During World War I, The Boulevard became a training camp for the 36th Division soldiers and specialists. It was equipped with practice tranches and training schools focused on combat and survival skills, with an emphasis on protection from chemical warfare. Construction of Camp Bowie began July 18, 1917, and was named for Alamo defender James Bowie, a prominent soldier, 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 on August 24, 1917. Five months after the departure of the 36th Division soldiers for France in July 1918, the camp functioned as an infantry replacement and training facility, with a monthly population ranging from 4,164 to 10,527. A total of more than 100,000 men trained at the camp. Fort Worth residents neighbored soldiers during this time, and Camp Bowie was operated as a city all its own. They received the best of water, gas, telephone, electricity, and of course streetcar service. However, the winter of 1917 hit hard with four inches of snowfall which lead to extreme illness and discomfort in the Camp.
Within 3 years of Camp Bowie closing, bungalows, cottages commercial rows, churches, and a fire station replaced the military layout. 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 1920s and the 1940s and still remain in business under the same or similar name today.
Ridglea and Westward
By the late 1920s, 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 1940s. The development had what we refer to today as mixed-use, combining retail, offices, and residential segments under one roof. 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-1950s 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 1960s, Camp Bowie reached further west providing a connection to Weatherford and 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 1960s and early 1970s, 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.