Central Park

Granger Recreation Center exterior of building

Yesterday the good people of the Duck Creek community gave a grand picnic. It was a reunion of the people of that section, and a number of candidates were present. Not less than two thousand people were on the grounds, ladies, gentlemen and children. They came from all directions, on horseback, in wagons, in carriages, in buggies, and some of those living nearby, on foot.

…After dinner, Governor Roberts, who arrived on the grounds about one o'clock, entertained the audience for an hour and a half, reviewing and defending his administration.

…The Duck Creek brass band discoursed music during the day, and sweet music it was, too.  

July 11, 1880, Dallas Daily Times Herald, p. 8, col. 2.

This “grand picnic,” with the governor of Texas and a brass band, took place in the area now known as Central Park.  This area, also known as the “old Garland Park grounds,” “Williams Park,” and “City Park” when it became the first municipal park in Garland’s park system, has been used as Garland’s common green, park, recreational area and community space, private or public, for well more than a century.

Lake Garland-Duck Creek-swim decks

The current 60 acre Central Park is a wooded property along Duck Creek (a tributary of the Trinity River) out of the 640 acre G. W. “Wash” Routh homestead first settled in 1854.  The natural beauty of the site and its proximity to the old Duck Creek business district help give the area its central role in Garland.

HistoryCentral park-Duck Creek swimmers

In the spring of 1919 Garland boosters helped secure the city’s place on the historic Bankhead Highway, an early federal, transcontinental highway route extending from Washington, DC to San Diego. The highway was laid out over designated sections of existing local roads, and these passed the current Central Park site on two sides.  It was noted in the Garland News, May 9, 1919, “…for the pleasure of Bankhead travelers,” there was proposed, “…a nice camping ground for the use of those who care to take advantage of the fine grove just south of the road.”  This “fine grove” was part of the current Central Park. A Texas Historical Commission marker commemorating the “Bankhead Highway in Garland” was installed along the route in 2011.

Lake Garland in Central Park with BathhouseIn 1926, D. Cecil Williams acquired the old Garland Park grounds, combined it with his family’s adjacent creek side property and renamed it “Williams Park.” Son of the city’s first mayor and active himself in city affairs, Williams promptly constructed a dam across the creek to form a natural swimming pool, which he proudly christened “Lake Garland.”  The Williams family operated the park as “a pleasant diversion to their mortuary business.  The park boasted a bath house with dressing facilities, suit rentals, and a concession window that offered sandwiches, soft drinks, candy and other snacks to patrons.  Picnic and playground facilities were available, as well as custom catering for large groups.  Though the park was accessible year-round, electric lighting was only available from June 1st through the first week of September” (from Garland – Its Premier Century, by Michael Hayslip). 

The Williams Park operation closed after the 1939 season.  Nevertheless, public access for picnics was preserved through a road along the creek bank, and for several seasons ground was leased for a miniature golf course.

Jaycee bingo in Central ParkFollowing World War II, a group of young men from the Garland Junior Chamber of Commerce, commonly known as the Jaycees, promoted civic betterment for Garland via a community park for the city (no municipal parks existed at that time) and through their persistence a proposed park acquisition was included by the council in the 1947 bond election.  In 1948, with funding approved in the 1947 bond election, Garland purchased 50 acres from the Williams family at the old “Williams Park.”  This tract became Garland’s first municipal park and was the beginning of the city’s park and recreation system.

Central Park Field No. 1As the first municipal park it was the site of the first community center, the first municipal pool, and the first municipal tennis courts. It has been the long-time home of some of Garland’s first city sponsored recreational sports organizations.  It has been the location of various special events such as the annual Easter egg hunt (the first official City park event was an Easter egg hunt in 1948). The Garland Exchange Club has continued the civic heritage of the Jaycee Jubilee (held since 1946) with its thousands of participants by taking on the role of sponsor for the event in 2012.

VFW GroundbreakingCentral Park - former TANG in Central parkOver the years, the park has also been the location of many civic activities and facilities. VFW Post 5076 constructed a one-story masonry building for their use in 1951.  Space in the original Community House was used by a range of agencies – from the Dallas County Tax Collector to the 221st Radio Relay Squadron of the Air National Guard.  In 1958, the City leased several acres to the U.S. Air Force for a permanent Texas Air National Guard station (closed in 2009). Central Park was the home of the Garland Civic Theater for two decades starting in 1969.

Preservation Efforts

A ten acre portion at the north end of the park along Duck Creek has been left in a natural, undeveloped state to preserve a remnant of the original creek corridor environment.

Historic DesignationBankhead Highway sign

Central Park received a Garland Landmark Society historical marker recognizing the site as a historic community gathering place, recreational area and Garland’s first municipal park.  Central Park also lies along the historic Bankhead Highway (America’s second east-to-west transcontinental highway route) in Garland and a Texas Historic Commission marker was installed in 2011 to recognize this route through Garland.

Citizen Support Programs

Central Park was brought into existence in 1948 due in large part to the dedicated volunteers of the Garland Junior Chamber of Commerce, better known as the Jaycees and their continued support over the decades via fundraising activities such as their annual (since 1946) Jaycee Jubilee.  The Jaycees donated of the first structure in the park – an army surplus barracks that became a community building.  Other examples over the years include:  1) the Optimist Club’s construction and operation of a snack bar concession stand at the Central Park football field, where the revenues help support the Peewee youth football program, 2) maintenance of the sand volleyball courts by Dallas County Teen Court service workers, and 3) the numerous volunteers who operate and support the baseball, football and basketball youth sports programs that play their league games in Central Park.

AwardsLone Star award logo

Due in large part to the role played by Central Park’s programs and facilities, Garland was a Finalist in 1970 for the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in the Field of Park and Recreation Management.  Granger Recreation Center in Central Park was recognized in 1997 with the Dallas Chapter of the American Institutes of Architects 25 Year Award.  Presented to outstanding structures more than a quarter of a center old, the striking building designed by Fisher & Jarvis Architects and constructed in 1960 was noted as “an enduring and sophisticated work of contemporary municipal architecture.”  In 2013 Central Park was honored with Lone Star Legacy Park designation by the Texas Recreation and Park Society.

Park UsageEaster Egg Hunt 2014

Central Park is host to an estimated quarter of a million visitors annually.  This includes patrons in the programs at Granger Recreation Center; participants in youth sports associations (South Garland Little League, Garland PeeWee Football with the Garland Cheer & Dance Association, and Garland Baseball Association); rental/reservation use of the rec center, Granger Annex building and sports fields; participants using the picnic facilities, playground, tennis courts and sand volleyball courts;  those attending special events such as the annual Garland Easter Egg Hunt and the Labor Day Jubilee.

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