Discover 300 Years of History in 35 Miles
A Self-guided Tour of the Dallas-Shreveport Historic Parkway in Van Zandt County
The early Native American Caddo people established a trail from the Red River in Louisiana to the Pecos River to trade with the Jumano who lived in West Texas. The trail later evolved into the main route from the river port in Shreveport to North Texas. Now, historical societies in North Texas are working to research and preserve this historic road.
In Van Zandt County, the work is being done by The Old Dallas-Shreveport Preservation Association, established in 1993, whose committee members are also members of the county historical societies. The committee has already put up road signs and historical markers along the path, helping people do self-guided tours to discover at least 300 years of history along the 35-mile section of this county’s historical route.
1. The tour starts at the junction of Hwy. 64 and CR 3415 in Wills Point, just south of Hwy. 80. The founders of Wills Point first settled here in 1847 and the “County Seat War” took place in 1877 along this part of the Dallas-Shreveport Road.
2. About four miles east of Point 1 is New Hope Cemetery. A veteran of the Texas war for independence from Mexico set aside some acres to encourage settlement around 1871. He and four Confederate soldiers are among those were buried here.
3. FM 1504 and CR 3215. A cotton gin is believed to have been located near this crossroads. About 450 yards from the intersection, where the road bends right, a freight company stop was in operation in the mid 1800s.
4. From CR 3215 to CR 3216, 300 yards on the left. Slaughter School, built in 1888, fulfilled the need for a school due to the population growth along the road. It was later consolidated with the Edgewood school district. Go back to CR 3215.
5. Continue to CR 3218, cross FM 859 to CR 3118, turn right to CR 3105, and pass CR 3109. This is where the Black Land Prairie meets the Post Oak Savannah, giving Edgewood its name. Barren Ridge used to be a savannah. Settlers planted the trees that are there now. A post office and stage stop was located here from 1850 to 1857. Residents of Canton once traveled eight miles here for their mail.
Between 5-6. Continue through a grove where the canopy of trees thickens. Sunken trails on either side of the road were the original Dallas-Shreveport road bed. From an unguarded wooden bridge, the steep Crooked Creek’s bank is noticeable. Where the road bends right, the original trail bends away into private lands towards Point 7.
6. A mile from the bridge stands a tree that grows almost in the middle of the road. Back in the 1800s, surveyors often used a tree — called the witness tree—as the benchmark; this is one of them.
7. From Hwy. 19, go north. The location of Point 7 is on private property across CR 3108 on right. It’s a crossing with deep vertical banks near Mill Creek, and is part of the old Caddo trail. The early pioneers who traveled this road called it Devil’s Gap due because of raids by Kiowa and other Native American tribes who used this part of the trail as an attack point. Stop at the Mill Creek bridge (past Point 8), to visualize the condition.
8. From Hwy. 19, turn right to CR 1117. About half a mile down the road, on the left across from a private mailbox, there’s a steel sign post where the Father Jose Calahorra Historical Marker once was. The marker was stolen after its dedication in 2009. It marked the oldest historical facts found so far related to this part of the road. This is where the Caddo trail intersected Tawakoni trail that went from the Sabine River in the north to Nacogdoches in the south. The entourage of Spanish Missionary Father Calahorra was greeted here and then escorted by the Tawakoni to their village on the Sabine River in 1760, 1761, and 1764.
9. Cherokee Survey Line, dated 1841, crosses CR 1117 one mile down the road from Point 8.
10. Point 10 is about 4.5 miles from Point 8, on CR 1817, on the left.
An effort to colonize an area of North Central Texas and settle 500 families in five years was led by Charles Mercer in 1844. The boundaries were Palestine and Waco on the south, the Brazos River on the west, McKinney area on the north, and this point on the east. Descendants of Mercer’s colony settlers still live in Texas.
11. Turn right to CR 1818. The marker is in the Creagleville Cemetery. The Dallas-Shreveport road went through Creagleville, a community named after Henry Creagle, a German native who settled in Van Zandt County in 1847.The agricultural community once had a school, church, cotton gin, gristmill, and cemetery. Only the cemetery remains today.
12. The next market is straight ahead to CR 1820, to the intersection with CR 1824, on the left. During the Civil War, people from the southeast fled west and formed a community here around 1863, on land where the property owners were away at war. They used poles to build homes, thus the name Poletown. After the war, arrangements were made for them to purchase land or become tenant farmers. Jacob C. Rhodes’ land in Poletown was designated as a new town, Rhodesburg, in 1895. Rhodes was a member of the Populist Party, who then changed to and organized the Socialist Party of Texas. For more than a decade, the town accommodated the Socialist Party’s movement.
13. Continue to CR 1823/W Patterson. On the right, see Morton Salt Company Lake, a private, man-made lake built by B.W. Carrington & Company in 1911 for the salt plant use.
14. Continue east on Hwy. 17 to the meeting point with Hwy. 110. The original road goes straight through private lands and picks up again at Point 18.Turn left on Hwy. 110/FM
15. An old cotton gin sits on the left. Continue through downtown Grand Saline to the intersection with Hwy. 80.
16. Across the junction of Hwy. 110/FM 17 and Hwy. 80, on the left, is the Salt Palace, a tiny building made of pure salt that has been rebuilt three times since its debut in 1936 due to deterioration caused by weather. Inside, it exhibits the salt industry and history of Grand Saline. Wiley H. Post, one of world’s greatest pioneer aviators and a native son of Van Zandt County, is also remembered here.
17. Continue half a mile east on Hwy. 80 and take a right to FM 857. Kleer Park is on the left. During the Civil War, the demand for salt increased significantly to preserve food and hides, so salt workers were exempted from military service. The salt mine in Grand Saline was once named Kleer Mine. It was operated by the Confederacy during the war.
18. Salt Flat, Marsh, and Birds Sanctuary are on FM 857 by the first concrete bridge. See the white surface of one of the largest and purest salt domes in the country. Its depth is unknown and its supply of the valuable mineral is estimated to last 20,000 years. The Cherokee were the first to obtain salt from here in the early 1800s. It is now designated as a bird sanctuary.
19. Jordan’s Saline and the site of the first courthouse are across CR 1701, by the second bridge. It’s the oldest community in Van Zandt County, established by John Jordan in 1844; the county was formed in 1848. It was the county seat before that was moved to Canton in 1850. By 1860, it had a thriving salt industry. The community diminished after the railroad arrived in 1873, the town site was relocated one mile north and named Grand Saline.
20. Continue 2.8 miles, to the junction of FM 1255 (Crockett’s Bluff Road) and FM 857 to Sand Flat Cemetery property. The small community sprang up along the historic road in the 1850s. It was first known as Chrestman, then Sand Flat, and later Fulton when a post office was in operation from 1900-1905, although the community retained the name Sand Flat.
21. Continue on FM 857 to Providence, another community that grew along the road in the 1850s. It’s the Eastern end of the historic parkway in Van Zandt County. Providence Cemetery, established in 1873, is just past the Smith County line. Spanish explorer Pedro Vial may have used part of this road in 1788.
This is the end of the Van Zandt County portion of the tour. Continue to the intersection with FM 1253, then go north 3.4 miles to get to Hwy. 80.
Beyond Van Zandt County to the east, the route resumes about 3.5 miles south on FM 1253 from Providence. Take CR452 on the left. From Wills Point to the west, the route goes northwest towards Rockwall, then to downtown Dallas (Bird’s Fort by the Trinity River), Arlington and Fort Worth.
For more information contact Elvis Allen with The Old Dallas-Shreveport Preservation Association at 903.567.5012 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See additional tour photos at www.countylinemagazine.com.