East Texas: Design and Space

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The CCC state parks enabled access to the piney woods of East Texas for a majority of Texans, allowing hiking, camping, swimming, fishing and boating on the lakes. And yet, even with the carefully considered designs, the parks restricted access to African-American visitors.

Work on Caddo Lake Park began in 1933 and continued until 1937 with two CCC companies. Original park drawings emphasized the natural environment of the surrounding pine wood forest in what became known as the rustic style. In contrast, the facilities of Tyler State Park, only 80 miles away, took on a different design style. Work on Tyler State Park began in 1935 and continued until 1941. The buildings embraced a more modern early 20th century design known as Prairie Style, made famous by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. The designs emphasized function and purpose over natural assimilation.

"It is our understanding that this lake-park [Tyler State Park] was built by our Government and State funds for the use and benefits of, the Citizens of Smith County and the State of Texas, who are taxed for its maintenance, but the Negro race is not allowed to exercise or enjoy any of the privileges that said lake-park offer, yet we as all other Citizens were taxed for its construction.”

Letter from T.R. Register, Committee Chair, Tyler Negro Chamber of Commerce to Norman Sherron, Chair, Texas State Parks Board, 19 April 1949. Case 50-017, Attorney General litigation and investigation files, 1991/057-18.

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In East Texas, issues of space limited access to the entire Texas public. African-American visitors were often not allowed entry into many of the parks. Without a formal policy, admission varied from park to park. Park staff often cited the lack of separate spaces such as restrooms and other facilities as grounds for refusal. In one notable instance, T.R. Register and his party from Tyler, Texas were refused entry into Tyler State Park in 1949.  As a result, the men filed a lawsuit against the Texas State Parks Board for their failure to meet the ‘separate but equal’ requirement of the day. The lawsuit, T.R. Register, et al v. J.D. Sandefer, Jr., et al, drew the attention of the Texas Legislature. The Legislature recommended additional facilities for African-Americans. However, it was not until the Civil Rights Act in 1964 that all Texas citizens were legally allowed access to the state’s parks.

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Letter from U. Simpson Tate, NAACP to Hon. Price Daniel, Attorney General’s Office, 11 May 1949. Case 50-017, Attorney General litigation and investigation files, 1991/057-18.

In this letter, U. Simpson Tate, Special Counsel at the NAACP, wanted clarification from Price Daniel, Texas Attorney General, on whether Tyler State Park’s refusal to allow African-American visitors represented the official policy of the Texas State Parks Board. Additional correspondence led to the lawsuit T.R. Register, et al v. J.D. Sandefer, Jr. in which the Texas State Parks Board was sued for not providing “separate but equal” facilities for African-American visitors.

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Recommendations from 52nd Texas Legislature, February 1951. Case 50-017, Attorney General litigation and investigation files, 1991/057-18.

These recommendations came from the Committee to Study State Parks System in response to the Register v. Sandefer lawsuit. In turn, the Texas State Parks Board asked the Texas Legislature for additional funds to provide park facilities for African-American visitors. It was not until the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 that all citizens of Texas were legally allowed access to the state’s parks.

Letter from Joe C. Lair to Central Design Office, National Park Service, 23 December 1937. Civilian Conservation Corps files, Texas State Parks Board records, 2005/041-23.

 In this letter, Lair requested approval of the design plans. Lair’s design for the combined refectory, bathhouse and boathouse breaks from the more traditional CCC rustic design. Instead, Lair embraced Prairie Style to create “the most practical and logical solution yet considered for” Tyler State Park.

Caddo Lake workers, 1935. Civilian Conservation Corps files, Texas State Parks Board records, 1996/102-1.

These photographs of CCC workers at Caddo Lake were part of a larger report that details the varied and colorful backgrounds of the men working for the CCC during the 1930s.

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Refectory, Bath and Boat House, Tyler State Park, December 1937. Civilian Conservation Corps drawings, Texas State Parks Board records, SP.54.99.

This drawing by Joe C. Lair includes low horizontal roof lines and linear geometric design, noteworthy details of the Prairie Style. Unlike other CCC designs, Lair did not include details of the surrounding environment choosing to focus solely on the architecture.  

Preliminary Study for Concession Building, Caddo Lake State Park, 1932-1945. Civilian Conservation Corps drawings, Texas State Parks Board records, SP.40.47.

This drawing by James C. Jones is one of many drawings that show the classic CCC rustic style of log cabin construction and stone masonry. Note the interior details of the stone fireplace and the floor plan that promises dining and dancing space.

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Page last modified: November 4, 2016