Villa Finale Retreats to Fort Worth – Part 2

I ended our last blog post with our visit to McFarland House, but the day did not conclude there.  We hopped in our van (aka the “iceberg”) and headed to the historic Fort Worth Stockyards.  Beginning in the 1860’s, the city of Forth Worth was the last major stop for cattle drovers heading up the Chisholm Trail before heading into Native American Territory.  Here, cattlemen stocked up on supplies and enjoyed rest and relaxation.  During the next two decades more than four million head of cattle made their way through Fort Worth earning it the nickname, “Cowtown.”  The arrival of the railroad in 1876 made this district a bustling center for business that included livestock shipping, packing houses, auction blocks, saloons and hotels.  The thriving business at the Stockyards earned it the title of “The Wall Street of the West.”  The rise of the trucking industry, among other factors, eventually lessened the significance of the area as a business center.

In 1976, it was officially designated with the title of National Historic District.  While some buildings, including historic packing plants, were lost, many were saved from the wrecking ball giving the district its unique western flair.  In fact, Fort Worth can boast as having the last standing stockyards in the country!  The Stockyards today continues to celebrate and preserve Fort Worth’s rich cattle industry history by maintaining an active stockyard with a variety of animals (a huge bonus for our animal-loving staff), shops, bars (including Billy Bob’s known as the world’s largest “honky tonk”), and a rodeo.  Visitors can also enjoy an old-time cattle drive down the main street, called Exchange Avenue, twice daily.

Now, you can’t travel and not try local cuisine.  Up to this point, we had been in town two days and we had had a number of people tell us to eat at a restaurant called Joe T. Garcia’s (apparently, word of mouth has been a traditional way of advertising for this eatery since day one).  I mentioned our staff loves animals, well, we also love eating so off we went to Joe T. Garcia’s!  The restaurant has a very interesting history; founded in 1935 with a capacity of only sixteen people, the business soon gathered local fame as people would wait for hours to eat its delicious enchiladas and homemade tortillas.  The seating capacity today is 1,000 with the location spread out over one city block.  If you ever visit, don’t be surprised by the lack of menus.  You can choose from either enchiladas or fajitas but trust me, you will have food galore!  You can see in the pictures below we had plenty of leftovers!

After satisfying our bellies and getting a good night’s rest, we rose bright and early for a visit to the Forth Worth Water Gardens built in 1974 and designed by architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee.  The park serves as an oasis from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle and let me tell you, it certainly is!  There are three focal pools of water including the main “Active Pool” which has a series of terraces leading down into its center.  It can be very intimidating climbing all the way down as the water rushes below you at every step; beware if you suffer from vertigo.  The “Quiet Pool” takes you down 20 feet by a series of steps which gives an “Alice in Wonderland” illusion of falling down the rabbit hole.  Once at the bottom, folks are treated to a serene blue pool flanked by tall, overlooking cypress trees.  The walls around you are dressed by gently cascading water in stark contrast to the rushing waters of the main waterfall.  Pool number three, known as the “Aerating Pool” is composed of a series of sprinklers designed to spray up to walking level thus creating the illusion that one can indeed walk on water!  I was told that on sunny days this pool reflects incredible rainbows!

At this point we switched gears and drove to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth’s Museum District.  However, that experience I will save for part 3 of this story!

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Villa Finale Retreats to Forth Worth – Part 1

How many other work places take you on a retreat to visit places of interest?  Villa Finale’s staff has that unique opportunity. The past two years the staff visited Galveston but this year we went north to Fort Worth!  The trip began in the early morning hours of Tuesday, January 27th as the staff gathered – coffee cups in hand – on the grounds of Villa Finale ready to board our big white rental van (christened “the iceberg” during the trip) for the 4.5 hour drive north.  After a brief stop for breakfast goodies, our Fort Worth exploration began with a guided tour of the Japanese Garden.  Built in 1973 inside the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, the 7-acre site was once a gravel quarry and dumping place for manure produced by the military’s equine.  Years of manure droppings made it an ideal location for the growth of lush green plants.  Many of the plants were donated by businesses and individuals, not only from Fort Worth but throughout the United States.  The result is a lush paradise of fine greenery accessible by winding paths which whisk you away to another place.  The bridges, rolling hills and decks provide a tranquil place of reflection and serenity.  If you ever visit, make sure you feed the Koi – they are eager to make your acquaintance!

After a well-deserved night’s rest everyone was up and ready to go for another day of cultural expansion.  Wednesday morning’s first stop was Thistle Hill, a mansion built in 1904 now owned and operated by Historic Fort Worth, Inc. a local partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Historic Fort Worth was founded in 1969 to preserve the city’s identity through stewardship, education and leadership. The organization was gifted the property in 2005 but not before it was saved from demolition in 1974 by a group of concerned citizens who raised $240,000 to purchase the property.  That came during a time when many of the city’s oldest and most beautiful homes – located in a once opulent area called Quality Hill – were being razed for parking lots and modern businesses.  Citizens knew a part of the city’s rich history would be lost if some of the homes weren’t saved from the wrecking ball, and, indeed, Thistle Hill is a gorgeous treasure!

The home was built as a wedding gift by Albert Buckman Wharton – who owned Fort Worth’s first auto dealership – for his new bride, Electra, the beautiful daughter of one of the city’s wealthiest cattle barons.  As I listened to this I thought, wow, what a great wedding gift!  Some of us would get luck to get a crock pot!  And Albert spared no expense – he paid $46,000 (that’s well over $1 million dollars today) for the 11,000 square foot abode that, although grand in every way, is incredibly practical and comfortable.  I was most particularly impressed with the wall decor in what used to be the billiards room; the walls have several inspirational quotes and sayings. The Whartons didn’t live in the house very long before they sold it to Elizabeth and Winfield Scott in 1911.  The Scotts immediately began remodeling the home from its original Colonial design to a Georgian Revival style.  Unfortunately, Mr. Scott died a few months after the property was purchased and never lived in the house.  Mrs. Scott and her son Winfield, Jr. moved into the house in 1912 after all remodeling projects were completed.  Thistle Hill would be her home for the next twenty-six years during which time she hosted a variety of social events.

After Elizabeth’s death in 1936, Winfield, Jr. sold the home to the Girls Service League as a safe and positive place for young women to live while they completed their education.  However, as women became more independent and it was “acceptable” for young ladies to be out on their own, the need for Thistle Hill as a rooming house became irrelevant and the organization abandoned the building.  The house was left empty for a number of years until it was purchased in 1974.

Historic Fort Worth also owns the Ball-Eddleman-McFarland House only a few blocks away; this was our next stop.  Now the headquarters of Historic Fort Worth, the first floor can be rented out for small private events and weddings.  Although smaller than Thistle Hill, the Victorian charm of this home can be seen inside and out.  The Queen Anne style Victorian house was constructed in 1899, also in Quality Hill, by Sarah Ball, the widow of George Ball, a wealthy banker in Galveston.  Sarah, who paid roughly $38,000 to have the house built, chose this site not only because it sat atop a bluff above the Trinity River – thus providing great views – but also because it was right next door to her physician, Dr. Joseph Pollock.  Ball died in 1904, merely five years after the home was constructed, and that same year it was purchased by William H. Eddleman, a cattleman and founder of Western National Bank.  Eddleman and his wife had one daughter, Carrie, who was the light of their life.  When Carrie met and fell in love with Frank H. McFarland, the Eddlemans gave their blessing as long as McFarland didn’t take their daughter too far away after marriage.  So what did the couple do?  They moved in with Carrie’s parents: now there’s a gentleman for you!  The Eddlemans remodeled an upstairs bedroom as a suite for the young couple, and the four lived under the same roof until the death of Carrie’s parents.  Frank McFarland died in 1948 and Carrie lived in the home until her death in 1978 – that is a total of 75 years in one home!

The McFarland house is very beautiful and charming.  The exterior features turrets, gables, carved sandstone, marble and copper.  The interior is rich with colorful stained glass, splendid woodwork including coffered ceilings and parquet floors throughout and so much more!  I could go on and on about the features of this home, but it really is something you have to see for yourself.  It’s wonderful that the Junior League of Fort Worth purchased the home in 1979 thus saving it from eventual demolition before it was purchased by Historic Fort Worth.  Both Thistle Hill and the McFarland House are available for guided tours.

So much to tell about places we visited during our trip to Fort Worth!  I will be blogging about the rest of our trip over the next few days.  Villa Finale’s staff would like to thank our wonderful docents at the Japanese Garden, Mr. and Mrs. Winn; Diann at Thistle Hill, Jimmy at McFarland House, as well as Historic Forth Worth, for their generous hospitality!