by Ken Molestina | CBS 11
FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – While there isn’t a time machine to take us back 100 years or so to a period and a place in Fort Worth packed with vices and an anything-goes spirit, there are stories and historians who keep the tales of Hell’s Half Acre alive.
Hell’s Half Acre, or “the Acre” as it was casually referred to, thrived from about 1870 to 1920 in downtown Fort Worth.
The exact area now houses the Fort Worth Convention Center and the Water Gardens.
Hell’s Half Acre was actually bigger than just a half acre.
It was bound by Throckmorton Street on the west side, and Jones Street on the east side. By Lancaster on the south, and about 9th Street on the north.
Local historian Brendan Smart has studied “The Acre” at length and said, “Hells Half Acre originally emerged from the major cattle drives that would come through Fort Worth. Very much catering to the things that the cowboys wanted.”
Smart said first it was cowboys then railroad men, and later even some business folks who would travel to Fort Worth from time to time who all indulged in the vices of Hell’s Half Acre.
Speaking about those vices, Smart said, “Drinking establishments, gambling, dance halls, and prostitution,” where the common ones and there was plenty of it all.
“In some ways you could think of Hells Half Acre as being a bit like Las Vegas,” he said. “It’s a place catering to human desire for adventure and romance of opening yourself up to chance.”
While the activities in “The Acre” were not legal, they did go unchecked most of the time.
The only time thing laws against prostitution, illegal alcohol sales, and gambling were enforced were when the city of Fort Worth wanted to collect money via fines, according to Smart.
“Sometimes those laws are simply being enforced to collect fines and fees that in essence were paying for lawmen’s salaries,” said Smart. “This town has survived and thrived because it has a whole lot of hustle.”
Many historians agree that early hustle and money making engine contributed a lot of cash into city coffers.
While “The Acre” had a lot of iterations throughout its 50 years span it finally came to an end around World War I.
The arrival of Camp Bowie to Fort Worth meant vice districts wouldn’t be tolerated within a nearby distance of the camp.
By 1920, the area was considered to be morally clean.