Truck farming once big industry in area

Decades before Grapevine became known as the Christmas Capital of Texas, it had another nickname: "The Cantaloupe Capital of the World."

While not an official designation, Grapevine's earliest title pays homage to the bustling enterprise of growing fruits and vegetables known as truck farming — the dominant form of agriculture in the area, particularly prominent from the 1920s to the 1960s.

The first settlers who made their way to Grapevine and northeast Texas in the 1840s and 1850s were drawn by the availability of open land and the opportunity to earn a living from it.

Cattle, cotton, dairy and truck farming emerged as the most important forms of agriculture in the region.

"This was really based on soil type — the (Dallas-Fort Worth International) Airport property is Blackland Prairie and good for growing cotton," said Sallie Andrews, historic preservation consultant for Grapevine. "The Grapevine Lake area (now underwater) and the land southwest of Grapevine (now Colleyville) was the dairy area; and the land around Hall-Johnson Road and south to Cheek Sparger Road was sandy soil and very good for growing vegetables."

Cotton was king throughout Grapevine's early history, but it was overtaken in the 20th century by dairy and truck farming — and the cantaloupe claimed the crown as the new king.

At one point, more than 25,000 acres of cantaloupes were planted and grown in the Grapevine area. More than 200,000 bushels were produced within a 10-mile radius, according to historical documents.

To celebrate this achievement, the Grapevine Lions Club established the Grapevine Cantaloupe Festival in 1935 and it was an annual event until 1941, drawing attendance of more than 20,000 some years. Growers and buyers from as far away as Kansas City would drive to Grapevine to take part in the festivities.

Besides judging the best loads and bushels of cantaloupes, the festival included a cantaloupe eating contest, a street dance and a pageant to crown the Cantaloupe Festival Queen.

Cantaloupe wasn't the only type of produce grown in Grapevine. Jessie Lou Hall Nelson, daughter of Jess Hall, who owned one of the biggest truck farms in Grapevine, said her father grew a variety of fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, squash and black-eyed peas as well as cantaloupe.

"People would line up for what is now six blocks to buy the fruit and vegetables from Daddy," she said. "He had so many acres of black-eyed peas that we let people come and pick their own," she said.