The city got its name from a Wichita Indian encampment near a small waterfall along the Wichita River. Wichita Falls’ history can be traced back to the 1860s when the vast, grass-rich prairies and ample water supply drew settlers to the area. Early city fathers brought the railroad to town and began building man-made lakes to increase the usable water supply. The growth of agriculture, as well as the city’s location as a railroad hub, contributed to the community’s early growth and status as the area’s commercial center. By 1918, the oil boom was upon the area and thousands poured into the city seeking wealth and fame from the oil-rich lands. Within 10 years, the population grew from 8,500 to 40,000. A wide variety of business and industry developed on the periphery of the oil industry. This laid the foundation for the city’s diverse economy. In the 1940s, Sheppard was established and quickly became a significant part of Wichita Falls’ economy and culture.
The original waterfall on the Wichita River was washed away in a disastrous flood in 1886. In 1987, the dream to replace the city’s namesake became a reality when the falls were returned to the city. In 1986, the people of Wichita Falls decided the city needed a waterfall and raised half the cost from private donations. Today’s falls are adjacent to Interstate 44, just south of the Texas Tourist Bureau. The completed 54 foot waterfall is a multitiered cascade on the south bank of the river and is the centerpiece of a trail system that winds through nearby Lucy Park and along the banks of the Wichita River. There is a footbridge at the base of the falls, railed observation areas and paths to the top of the falls.
Location and Climate
The city, at 946 feet above sea level, is 52.6 square miles and is in the cross-timbers section of the North Central Plains of Texas. Wichita Falls is 15 miles south of the Red River/Oklahoma border and is equal distance from Dallas and Oklahoma City, approximately 125 miles. Wichita Falls’ transportation system includes Interstate 44, U.S. 287 and U.S. 277, rail service and a municipal airport. The climate of Wichita Falls is classified as continental. The city has a mean number of 153 clear days per year, 93 partly cloudy days and 119 cloudy days. Temperatures reach a daily high of 90 degrees or above on 105 days per year, while temperatures fall to a low of 32 degrees or below on 67 days per year. Subzero temperatures occur only about once every five years. Normal high temperature is measured at 75.2 degrees, while the normal low is 50.8 degrees. Normal winds are southerly at 11.3 mph. Rainfall averages 28.9 inches. More than 75 percent of the annual moisture occurs from late March to mid-November, but dry periods of three to four weeks can be expected during this time almost every year.
In 2010, there were 43,632 housing units in Wichita Falls. For the period 2008-12, median price of a house in Wichita Falls was $91,300. There are about 80 subdivisions with homes in many styles from zero-lot-lines to sprawling country estates. Dozens of apartment complexes offer residents the latest in amenities and services. For senior citizens, there are numerous facilities offering a full range of care from assisted living to convalescent care and full-service retirement communities.
Wichita Falls has a large spiritual community with churches from most religious affiliations. In addition, religious organizations near Midwestern State University’s campus provide fellowships and participate in a variety of community activities both on and off campus.
Wichita Falls serves northern Texas and southern Oklahoma as a major regional trade center. There are numerous major shopping centers in Wichita Falls, including Sikes Senter Mall, which features three major department stores, a 10-screen digital movie theater and about 80 specialty stores. Specialty retailers such as antique dealers, southwestern apparel and jewelry, and arts and craft malls provide shoppers with many choices.
The city provides bus services to and from several downtown locations and Sheppard Monday through Saturday. Express bus service is also available to all major shopping and recreational centers in the city. For hours of operation, route maps and schedules, visit www.wichitafallstx.gov and select “Bus Service/Public Transportation” from the “Residents” menu, or call 940-761-7433.
Places to Go and Things to Do
There are many opportunities for fun, relaxation and entertainment in the area. Activities include rodeos, the symphony, picnics and concerts in the park, tours of the Kell House and visits to the museum. For the thespian, the Backdoor Theatre offers an opportunity to enjoy quality community theater.
SPORTS AND RECREATION
The Dallas Cowboys (football), Texas Rangers (baseball) and Dallas Mavericks (basketball) teams are only 140 miles to the southeast. The 82nd Force Support Squadron’s ITT office offers individual tickets and group tours to Rangers’ games. Wichita Falls operates two public tennis centers with a total of 21 courts, in Hamilton and Weeks parks. The Park and Recreation Department maintains and supports 37 parks throughout the city. Lucy Park, a 178-acre wooded public park bordered by the Wichita River, features two large picnic pavilions, a log cabin and picnic tables. There are three playgrounds, an 18-hole disc golf course, a duck pond, a swinging bridge and a 1.7-mile concrete trail for bikers and hikers. Trails lead from Lucy Park along the Wichita River to the waterfall.
Lake Arrowhead State Park
Lake Arrowhead State Park is 10 miles southeast of Wichita Falls and offers more than 500 acres of parkland on the banks. Visitors can swim, water ski, fish, picnic or camp. The lake provides an interesting sight, with large oil derricks protruding from the water. For more information on the park, and campsite and equipment rentals, visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/lake-arrowhead.
The Juanita Harvey Art Gallery
The Juanita Harvey Art Gallery at Midwestern State University showcases exhibits from students and visiting artists. Mediums include sculpture, photography, graphic arts, painting and more.
Wichita Falls Memorial Auditorium
The Wichita Falls Memorial Auditorium is downtown and has a seating capacity of 2,700. Built in the late 1920s, is has been the stage for many acts, including Will Rogers, Elvis Presley, Gene Autry and Bob Hope. Performances range from the symphony orchestra to the ballet theater to top-name country artists in concert.
The Kell House
The Kell House was built in 1909 by Frank Kell, one of the city’s founders, and is recognized as a Texas Historical Landmark. It also is on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been carefully preserved with original furnishings. The house is at 900 Bluff Ave. For more information about public and group tours, call 940-723-0623.
The Littlest Skyscraper
This unique structure holds the distinction of being the smallest “skyscraper” in the world, standing four stories tall. Local legend favors the theory that the building was a boondoggle, the cornerstone of a $200,000 stock swindle during the early days of the Texas oil boom in nearby Burkburnett. An antique shop now calls the “skyscraper” home. It is at the corner of LaSalle Alley and Seventh Street.
The Sheppard Heritage Center
The Heritage Center is the original Wichita Falls Municipal Airport terminal building. It’s designated as Building 2130. The terminal was constructed in 1928 and was dedicated as a Texas Historical Landmark in November 1981. In December 1991, it became a city landmark. Today, the building houses a museum that showcases the history of Sheppard Air Force Base.
The Plex Family Entertainment Center
The Plex Family Entertainment Center on Southwest Parkway features two world-class, 18-hole miniature golf courses, Indy-style go-karts, bumper boats, batting cages, a video arcade and a roller skate center. The complex also has a pizza and burger restaurant and private party rooms. For more information, call 940-696-1222.
Many special events take place in Wichita Falls each year. To name just a few:
Wichita Falls PRCA Rodeo
This rodeo is held in late May/early June at the J.S. Bridwell Agriculture Center. Events include bull riding, bareback riding, calf roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing.
Texas Ranch Roundup
August brings top cowboys from the largest and best ranches to engage in a tradition spotlighting Texas ranch life to its fullest. A cooking contest where contestants have to prepare food from a chuck wagon is also part of this spectacular event.
Hotter‘N Hell Hundred Bicycle Race
Held in August, this event is one of the oldest and largest cycling events in the nation. It brings cyclists of all ages and abilities from around the world to participate in this four-day event, which includes a trade show.
September includes a citywide festival held at the Wichita Falls MPEC (Multi-Purpose Event Center). Entertainment includes concerts, special events, games, food and drinks, and a petting zoo.
This local favorite is held annually in November and hosted by the Sheppard Officers’ Spouses Club. The public is welcome to this two-day craft fair in the Wichita Falls MPEC. More than 225 vendors and 15,000 shoppers attend the event annually. Proceeds from Hangar Holiday go to educational scholarships for military dependents and various base and local charities. For more information, visit www.sheppardosc.org/hangar-holiday.
Fantasy of Lights
This spectacular December exhibit at Midwestern State University delights spectators with one of the largest holiday displays of its kind. Enjoy displays showcasing fairy tales, children stories and holiday themes that all started with a single, blue bulb on the front porch Christmas tree of its founders. For more information on the event, visit www.mwsu.edu/fantasy.
A town lot sale conducted by J.A. Kemp and Frank Kell in 1907 marked the official beginning of Burkburnett. Later it became world-famous for its gigantic oil boom. Oil flowed for the first time July 1, 1912. The beginning of one of the greatest oil booms in American history actually began July 29, 1918. The oil-crazed days were dramatized in story and song, and Burkburnett later became the subject of a Clark Gable/Spencer Tracy movie, “Boomtown.” In every aspect, Burkburnett is a progressive community. It looks to the future as well as to its historic and colorful past. The community continues to be known as “Boomtown, USA, Gateway to Texas.” Six neighborhood parks, a soccer complex, a swimming pool, a community center and a senior citizen activity center provide multiple recreational opportunities for all ages. Burkburnett also has one of the finest 18-hole golf courses in the area.
Boomtown Fishing Derby
The city’s park department hosts an annual fishing derby at the Friendship Park pond. Children 12 years and younger compete for the prizes while being introduced to the love of nature. Bait is provided and the fee is nominal. Call 940-569-2263 for more information.
Movies in the Park
The city’s park department hosts movies under the stars from June to October. Movies are shown at the United Friendship Amphitheatre. Moviegoers may bring their own snacks or purchase popcorn and drinks at the park. Call 940-569-2263 for more information.
Iowa Park is centrally located in Wichita County. Because of the county’s excellent highway system, Iowa Park is a quick drive from Sheppard and Wichita Falls. Iowa Park celebrated its centennial in 1988. Founded by settlers from Iowa, the community has a dozen parks. Gordon Lake, dominating Oscar Park, is readily visible from U.S. Highway 287 when entering town. Lake Iowa Park provides fishing and bird hunting opportunities. The municipal pool and a dinosaur-themed spray park provide a way for residents to cool off. The community is home to a number of churches, businesses and an exceptional school system. Iowa Park is a family-oriented community with a relaxed atmosphere for family living.
Midwestern State University
More than 5,900 students take advantage of the academic excellence each semester at MSU. Midwestern offers sound educational preparation for future careers through undergraduate and graduate degree programs, such as business administration, fine arts, education and health sciences. The 255-acre campus includes 70 buildings, playing fields and an outdoor recreational facility near Sikes Lake. A member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletes, Midwestern competes in a wide range of sports, including basketball, football, golf, soccer, tennis, track and volleyball.
Vernon College is an accredited comprehensive community college where the focus is on extending educational opportunities to the widest range of students. Since 1975, VC has offered workforce programs and academic courses at Sheppard designed with military, base-related and civilian adult working students in mind. Two other VC instructional locations are located approximately 10 miles from Sheppard. The Century City Center offers credit and continuing education courses including emergency medical services, pharmacy technician and medical coding courses. The Skills Training Center offers a wide array of computer and information science, machining, welding and HVAC courses. Counseling and testing services are available.
Four school districts serve the local area: Wichita Falls, Burkburnett, Iowa Park and City View. To enroll in Texas schools, kindergarten students must be 5 years old on or before Sept. 1. Birth certificate and current immunization records are needed to register.