed indicating various points of interest around the park where history was made.
The history department of Texas A&M UniversityTexarkana played large role in the research element, digging up the details of the rich history around the park.
“As historians, we directed our research at what drove our interests, what points we wanted to highlight,” said Mindy Zwirn, graduate student in the history department. “The diverse history of this park is astounding. Just researching into William W. Wooten, the aviation history of the park, lots of history here.”
Chris Howell, history department undergrad and fellow researcher concurred.
“Lots of people want to know about the Phantom Killer and that’s out here,” he said. “But the history of the park is far more than that. The first air mail flight in Texarkana landed here. Hernando De Soto’s expedition came here. Lots of history.”
Mayor Bob Bruggeman sees it as a “quality of life” enhancement. People who consider relocating here look at amenities like this.
“Cost of living. Schools. Ball fields. Our city does tremendous work in all those areas,” he said. “And now we have places like this. Big thanks to our Parks and Recreation department.”
The path, a paved route curving around the lake that is one of the main features of the park, has seven plaques mounted along the path informing visitors about the history of the park. The main plaque that set visitors upon this journey of discovery, informs the reader that the park officially became a city park in 1924. It is one of a few parks to be designated by the Texas Recreation & Park Society (TRAPS) as a Lone Star Legacy Park. To receive such a designation, a park must hold special prominence in its community and feature a long history in that community.
Starting in 1541, tradition states that Hernando De Soto, Spanish explorer, came to the park, seeking its spring, believing it was the Fountain of Youth. He is said to have drank from it, as well as put down a mutiny there from his men, according to a plaque affixed to the spring house now over the spring, built in the 1930s.
Two early settlers to the area were William Wooten and Anthony Ghio. Wooten received a land grant from the Republic of Texas in 1841. Ghio would eventually acquire the land and realizing the quality of the spring, would establisha basin in which to capture its waters, which would become the spring lake of Spring Lake Park.
The Texarkana Street Car system was established to transport tourists and park visitors from downtown Texarkana. Powered originally by mules, the street cars transported people to the park and back. The system eventually was rendered out of date by the automobile.
Spring Lake Park actually figures somewhat prominently in the city’s peculiar history in aviation. On July 4, 1912, the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce hired a self-proclaimed “fine flyer” for a park flyover. His “plane”, a bizarre contraption of wood and bamboo, nearly did not take to the air, as the flyer was reluctant to fly his craft. But he did, in a series of hops across the park. Since then, the former airfield has seen many flyers, from a mail plane to remote controlled airplanes and helicopters. It is now the home of a retired T-33A jet trainer, built in 1951, flown by the U.S. Air Force until retired in 1961, where it enjoyed a home in the park ever since
Then, there is the Phantom Killer, a serial murderer who terrorized the town in 1946. His third set of victims, fifteen-year-old Betty Jo Booker and sixteen-year-old Paul Martin, were shot to death in the park, in the far northern park area. Though the identity of the killer has been famously speculated upon, it has never been definitively determined. The fictionalize film about the case, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, has been shown many times in the park.
Finally, there is the Four States Fair and Rodeo, currently in its home in Texarkana, Arkansas, as it has been for years. However, it originated in Spring Lake Park, with the Merchant Building built in 1950. There, it would entertain fairgoers for four decades until it was eventually moved to its present home. The property formerly occupied by the fair is now ballparks and athletic venues.