About 30 minutes from Dallas is the town of Grapevine. Once known for vast prairies, homesteaders, and outlaws, this historic place is filled with stories of the past. I took the boys to visit their old jail so that they could marvel at how far law enforcement standards have come in Texas. Read about our visit below to see if this is something you would like to add to your family itinerary when visiting the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Many of us have the perception of the Wild West being much like that which we see portrayed in the classic Western films. Maybe, we believe that justice comes in the form of a shoot out at high noon between an angelic officer of the law and a dirty no good scoundrel. Perhaps, we envision dusty bad guys lined up behind bars as they wait for a hanging to pay for their crimes to society. But, if one really digs deep in to the history of law enforcement here in Texas, they can see that the Wild West was a little bit less romantic.
To really understand how the West was won, head out to Grapevine’s Historic Main Street. It is the type of thoroughfare that houses quaint shops and well maintained pedestrian sidewalks. It is here that you can encounter a relic from a past era of law enforcement called The Grapevine Calaboose.
What exactly is a Calaboose?
The word refers to a tiny jail consisting of one room and is derived from the Spanish term "calabozo" which means dungeon. Calabooses were often constructed in rural areas throughout Texas providing less costly prison accommodations for townships that couldn't spring for a full-scale building.
History of Grapevine
This area was first opened to homesteaders in 1843 when Sam Houston signed a peace treaty with ten American Indian Nations. The prairie lands were named Grapevine after the abundance of wild mustang grapes that grew in the region and a formal settlement was established in 1844 under the independent Republic of Texas, just a year before joining the United States of America.
By June of 1909, the town of Grapevine was ready for it’s own jail but didn’t get around to actually completing the Calaboose until 1914. Aiming for something compact in size, the Grapevine Calaboose measures only 8'X10'X8' in size giving a man just enough room to lie down or stand up with hands stretched above their head. This picture shows my hands stretched above my head with only an inch or so before I'd be touching the roof.
It does provide a lot of shade allowing light to come in from only three sides via very narrow windows and a single door. It seems the drawback of the simple engineering of this design, however, is the restriction of air flow. That alone could make this a very uncomfortable place to be during sweltering Texas Summer days.
Comfort aside, the town police found this calaboose was so effective that they used it through the 1950s. This particular jail is even said to have housed members of Clyde’s gang from the infamous Bonnie & Clyde.
Originally located next to the water tower, the town moved this historical structure to the current location to the center of the main pedestrian thoroughfare that showcases a number of items from days past. You can find it by looking for the green sign pictured above. It basically touches the boundary of a public parking lot.
No doubt this is a quick stop that takes you only about 5 minutes in total. We recommend you combine it with other things to do in the Grapevine area to make the trek worth your while.
Want some ideas?
Grapevine Vintage Railroad. Details can be found in 3 Day Dallas Outdoor Itinerary.
Historic Artifacts. Directly across the street you can view J.E. Foust & Son funeral related items like a hearse, embalming equipment, and caskets from the 1900s.
Rainforest Cafe. Located a short distance in Grapevine Mills. (gluten free kids menu is available)
Legoland. Located a short distance in Grapevine Mills. Good for ages 8 and under.
Indoor Rock Climbing Gym. Visit Summit located a few minutes from the Main Street area of Grapevine for kid friendly rock climbing.
Indoor Waterpark. Visit Epic Waters a short distance away in Grand Prairie.