In Southwest Dallas, City Uncovers and Plans to Restore One of Its Oldest Remaining Structures

Categories: Preservation

SharrockCabin1.jpg
Old Oak Cliff Conservation League
Before the city of Dallas was contacted several years ago about accepting a few dozen mostly undeveloped acres along the edge of the escarpment in southwest Dallas, few outside the Niblo family knew what it contained. It had been settled as part of the Peters Colony, which was founded at roughly the time John Neely Bryan built his cabin on the Trinity River, and had gone through a couple of owners before being purchased by Judge Grady Niblo in the mid-1930s. His daughter-in-law lived there until she died a few years back, her small house reached by a pair of tire tracks cutting cutting a half mile across a field.

The house was built in the 1940s and is an unremarkable mix of beams and wall studs salvaged from older buildings and newer materials hidden amongst cedar and crab apple trees. What really piqued the city's interest stands maybe 10 yards away: a rickety, one-room long cabin that dates to 1846. That makes it the oldest known structure in Dallas still on its original site and one of the oldest in the county, period.

"You usually don't find a cabin from this period standing," said Trent Williams, an architect with the city's park department who typically works with structures built by the WPA in the 1930s.

I met Williams two weeks ago at the edge of a newish subdivision off Spur 408, the exact location is something of a secret to keep the cabin from being damaged by visitors, ill-intentioned or otherwise. He wore a blue oxford tucked, slacks, brown loafers and a city of Dallas hard hat. Despite the near-100-degree temps, I had followed his advice with the long sleeves and pants, though I had skipped the gloves. Williams led me across the field, warning me to shower well that night to avoid chigger bites, and around a tall chain-link fence placed across the tire tracks.

This is as close to wild as Dallas gets, Williams explains. Plunk down a lawn chair in the morning, and you'll see all manner of birds and wildlife pass by. Williams said he once found a cougar track that was confirmed as such by wildlife experts, though the Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife requires photographs to confirm the presence of mountain lions.

A pair of sturdier, newer fences surround the home of Mrs. Niblo, as Williams refers to her, and block access to the cabin and a ramshackle oak barn from the same era. "The minute she moved out, people started to break in," he said as he unlocked the gate.

The cabin was standing, though not very well. As a precautionary measure, the city has propped wooden beams against the outer walls. The building wouldn't fall without them, but most of the chinking holding together the stone chimney disintegrated long ago and, though the logs themselves are chinked with still functional concrete, some are brittle or rotting, and it's best not be be cavalier about such things.

Williams motioned me back while he ducked through the front door and strafed the single room with his key-chain flashlight before motioning me in. Also a precaution, he said. I assumed he was referring to snakes or poisonous insects until he told me he was checking for homeless squatters.

The cabin was built by Everard Sharrock Jr., who had relocated with his family from Illinois. He, his wife, and their three children lived there until 1853, when they moved to California. The interior is a single room, maybe 25 feet on a side, illuminated only by the light from the door. The light was enough, however, to make out the blade marks on the roof beams from where the builder had pared a round piece of wood into a rectangular 3-by-4-inch beam. Williams pointed out the corners, where the wood was joined without nails, just careful shaping.

The eventual hope is to turn the Niblo property into a full-fledged park centered on the cabin as a sort of Heritage Village fronted by a small grassy area, with walking trails traversing the rougher land. But that will take money, which has not yet become available. The park department got enough through the 2006 bond program to stabilize the cabin and barn, but not enough to fully restore it. To do that will cost somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000, much more to draft a plan for a park. "We don't have a clue on development yet," Williams said, though the city is working obtaining local, state and national historic designations.

For Williams, it's enough that the building has survived. Williams expects people will find some Civil War-era wells and outhouses yet to be discovered in the empty land of southern Dallas, but he doubts there is another Sharrock cabin.

You can read a description of the site here and its history here.


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12 comments
OOCCL
OOCCL

Oak Cliff residents had an opportunity to tour the site in February - it was cold, but there were hardly any chiggers.  Trent Williams with the City of Dallas Parks Department and Marcel Quimby of Quimby McCoy guided three groups that day.  We've also featured the property in our 2012 At Risk list here:   http://ooccl.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=55&Itemid=141 Finally, ask your council member to support Councilman Griggs' (whose district it's in) request for City Landmark status for this site.

Mike Dunlap
Mike Dunlap

This thing would look especially awesome if it were smashed to pieces for a new or widened expressway to North Dallas.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

I found it in about 5 mins as well. It's in a new subdivision, what would keep you from browsing homes and wandering off the trail to at least look at it? The people that respect these sites should be able to see them. I was able to roam free as a kid, and I'm sure some kids in that neighborhood will. That structure would be an awesome find, great clubhouse. You might wanna check it out before it becomes one.

MattL1
MattL1

An old building?! We must replace it with some overpriced apartments and a Mi Cocina! 

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

Its good to see that a part of Dallas history is being saved..

darrd2010
darrd2010

Once those JWP apartments go in, you know this cabin will be doomed.

Daniel
Daniel

I, too, have used Google to figure out just where it is, and I'd go check it out in in a heartbeat -- in a respectful spirit --  if it weren't early July. I can live without 110 chigger bites about the ankles, waist and balls o' me. If that makes me a wuss, so be it. Still, it's tempting!

sonoftherepublic
sonoftherepublic

 If you spend 5 min with Google and Google Maps it is easy enough to find.  I also would love to see it. As a Son of the Republic of Texas, (a great-great grandson of a founder of the Republic of Texas)  -  I really enjoy visiting the few sites in Dallas Co that tie to the Republic of Texas days.  But the point is that the publishing of the location could allow vandals or looters to destroy the site.  I respect that.  Do I want to go out there to see it - absolutely - but it would be an act of trespass and a lack of respect for the site.  If you really care about the site - give money to the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League for its preservation and hope for the day when you can legally visit it.

Matthew Gunter
Matthew Gunter

Where the hell is Spur 408? I'd love to see this cabin.

2texans
2texans

annnnnnnnnd is this right across the field from the new John Wiley Price multi unit housing development that is being built?  Answer: why, yes it is!

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