Researching the history of Dallas County leads to the discovery of The Dallas Hunting and Fishing Club, chartered February 10, 1885, as Texas’ first Country Club. The Club still exists, located on the east bank of the Trinity River in south Dallas County. Established by leading Dallas business-men, the Club attracted the young city’s mercantile elite to its membership rolls.
Having over six hundred acres and two large man-made lakes, the Club was a country retreat where Dallas’ leaders went to think big, hunt and fish, play poker, and have a nip or two. Described by John P. Worley in 1900, the “Property consists of about 600 acres on which is situated five club-houses, two lakes, one of 160 acres open water and one of 300 acres, located two and a half miles east of Hutchins in Dallas County.”
The Club was envisioned by insurance pioneer and Confederate war veteran Colonel John T. Trezevant, friend and confidant of Jefferson Davis. Joining him from the beginning was another famous warrior of the South, Dallas entrepreneur and banker, Captain William H. (Billy) Gaston.
Trezevant found a private lake, owned by the Dowdy Family and Albert Vining, located on the east bank of the Trinity at Dowdy’s ferry landing. The two rounded up twenty-three more charter members who contributed two hundred dollars each to complete the five thousand dollar initial stock subscription.
The first members were John Trezevant, William Gaston, J.B. Hereford, J.C. O’Connor, Paul Jamison, R.V. Tomkins, Alfred Davis, John H. Simpson, James T. Dargan, W.E. Hughes, Robert Gibson, W.H. Flippen, Samuel J. Adams, D.H. Morrow, William G. Sterett, Frank A. Austin, Edwin W. Reardon, J.W. Webb, Robert Cockrell, W.J. Campbell, Tom L. Marsalis, William J. Kain, Jules E. Schneider, and Andrew J. Porter.
Access to the Club was by riding mule-drawn streetcars from downtown to the East Dallas Houston and Texas Central Depot. From there it was a fifteen-mile train ride to Hutchins, followed by a two-and-a-half mile wagon trip to the Club property.
Hutchins was an important trading post town brought into existence by land seekers traveling east to west, crossing the Trinity at Dowdy’s Ferry. It was well-known and well traveled even before the H & T C railroad came through in 1872. The Dallas County Pioneer Association scheduled its first annual picnic in Hutchins for July 1876.
This first Club was not for women, tennis or golf. It was just what it claimed to be, a hunting and fishing club on a working farm. Accommodations were dormitory sleeping in the three-room Club-house and three farm houses that were razed in 1915. Food was prepared in the keeper’s farm-house kitchen by the keeper’s wife.
While the Club was not incorporated until February 1895, it was operating informally as early as October 29, 1884. For the first fifteen years a fish and game log was kept. Each member’s catch and kill was recorded by date with species taken. The first hunter recorded was A.W. Campbell, who bagged three mallards on December 13, 1884.
As a farm, the Club produced hogs for food and sale. Stocked also were horses for transportation and plowing. There were milk cows, pens of chickens for eggs and food and beef cattle for market. The garden extended for five acres and included an orchard of peach and apple trees. Rough fish were netted and sold in the Dallas fish markets. Two dozen mallards were kept in special pens for use as live decoys.
Hunting and fishing were excellent, with the long nights spelled by poker games at the Clubhouse round table. A hand-wound, oak framed Linz clock noisily ticked off the time for those who might care. Few lakes existed in Texas
in those early days; so migrating ducks and geese rafted on the lakes, continuing through the nineteen forties. Large waterfowl kills were regular confirmations of the members’ hunting skills. The lakes were kept stocked, and fish takes were limitless. Large catfish were caught regularly. The record one taken weighed one hundred and fifteen pounds..
Though not intended, The Dallas Hunting and Fishing Club was the seedbed and hothouse of the “Dallas Spirit.” John Trezevant and Billy Gaston would not be surprised to know this. They always knew Dallas would grow into a great and prosperous city. They dedicated their time, talents, and fortunes to making it happen. As Dallas endures and grows, the Club also endures, and still is one of Dallas’ best-kept historical secrets. It remains where it has always been, secluded on the east bank of the Trinity River, somewhere in south Dallas County.
By Clare G. Weakley, Jr. for Dallas County Pioneer Association‘s Proud Heritage, Volume III.