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Who Is the Most (In)Famous Family in Texas?

Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas
Tourists love to visit the home of the most famous family in Texas. (Photo courtesy Jathan Fink, Townsquare Media)

As we’ve visited various communities on our small town tour, we’ve introduced you to some of the founding fathers who first settled the region. Cities and towns have been named after many of them, and yet these people have been largely unknown to many despite the fact that their family members’ histories are interwoven through the fabric of our nation like thread on a loom. But our next family needs no introduction. They’re known the world over because of their wealth, power, and dysfunction.

In the little town of Parker, Texas, Joe Duncan constructed Duncan Acres in 1970, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It was a beautiful piece of property, with two hundred sprawling acres, a 4,769 square foot house and an in-ground pool. When first built, the ranch was in the middle of nowhere, deep in cattle country.

But in 1978, Lorimar Productions chose the North Texas ranch as the site for a CBS Television pilot and soon the fate of the Duncan family would change forever. The production company only filmed outside shots at the Duncan property while interior scenes were shot in California because Joe Duncan and his family still lived there.

When the series “Dallas” debuted, the show became an overnight sensation and suddenly Duncan Acres wasn’t known by its true name, but as Southfork Ranch, home to the Ewing family. Few of us will forget memorable characters like Bobby Ewing and his brother J.R., “the man the world loved to hate.” The Ewings became a part of our pop culture and in an odd way an extension of our own families as we invited them into our homes every week.

In 1980, an episode titled “A House Divided” aired on March 21 which involved a murder attempt and suddenly the world was asking “Who shot J.R.?” That summer, a radio announcer mentioned where Southfork really was in a broadcast and invited everyone out to Parker. Fans of “Dallas” quickly confused reality with fiction, lining up on Hogge Drive to bring flowers to J.R. They left flowers everywhere: on the doorstep, in the pool, and even on the roof. The unwanted attention finally became unbearable for the Duncan family and they relocated, eventually selling the ranch.

In 1985, Southfork became a true tourist destination and the mansion was opened to the public for the first time, even though filming of the original series continued on the premises until 1991 when the show ended. The following summer, businessman Rex Maughan purchased Southfork, invested over $14 million in improvements, and continued to use the “world’s most famous ranch” as a conference and event center.

Larry Hagman, Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy returned to Southfork twice after the series officially ended to film two reunion movies, “JR Returns” (1996) and “The War of the Ewings” (1998).

Today, the Ewings are once again at Southfork and have returned to television as the latest chapter of “Dallas” aired on TNT this summer, becoming one of the most popular shows on cable. A second season has already been picked up by the network and taping will begin in the fall. Meanwhile, visitors continue to flock to Southfork from around the globe. When I visited last weekend, I met families from Turkey, Britain and Italy who wanted to see the home of the most famous family in Texas.

If you’d like to visit Southfork, visit the ranch’s website for tour details and stay at the Southfork Hotel in neighboring Plano, where I promise you’ll experience true Southern Hospitality as you stay in generously-sized rooms, sleep on comfy beds with overstuffed pillows and enjoy a chef prepared breakfast the next morning. The visit is worth the trip, and hopefully it will hold you over until you can get your “Dallas” fix once more when the Ewings returns to television again this January.

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