This presentation is part of Are We There Yet? Preservation of Roadside Architecture & Attractions Symposium, Tulsa, Oklahoma, April 10-12, 2018.
By Jennifer Carpenter
The 1964 New York World’s Fair wowed visitors with dazzling displays of technology and industry promising a bright future. Yet one of its most popular attractions was Sinclair Oil’s Dinoland, a life-size display of ancient reptiles. Based around the company’s well-known green brontosaurus logo, men, women, and children by the thousands visited Dinoland, transporting themselves back in time, marveling at the scale of a pre-human world, and perhaps, even taking a small plastic “Bronto” of their own home as a souvenir.
A public fascination with dinosaurs has spurred countless roadside attractions featuring evidence of the creatures throughout the United States. The discovery of tracks on private land near Glen Rose, Texas, in the early 20th century captivated local imaginations. The Good Roads Movement of the 1920s provided intrepid out-of-towners the opportunity to hunt for the tracks. Scientific study came with the New Deal, when a statewide WPA paleontology survey sponsored the excavation of sections for museum exhibits.
The post-World War II tourism boom helped ensure the dinosaur tracks received protection and remained publicly accessible. The Glen Rose Chamber of Commerce and Somervell Historical Society, simultaneously concerned over reports of looting and eager to attract tourist dollars, petitioned their elected officials to formally designate the site and raised money to purchase the land. Victory came in late 1968, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department signed a contract for the property.
A few months later, the Atlantic Richfield Company purchased Sinclair Oil. The famous trademark would be retired, as would the company’s Dinoland figures, which toured the country as a traveling display after the World’s Fair. Glen Rose officials, recalling the tour’s stop in Fort Worth, jumped at the opportunity to acquire the dinosaurs for their new state park. Governor Preston Smith helped secure a Tyrannosaurus Rex and Brontosaurus. The pair arrived via a 40-foot-long trailer truck in July 1970.
It is rather fitting that two dinosaurs purchased with oil money welcome motoring tourists to Dinosaur Valley State Park. Yet Rex and Bronto, perhaps Texas State Parks’ most anomalous “residents,” pose significant preservation and interpretive challenges: the maintenance of life-size ancient beasts now historic in their own right, the juxtaposition of scientific inquiry along roadside kitsch, and the continuing debate between evolution and creationism.
Jennifer Carpenter is a Preservation, Research, and Outreach Specialist with Texas State Parks’ Historic Sites and Structures Program. She earned a Master’s degree in Historic Preservation at the University of Maryland, where she investigated New Deal-era experiments with rammed earth construction, and received a B.A. in History from Wake Forest University. She regularly presents about the Civilian Conservation Corps and Texas State Parks and is researching how other work programs impacted park development. Her previous experience includes positions with the Raleigh Historic Development Commission and the curatorial offices of the Supreme Court of the United States and U.S. Treasury Department.