Although ther picnic grounds in the Dickinson country had been in use since 1859, it wasn’t until Fred Nichols made significant improvements in 1890 that the park grew in popularity. Special excursions from Galveston came to enjoy “shady bowers, forest glades, boats and bath houses along the banks of the bayou, the prettiest stream in all Southern Texas.” The park now featured a dancing pavilion, cricket groupnds, tennis courts and a baseball park. It was reported that 25,000 people came to the picnic grounds in the spring and summer of 1891.
People from Galveston, Houston and all over the country flocked to Dickinson for the Texas Coast Fair in 1895-1896. The GH&H had to use special trains to carry the increased load. The most popular attraction at the 1895 fair, besides the exhibits, was the Flying Kite race track. This elliptical mile track was acclaimed as being the best of its kind in the south.
In addition to the horse races, the single skull contest between two top oarsmen, one from Canada and one from England, was rowed in Dickinson Bayou for the Championship of England and a purse of $1,000/ In the background, Professor Berry’s brass band could be heard throughout the picnic grounds while visitors viewed exhibits of every kind.
November 21, 1895
Record crowds of 4,500 to 5,000 visitors came to Dickinson for “Galveston Day” on the third day of the Texas Coast Fair of 1895. Some 2,500 were from the island.
Railroad officials reported that they “were prepared to handle big crowds but they could not take care of the whole earth.”
The morning train consisted of 19 coaches, in every one there was standing room only. The train leaving at 12:45 had 12 coaches with every seat jammed.
With the exception of bad train service nothing occurred to mar the occasion. The turf sport was by far the most exciting. The races were lively and hotly contested. More running horses are due to arrive from Houston tomorrow.
Shortly after the races had begun Galveston Mayor Fly was introduced to the crowd with the remark that “he needed no introduction to the people of this section of Texas.” The mayor made a short speech and was wildly applauded.
Picnic Grounds and Race Track
The “Dickinson Picnic Grounds” became one of the most popular places for picnics and outings in the entire area. Trains would pull onto a siding and unload picnickers and, at the end of the day, the train would return. One of the largest annual outings was “Ball Day” celebrating the birthday of George Ball, who gave the city the Ball High School building. The Galveston News reported in May 1918, “Public schools in Galveston will be closed all day today, and probably about half of the 5,000 students will enjoy the annual Ball Day outing in Dickinson.”
In 1896, the picnic grounds hosted the “Texas Coast Fair,” featuring agricultural and livestock exhibits and competitions, as well as numerous concession stands. The Galveston News in November of 1896 reported that the fair attracted thousands of people.
In addition to the Picnic Grounds, the Flying Kite harness racing track was built to attract even more visitors. The great harness champion Dan Patch was reported to have run at the Flying Kite.