Cedar Hill, Texas
"Where Community Embraces Heritage and Nature"
Perched atop the highest elevation between the Red River and the Gulf Coast, Cedar Hill, Texas is a vibrant, growing Southwest Dallas County community and a place where both family living and economic opportunity complement each other. The beauty of the rolling terrain, heavily punctuated with thousands of native cedar trees, is near Mountain Creek and Joe Pool Lakes. The escarpment which lies east of Joe Pool Lake is one of the most scenic areas in Dallas County. Along with the natural beauty of the area, the city embraces a rich heritage that includes pioneers and preachers, outlaws and educators, agriculture and technology.
In Cedar Hill, it’s possible to enjoy outdoor lake and athletic activities, attend college or shop at a European-style shopping center while upscale restaurants, large bookstores, and major retailers are also an option. Add in the charm of small specialty shops, cozy cafes, and an historic town square and…yes, Cedar Hill has it all.
In its earlier history, the densely covered area served as a hiding ground for those evading the law, as well as a resource for folks as far away as Oklahoma who sought cedar posts for fencing. Before these days, much of the terrain was underwater, leaving abundant samples of fossils, mother of pearl, and sharks teeth embedded into the Austin limestone that runs along the edge of the city.
Shortly after 1835, a group of early Texas Rangers reported “no sign of civilized humans in the Trinity River Valley.” Then, in 1840, when Texas broke from Mexico and functioned as an independent republic, a road northward from Austin was built, following the approximate path of the current I-35. Numerous Native American tribes lived in and out of the area, many ‘wintering’ here. A battle took place between two warring tribes that met near current High Pointe neighborhood, leaving Indian artifacts on the acreage.
As a result of sales posters in Kentucky, Alabama, and other adjoining states, settlers came to North Texas, billed as the “France of the New World.” Pioneers filtrated into what was known then as Peters Colony, in 1844 197 families and 184 single men were living in the region, with Cedar Hill being the second largest settlement in the area. The new citizens arrived in Dallas, on the Trinity River, before traveling south on a trail that ran through Hord’s Ridge (now Oak Cliff)—to the “cedar brakes” and their new lives.
With the now Dallas County area a part of Robertson County in 1845, Crawford Trees is noted as one of Cedar Hill’s earliest settlers. His marriage on July 22, 1846 was the first one registered in the new Dallas County with the marriage license memorialized in the cornerstone of the Courthouse. Trees came back from the California Gold Rush with enough money to purchase several thousand acres of Cedar Hill land. During the Civil War he enlisted and fought in the Confederate army. One of Trees’s late 1880s barns is now a family home on Cedar Hill Road.
Another early settler in the area was Andrew Penn. Finding the area appealing while here for a visit with Trees, he returned, married, and made a home on the edge of the prairie. He was a rancher and used the cedar mountain for grazing and the bottomland of the mountain creek for farming. A Northern sympathizer, he left his family and went north during the Civil War before returning after peace was established.
The 1845 Central National Road, via its intersection in Dallas with the Preston-Austin Road, connected north and south Texas and ran close to Cedar Hill. In 1852 the town opened the first post office in the area followed by the first official school hosting sixteen students. Previously, Major Penn imported a schoolteacher and provided a cabin on his property. The cabin is currently preserved inside a barn at Penn Farm.
An 1856 tornado, made up of two funnel clouds that merged, destroyed the town, leaving only one house and one business undamaged, and nine citizens not only dead but unrecognizable. Gone were the post office, blacksmith shop, and mercantile, the only source of supplies for the thriving community. Posts and trees were splintered, and items from Cedar Hill homes were found as far away as the current Dallas Zoo location. After more than 300 people from surrounding communities helped rebuild the town, it became a center of trade and shipping. The old graveyard where the dead were buried was lost for almost 100 years. Recently re-discovered, it has been certified by the Texas State Historical Commission.
A line of the Chisholm Trail wandered through Cedar Hill beginning in the 1860s; the 1870s brought Indian raids, church burnings and a few saloons to the town. It is rumored that Belle Starr visited Cedar Hill periodically.
No longer hauling by horse and wagon, the 1880s brought railroad business through Cedar Hill, Duncanville, and Midlothian, benefiting all, and the Cedar Hill Institute for Girls opened in 1880. The 1890s saw Cedar Hill a farming community with two competing cotton gins, fires at both, and also in one of the churches. A Saturday trip to town for supplies and church on Sunday was normally the only break from hard work for these pioneer families. An 1892 city directory listed two druggists, two blacksmiths, and two confectioners—one also being the town barber.
In the 1920s the Dynamo Electric Plant provided electricity to Cedar Hill customers, with a 10:30 p.m warning ‘blink’ before shutting down completely at 11:00. Cooking on wood burning stoves continued until WWII and some farms didn’t have electricity until the 1940s. Many homes and farms had cisterns as their water supply, but later Midlothian Oil Mill and Gin laid unprotected above-ground water lines that would freeze in the winter.
Around the turn of the century, the only phone in town was at Well’s General Store at the NW corner of Cedar and Main Streets, with a telephone exchange established inside a home which still stands at the SE corner of Main and Belt Line Streets. Now Cedar Hill residents could keep up with outside events and be freed from their isolation. The home still stands.
In the 1920s and 30s, farmers ginned 5,000 bales of cotton annually, but by 1940 the emphasis had shifted to dairy and cattle.
Barrow Gang member Raymond Hamilton was a Cedar Hill resident and many of his neighbors spoke to him on his way to rob the First State Bank. After taking the money, Hamilton locked the bank employees inside the vault. But after learning that he didn’t get all the money, he went back for the rest. After being robbed twice, the bank was insolvent and closed its doors. Bonnie and Clyde later broke Hamilton out of jail and Hamilton continued a limited relationship with them.
Local citizens were hired by Dallas County to be deputy sheriffs until the mid 1900's, when the city gained official lawmen. People just did the right thing, or at least most of them.
Today Cedar Hill is a different town, but it holds many of the same wholesome qualities.