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Cedar Hill citizens have just cause to be proud of their community.
This part of Southwest Dallas County is unique, varied and beautiful. It is on the southern tip of the Eastern Cross Timbers, which is a strip of heavily timbered terrain that begins in Oklahoma and is as wide as 10 miles in areas. Black land soil lay to the east and Prairieland to the west. The high standing Austin Chalk escarpment causes the Mountain Creek to flow north to get around the ridges before it can join the Trinity south to the Gulf of Mexico.
Cedar Hill is the highest elevation between the Red River and the Gulf Coast, some 850 feet above sea level.
The book “Ironclad Forest” speaks of the timbers being a natural barrier used as a landmark and hiding ground. The cedar hills were so dense that in winter many families would send a man from as far as Oklahoma to cut cedar post for fencing.
A small limestone rock from Cedar Hill can contain thousands of shells of ancient dinosaur age creatures. Fossils in the Eagle Ford group consist of microscopic creatures and oysters, much like those in the Austin group of the hill country to the southwest. The soil here also contains many larger seashells and even larger vertebrate fossils.
Ammonites are plentiful and beautifully preserved in the Eagle Ford rocks. Ammonites are fossils formed from the shells of creatures similar to an octopus. Cedar Hill has many rocks with mother of pearl formed as early as the age of dinosaurs.
Right at the point where the Eagle Ford meets the overlying Austin limestone is a one-foot thick gritty, black speckled, layer containing many sharks’ teeth. One level of the Eagle Ford contains a few layers of a reddish, hard limestone in particularly flat flagstone shaped fragments called the Kamp Ranch member of the Eagle Ford. There are ammonite imprints, oyster shell and sharks’ teeth on Kamp Ranch flagstones.
The Texas Rangers came through this area shortly after 1835, and brought word back that there were no signs of civilized humans south of the Trinity River.
In 1840 two hundred militiamen made a road from Austin crossing the Brazos River at Waco to the Trinity River following approximately the route of today’s I-35.In 1845 the Central National Highway was begun at the Red River just northeast of Sherman going southward. A major portion of it was known as the Preston Trail. These two roads were used by the few travelers making their way to Cedar Hill.
The Tawakoni Indians were part of the Wichita tribe and lived in this area for some time. Most relocated to the Brazos River area by the 1840’s. Many different tribes traveled through by canoe. Other gatherers wandered through on foot staying during warmer seasons.
In 1843, a group of Indians on their way back to Waco from Sam Houston’s meeting at Fort Bird met another warring Indian group on a crest where High Pointe is now. The dead are said to be buried near a tree at the northern edge of the hill. The Williams family would not cultivate that part of their farm known as an Indian burial ground. Excavation in the 1970’s found Indian artifacts.
The Peter’s Colony tacked up sales posters in Kentucky, Alabama and other areas advertising for settlers to join the wagon trains to Texas. Texas was promoted as the France of the New World, due to the abundance of plant life.
Peters Colony certificates were for 640 acres per family man. A young single man would receive 160 acres if he built a home and farmed the land, called homesteading. These settlers had to say they were Catholic in order to qualify for the land grant. When they reached Dallas at Bryan’s Ford at the Trinity River some headed southwest for the “cedar brakes” via a trail at Hord’s Ridge (now Oak Cliff). The settlers were forced to run the unqualified surveyor out of the country as his incorrect records were creating serious land ownership conflicts.
In 1844, 197 families and 184 single men were settled in the “Peter’s Colony”. Cedar Hill was the second largest settlement in the area.
Crawford Trees is believed to be one of Cedar Hill’s first settlers. The Dallas County area was considered part of Robertson County for the census of 1845 which was done alphabetically making if difficult to be certain of early settlers locations. Crawford Trees was the first to marry in Dallas County July 22, 1846 and the marriage license is memorialized in the cornerstone at Old Red Courthouse. He married Anna Kimmel who at age 14 came to this area with her recently widowed mother and brother, Philip. They settled just north of Trees property. In 1847 Trees went to California to seek his fortune in the Gold Rush. After two years he came back to Cedar Hill with a large amount of gold and bought several hundred additional acres of land. He soon left again to fight in the Civil War. One of the barns he had built in the late 1800’s has been converted into a home on old Cedar Hill Road. It still stands proudly on the 30-foot tall red cedars supporting it.
There is a Texas State way finding marker at Penn Springs & Trees Cemetery giving some of the historic details, now both located in Duncanville.
Crawford Trees’ brother in law, Philip Kimmel, and a friend, William Stiles, were killed in a shooting on August 21, 1856. The Trees family established the second cemetery in southwest Dallas County.
A friend of Crawford Trees, Andrew Penn, came here for a visit, and vowed to bring his family back to settle on the edge of the prairie. He was a rancher and used the “cedar mountain” escarpment for grazing and bottom land of the “mountain creek” for farming, though he generally rented out his farm land.
Major John Penn was a Union sympathizer. During the Civil War he left his family and went north, as it was not safe for him in the South. One of his sons died during the Civil war while fighting for the South. One paid $1000 for another young man to go fight in his place.
Cedar Hill was the temporary county seat during the year the election was held. The election was Aug 5, 1846 between Dallas, Hord’s Ridge (Oak Cliff) and Cedar Springs. Voting: Dallas 191, Hords Ridge 173, and Cedar Springs 101.
A run off election, of Dallas & Hord’s Ridge, was held three weeks later with Dallas winning 244 to 216.
First in area opens in Cedar Hill.
Cedar Hill’s first official school house was built in the north part of town, southwest of Trees Cemetery and next to Little Bethel Church. It began with sixteen students. Major Penn also had imported a school teacher and provided a cabin on his property for neighboring children to attend school. This structure has been moved inside a barn at Penn Farm. Reverend Robert Crawford taught school at the Cedar Mountain Church 1852-1856.
Cedar Hill was a thriving community with many nearby towns depending upon it for basic supplies. It had a post office, blacksmith shop and a mercantile. But on April 29, 1856 a storm boiled in the skies taking the shape of a funnel cloud. Two funnels merged, one from the south, one from the north. It unleashed its fury on the little town. A freighter yelled out warning to the others, “in about 5 seconds we’re about to be blown to hell”. The community was all but blown away during the tornado. Only one house and a business remained standing and nine people were dead. According to one report, about 24 hours after the fatal storm had taken Cedar Hill, almost to the hour, a bolt of white fabric and a pitchfork –both thought to be from Cedar Hill – fell from the sky into the front yard of a house about a mile & one half north of current DeSoto.
The newspaper gave gory details. The grass was as if a scythe had removed it. Posts and trees were splintered into the ground. Many dead were unrecognizable. One who had grabbed a post hoping to survive the storm was so twisted around it that he had to be cut from it. Hats and hat boxes were found near where the Dallas zoo is today.
Over 300 people from the surrounding community came to help bury the dead and rebuild homes. The dead were laid to rest in a graveyard one mile north of town where the Cedar Mountain Methodist church had stood.
Cedar Hill soon went on to become a center of trade and shipping.
The old graveyard lay lost for about 100 years. It was rediscovered recently and has been certified by the Texas State Historical Commission.
A link of the Chisholm Trail wandered through Cedar Hill primarily running along the base of the escarpment connecting Corsicana and Fort Worth. The famous path led great herds of cattle to market in Kansas. The path varied each year depending on grasslands.
Indian raids and church burnings were common in the mid 1870’s.
Cedar Hill had a saloon and Belle Starr was rumored to have visited Cedar Hill frequently on her way to the family ranch.
In 1880, the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad began building a line through Cedar Hill making the town one of the first in North Texas to receive rail service. To encourage the railroad Dr. R. A. Roberts donated every other block of land needed through the town.
The Railroad was critical to the existence of businesses between Cleburne and Dallas. Midlothian, Cedar Hill and Duncanville all benefited immensely from this major piece of transportation coming through their communities. The majority of the freight that had been transported by horse drawn wagons was now transported from and to Cedar Hill by rail car through the 1950’s. However, public coach service was discontinued in 1939 due to the rising popularity of the Dallas bus.
The surrounding farming community relied on the railroad to bring necessary supplies and take farm products into Dallas and further. Salesmen, called drummers, came to Cedar Hill by train to drum up trade for Dallas wholesalers. Many would rent a “rig” from the livery stable, make their rounds in the neighboring communities and take the 10 p.m. train back to Dallas. Some would stay overnight at Lowe’s Hotel which was located at the northwest corner of Broad and Cedar Streets.
The Cedar Hill Institute for Girls opened on the north edge of town near the site of today’s Bray school. By 1890 it was changed to the Cedar Hill Academy and boasted having 120 students. It was a private tuition school in the beginning and later became a combined public/private school.
Close to the end of the century Cedar Hill had become a farming community with two competing cotton gins in town. In 1890, a serious fire burned the Baptist Church, one of the finest new buildings in the area. The cotton gin on the west side of the railroad caught fire several times but caused little damage.
The surrounding communities grew to rely on Cedar Hill for merchandise. The farmers along with their families would come to the town square and tie up horses and wagons to the hitching posts while getting their supplies.
A community well was located in the center of the town square where horse and man alike could be refreshed. The Saturday trip into town for supplies and church on Sunday was usually the only break from hard work for these pioneer families. A 1892 city directory listed 2 druggists, 2 blacksmith’s, 2 confectioners with one being the town barber. By the early 1900’s the little town was thriving as can be seen by the photo looking west down Cedar Street.
In the 1920’s the Dynamo Electric Plant provided electricity to their Cedar Hill customers. Each evening about 10:30, the lights would blink twice and thirty minutes later the community would be in the dark. If you had not lit your coal oil lamp you would go to bed in the dark. Most of the farmsteads had gas or battery operated generators and windmills. Cooking on wood burning stoves continued until World War II. Some farms didn’t receive electricity until the late 1940’s.
Many homes and farms dug cisterns for their early water supply. Later the city installed water lines which were owned by Midlothian Oil Mill and Gin. The unprotected water lines were laid on top of the ground and would freeze in the winter
Around the turn of the century, the only phone in town was at Well’s General Store at the northwest corner of Main and Cedar. Later, a telephone exchange was established in a home at the southeast corner of Belt Line and Main Streets. It relieved the residents of Cedar Hill from isolation and allowed them to keep up with events and people in other towns. This home still stands proud in the old downtown area.
A description of Cedar Hill in an 1890 publication read “The soil of the country surrounding Cedar Hill is of white lime and black soil as to make it superior for farming small grain, particularly wheat and oats. The soil is also easily adapted to cotton farming”.
There was a cotton gin at the northwest corner of Belt Line and Main. The old cistern is still there and is said to be large enough for a team of horses and a wagon to turn around in. Another gin which was west of railroad track caught fire several times during the 1890’s.
Cotton was a main crop with farmers ginning 5,000 bales annually. But by the late 30’s the emphasis shifted from cotton to dairy and cattle.
The Anderson plantation was west of Cedar Hill near Penn Farm. Patriarch Andy Anderson told Farmer Tidwell, “We ought to be able to find a sulfur mine around here”. The old tenant farmer replied, “Shore, shore, I’ll find you one.”
West of the house the natural spring had cut a deep gully in the dark bluish shale underlying the farm site. T. J. Tidwell was up early the next morning and began his search. Along the top of the gully, he noticed some strange looking bones. He carefully removed soil and shale and found parts of a rock body skeleton with paddle shaped legs, an eighteen foot long neck and finally a vicious toothed, crocodile-like head.
Mr. Tidwell erected a tent over his finding and had a lot of visitors to see the strange skeleton. He charged them 50 cents to view it.
After Mr. Tidwell’s attraction lost its drawing power, Charles Gill Morgan with a truck and a villainous tobacco pipe came from SMU to meet with Mr. Anderson and Mr. Tidwell. At the end of the day he went home with the skeleton. Later Dr. Barnum Brown of the Museum of Natural History in New York offered to swap three dinosaurs for the strange creature called Elasmosarus morgani. Paleontologists later determined it was rarer than originally thought and is an Libonectes Plesiosaur.
Many mosasaurs and sharks teeth continue to be found in Cedar Hill. A mosasaur found in 2007 on Red Oak Creek was donated to the Dallas Nature and Science Museum. In 1989 fossils were found in Cedar Hill that SMU later discovered were the “missing link” that connected terrestrial reptiles with aquatic mosasaurs. This fossil is currently at the Perot Museum.
“The Cedar Hill Bull Circle” group was created by Cedar Hill residents long before pasteurized milk was sold in stores. Many people in town had milk cows, but it wasn’t long before residents saw the need for a “community” bull. A group of men purchased a Jersey bull which was brought to town from Michigan by way of the Santa Fe Railroad. The bull circle took care of the animal. Wardlaw Cannady was in charge of leading him around town from one “appointment” to the next.
In 1932, many people in Cedar Hill knew their neighbor Raymond Hamilton. They did not know he was part of Bonnie & Clyde’s gang. While on his way to rob the First State Bank, some of Cedar Hill’s citizens spoke to him having no idea what he was about to do. He robbed the bank and locked the employees in the vault. Later the banker bragged about hiding some of the money in a trash can. Word got back to Hamilton and he came back asking for the rest of the money. The Dallas Morning News reported that Clyde Barrow was with Hamilton, but it was never confirmed. The vault had been secured better and the employees had to wait hours for the banker’s son to be located and come to free them.
After the two robberies, the bank was bankrupt and closed it doors.
Clyde Barrow’s barber in Oakcliff once was flipped a silver dollar by Clyde hearing him say “compliments of Cedar Hill”. The barber’s grandson still has the coin.
After one of his robberies, his partners, Bonnie and Clyde, broke him out of jail. The gang is known to have an old hide out on the south edge of Cedar Hill.
Citizens were “hired” to be deputy sheriffs by Dallas County. There were no official City lawmen for the City of Cedar Hill until the 1970’s. People just did the right thing.
A man would come from Lancaster on Thursday night and show a silent movie. He had an old Model “T” truck with a projector in the back. He would show movies on the side of Mr. Potter’s building at the southwest corner of Cedar & Houston. About half way through the movie, he would have an intermission and flash the advertisements of those paying for the movie on the screen. He charged 50 cents for an advertisement and made about $7.50 for the night. Cat’s Ice House on the square, made extra earnings on those movie evenings with many customers in town.
Lancaster was the home of the draft board and an ammunition plant. After the war, Cedar Hill became a “bedroom community” with many working in Dallas, riding in car pools or taking the Central Texas Bus Line. Many were employed at North American Aviation in Grand Prairie. Laborers left the farm for “city” jobs and land owners began raising cattle and dairy farming.
In the Museum archives is a 1950 letter from City Council to Telephone company advising them that Cedar Hill does not like “being run rough shod over, promised service……..”
Cedar Hill made history in the 1950’s by being the home of the first single tower owned and operated by two TV stations. It had the appearance of a football goal in the sky. Cedar Hill is known for being the home of the largest condensed cluster of communications towers in the area. It has the highest elevation between the Gulf Coast and the Red River.
Cedar Hill’s community stands tall and proud as the mother of many surrounding towns and its blinking lights are a beacon for travelers seeking the shining city on the hill.
In 1946 Cedar Hill’s population totaled 435 and covered an incorporated area of one square mile. The population was only 750 in 1950 and 848 in 1960. Cedar Hill’s story changed toward the end of the 20th century. Today, the city houses some 48,000 residents.
Just as our founders were lured to the area by the beauty of the Cedar Mountains, so shall future generations continue to make this lofty rolling terrain their home.