HISTORIC SOUTH WACO
Compiled by Randall Scott May 1, 2020
According to Paul Holder, who grew up in the Bell’s Hill area, Bell’s Hill is the area between “about Fourteenth Street on the East end and up to the old Baylor Stadium (South Valley Mills Drive) on the West end. The Northern boundary is Waco Creek. The South side varies—Bell’s Hill peaks at about Nineteenth-Twentieth Street and Dutton Avenue area, and descends from there to about Twenty-sixth Street and Dutton. Of course, the school boundary was larger.” (1) Eric S. Ames tells us that “In 1886, J.D. Bell drilled the first artesian well in Waco, and the surrounding land became known as Bell’s Hill. Bell’s Hill became a fast-growing neighborhood thanks to the influx of workers for local railroads like the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas (MKT) and the Cotton Belt Line. In 1889, the Sixth District School was built at Fifteenth Street and Burnett Avenue. The school was later renamed Bell’s Hill Elementary. Nearly identical in design to Sanger Avenue Elementary, which was built around the same time, the school featured elements of the Ruskinian Gothic and Colonial Revival styles. This included contrasting rough-hewn stone with red bricks, parapets flanking a large arched entryway, and a prominent cupola covered in cedar shakes. Despite its obvious sturdy construction, the building eventually collapsed in 1923 due to instability caused by extracting artesian water from the nearby soil.” (2)
THE TEXAS COTTON PALACE
The Texas Cotton Palace was a fair that was held annually in Waco, Texas to celebrate the cotton industry. The entrance was on the southwest corner of Thirteenth and Clay. The concept of a fair honoring the Cotton Industry was first suggested by Mrs. Joe Taylor, wife of a prominent Waco lawyer. In a Waco newspaper, dated January 23, 1890, she asked the question, “Why not a Cotton Palace at Waco, the Queen of the Brazos?”. The Texas Cotton Palace, a large auditorium, was opened in November of 1894 and was hugely successful. Unfortunately, it burned in January of 1895. It was rebuilt and opened in 1910 and it ran until 1930. Triangular in shape, the fair grounds were bounded by Clay Street, South Sixteenth Street, Dutton Avenue, and Waco Creek, with a “catty-cornered” entrance at 13th and Clay. The Main Building was surrounded by smaller show halls. During its existence, more than eight million people passed through its turnstiles and in 1918, with Camp MacArthur’s Army personnel, the fair played host to an all-time record attendance of 547,242. On November 3, 1923, a single day’s record was set at 117,208 and even in the depression year of 1930-the last year-there was an attendance of 350,000.(3)
THE VETERAN’S ADMINISTRATION (VA) HOSPITAL
The Veteran’s Administration (VA) Hospital in Waco opened on May 6, 1932. There were 20 Italian-Renaissance style buildings that provided 308 beds for veterans. In 1937, five additional buildings were constructed, bringing the bed capacity to 947. At the end of World War II, five more buildings were constructed, bringing the total bed capacity to 2,040 patients. In 1984, Inner Circle Drive was renamed “Doris Miller Drive” after Waco World War II hero Doris Miller. A monument was also erected in his honor that same year. It was renamed the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
It has provided psychiatric and medical rehabilitation care and now offers clinical services. The Medical Center became part of the Central Texas Veterans Healthcare System in 1995 and has now been designated as the “VA Center of Excellence” for psychiatric care. (4)
THE WACO TRAFFIC CIRCLE
Construction on the Waco traffic Circle was completed in 1933. But at that point, one could only drive out to the Circle and back, because there were no highways connected yet. At that point, only the inside lane around the circle was paved, and the outer lane was gravel.(5) The Circle, as it came to be called, was the first and largest “roundabout” in Texas. It was soon determined that more people drove on the outside lanes of traffic, so more concrete pavement replaced the gravel. (6) In 1934, the LaSalle Bridge was completed, and Highway 81 and 77 were rerouted around the city out to the Circle, and the Circle was in operation. Highway 67, which later became Highway 6, and then Valley Mills Drive, also extended from the Circle. (7) D.M. Pickett was the Division Engineer, H.R. Pipkin was the Resident Engineer, and J.P. Foly was the contractor out of Dallas who built the Waco Circle and part of the connecting roads. (8) Restaurants, service stations, and motel courts soon opened at the Circle, and it became the hub of travel for Waco.
THE EIGHTEENTH STREET VIADUCT
The Eighteenth Street Viaduct was completed in February, 1935. The construction of the Viaduct provided a continuous paved street from North Eighteenth and Alexander all the way out to Speight on concrete pavement, and to the highway Circle on asphalt. At the time, Fifth Street was the only other street that carried travelers across town on pavement…from Herring Avenue to LaSalle.(9) As Waco began to prepare for Interstate 35 in the early 1960s, another viaduct was built on Seventeeth Street. The new viaduct was dedicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, October 11, 1962. Eighteenth and Seventeenth had become one-way at midnight the night before. (10)
BEVERLY HILLS, TEXAS
“Beverly Hills is an incorporated town on State Highway 6 four miles south of downtown Waco in south central McLennan County. By the early 1940s the community of 237 had voted to incorporate. Afterward, the population of Beverly Hills grew rapidly, from 703 in the early 1950s to 2,670 in the late 1970s; many residents chose to live there and commute to work in Waco. Waco eventually grew to surround Beverly Hills, leaving the community unable to expand its boundaries. The smaller community was dependent on Waco for its water supply and sewage disposal, and although it had its own business district, its economy was closely linked with that of Waco. In 1989 the population of Beverly Hills was estimated at 2,364. In 2000 the population was 2,113.” (11)
WACO TECHNICAL/UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL
Located on the grounds of the old McCloskey General Hospital Retraining Unit (A part of what later became the Temple, Texas VA) on Bagby Avenue, Waco Technical High School opened in 1946. The high school emphasized technical courses, like welding and metal shop, in addition to more traditional high school courses. As the years went by, many of those programs declined, and there was a desire to change the name away from the “technical” aspect. In May of 1954, the student body was allowed to vote on the new name of their school. From a list of three possibilities, they overwhelmingly chose “University High School”. In the mid-1960s, University saw the new Interstate-35 being built very close to their school campus. In 2011, University High School moved to a new campus at 3201 South New Road. In 2012, University absorbed the district magnet school A.J. Moore Academy as a separate unit on its campus, and in 2013, the two merged. (12)
Baylor Stadium, located about four miles from Baylor on South Valley Mills Drive, was opened in 1950 with a Baylor Game against the Houston Cougars. It cost $1.8 million to build, and sat 50,000 people. At halftime of the homecoming game on November 5, 1988, it was renamed “Floyd Casey Stadium” by the son of Floyd Casey, Carl B. Casey of Dallas, who gave $5 million towards an $8 million stadium renovation project. The final game in Floyd Casey Stadium was played on December 7, 2013, against the Texas Longhorns, where the attendance record of 51, 728 was established. The stadium was used for 64 seasons before being replaced by McLane Stadium in 2014. Baylor Stadium/Floyd Casey Stadium was demolished on May 14, 2016. (13)
(1) Paul Holder, in a personal interview.
(2) “Images of America: Waco” (2009) by Eric S. Ames.
(3)”The Texas Cotton Palace” (1964) by Lavonia Jenkins Barnes.
(4) “History of the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center”. From www.centraltexas.va.gov
(5) “Traffic Now Can Use New Highway Circle”. The Waco News Tribune, March 15, 1933.
(6) “Shrub Planting On State Roads To Be Started Here Soon”. The Waco Tribune Herald, July 8, 1934.
(7)”Highway History of Waco, Texas”. www.usends.com
(8) “The Waco Traffic Circle: An Early Texas Roundabout” by Melinda Luna, PE, Chair, History and Heritage Committee, ASCE-Texas Section periodical.
(9)” New Viaduct Will Open Next Friday is Engineer Hope”. The Waco Tribune Herald, January 27, 1935.
(10) “17th, 18th Are 1-Way at Midnight”. The Waco News Tribune, October 10, 1962.
(11) “Beverly Hills, Texas” by Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl. The Texas State Historical Association Handbook.
(12) “University High School”. Wikipedia.
(13) “Floyd Casey Stadium” by Wikipedia.
HISTORIC SOUTH WACO