Exploring Big D: A Historian’s Guide to Dallas, Texas

The Pegasus is a Dallas icon that has watched over the city since it was added to the roof of the Magnolia Building in 1934. A reconstruction still lights the night sky from atop the Magnolia. The original Pegasus is now located in front of the Omni Hotel downtown.

In 1839, John Neely Bryan, a frontiersman, left Arkansas to scout locations for his dream — a town on the Trinity River in North Texas. Despite the difficulty in enticing settlers, by 1844, the townsite of Dallas had been laid out in half-mile square blocks and streets. Dallasites still disagree on whom the city is named for — Commodore Alexander Dallas, a well-known naval hero, or vice president of the United States George Mifflin Dallas.  However all Dallasites agree that their innovative, forward-looking city has an abundance of historic structures and sites.

An image of the cattle sculptures in Dallas' Pioneer Plaza.
Cattle Drive sculptures at Pioneer Plaza. Image sourced from A History Lover’s Guide to Dallas, courtesy of Donna Kidby.

Early Dallas

Pioneer Plaza is a four-acre public park with a stream and small waterfall. The popular site features the largest outdoor bronze sculpture in the world, and forty-nine bronze steers and three trail riders, commemorating the nineteenth-century cattle drives that traveled through Dallas. Adjacent Pioneer Park Cemetery contains the Masonic Cemetery, Odd Fellow’s Cemetery, Jewish Cemetery, and City Cemetery.

An image of the Old Red Courthouse in downtown Dallas.
The Old Red Courthouse was built downtown in 1892. Four of the previous five courthouses had perished in fires, and as such, county officials were determined to build a courthouse that would last. The courthouse now serves as the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture. Image sourced from A History Lover’s Guide to Dallas, courtesy of the author.

Boomtown Dallas

Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture sits on land donated by Dallas founder John Neely Bryan and his wife, Margaret. In 1892, the Pecos red sandstone clad courthouse was built there, and dubbed “Old Red.” Following its addition to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, restoration began on the beloved landmark. Today, Old Red is home to the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture.

Reunion Tower, built in 1978, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Dallas. The Geo-Deck offers stunning views of downtown landmarks, including Dealey Plaza and the Sixth Floor Museum. Image sourced from A History Lover’s Guide to Dallas, courtesy of Donna Kidby.

Modern Dallas

Just like the Alamo in San Antonio, and the Astrodome in Houston, Reunion Tower is an iconic Dallas landmark. Built in 1978, the 561-foot tower features The Geo-Deck with panoramic views of all of Big D, and a rotating restaurant (very trendy in the 70s).

Artsy Dallas

Dallas boasts the largest urban arts district in the U.S. In fact, Downtown’s Dallas Arts District spans nineteen blocks and nearly seventy acres. The crowning jewel is The Nasher Sculpture Center. For decades, banker and developer Raymond Nasher collected art, and eventually built his own $70 million museum, designed by Renzo Piano and Peter Walker. Opened in 2003 ,the 55,000-square-foot interior blends with am adjacent two-acre sculpture garden. Today, the Nasher has over three hundred pieces in its collection.

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