Camp Bowie Boulevard 1927 (Fort Worth Public Library Archives)
Arlington Heights Boulevard was developed to carry residents to and from the newly developed suburb of Fort Worth in the 1890’s by the Chamberlin brothers, Alfred, Humphrey and Frederic. A trolley carried passengers from the new bridge crossing the Trinity River’s Clear Fork to Chamberlin Arlington Heights and on to Lake Como. By the turn of the century, Arlington Heights was further developed and was platted for the future.
During World War I, the Boulevard became a training camp for the 36th Division soldiers and specialists. Construction of Camp Bowie began July 18, 1917. The camp in the Arlington Heights neighborhood encompassed about 2,186 acres, and was named for Alamo defender James Bowie, a prominent solider, firefighter, and frontiersman during the Texas Revolution. Although classified as a tent camp, it required much construction to accommodate a division of men, and officially opened August 24, 1917. Fort Worth residents neighbored soldiers during this time.
On April 11, 1918, the 36th went on parade in the city for the first time. The four-hour event drew crowds estimated at 225,000, making it perhaps the biggest parade in Fort Worth’s history. For about five months after the departure of the 36th for France in July 1918, the camp functioned as an infantry replacement and training facility. Shortly after the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918, Camp Bowie was designated a demobilization center. By May 31, 1919, it had discharged 31,584 men. Once demobilization was concluded, Camp Bowie closed officially Aug. 15, 1919 after having trained more than 100,000 men at the camp. Today, Veterans’ Park, located at Camp Bowie and Crestline, honors those fallen soldiers who trained at Camp Bowie. The park was planted by several local and foreign groups.
As the population continued to grow along Arlington Heights Boulevard, so too did the business, churches and entertainment options. Post World War I, the area began to appeal to a range of middle and upper middle class families. Smaller homes designed as bungalows and English-cottage style homes materialized on the land that was once military campgrounds. By the 1920’s Thurber bricks were laid to pave way for automobiles that frequented the Boulevard to shop, worship and dine.
During this time, a number of landmarks were established that still operate today. Arlington Heights Methodist Church, Connell Baptist Church, Fire Station No. 18, Zeloski’s commercial row and Ben Eastman’s Service (Winslow’s Wine Café) are all still in a form of their original existence. Blue Bonnet Bakery, Roy Pope Grocery, Kincaid’s and The Original Mexican Eats Café opened their doors on Arlington Heights Boulevard between the 1920’s and the 1940’s and still remain in business under the same or similar name.
Ridglea and Westward
By the late 1920’s Fort Worth began to spread west. Two different Tennessee families took interest in the area and developed what would later be known as Ridglea. The Anderson family focused on developing the residential areas Ridglea North and South. The commercial segment of Camp Bowie was developed by the Luther family. The brothers eventually built Ridglea Village, a Mediterranean complex that opened in the 1940’s. The development had what we refer to today as mixed use, combining retail, offices and residential segments to them. By 1944, the City of Fort Worth annexed Ridglea as its newest addition to the city limits.
As the area continued to grow and flourish, so too did Ridglea. By the mid 1950’s Ridglea Theater opened its doors and soon after, the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired building that was the headquarters for Commercial Standard Insurance Company opened. By the 1960’s, Camp Bowie reached further west providing connection to Weatherford and those points beyond. Hotels and restaurants welcomed travelers to Fort Worth along the western stretch of Camp Bowie. Growth continued along the corridor and by the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Camp Bowie was the primary route for those traveling from the west into Fort Worth.
Today Camp Bowie remains a major corridor fulfilling retail, restaurant, entertainment and day to day necessities for those who live in and around the area. Much of the history can be seen in the preserved buildings that still are home to locally owned businesses. Many of the landmarks that originated on the Boulevard are still open and operated by the next generations of family. Fort Worthians still shop the aisles of Roy Pope Grocery, feast on a burger from Kincaid’s or enjoy the Roosevelt Special at The Original. Special occasions are celebrated with a pastry or cake from Blue Bonnet Bakery and congregations still gather at a number of churches that all have called Camp Bowie home for 90 plus years. The red Thurber bricks preserve the historical road that carried the city westward in growth.