Sunday, January 27, 2013


"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published almost 40 books, half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. 

This week I stopped by McKinney to visit the North Texas History Center and Chestnut Square, a collection of historic buildings. I had not been to Chestnut Square in many years, and I was eager to see  improvements and additions. I was welcomed by Cindy Johnson, Executive Director of Chestnut Square Historic Village, and by several delightful staff members.

Cindy Johnson holding a copy of Local Flavors
Cookbook in the museum gift shop.

Historic architecture is our most tangible reminder of the past, and the eight structures clustered at Chestnut Square span the time period of 1854 to 1918. The oldest building is the 1854 Faires House. The "Two-Bit" Taylor Inn was built about a decade later, and earned its nickname because the proprietor charged overnight guests 25 cents. The two-story John Johnson house was erected in 1874, and the one-and-a-half story Dulaney Cottage went up the following year. A steepled frame church was built at the turn of the century, and weddings are held in this Chestnut Square "Chapel." The most substantial residence is the Dulaney House, erected in 1916 and much more spacious than the 1875 Dulaney Cottage. The 1918 Brimer-Anderson Grocery is widely known as "Dixie's Store." And there is a white frame replica of the J.B. Wilmeth Schoolhouse, the first free school in Collin County. 

Faires House, 1854
These buildings are filled with period furnishings, and guided tours provide rich steps back into the past. Furthermore, regular events are staged. On Saturday, February 23, there will be a fashion show and tea luncheon, featuring vintage fashions from the 1850s through the 1930s. Later in the year will be Civil War Days, the annual Ice Cream Crank-Off, a Prairie Adventure Camp, a Pre-K Pumpkin Patch (in October, of course), the Legends of McKinney Ghost Walk, a Holiday Tour of Homes, and other events.
Note school bell to the right of lamp

Three blocks north of Chestnut Square, the North Texas History Center is located in McKinney's 1911 Post Office Building. The North Texas History Center is operated by the Collin County Historical Society. The galleries exhibit a rich collection of artifacts and historic photographs. The Archives Room houses historical documents, interviews, and more photographs. A classroom is upstairs. I was shown the museum by Vicki Day, the vivacious director of the Collin County Historical Society. When I arrived Vicki was leading preparations for the upcoming "Pieces of the Past" Historic Quilt Exhibition. The two-month exhibition of the art of hand quilting opens January 31 and will continue through March 23. The museum will be open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, 11 AM to 4 PM through the duration of the show. 

1911 Post Office now is a museum.

Vicki holding one of 95,000 items on file
in the Archives Room.
While in McKinney the historic courthouse square should be visited. The vibrant square teems with shops and restaurants, and the North Texas History Center and Chestnut Square Historic Village are only a couple of blocks away. Elsewhere around town are handsome residences and churches from bygone eras. The historic-minded traveler will be richly rewarded by a day in McKinney. 

Bill with Vicki in main gallery

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