You don’t have to be an old timer to have memories of Woodlake. Many younger people (those 40 and under) may not have memories quite as elaborate as the older citizens who remember the 40-acre beauty spot as it was early in the 1900s. There were many happy hours at church meetings and campouts. This writer and some of those about the same age are among those who do have happy memories.
The encampment, at a large brush arbor was the scene of many church revivals and the grounds once came alive with week long church camps, weekend reunions and young camps. But alas, it now is overtaken by weeds and trees.
For many years, Camp Fire Girls in Denison and Sherman held Day Camp at Woodlake with the sound of children’s laughter bringing back many fond memories of earlier days. Buses once carried the young Camp Fire Girls to Woodlake to hold council fires with the children sitting around a huge fire.
The story of Woodlake’s beginning is described in detail in Graham Landrum’s and Allan Smith’s “An Illustrated History of Grayson County,” where the two authors, one of which was the Grayson County Bicentennial chairman, retrace the steps that brought about the “resort spot of Texas” in the early 1900s.
In 1896, J.P. Crearer of Ottawa, Canada, moved to Denison and went to work linking Denison and Sherman with electric trolley cars by purchasing city road lines between the two towns.
To obtain water to convert to steam needed to provide electricity for his machines, Crearer sank a 900 foot deep well in a wooded area midway between Denison and Sherman at a point originally called Tanyard Springs. Indians had used that spot in the past to tan hides of animals.
Crearer also built a mail office and repair shop for his cars near the well. The area was rolling hills wooded with elm, hickory and oak trees. Crearer named the area Woodlake.
Crearer built a dam across the north end of a deep ravine half a mile long and several hundred yards wide. He also started laying tracks for his motorized trolley to skirt the lake.
On May 1, 1901, the Denison and Sherman Railway Company (D&S) held its grand opening, furnishing free rides for everyone wanting to pay a visit to the site.
People began taking picnic lunches and riding to the halfway stop that had been praised as being complete with picnic tables and scenic beauty, something new to the people of both towns. Woodlake was an adventure spot from its very beginning and crowds began flocking there to spend the day.
The bumpy ride on the open electric car that sometimes got up as much speed as 40 miles an hour on a straight stretch was even an adventure for Denison residents.
Woodlake’s fame spread and crowds began to come from much more distant points, paying 10 cents to get there and another nickel to get back to Denison or Sherman. As more and more people flocked to Woodlake, a station building was built along with more picnic tables and benches and a boat shed, zoo and large enclosed building called a Casino. All but the station were on the east side of the lake.
The Casino was the most famous landmark for many years, according to Landrum & Smith. “It was a large, rectangular building 200 feet long and half as wide. It was of wood framing and had a tin and shingled roof. Along the front was a short flight of steps leading to the lobby and a ticket office. Walking up several more steps and one was inside the auditorium. The best way to describe the Casino is to refer to it as a resort opera house,” the book says.
Vaudeville and summer stock shows could be seen in the warmer months in the auditorium that seated 300 people. A permanent dance pavilion was built south of the casino in 1915. Band concerts and church services also were held here and this building converted into a dormitory.
Roller skating was held at the station, a long wooden building at the top of the dam. A zoo was added later with the accumulation of monkey cages, Chinese peacocks and a black bear cub. Sheep and goats roamed the hillside to keep down the tall grass.
A swimming pool was built about 1915 between the dock and the Casino. It was enclosed by wood pilings and had a wooden floor constructed so it could be raised for repairs.
Denison and Sherman had interurbans stopping at Woodlake every few minutes every day. July 4 and other holidays were something to behold when the crowd began gathering. It sometimes took all night to get the crowd back to town.
It is a little saddening to see the quietness and absence of activity at Woodlake today and it is a direct contrast to the aliveness that once was visible at the encampment so many years ago.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.