Oversize, reflectorized exit signs on Dallas expressways are among the more striking reminders of the community’s past. A particular example is the sign on Interstate 30 near the new Lake Ray Hubbard pointing to Chiesa Road, which is named for Giovanni Chiesa, pioneer landowner and settler in the area on the Dallas County side of the East Fork of the Trinity River. Chiesa, who has many descendants in Dallas and Texas, had come to Dallas in the early 1870s and married Mayor Ben Long’s sister, Ida. Both were natives of Switzerland who arrived in Dallas either just before or after the Civil War.
The Swiss who settled in the town of Dallas lived mainly in present East Dallas, giving the name of Swiss Avenue to its principal thoroughfare. Chiesa is the Italian word for church, and Giovanni, of course, is the Italian for John. Chiesa, who came from an Italianspeaking canton of Switzerland, Americanized his first name but retained the family name of Chiesa. It was difficult for most Americans to pronounce correctly, since it consists of three syllables which sound as if they were spelled “Kee-ay’-sah.” For nearly a century, most friends and neighbors of the Chiesas in Dallas have mispronounced the name. The community that grew up around John Chiesa’s original farm and gin between Garland and Rockwall was long called by a variety of names ranging from “Cheezy” to “Kazy.”
Chiesa’s large tract included land between Rowlett and Muddy creeks, both tributaries of the Elm Fork at a point to be inundated by Lake Ray Hubbard. This was originally heavily timbered and acquired special significance after the Katy Railroad was built in the late 1880s from Greenville to Dallas. The railroad in those early days used wood-burning locomotives, and the railroad, then owned by Jay Gould, contracted with Chiesa to cut and haul off large amounts of firewood for use in its engines, thereby clearing substantial segments of his property. A spur track was built by the railroad into his property for this purpose, according to his granddaughter, Mrs. Jennie Shular of Dallas.
Later, as the rich cotton-growing farm lands of the area were placed in cultivation, Chiesa built a cotton gin to serve his own needs and those of his neighbors. It was served by the same railroad spur. In later years Chiesa and his family moved closer to Dallas, settling on a farm near the then small town of Garland. He died there in the last year of the last century. His widow, Ida Long Chiesa, lived until 1918.
One of Chiesa’s sons was John Chiesa, long a deputy sheriff under Sheriff Ben Brandenburg and others, including Smoot Schmid. He was also a member of the Dallas police force for a time. “My Uncle John was active in the sheriff’s department in the earliest days of the automobile,” Mrs. Shular said. “He was the first member of that law-enforcement body to have a car furnished by the department in connection with his law enforcement work.”
Photo taken in 1909 – John 1876-1966, Ben Chiesa 1892- , and Ben Long, Jr. 1869-1911, at Harness Shops-Dallas Saddlery Co. on Akard St.
Courtesy George W. Cook collection at SMU’s DeGolyer Library and Dallas Yesterday by Sam V. Akinson.