|Circling Around Dallas County:
A Trip Along Belt Line Road
Some roads scream to be traveled, like the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway or California Highway 101. Other roads are more subtle in their
allures, but when taken, their beauty unfurls with heady abandon.
And then there are roads like Belt Line.
Two years ago, I drove the entire Belt Line Road that circles around Dallas County, and I did it again this past month. why I'd do such a
thing is not an easy question to answer. Belt Line simply passes through almost all of Dallas' inner ring suburbs, though mostly not
their downtowns. It's a highway that doesn't lend itself to speeding, what with all the stoplights, twists and bends. And only in the
southern part can it be considered somewhat scenic.
But, while it's not a pretty road or even a charming one, Belt Line Road does have a certain kind of - well, draw. Of course, that attraction
stems from its short but fairly interesting history. The "Belt Line" was originally proposed as a railroad that would link Dallas to the Cotton
Belt (St. Louis Southwestern Railway), which had bypassed Dallas and built into Fort Worth instead. The company that attempted the
project, the Dallas Terminal Railway, fell far short of its goal, with only four miles of the belt railway completed by the early 1900s. Then,
Belt Line Road became one of the manifestations of the Kessler Plan, Dallas' earliest attempts at city planning. In this plan, published in
1909 and followed haphazardly for almost one hundred years, George Kessler recommended that the railroads lines that zig-zagged all
through the center of the city be placed outside the city, and surrounding communities would be connected through a common belt line.
However, the railroads balked at sharing tracks with their competition. Dallas County carved the new road, and while the rails did not
follow, cars certainly did. Belt Line became Dallas' first loop highway, and still serves the metro area as a major traffic artery.
So let's see the sights along Belt Line Road! Okay, maybe not "sights" but rather "things to acknowledge."
0 miles - Coppell
I started in Coppell, where Denton Tap Road (a railroad "tap" into the proposed Belt Line) meets Belt Line Road. In this affluent bedroom
community, Belt Line Road travels straight south, past new strip malls, office parks, and a Dairy Queen. Belt Line Road bisects Bethel
School Road, one of Coppell's few references to its country past.
5 miles - DFW Airport
After Belt Line crosses over Texas 114 (also called John Carpenter Freeway), the road marks the eastern boundary of the Dallas Fort
Worth Airport. Stands of trees and no trespassing signs make this a "friendly" place to stay away from.
8 miles - Irving
Belt Line slithers through many strip malls, apartment buildings, restaurants, and convenience stores before passing Irving Mall at the
intersection with TX 183. Irving is a child of the railroad and its downtown showcases that, tough Belt Line Road does not go through the
9 miles - Sowers
While still technically Irving, the old farming community of Sowers once witnessed an ambush on Bonnie and Clyde by the Dallas Sheriff
Department on nearby Esters Road.
16 miles - Grand Prairie
The first place you'll encounter once you enter Grand Prairie is the horse racing venue Lone Star Park. Further south on Belt Line, you
can enjoy the weirdness of Ripley's Believe it or Not! and a wax museum. An outdoor safari park once existed behind these two
Belt Line Road crosses over old US 80 (Main Street) in Grand Prairie. Grand Prairie gets its name from the wide swaths of open grass
land that used to surround it before "civilization" obliterated this unique landscape.
24 miles - Cedar Hill State Park
You'd be surprised at how pretty Dallas County upon seeing the hills that surround Cedar Hill State Park. Though the park centers
around a man-made lake, swaths of native tall grass prairie hint at what the area used to look like.
28 miles - Cedar Hill
Cedar Hill is one of the oldest settlements in Dallas County, and grew with the arrival of the railroad in the 1880s. One of the largest
fossils in the state was found in Cedar Hill.
In Cedar Hill, Belt Line takes a turn to the east as it merges with FM 1382.
32 miles - DeSoto
If it weren't for a sign displaying "DeSoto Independent School District" at a middle
school, you'd never know that you were in DeSoto. That's not to say DeSoto isn't
interesting... it's just that Belt Line Road bypasses the town's center. DeSoto may
be named after an early resident, Dr. Thomas Hernando De Soto Stewart, but with
an odd name like that, someone may just be pulling my leg.
39 miles - Lancaster
It's in Lancaster where Belt Line Road passes through a much more rural
landscape. Proud, two-story, four square homes that occasionally hug the road
hark back to the town's farming roots. Belt Line intersects with the tracks for the
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, which reach the gin in downtown Lancaster.
In the summer, the acres of black land prairie that surround Lancaster are dotted
43 miles - Wilmer
The cotton industry defined Wilmer, which grew up around the Houston and Texas
Central Railroad. Today, Wilmer is a small community near the Ellis County Line.
Belt Line Road comes close to the city's small downtown.
East of Wilmer, Belt Line Road crosses over the Trinity River and its immense flood
plain. If you look north onto the Trinity River, you can see a ruined lock that was
built in the early 20th century in the hopes to open the river to barge traffic.
Making the Trinity River navigable was also part of Kessler's Plan, which included
building levees to thwart future flooding.
Signs along the reeds in the river bottoms warn of alligators. Large reptiles that
can chew off your arm, along with the many junk yards that hug the road, makes
this portion of Belt Line Road quite memorable.
51 miles - Kleberg
Kleberg is an older settlement that blossomed with the arrival of the railroads.
That connection is evident at the junction of Belt Line and Kleberg Roads, where
an old railroad crossing signal still stands near a now non-existent right-of-way.
54 miles - Seagoville & Balch Springs
Belt Line Road cuts through Seagoville and Balch Springs without nary a glance.
Not much to see here. However, keep your eyes open for the road signs that
delineate Belt Line Road - the road makes a sharp move to the north.
60 miles - Mesquite
Like all towns in Dallas County, Mesquite thrived on cotton and railroads. A
number of outlaws took advantage of that fact, too. Belle Starr lived in nearby
Scyene, and none other than Sam Bass held up a Texas & Pacific train, making off
with $30,000. You'd think with that kind of money, he'd have been able to retire.
Instead, Sam kept on thwarting the law until one day in Round Rock, Texas he
succumbed to an ambush posse while on his way to rob a bank.
Belt Line Road cuts through downtown Mesquite. Nearby on Barnes Ridge Road is
the Florence Ranch Homestead, an outdoor heritage museum. Another interesting
place is the Opal Lawrence Historical Park on Kearny Street, which centers around
a sprawling home from the 1870s.
71 miles - Garland
Once you drive under the Interstate 30 bridge, Belt Line Road will be known as Broadway. But that's not the only name changes you'll
need to know in Garland! Broadway merges into North 1st Street, and the road becomes Belt Line again once it enters Richardson. The
different names probably come from roads that existed before Belt Line was built; either that, or Garland just likes to confuse people.
Garland began as two farming towns along Duck Creek that merged together to take advantage of the railroads that steamed through
both towns. In the early 20th century,citizens bought their own generator and thus created Garland Power & Light Company, one of the
first cooperatives utilities in the state. The company is still growing today.
78 miles - Richardson
In Richardson, Belt Line turns to a westerly direction.
Founded by the Houston & Texas Central Railroad, Richardson grew from a cotton shipping point to become the home of the Telecom
Corridor, Texas' own Silicon Valley.
Belt Line Road runs right through downtown Richardson. The many international restaurants -Mediterranean, Korean, and Chinese -
attest to the demographic diversity of this town at the forefront of the Information Age.
After crossing under US 75, Belt Line passes through affluent residential areas.
85 miles - Addison
Addison's yet another town that developed courtesy of the railroads. Today, it's a lively restaurant and entertainment area. The
Cavanaugh Flight Museum, located at the Addison airport just north of Belt Line Road, is worth an extended visit.
88 miles - Carrollton
The further you drive west on Belt Line, the more industrial and aged the scenery becomes until finally, you reach downtown Carrollton.
Neat as a pin, Carrollton grew up with the railroads and still hosts a major interconnecting switching yard just to the north of Belt Line
Road. No less than four tracks cross Belt Line, so take caution as you make your way through downtown. Above Beltline Road are the
elevated tracks of the DART, Dallas County's light rail commuter train.
Here's where Belt Line Road lives up to its original purpose. The tracks of the Fort Worth & Dallas Belt Railroad (formerly Cotton Belt
tracks) parallel the road as you make your way west from Carrollton into Coppell.
94 miles - Coppell
Follow Belt Line Road until it meets up with Denton Tap again. Voila! You made a circle around Dallas! Now you can impress your friends
The Belt Line was a great idea that never quite got off the ground. That doesn't mean it wasn't successful - it simply became an
industrial loop that relies on trucks, not locomotives. It's not necessarily a drive I'd recommend, but it could be worse... I could have
taken Interstate 635 all the way around Dallas!
|A lonely tree in the cedar brakes
|Cedar Hill is the most picturesque city along Belt Line Road.
|An old railroad crossing mechanism on Belt Line Road at Seagoville is a true relic. Its sister on the other side of the street has already been
taken down. I wonder what will happen to this one? The former Cotton Belt Line between Carrollton and Coppel is slated to become a
section of the TexRail Commuter rail (begins in 2017).
|Sowers Public School, 1906. Irving Archives.
|Belt Line Road was named for an attempt to create a railroad loop that connected Dallas to the St. Louis-Southwestern Railway. Only the
northern part of the loop was completed. The St. Louis -Southwestern Railway was better known as the "Cotton Belt Route." Photo by Roger
S. Plummer, Museum of the American Railroad.
|IOOF Lodge globe in downtown Lancaster
|Main Street in Richardson, Texas was pretty quiet in 1910. In a few decades, its eastern and western portions would become Belt Line Road.
|Lancaster depot (Texas Historical Commission).
|Downtown Mesquite in the early 1920s. Mesquite Public Library.