Some may have heard the rumors of a “hippie commune” with strange underground homes that exists somewhere in North Denton County, but longtime Dentonites likely recall stories of the Whitehawk Valley community that’s been experimenting with eco-friendly energy independence for several decades. Going "Green" before it was a thing, the Whitehawk community were ahead of their time even back in the day. Read on for more information regarding the history of this cool gated community in North Texas.
Located just four miles north of Denton toward Sanger, the Whitehawk and Rainbow Valley communities were conceived as self-sufficient eco-friendly neighborhoods of partially-underground dwellings, made of ferro-cement or other composite building materials. Theirs is a self-governed 220-acre agricultural cooperative that lives largely “off the grid” of commercial electricity, formed in the late 1970s by a likeminded group dedicated to “walking lightly on the land” by experimenting with green construction. The design of the homes is not unlike those of the Earthship Biotecture communities in Taos, New Mexico with many featuring large domes and other architecturally interesting designs.
"We've got most everything we need out here," Whitehawk resident Jerry Langley told the Star Telegram in 2007, "Except air conditioning." But by using earth sheltering and passive design techniques, one typical Whitehawk residence was able to maintain an indoor temperature of 80’ during 42 consecutive summer days that were over 100’ outside. Not too bad, and no summertime power bill, but most of us would probably balk at surrendering the summertime A/C.
Long before tiny houses were a thing, these eco-friendly “earth homes” gained enthusiasts all over the world, from Iceland to New York or Oregon and even Texas. Two of the community’s co-founders, Robert and Ruth Foote, were just as attracted by the idea of a mortgage-free house as its environmentally conscious design. “The people who move to Whitehawk Valley are trying to demonstrate that an ecologically sound lifestyle is available here and now, without sacrifice,” Bob explained in a 1980 interview with the NT Daily. The nearby Rainbow Valley Agricultural Co-Op was conceived as a means to enable total self-sufficiency, but that proved more difficult in practice so over the years some concessions have been made. And the co-op ain’t been without its squabbles, but the same could be said for some of our family holidays.
Around now for a couple generations, the green-thinking vision of Whitehawk may indeed point us toward a more sustainable future. Goodness knows there’s plenty of controversy over the Renewable Denton Plan in a town that (almost) banned Fracking, with a lot of folks calling for greater investments in wind and solar power as we look to the future. Many of the homes have been retrofitted with modern day amenities. Looking forward should maybe include some looking back at ideas that were a bit ahead of their time.
Shaun Treat is a former professor at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of our local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past. Be sure to check out our local museums curated by the fine folks at the Denton County Office of History & Culture, and follow @Dentonaut on Twitter for local happenings.