A few columns ago, I wrote about Woodlake between Denison and Sherman and how it came into being and was an entertainment center for crowds in this area who came to visit the Casino in 1915. The Casino wasn’t what we know as a casino today, it was a place for band concerts and church services. There also was a dance pavilion that was converted into a dormitory for groups coming to participate in special events like vaudeville and summer stock shows.
We said that the dance pavilion was the only building remaining today. It still is but not as it was known in those days. A reader, Bill Fri, emailed me a few pictures that he shot when he visited Woodlake last year. I’ve not had an opportunity to go on the premises in recent years and had not seen the pictures that he sent. Bill gave me permission to use the pictures with my columns and I’m including one with this one.
In case you didn’t see the earlier column, I’ll briefly say a little about it. Woodlake was a place where people took picnic lunches on the electric cars known as the interurban. Denison and Sherman folks rode the interurban that stopped at Woodlake every few minutes every day. On special occasions, like July 4 and other holidays, there were so many people there that it sometimes took all night to get the crowd back to town.
But good things don’t always last. J.P. Crearer of Ottawa, Canada, who moved to Denison in 1896 to work linking Denison and Sherman with the electric trolley cars that were better known as the Interurban, began by purchasing city road lines between the two towns. He continued by sinking a 900 foot deep well in a wooded area at a point originally called Tanyard Springs where Indians were known to have tanned hides of animals.
The area progressed to become an adventure to which crowds flocked to see a small zoo, the Casino, a dance pavilion and a swimming pool that was enclosed by wood pilings and had a wooden floor.
Then Crearer sold the Railway Company in 1908 to Texas Traction Company that already had an interurban line from Dallas to Sherman. This gave them the final link of track to Denison, the end of the line and a station was set up on Houston Avenue between Woodard and Main. This site now is a parking lot across the street from the County Office Building. Tracks ran down the middle of Main Street in Denison and a turnaround was built on Main Street in front of the Katy Depot in the 100 block of East Main.
The Texas Traction Co., and the Southern Traction Co., merged to form the Texas Electric Railway on Jan. 1, 1917. The interurban’s final trip to Woodlake was in 1948 when the line ended operation.
For years, the steps to the Casino were still visible along with rock paths and the main office foundation across the lake. The spillway was about the only other original landmark that remained a few years ago, except for the building that was a dance hall in interurban days. This is the building that was screened in and used for dormitories when Woodlake still was in good shape. The Casino and boating docks disappeared years ago.
Graham Landrum and Allan Smith in their “Illustrated History of Grayson County” talked about Woodlake, saying the Tanyard Springs would still flow if they could be found. Smith interviewed many interurban employees and other old timers when he was gathering information for a chapter of the book and allowed me to listen to some of those interviews before I got involved writing about Woodlake.
However one interview that was particularly interesting was with Norman Dorchester, who lived in Denison and was a interurban agent for the Texas Electric. His father was on the board of the old Denison & Sherman Line under J.P. Crearer. Dorchester recalled a time in either 1905 or 1906 when it got so cold at Woodlake that the lake froze solid. He said he skated all over the lake and that a man named Wyatt took his picture. He said for many years, the picture was in the lobby of the M&P Bank in Sherman.
In later years, a group of about 25 people formed the Woodlake Corp, and the encampment was leased to churches, families, youth groups and anyone else who wanted to use it. During that period, I visited Woodlake with a group of Press Women of Texas members and had lunch in a private cabin that had been built there. The brush and trees were so dense that we were not able to do much exploring. The thing about Woodlake that I remember better than anything is the brush arbor where Baptists held revivals and programs. Having been raised by devout Baptists, I spent many hours attending some of those events.
Juanita Beach was in charge of the camp for many years and said that the Baptists were the biggest customers and used the site faithfully until they acquired their own encampment at Lake Lavon. The pictures that Bill Fri shot last year probably are of the dance pavilion that was turned into a dormitory. I thought it might have been the Casino until I read in the Landrum-Smith book that it no longer was there.
Woodlake is one of those places that as a writer I have always thought it was would be wonderful if someone would reopen the area and develop it into something exciting once more.
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.