This 1968 cartoon by Bill McClanahan of the Dallas Morning News pictures the Pea Patch, a prison farm near the White Rock Lake property at the time the City’s park board was authorized to develop the lake as a park.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the responsibility of taking care of Dallas prisoners was a duty shared by the park department and the City jail.

The prisoners were transported to the lake area in a paddy wagon called the Black Maria (pronounced Mo-riah). They were housed in a one-story structure, which was located up the hill from the water plant where the TU Power Station is located. They worked in the Pea Patch to grow vegetables for themselves, as well as the prisoners in the Downtown jail.

The park department agreed to let non-violent prisoners work off their fines at $1 per day as they cleaned up the lake area. This payment, however, was cut in half in 1931, making the project less profitable. In 1935, the City’s prison farm was abandoned.

The lake received most of the benefits of prison labor because it was far enough outside the City limits to keep prisoners from constant public view.


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