Monday, July 27, 2009

Stockyards Station

For the drovers heading longhorn cattle up the Chisholm Trail to the railheads, Fort Worth was the last major stop for rest and supplies. Beyond Fort Worth they would have to deal with crossing the Red River into Indian Territory. Between 1866 and 1890 more than four million head of cattle were trailed through Fort Worth which was soon known as “Cowtown.”

When the railroad finally arrived in 1876, Fort Worth became a major shipping point for livestock. This prompted plans in 1887 for the construction of the Union Stockyards about two and one half miles north of the Tarrant County Courthouse. It went into full operation about 1889.

It soon became apparent that instead of shipping to other markets to process the cattle, it would be much more desirable to keep more of the business in Fort Worth by having local packing plants. A search began to lure major packers to the City. By about 1900, after much work by local businessmen, both Armour & Co. and Swift & Co. were persuaded to build plants adjacent to the Stockyards.

Construction began in 1902, but not until after the exact site of each plant was decided by a flip of the coin. Armour won the toss and selected the northern site and Swift began to build on the southern tract which was the site of the original Livestock Exchange and Hotel. Swift & Co. received an unexpected financial bonus when a large gravel pit was found on the southern site which was ultimately used in the construction of both plants.

The new Livestock Exchange Building in its present location, as well as the pens and the barns were also started in 1902. The new building was designed to house the many livestock commission companies, Telegraph offices, railroad offices and other support businesses.

At the height of World War I in 1917, the Fort Worth Stockyards was the largest horse and mule market in the world. Military officers from Allied countries came to purchase the animals to support their war efforts. Total sales of all livestock continued to grow during the war years.

During World War II, the Fort Worth Stockyards processed 5,277,496 head of livestock making 1944 the peak year of the entire operation. In later years sales at the stockyards began to decline and by 1969 they had dwindled to 1,045,158 head. By 1986, sales reached an all-time low of 57,181 animals.

There were many reasons for the decline of the Fort Worth Stockyards but one of the largest factors was the rise of the trucking industry on the newly paved roads after World War II. Because of their lower operating costs and their greater flexibility, much of the advantage that railroads had in bulk shipping was lost. The market moved to the shipper with the creation of local livestock auctions and feedlots. It was a whole new way of marketing livestock. Not only was Fort Worth affected, all the major plackers in the United States struggled with this new way to market livestock.

Both Armour and Swift had huge outdated plants that were straddled with risings costs and wages and administrative expenses. Armour was the first to close their Fort Worth plant in 1962 with Swift hanging on until 1971. Partial demolition followed over the years after several fires. The unique Armour office building was lost, but the classic Swift headquarters building was put to use as the home of a popular restaurant. While local auctions continued to be held in the Stockyards, the volume diminished until it was unprofitable to continue. This vibrant part of Fort Worth history fell on hard times as the Stockyards area continued its decline.

In 1976, the North Fort Worth Historical Society founded by Charlie and Sue McCafferty, was chartered to ensure that Fort Worth's’ livestock heritage would be preserved. Since then, the Society has worked to promote the history of one of the greatest livestock and meatpacking industries in the country.

The Fort Worth Stockyards National Historical District was also established in 1976 and many of the area’s landmarks have been restored including the Livestock Exchange Building and the Coliseum. Recently, the historic Swift & Co. headquarters building underwent an almost total restoration. Today the Fort Worth Stockyards Historic District is one of Texas’ most popular tourist destinations. Many events of all kinds are held every year, new businesses and lodgings have been established adding to the history and fun that is the Fort Worth Stockyards...


  1. Wow what an interesting bit of history! Hard to believe the huge number of cattle that when thru there! Love the pics with the kids - I didn't know CJ was that strong!

  2. Very interesting...that was a lot of cattle! Looks like a fun trip:)