Explore Dallas-Fort Worth

Spirit of Cowtown

Resting fitfully in Downtown, Sundance Square is the lively heartbeat of Texas’ cowboy spirit.

It’s near impossible to wander the red-bricked streets of Sundance Square and not ponder how and when the city of Fort Worth got its start. From the stones underfoot to the distinctive styling of the rooftops overhead; the city speaks volumes. Tough and leathery, with equal touches of Western nostalgia, down-home charm and lasting craftsmanship, Fort Worth has enjoyed all manner of re-inventions since it was first established in 1849 as a Trinity River military outpost on the borders of the west Texas frontier. It’s a town rife with ghosts, but not the scary kind. These ghosts whisper lonely songs that herald the arrival of tired farm hands; they echo the sounds of broken wagon wheels carrying hopeful pioneers looking for a fresh start; and they call to mind the ricochets of the final gunshots that marked the end of the Mexican-American War after the Compromise of 1850.

Rich with history, Fort Worth went through severe growing pains during its initial transformation from a series of forts to a bustling metropolitan area. In the beginning, it was Hell. Literally. During the late 1800s, Sundance Square was known as Hell’s Half Acre. It was so named because it had already developed a reputation for being an arduous and demanding area. The city was bursting with the vitality of an emerging American West, but it was also a rough, crude expanse that housed all manner of residents. It was home to both the lawman and the outlaw; both as coarse as the landscape the city was born from.

Today, Fort Worth is aptly nicknamed Cowtown. The name has significant meaning because one of the city’s first, and most lasting, enterprises was the herding and driving of cattle from Fort Worth’s section of the Chisholm Trail on up through Kansas. It wasn’t until the arrival of the railroads, specifically the Texas & Pacific Railway in 1876, that the city truly morphed into the contemporary wonder that many know and love today. Nowhere is that more on display than in Hell’s Half Acre itself.

No longer hellish at all, Sundance Square was originally named after the Sundance Kid, who was a guest and admirer of the area. It’s even said that he often used the location as hideout from his frequent misdeeds. Outlaws aside, the square is now a hotbed of culture, education and modern conveniences. While it may have been the former stomping ground of Texas legends like Doc Holiday and Butch Cassidy, it’s now the former stomping ground of, well, Texas notables like T-Bone Burnett, Kelly Clarkson and Bill Paxton, among others.

Visitors to Sundance Square today don’t have to worry about outlaws. They can enjoy casual strolls among the area’s art-deco buildings and designer landscapes, or they can get their shopping on full steam ahead with distinctive stores like Retro Cowboy or Pappagallo Classiques. The retail shops in the square carry as much variance and diversity as the very city in which they are housed in. It’s just as easy to pick up a T-shirt for the old man at the Dallas Cowboys Pro Shop as it is to find that one-of-a-kind treasure at the unusual, but equally impressive Earth Bones store.

If it’s one-of-a-kind cuisine that fits the bill after bargain-hunting, hungry patrons can take in fresh Mexican fare at Cabo Grande, or wallow in the hand-cut, smoky deliciousness of The Mercury Chop House. And no culinary visit would be complete without a sampling of authentic Creole and Southern flavors at Reata on Houston Street. The chicken chile rellenos alone are worth hopping aboard the first available Grapevine Railroad into Fort Worth.

Once the palate is satiated, visitors can continue their adventure and indulge in a vibrant nightlife consisting of everything from the authentic Texas soundscapes of the Lone Star Nightclub, to the silky smooth rhythms inside the doors of the Scat Jazz Lounge in the celebrated Woolworth Building. If it’s a good brew you’re after, consider The Flying Saucer on 4th Street, offering countless bottles and draughts to choose from.

Fort Worth and Sundance Square have a wealth of history hidden in every crook of the town’s signature makeup. The richness of Cowtown’s legacy isn’t subtle, but then again, it doesn’t have to be. Fort Worth has earned its place in the pantheon of America’s great cities by the hardest of workers and the loftiest of dreamers. You can still hear trains running daily in Stockyard Station, and the train whistles carry the voices of the very people who had a hand in crafting the city’s legacy. Whether it’s through the music and culture, or the food and the people, there’s something here for everyone to appreciate.