An estimated one-million people have lived in Oak Cliff during its over one-hundred year history. This brief look at Oak Cliff’s history is a compilation of information from many folks who have shared their personal stories with us.
“Oak Cliff derives its name from the massive oaks that crown the soft green cliffs.” So states an early advertisement describing the community just south of the Trinity River from Dallas, Texas.
As early as 1837, pioneers William S. Beaty and the Leonard and Coombes families settled in this area. Moving from Tennessee, William Henry Hord and his wife Mary also settled here in 1845 and opened a boarding house. The farming community in the area became known as Hord’s Ridge. Nearby, Aaron Overton’s gristmill on Five Mile Creek provided a place for farmers to process their grain. In 1879, the new Cleburne and Rio Grande Railway passed through Hord’s Ridge and a station was built there in 1882, opening the community to national transportation.
This cozy farming settlement on the beautiful side of the Trinity caught the attention of two enterprising developers: Thomas L. Marsalis and John S. Armstrong. In 1887, with a plan to market the community as a prestigious residential area, they purchased several hundred acres in and around Hord’s Ridge and gave the area a more appealing name…Oak Cliff.
Through their efforts, Oak Cliff incorporated as a city in 1890, electing Hugh Ewing to be the first mayor. Advertised as the “Cambridge of the South,” the community flourished. However, disagreements led to a split in the Marsalis-Armstrong partnership. As a result, Marsalis stayed in Oak Cliff and Armstrong went on to develop a community north of the Trinity that became known as Highland Park.
A financial downturn in 1893 brought the development to a sudden halt. In 1903, the beleaguered and financially strapped City of Oak Cliff voted to annex itself to the City of Dallas. Oak Cliff and Dallas were now one—but not really. The Trinity River physically separated Oak Cliff from the rest of Dallas, giving this southern suburb a permanent and unique identity.
Throughout the years, this community across the river has maintained remnants of its original small town atmosphere. Some folks have called Oak Cliff the “Howdy Capital” of Texas, because of the down-to-earth friendliness of its people. Through cycles of growth and challenge, many of the neighborhoods in Oak Cliff still retain that hometown attitude.