It’s time for a more inclusive and Fort Worth-specific name for White Settlement Road, Mayor Mattie Parker and others say, and they want residents to chime in on how to use the bustling road to highlight the city’s diverse history.
The opening of the White Settlement Road bridge into downtown offers an opportunity to honor someone important to Fort Worth, Parker said, and a chance to reevaluate the road’s name in the same way. Though ideas for a new name have floated around for a while, she said she didn’t have a specific name in mind.
“I think we have a special opportunity to rethink that name,” Parker told the Star-Telegram, adding that she “really feels strongly” about changing it. “We can say ‘OK Fort Worth, what do we think is the best name for this thoroughfare?’”
Parker said she’ll ask city staff during Tuesday’s council meeting to start investigating a name change. She anticipates significant public input, so a timeline hasn’t been established.
The road gets its name from White Settlement, a suburb west of Fort Worth. At the time White Settlement was established in the 1840s, originally where Westworth Village is now, it was the first white community surrounded by seven Native American villages, according the White Settlement Historical Museum. The modern road generally follows the trail from Fort Worth west to the village.
While there may be historical significance of some kind for the city’s name, Parker said there isn’t a lot that directly relates to Fort Worth.
“When you look at the history of the name, there’s nothing significant for Fort Worth. There’s no historical relevance for us,” she said.
How Fort Worth renames streets
There are two ways the city can rename a street: in memorial or officially. Regardless, an applicant typically has to gain 100% consensus on the name change from property owners and pay a $700 fee plus the cost of signage.
The most common way involves a memorial designation, the least complicated of the two processes. With an honorary name, the official street name does not change, so businesses or residents do not have to change their address, said Tanya Brooks, assistant director of the city’s transportation and public works department. Since a memorial designation is easier, it’s often favored among people who want a name change, she said, and the City Council has been historically more willing to waive fees and the 100% consensus rule.
Last fall Fort Worth honorarily renamed the stretch of Allen Avenue and Maddox Avenue as the Atatiana Jefferson Memorial Parkway. Jefferson, 28, was shot and killed by Fort Worth police in her home on Oct 12, 2019. The parkway runs past her home.
Earlier this year the city also gave honorary name changes to a street in the predominantly Hispanic North Side. Portions of 28th Street/Ephriham Avenue were honorarily renamed as Dolores Huerta Avenue and a part of NW 28th Street was honorarily named César Chávez Avenue.
The Dolores Huerta/César Chávez Avenue changes cost $11,500 for signage, according to city records. A cost estimate for Atatiana Jefferson Memorial Parkway was not available.
Though official name changes are less common, the city does grant them. Often they’re on shorter stretches of street where it is easier to gain support for the new name. The portion of White Settlement Road in question is more than four miles long.
Parker said she would request fees be waived for renaming White Settlement Road.
Changing White Settlement
Talk of renaming White Settlement Road in Fort Worth has been an on-again, off-again affair for more than a decade, said Dee Kelly Jr., an attorney who has often been involved in conversations about changing the name. Kelly said the name doesn’t reflect modern Fort Worth.
“It’s a gateway, a major thoroughfare for Fort Worth,” Kelly said. “It’s time to change it.”
In the mid-2000s White Settlement city leaders and the chamber of commerce grew weary of the city’s name, concerned it might be detrimental to business, according to news archives. A city election in 2005 to change the name saw about 2,500 turn out to vote with a roughly 9-to-1 margin to keep White Settlement as the name.
West Settlement and West Road have been floated as possible suggestions in the past. Unofficially, there have been talks of using the road to honor Opal Lee, who championed Juneteenth as a national holiday, or retired Judge Clifford Davis, who fought legal battles to desegregate schools in Fort Worth, Mansfield and Little Rock.
Darin Norman, co-director of the River District Inc., said he had not heard serious concerns from businesses in the district about the road’s name. Generally, the River District is the stretch of commercial and residential development that has sprung up along White Settlement Road north of the Riverbend neighborhood and just south of River Oaks. It includes the businesses and apartments from the river near Brookside Drive west to West Worth Village.
He wondered if the logistical hassle of changing addresses, business listings and other information had been a deterrent.
“I think it would take a champion to implement that with a big public process,” Norman said. “It takes something that’s either a grassroots effort or some political leadership to see it through.”
In February, ahead of the bridge opening earlier this year, the Star-Telegram inquired with some city and business leaders about the name.
Steve Metcalf, a mechanic who has been actively involved in the business district along White Settlement Road closest to downtown, said the name has come up repeatedly since he opened Dealer Alternative at 2701 White Settlement in the late 1990s.
He remembered being questioned about the address when he set up accounts, particularly with distributors from out of state, when he first started the business. Those questions have continued, he said, recalling a more recent call with a supplier who did a double take when Metcalf said his address.
“They’ll say ‘Wait, really? It’s White Settlement?’” he said. “Every now and then it comes up because it just sounds kind of funny.”
In the earlier years of the repair shop, Metcalf said he considered getting a petition together to change the name.
Besides sounding odd to folks from outside Fort Worth, he said it felt racist and had created confusion with people who thought his business was on the stretch of White Settlement in western Tarrant County. At the time one longtime local business owner seemed angry about the idea of changing the name, Metcalf said. Though his effort to change White Settlement Road never got off the ground, he said he would support a name change now.
Metcalf joked that with the number of car dealerships and automotive repair shops along the road near downtown, the street ought to have a car-themed name. He also suggested naming it after Panther Island, the nearby Trinity River channel project.
Parker said she wasn’t sure if she’d support an honorary name change or an official renaming, adding that she knew an official change would require more work. Like Metcalf, she said she has heard from people across Texas and the country who were off put by the name.
“If it’s causing problems I think we need to really, fully examine a full name change with address changes,” she said. “I don’t have a preconceived notion one way or another. I think we need to look at all the possibilities.”