Let’s take a look at the transformation of a Texan city, Grand Prairie, from a farming community to a booming aviation city.
Grand Prairie is a city shared by three counties – Dallas County, Tarrant County, and Ellis County. A suburban city that’s part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Grand Prairie lies between downtown Dallas (14 miles west) and downtown Fort Worth (15 miles east). Since World War I, Grand Prairie has had a long history with defense and aviation history. And it’s got lots of excellent sights and things to do there, too.
Grand Prairie today is a far cry from the area known for its tall grasses and abundant wildlife several hundreds of years ago.
During the 1840s, the area now known as Grand Prairie was part of Peter’s Colony. It was named for William S. Peters, whose investment group gained land grants from the Republic of Texas.
One of the settlers, Alexander McRae Dechman, founded the city as Dechman in 1863. A native of Nova Scotia, Dechman purchased the land for $200 in Confederate money. The land he bought lies within what is today downtown Grand Prairie. Before Dechman could settle in the town himself, he joined the Confederate army during the Civil War.
In 1867, two years after the war, Dechman filed a town plat with Dallas County, consisting of 50 acres (20 hectares). The plat he filed gave the Texas and Pacific Railroad every other lot in exchange for operating the depot. Railroad service opened through Dechman in 1876. The following year, the rail line changed the town’s name to Grand Prairie due to the town’s location on “the eastern edge of the vast grand prairie that stretched into West Texas.” The town’s first post office opened in the same year.
From a “Big Cotton Town” to a big aviation city
Grand Prairie was incorporated as a city in 1909. By the time of its incorporation, the Grand Prairie Independent School was founded. Aside from the post office and school, the city also had a drugstore, a cotton gin, some grocery stores, and a hotel.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the city thrived and became a cotton industry hub. In fact, a local newspaper referred to Grand Prairie as the “Big Cotton Town.” The fledgling city had been victim to several damaging fires, which led to the establishment of an organized fire department in 1917.
From the two World Wars and onwards, Grand Prairie began its progression into the defense and aviation industry. In the late 1920s, pilots from Fort Worth and Dallas came to train at the Grand Prairie’s newly built airdrome.
The present-day Vought plant, now located in Dallas, was originally part of Grand Prairie. During World War II, the P-51C and K Mustang planes, along with the Consolidated B-24 Liberator fighter planes, were built and produced at North American Aviation’s plant in Grand Prairie. After the war ended, Vought took over the plant, which later became Ling Temco Vought (LTV) but eventually returned to the original Vought name.
From the 1950s through 1989, the plant was the production site for the F-8 Crusader and the A-7 Corsair II aircraft. LTV’s Missile and Space Division produced several missiles, including the Scout and the MLRS. Lockheed Martin eventually purchased the division; up to now, it still operates in Grand Prairie.
Grand Prairie is also home to the headquarters of Airbus Helicopters, which used to be the headquarters of the state-owned French helicopter manufacturer Aérospatiale.
Things to see and do in Grand Prairie
You may no longer see the tall grasslands that used to be abundant in the region several hundreds of years ago. But Grand Prairie still boasts lots of green spaces and nature escapes from the suburban city life. The wide range of parks and nature attractions scattered all over the city makes Grand Prairie a place for everyone who loves nature and the outdoors. The most popular sites include Loyd Park (with rustic cabins for those who want to stay) and Lynn Creek Park, both located on Joe Pool Lake. Mountain Creek Lake Park is a 3,463-acre park located on the reservoir. Other nature parks include Mike Lewis Park and Jennifer McFalls Park.
There are also several places for shopping, entertainment, educational sites, arts and culture, and sports and recreation.
For those who want to witness or be a part of the Grand Prairie action, there are lots of venues to do so. Check out the famous thoroughbred horse racing at the Lone Star Park, catch a baseball match at Air Hogs Ballpark, go skating at Action Skate Park or Alliance Skate Park. Or tee off at the Riverside Golf Course or Tangle Ridge Golf Course.
For the inquisitive minds, visit Ripley’s & Palace of Wax, which houses Louis Tussaud’s wax models of celebrities and historical figures, and Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Odditorium for its gallery of freaky stuff.
Check out the Farmers Market at Market Square for fantastic local produce as well as handcrafted products and souvenirs. Browse through random items at Traders Village, which is dubbed the “Famous Texas Flea Market.” Or catch discounts on your favorite branded items at Grand Prairie Premium Outlets.
For something a little unexpected, head to Asia Times Square and Hong Kong Market. You can score exotic and diverse Asian produce. You can also catch Asian cultural performances and events, such as the Lunar New Year.
If you are in Grand Prairie for Thanksgiving, make sure not to miss Prairie Lights, one of the city’s most spectacular sights. Its four million or so colorful lights spread along a two-mile trail are installed in different shapes and motifs that cover roads, arches, buildings, and tunnels. The illuminated attractions will definitely dazzle tourists.
If you happen to visit Dallas or Fort Worth, you may want to plan a day’s visit to Grand Prairie since it is conveniently located between the two cities. You’ll be happy to discover it!