Reverchon Park, Site of a Hovel Town Once Known as “Woodchuck Hill”

by Paula Bosse

reverchon_park_baseballAnyone for a little sport? Or a spell-checker?

by Paula Bosse

Before it became one of Dallas’ nicest parks, Reverchon (named for the French botanist Julien Reverchon who arrived in Dallas to join the La Réunion settlement) began life as a 36-acre plot of land called “Turtle Creek Park.” But before that, it was an open-air slum known as “Woodchuck Hill” — an eyesore of an area filled with tents and hovels where families lived in deplorable conditions. It was a pretty dangerous place — the only thing the violent “Squattertown” had going for it was that it was practically next door to Parkland Hospital at Maple and Oak Lawn. The injured and dying didn’t have far to go for medical attention. Or to breathe their last breaths. News reports such as the one below — from 1911 — were, sadly, fairly common (click for larger image):

woodchuck-hill_dmn_081711
Dallas Morning News, Aug. 17, 1911

In October, 1914 it was announced that the city had purchased this tract of land from the heirs of the pioneer Cole family in order to establish what would become Reverchon Park.

reverchon-park_dmn_101914
DMN, Oct. 19, 1914

A few months after the purchase of the land, the squatters were told to vacate the city’s new park property, and what had been a miserable slum was cleared away and transformed into one of the city’s prettiest “pleasure grounds.”

woodchuck-hill_dmn_031215
DMN, March 12, 1915

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The following is from the Dallas Park Board’s 1915 report:

Pending suggestions for a more suitable one, Turtle Creek Park has been temporarily adopted as the name for this property. At the time of its purchase it corresponded in a measure to the slum districts of the great cities. It was known as “Woodchuck Hill,” and its inhabitants constituted a novel settlement for the city. They resided in make-shift houses and hovels built by the occupants who paid a small stipend each month in the shape of ground rent. The moral conditions of these people was bad, and they caused much concern to the Social Welfare Workers in particular.

In addition to an athletic field, this park is adaptable for an elaborate botanical garden. Being situated at the western base of the Turtle Creek Boulevard, which extends the entire length of the property, it will one day constitute one of the chief attractions of the city for visitors. It adjoins the water works property, comprising a total of 103 acres of city property, a large portion of which has already been beautified. The grounds surrounding the pumping station and the water purification plant have been laid out in lawns and flower beds. Near the center of this park and at the base of the hills on its northern boundaries is located Raccoon Springs. The springs flow a large volume of water to year round, and provide shady nooks with delightful surroundings.

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Hovels below, in the “before” picture.

reverchon-park_before-1915

reverchon-park-1915

Turtle Creek Park
Located on Maple Avenue.
Area, 36 acres.
Acquired, 1915.
Cost of land, $40,000.

reverchon-plat_kessler_1915

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Top postcard (with “Reverchon” misspelled — understandably so…), from somewhere in the wilds of the internet.

Quoted text and other images from Report for the Year 1914-1915 of the Park Board of the City of Dallas, With a Sketch of the Park System (Dallas: Park Board, 1915), which can be accessed as part of the Dallas Municipal Archives, here.

For more on the Dallas Parks System, the definitive source may well be Historic Dallas Parks by John Slate (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2010); more info here.

Friends of Reverchon Park website here.

All images larger when clicked.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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