Top O' Hill Terrace

Top O' Hill Terrace in Arlington, TX is a seminary and Bible college located on the site of a once-secret casino and gambling den, as well as a famous teahouse and restaurant. First established as a restaurant and tea room, which was later converted into a casino, the property has a rich and scandalous history that draws visitors from around the country to find out more. Top O' Hill Terrace



Established in the early 1920s by Beulah Adams Marshall who bought the land and opened a restaurant and tea room patrons from Fort Worth and Dallas, the property was then converted into a casino in the mid-1920s by Fred and Mary Browning complete with a secret room and escape tunnel and for hiding the illegal gambling paraphernalia. Known as Top O' Hill Terrace, the establishment continued to operate as a tearoom alongside the casino and a brothel, attracting both gamblers, as well as visitors who came for tea and were often unaware of the illegal gaming activities going on down below.

In 1956, Top O' Hill Terrace was purchased by J. Frank Norris, pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Worth and co-founder of Bible Baptist Seminary (now the Arlington Baptist College). An ardent proponent of prohibition and gambling reform, he converted the property from a casino to a seminary, which continues to stand today, however, many of the historic structures from the Top O' Hill Terrace's notorious days still stand. Such structures include a stable and horse barn Browning's award-winning stud, Royal Ford, and his champion racehorses, Colorado Lad and Valdina Lamar, as well as a brothel, swimming pool, and tea gazebo.

In 1947, Top O' Hill was raided by legendary Texas Ranger Captain M. T. "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas who closed the establishment down. The property was then purchased in 1956 by Earl K. Oldham and the Bible Baptist Seminary, which relocated there and still occupies the property today. Photo: Top O' Hill Terrace

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Located north of the main house, the tea garden was surrounded by sandstone walls and iron fencing with a lovely garden that contained benches, shrubs, plants and a pond with swans. Boasting beautiful views over Fort Worth, the tea garden was set on one of the highest points in Tarrant County and was a favorite afternoon tea and dining spot. A pretty gazebo anchored the tea garden and was the stage for many instrumental groups, music groups, and other ensembles, who played live music in the evenings against a beautiful backdrop of sweeping views. Today, the picturesque gardens surrounding the remains of the teahouse are used for special occasions such marriage proposals and prayers.

Notable features of the park include the front gate, which was designed and crafted by Southern Ornamental Ironworks of Arlington, an inspiring statue of Norris by acclaimed sculptor Pompeo Coppini, and the horse stables. Built to house the prize racehorse Royal Ford, who beat Sea Biscuit in 1940, the Royal Ford Stable features a French-Norman inspired roof, beautiful interior oak paneling, original hopper windows, and the original watering trough on the south side.

The Horse Barn is a large building with a rustic Woodbine sandstone exterior, three cupolas on the roof peak, and hollow tile-faced stone interiors. Originally used for housing racehorses, including the magnificent Colorado Lad and Valdina Lamar, the horse barn is now used as classrooms for the Seminary.

What is now the girls' dormitory for the Seminary was once a brothel which pandered to every desire of Top O' Hill's patrons and was littered with beautiful evening dresses when the Seminary took over.

The unique and favorite aspect of the Top O' Hill Terrace, however, is the underground concrete tunnel, which is said to have provided an easy and fast escape route from the casino for patrons when the casino was raided by police. The 50-foot-long, four-foot-wide and 10-foot-high tunnel opened onto the thickly wooded countryside of the park where escaping patrons could hide in the bush or make their way well-groomed walkways to the tea garden. Photo: Top O' Hill Terrace

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»Visitor Information

Visitor Information

Top O' Hill Terrace or the Arlington Baptist College is located at 3001 West Division in Arlington and is open to the public every day during daylight hours. Individual and group tours of Top O' Hill Terrace can be arranged by appointment only and explore the heritage of the site and its historic structures.

Back to: Arlington, TX Address: Arlington Baptist College, 3001 West Division, Arlington, Texas 76012, Phone: 817-987-1716, website Photo: Top O' Hill Terrace

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Top O' Hill Terrace in Arlington, TX