HISTORIC DOWNTOWN FORNEY
The Downtown Forney area is blessed to be part of the dynamic growth of the city of Forney. Just 23 miles east of Dallas, TX, Forney is home to young professionals who enjoy small town values and big city amenities.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF FORNEY, TEXAS
The first settlers in the area of present-day Forney began to arrive about 1846.
The end of the Civil War in 1865 brought many changes to the area, including a steadily increasing influx of settlers, many from the war-torn South. It also brought a renewed effort to complete construction of the east-west railroad between Marshall and Ft. Worth, which had been stalled by the war. Two men named Asa Newton and Harben Self in 1869 purchased a tract of land at this place and platted a town which Self named“Brooklyn.” Soon Brooklyn would boast a general store, a saloon, a blacksmith shop, and a church/school house/Masonic lodge hall building.
The leaders of the new rail town encountered a complication when they applied for a U.S. post office. The name “Brooklyn, Texas” was unavailable since there was already a post office with that name. Brooklyn’s leaders were faced with having to ask the railroad company to change the town’s name. To make this more acceptable to the railroad, they suggested that the new name should honor John W. Forney, political figure, diplomat, nationally known journalist, and director of the T & P Railway Co. The railroad agreed, and the names of the town and its post office officially were Forney, Texas.
After 1873, access to distant markets provided by rail transportation stimulated rapid economic growth for Forney. In the late 1870s and early 1880s, before the fencing of the open prairies, Forney’s economy turned to the production of bois d’arc wood products and native prairie hay. Bois d’arc wood was made into bridge timbers, foundation piers, fence posts and paving blocks. Several streets of early Dallas were paved with Forney bois d’arc. But it was its native blackland prairie hay that brought Forney its first real fame. Forney Hay became famous nationwide.
Later, cotton became a popular crop around Forney. Gradually less and less hay was produced as more and more meadows were plowed up for cotton planting. By the second decade of the 20th century cotton had become king of the Forney economy. At that time there were at least six cotton gins operating in town and several more in the surrounding countryside.
The wealth which hay and cotton brought to Forney around the turn of the century built many fine homes and churches, good schools, including the widely respected Lewis Academy, and a thriving downtown business district. A surprising number of the now-historic residences still survive, as do many of the business houses.
About 1914, with the growing popularity of the automobile, Forney found itself on the route of the new Dixie Overland Highway, promoted as the shortest, straightest, and only year-round ocean-to-ocean highway in the U.S. Then in 1931 the route was further upgraded as U.S. Highway 80, bringing an even more dramatic increase in traffic and commerce. Filling stations and cafés sprang up all along the route (now called Broad Street). What had once been “Gin Row” became “Filling Station Row.”
The decline of the cotton economy, beginning in the early 1920s and accelerated by the Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, struck Forney a heavy blow. The Texas Interurban Railway, a light rail commuter line completed through Forney in 1923, folded in 1932. Then in 1935 a tornado cut a swath of destruction through the business district and the east side of town, killing one, injuring several, and wrecking much property, including the cottonseed oil mill. One by one the cotton gins went out of business, as fewer and fewer acres were planted in cotton. By the end of World War II the town had ground to a virtual standstill.
After an extended slumber, Forney started to reawaken in the 1960s. The city joined the North Texas Municipal Water District, providing a higher quality and more dependable water supply. An antiques industry sprang up along what was then I-20 on the outskirts east of town, and it was for antiques that Forney was most widely known for. By 1990 the population surpassed 5,000, and new houses, schools, churches, and parks are now being added, and retail development is following.
The trains still pass through town as they did in 1873, but they no longer stop. The route of busy U.S. Highway 80 no longer runs down Broad Street. The last remaining cotton gin ceased operation about 1983. But today, although Forney is marching into the future with a new and different economy, it nevertheless looks back with nostalgia on the old and takes pride in its heritage.
Condensed from an article by Jerry M. Flook, author of FORNEY COUNTRY
For more information about this History of Forney we welcome you to visit the Spellman Museum of Forney History!