The 1950's was a booming era for Arlington, with drastic changes in the way residents lived, traveled, worked, and played.

And at the helm while all this growth and change took place - Tom Vandergriff, or Tommy, as many called him. The longest serving mayor in Arlington's history, Tom J. Vandergriff, probably influenced the course of the city's history more than any other single individual. The son of W.T. "Hooker" Vandergriff, Tom Vandergriff was born and reared in the area, but attended college in southern California at USC. While there, he was said to have been influenced by the California lifestyle of suburban living. Elected mayor in 1951, he would bring to Arlington the California ideas of entertainment venues and regional centers. He was instrumental in bringing a General Motors assembly plant to Arlington in 1953. Early housing additions for the plant's workers spurred the city's transformation from a largely agrarian center to a transportation-related suburb. The future with Tom Vandergriff was looking bright for Arlington.

Mayor Vandergriff's influence helped his fledgling city reach well beyond the borders of Texas and even the nation. In 1951 a visit with the city manager of a small Bavarian town, called Königshofen, led him to action. The visiting dignitary explained that because of Königshofen's location just a few miles west of what had become the border between East and West Germany…. hundreds of refugees from the Communist East had overwhelmed the town, leaving a shortage of food and clothing.

Many Arlington residents who heard the stories of despair were moved and expressed a desire to help.

The City of Arlington adopted Königshofen and began to collect clothing, food and gifts for people in need.

This Sister City relationship is over 50 years strong and continues to inspire future generations toward friendship and cooperation.

The years following the arrival of the GM plant brought sweeping changes at a dizzying pace. A new turnpike, lake, and amusement park were the most visible projects marking this part of Mayor Vandergriff's tenure.

Arlington's fast growth made water supply an issue. In 1956, Mayor Vandergriff convinced residents to authorize the creation of Lake Arlington by constructing a dam on Village Creek. The dam was completed on July 19, 1957. Estimates were that it would take two years to fill the lake, but the rains filled the reservoir to capacity in 26 days and Lake Arlington was dubbed the "Miracle Lake." Besides being an important part of the city's water system, it has become a recreational destination for boating and fishing.

That same year, Vandergriff aided business growth and expansion by encouraging Angus Wynne, Jr. to develop a 5,500-acre Industrial District at the site of the old Arlington Downs racetrack. The Great-Southwest Industrial District straddles the Arlington-Grand Prairie city limits and is one of the largest such districts in the nation.

Transportation improvements made significant progress beginning in the late 1950's. A pivotal point in Arlington's History came in 1957 with the opening of the Dallas Fort Worth Turnpike, now known as Interstate 30. No longer were travelers between the two cities forced to endure the 80 stoplights along State Highway 80. Air travel also arrived in the City with the opening of the Arlington Municipal Airport in 1962 on South Collins Street.

In 1961, four years after the turnpike opened, developer Angus Wynne opened a new amusement park, Six Flags Over Texas. It was the first of many theme parks in various states to bear the Six Flags name.

The entertainment district in North Arlington would continue expanding during the 1970's. In 1972, Mayor Vandergriff and his father successfully lured the Washington Senators major league baseball team to Arlington. They became the Texas Rangers and played in the Turn Pike Stadium until 1994 when they moved into a new stadium known as the Ballpark in Arlington. This growth and expansion, which took root during Mayor Vandergriff's years of service, made the entertainment industry a mainstay of Arlington's economy.

Also during the 1970's, Arlington's growth began expanding to the south. Interstate 20 was built in what was then far south Arlington. In the early 1980s, Watson Road became the new State Highway 360. By providing easy access to jobs in neighboring communities, these new routes spurred and supported the vast suburban housing developments that came to characterize the city.

In 1976, descendants of the pioneer James Gibbins donated over 200 acres from their original homestead to the city for a new park. This land in north Arlington became the nucleus for what is now known as River Legacy Parks. Now comprising more than 1,300 acres along the Trinity River, River Legacy's seven miles of trails between Fort Worth and Grand Prairie are a major link in the region's Trinity Trail system.

By 1977, Mayor Vandergriff's last year in office, Arlington had a new City library and was planning for the new City Hall amid tremendous growth and expansion. Much of what Arlington had become, was due to the enormous influence of one man - Tom Vandergriff.

Coming Up Next Arlington History Part IV - Arlington and a New Era