The History of the Trinity River

September 17th, 2020 by

The Trinity River is a 710-mile river in Texas that’s an important part of culture and life in Fort Worth. It also has a long and interesting history. Learn more about the unique history of the Trinity River and the role it has played in developing the area. View our inventory of new vehicles or give us a call today at 817-367-4000.

Physical Characteristics

River in Fort Worth

Image via Flickr by Lars Plougman

The Trinity River runs through the entire state of Texas. It starts in the northern part of Texas a few miles south of the Red River, and it eventually empties into Trinity Bay in the Gulf of Mexico. While many people think it was named the Trinity River because it has three forks, it actually has four branches: the East Fork, the West Fork, the Elm Fork, and the Clear Fork. In addition to the branches, the Trinity River also has numerous tributaries.

Native American Hunting Grounds

The game-rich and fertile lands along the banks of the Trinity River were some of the preferred hunting grounds for several Native American tribes. While the Dallas and Fort Worth area were buffer zones that no tribe claimed, the Akokisa were an indigenous tribe that lived in settled villages on the lower Trinity River. In addition to growing maize and tubers, the Akokisa used the river as a source of food. They would carve cypress logs into dugout canoes to fish.

Naming the River

As European explorers started surveying the land, numerous groups came across the Trinity River. In the 1500s, lost members of Hernando de Soto’s expedition wandered across the river. In 1687, French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle initially explored the Trinity River. He named it Riviere des Canoës, which is French for “River of Canoes.” However, that name didn’t stick.

In 1690, General Alonzo de Leon named the river La Santisima de la Trinidad, which is Spanish for “The Most Holy Trinity.” He gave the river this name because he discovered it two days before the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.

The Establishment of Fort Worth

Part of the Treaty of Bird’s Fort created between several Native American tribes and the Republic of Texas in 1843 established trading houses and forts at the border of the Native American territory. Originally, Major General William Jenkins Worth proposed building 10 forts. However, only seven were actually built. One of those seven forts was Fort Worth. It was established at the junction of the West Fork and the Clear Fork of the Trinity River, where the present-day city of Fort Worth is now located.

While numerous European-American settlers from around the country lived in Fort Worth, E. S. Terrell from Tennessee claimed to be the first resident. The original fort flooded one year after it was built, so it was moved to the top of the bluff. Today, the city’s current courthouse sits on the site of the original fort. The second fort was abandoned in 1853, and no trace of it remains today.

Trinity River and a Growing Region

In the 1890s, developers had plans to turn the Trinity River into a major shipping channel. However, those plans were eventually discarded because they would have required extensive and expensive dredging to make the river navigable. Yet you can still see some evidence of these plans today.

Numerous overpasses in Fort Worth and Dallas were constructed with high clearances in anticipation of the large ships that would use the shipping channel. Additionally, in the early 1900s, several locks were built downstream of Dallas. You can still see the first lock built at McCommas Bluff. The original plans for the shipping channel called for a total of 36 locks and dams between Dallas and Trinity Bay. However, after World War I, construction of the locks stalled, and they were eventually abandoned. Only seven of the proposed 36 locks were constructed.

Exploring the Trinity River

Today, you can find a variety of ways to explore the Trinity River. One of the most popular ways to see the river is on Trinity Trails. Trinity Trails consists of more than 100 miles of safe and scenic trails that follow the Trinity River and its tributaries.

Another great way to explore the Trinity River is with a visit to the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge. The nature center has all types of events that can help you learn more about the river. During the Who Lives in the Trinity program, you’ll learn all about the fish and other animals that call the West Fork of the Trinity River home.

For a unique view of the river, sign up for one of the canoe or kayak tours. During these tours, the nature center provides all the equipment you need to start paddling. You’ll get to spend time on the water learning about the river, looking for birds, and discovering other animals that swim in the water.

If you have your own canoe or kayak, you can start exploring the Trinity River on your own. Fort Worth has several launch sites that make it possible to enjoy trips of varying lengths. If you’re interested in a short and smooth trip, you can launch from Trinity Park and paddle 1.5 miles down the river to the Rogers Road launch. For something more challenging, launch at River Legacy Park and paddle 14 miles down to the Handley–Ederville Road launch.

Trinity River Vision

Since that first army outpost was established hundreds of years ago, the Trinity River has been a major part of Fort Worth’s rich history. Today, the river is still a significant part of the city, and the Trinity River Vision seeks to create an exciting, pedestrian-oriented urban waterfront district in Fort Worth centered on the Trinity River. While the plan focuses on necessary flood protection, it also addresses issues that include the environment, preserving green space, access to the river, recreational opportunities, and urban revitalization around the river.

In addition to looking at the history of the Trinity River, we also discussed some of our favorite ways to explore it. Did we miss something you love to do on the Trinity River? If so, please contact us at Hiley Hyundai of Fort Worth and let us know your favorite way to explore the Trinity River. Give us a call today at 817-367-4000

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