For the drovers heading longhorn cattle up the Chisholm Trail to the railheads, Fort Worth was the last major stop for rest and supplies. Beyond Fort Worth they would have to deal with crossing the Red River into Indian Territory. Between 1866 and 1890 more than four million head of cattle were trailed through Fort Worth which was soon known as “Cowtown” and had its own disreputable entertainment district several blocks south of the Courthouse area that was known all over the West as “Hell’s Half Acre”.
When the railroad finally arrived in 1876, Fort Worth became a major shipping point for livestock. This prompted plans in 1887 for the construction of the Union Stockyards about two and one half miles north of the Tarrant County Courthouse. It went into full operation about 1889.
Because the Union Stockyards Company lacked the funds to buy enough cattle to attract local ranchers, President Mike C. Hurley invited a wealthy Boston capitalist Greenleif Simpson to Fort Worth in hopes that he would invest in the Union Stock Yards. When Simpson arrived on the heels of heavy rains and a railroad strike, more cattle than usual had accumulated in the pens. Seeing this, he decided that Fort Worth represented a good market and made plans to invest. Simpson invited other investors to join him, one of whom was a Boston neighbor, Louville V. Niles whose primary business was meatpacking. On April 27, 1893, Simpson bought the Union Stockyards for $133,333.33 and changed the name to the Fort Worth Stockyards Company.
It soon became apparent that instead of shipping to other markets to process the cattle, it would be much more desirable to keep more of the business in Fort Worth by aving local packing plants. A search began to lure major packers to the City. By about 1900, after much work by local businessmen, both Armour & Co. and Swift & Co. were persuaded to build plants adjacent to the Stockyards.
Construction began in 1902, but not until after the exact site of each plant was decided by a flip of the coin. Armour won the toss and selected the northern site and Swift began to build on the southern tract which was the site of the original Livestock Exchange and Hotel. Swift & Co. received an unexpected financial bonus when a large gravel pit was found on the southern site which was ultimately used in the construction of both plants.
The new Livestock Exchange Building in its present location, as well as the pens and the barns were also started in 1902. The new building was designed to house the many livestock commission companies, Telegraph offices, railroad offices and other support businesses.