Rich in resources
Plentiful resources have lured people to East Texas since prehistoric times. These resources provided food and shelter year-round for both humans and wildlife.
The first signs of humans in the region date to 10,000 B.C. Small, mobile groups of Paleo-Indians traveled through this area, hunting large, long extinct, mammals.
The Caddo brought farming and a more settled way of living to the region over 1,000 years ago. They cleared forest to grow crops, hunted local game, and created distinctive ceramic vessels.
Beginning around 1690, new groups moved into this part of Texas. The Spanish established missions, French fur traders set up trade routes, and Native American groups settled along rivers and creeks.
Smith County was created in 1846, shortly after Texas joined the United States.
The Civil War did not miss Smith County. Camp Ford housed up to 6,000 Federal prisoners. It was the largest prisoner-of-war camp west of the Mississippi. Other Confederate facilities here were an ordnance works; a medical laboratory; and a rifle works.
Main roads and rail lines bypassed the area of the present-day park, so agriculture and timber were the main land uses here. Deep ravines made farming difficult, so private landowners sold the land to the state in 1934 and 1935.
Creating a park
Imagine yourself with little food, less money and no job. This was the case for many Americans during the Great Depression.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. The CCC provided jobs and job skills by hiring young men to work on conservation projects. The program enrolled men between the ages of 17 and 25 who qualified for public assistance. They earned clothing, food, medical care and $30 a month; they sent $25 of that home to their families.
Between 1935 and 1941, CCC men created this park. They built roads and buildings, planted trees, made check dams to control erosion, and erected an earthen dam to create the lake. They used local, natural materials for the culverts and bridges, to blend with the park’s landscape.
In the Beauchamp (beech-um) Springs area, they created group picnic grounds, a lily pond and a child’s wading pool. A man-made rock outcropping disguises the diversion of the spring to the lake.
State Parks Board architects designed the buildings here, using a more modern style than was used in most CCC parks. The CCC workers built a bathhouse, concession building, dance pavilion, boathouse and caretaker’s home. We still use several of these buildings today.
Disaster and renewal
Disaster struck in 1963. Heavy rain caused a 100-foot section of the earthen dam to fail, and the lake drained. TPWD rebuilt the dam and updated the park, completing the work in 1975. The park had new screened shelters, group camp area, 120 campsites, 35 picnic sites and a new headquarters building.
The 985.5-acre Tyler State Park is north of Tyler in Smith County.
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