Val Verde County Historical Commission

Val Verde County Historical Commission

Tardy Dam and San Felipe Lions Park of Del Rio

Doug Braudaway
Southwest Texas Junior College

Among the water diversion dams built on Del Rio’s San Felipe Creek is Tardy Dam, located a short distance upstream from the bridge connecting Taini and Johnson Streets. Tardy Dam seems named after Henry C. Tardy, a West Texas rancher who, for a time, settled in Del Rio. Tardy has been described as “prominent” in early Del Rio, though evidence of his life in town is “difficult to trace.”

In the years immediately prior to his time in Del Rio, Tardy was prominently in the cattle business associating with some of West Texas’ major cattlemen. “Mayer’s initial venture on the Pecos may have been inn conjunction with H.C. Tarde (or Tardy) of Del Rio, with whom he operated two ranches. One ranch was evidently adjacent to the Pecos-Live Oak confluence, near which Burr G. Duvall and his geological expedition noted Tarde’s free-ranging cattle on January 16, 1880. In the fall of 1882, [Mayer] Halff and Tarde purchased 1,200 cattle from Francis Rooney of neighboring Pecos County for $10 a head.” “It’s not known whether Mayer sent a JM emissary to the stockmen’s convention in Pecos City on March 8, 1883, but most of the prominent outfits on the Pecos were represented including the Tarde, Dawson, C.B. Eddy, Continental, and Seven Rivers. They arranged a joint spring roundup and established a large reward for the capture of rustlers on the upper Pecos.” “In late April, Mayer increased the numbers of cattle roaming free on the JM by bringing in 2,500 young steers and heifers from Del Rio.”

Tardy is known to have bought several properties in Val Verde County during the 1880s. He bought some creekside property (from early land speculator Harry Johnson) in 1882. He sold several properties to Borroum in 1897. Tardy left Del Rio by 1900. A map of the Borroum Addition to Del Rio shows Borroum’s personal property adjoining the creek for two city blocks; the map indicates pooling of the Creek but does not show the dam or nearby Johnson Street.

The exact date of construction of Tardy Dam is uncertain, but 1880 and 1883 have been proposed in an old historical survey. The 1883 date is supported as the date of construction of Tardy’s house at the other end of the (original) property. Another source dates the dam to as early as 1875, stating that the canal flowing from it is recorded in an 1875 document. Tardy’s Dam was constructed as part of the canal system distributing water through South Del Rio, though it does not connect with the main portion of the system. The impounded water, at some time, “was pumped into conduits which furnished the water supply for the City of Del Rio and water from the canal was used to manufacture ice in the [Old Ice Plant].”

The area around Tardy Dam, like much of San Felipe Creek, was popular for recreational reasons. Families picnicked along the Creek near the dam. The carrizo cane now present had not yet grown along the banks in 1915; as a result both banks were open to visitors. The dam itself was popular with Del Rio’s youth. They would ride the water as it cascaded over the top of the dam. A postcard from the early 1900s identifies the pool behind the dam as “Borroum’s Park Swimming Pool.” By 1933, though, “Tardy Park” was being used in city records as the city developed plans to beautify the Creek and adjacent areas.

The City of Del Rio formally established a park at the dam in 1952. Some of the property had been part of the Eastside Waterworks land which once provided water to San Felipe before the entire city was tied into a single water system. The rest was land known as Tardy Park, the area already being used recreationally. The 1952 City resolution noted that the American G.I. Forum wanted to develop and maintain the area jointly with the City. The resolution was passed June 10, 1952.

A quarrel between the City of Del Rio and the state and local historical commissions occurred in 1975. In the process of cleaning repairing the dam and draining and dredging the pool behind it, the City “dug into the old structure, cut a portion and installed the [new flood] gates.” The Val Verde County Historical Commission leadership at the time announced their “distress” at the alterations because the group “had been trying to have the dam placed on the National Register.” The City insisted that the dam was in danger of being undermined.

The parkland around Tardy Dam is now known as San Felipe Lions Park. Whatever G.I. Forum plans from the 1950s had been lost or forgotten or never implemented. In the 1960s the Lions Club, which had a clubhouse nearby, proposed a couple different ideas involving parkland in the area. A “Lions Club park” (near Taini/Johnson Street Bridge) existed side-by-side with “San Felipe Park” which was immediately upstream (nearer to the Losoya/Gillis Street Bridge). The Lions Park designation was not consistently used through the 1960s and 1970s. Preparations for America’s Bicentennial celebrations include “San Felipe Park” improvements at Tardy Dam and upstream around the amphitheater.

By 1976 the Lions were seeking an official City recognition and designation of the park as Lions Park. The boundaries were represented as the area between the neighborhood facility on Bridge Street near Gillis Street and Tardy Dam—and continuing downstream across Taini Street to Aguinaldo Street. The City gave the Lions that recognition in 1976. In the following months, a stone gate entrance and new restrooms were constructed.

Picnic tables and playground equipment have installed since that time, and the Park continues to be known as San Felipe Lions Park. A more recent addition to the park reflects the danger of San Felipe Creek and the need to use the creekside land for parks and greenbelts. The Flood of 1998 hit Del Rio in August of that year, just at the time public schools were opening for the year. The Flood threw the town into disarray. Twenty inches of rain fell over the San Felipe Creek watershed, and the Creek overflowed its banks, flooding hundreds of homes and killing nine people (according to the official numbers with six more missing). A memorial plaque dedicated to those lost in the flood has been placed in the Park.

1 Elizabeth and Robuck Daughtrey, “Preface,” Tardy Dam, a file of collected materials about San Felipe Creek, copy in the possession of the author.
2 Patrick Dearen, Halff of Texas: Merchant Rancher of the Old West, Austin: Eakin Press, 2000, pages 37, 41, 49.
3 Daughtreys, Tardy Dam, page 3.
4 Deed Records Vol. 6, pages 626-627.
5 Daughtreys, “Preface,” Tardy Dam says he left “1897 maybe 1902.” H. Muenzenberger’s Del Rio, 1900 states that Tardy has no telephone, whereas B.A. Borroum, the man who bought the property from him, does.
6 Val Verde County Clerk’s Office Deed Records Vol. 14, pages 40-41. The 1938 City map hanging in the Tax Office shows a large tract under the ownership of Mrs. B.A. Borroum.
7 Val Verde County Historical Commission, “Survey Card: Tardy Dam,” April 15, 1976. Judge Brian Montague, the author of the history of the canal company history was unable to specify a date. “The San Felipe Agricultural, Manufacturing and Irrigation Company of Del Rio, Texas,” typescript, March 6, 1972 (reproduced in La Hacienda), page 7. The 1883 date is noted on page 12.
8 VVCHC, “Data about San Felipe Springs, Creek, and the San Felipe Irrigation System…,” undated. I possess a copy of an image of what appears the Tardy Dam under construction. The caption reads “DAM FOR SAN FELIPE DITCH AT DEL RIO.” The phrasing is distinct from a caption under a Madre Dam image: “DAM SUPPLYING MADRE DITCH AT DEL RIO.” The “FOR” in the former caption, the bracing material with the appearance of temporary construction, and the absence of water over the spillway lead me to believe the dam is under construction, but the image has no date. United States Geological Survey, Water-Supply and Irrigation Papers of the United States Geological Survery: No. 10, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1898, page opposite 56. This suggests the earliest date for the dam would be 1871.
9 Judge Brian Montague, “The San Felipe Agricultural, Manufacturing and Irrigation Company of Del Rio, Texas,” typescript, March 6, 1972, page 7.
10 “Del Rio’s Bygone Days,” Del Rio News-Herald, August 1, 1974, no page; “Del Rio’s Bygone Days,” Del Rio News-Herald, October 4, 1979, page 14A.
11 City Council Minutes, February 14, 1933. The exact boundaries of the park do not match any historical boundaries as a result of some swapped property. The swap was required of align Taini Street (in San Felipe) and Johnson Street (in Del Rio) to connect them to a new bridge. City Council Minutes Vol. 3, page 4.
12 City of Del Rio, Minutes, Volume 5, pages 333-334.
13 “Tardy’s Dam Alterations Draw Outcries of Anguish,” Del Rio News-Herald, September 11, 1975, no page; “Tardy Dam Repairs,” Del Rio News-Herald, February 2, 1975, page 8a.
14 City Council Minutes Vol. 7, pages 260, 261, 298, 310-311, 381, 450, 456, 481; Vol. 9, pages 118, 218-219, 327-328, 373, 400.
15 City Council Minutes Vol. 10, pages 178, 210, 336, 369.