By Sherry Jacobson / The Dallas Morning News
It was the rich, black soil that enticed the first
pioneers to the North Texas prairie about 150 years ago, spawning a
community of log houses that later became Plano.
"All this black dirt drew a better class of people,"
said William Wells, whose grandfather and namesake began farming
cotton here in 1874. "We didn't have drifters. We had pioneers who
wanted to make a home and work the good land."
The homestead built by Mr. Wells' grandfather in
1893 still stands amid the housing developments along Coit Road. The
white Victorian house is a simple reminder of Plano's agricultural
roots and a testimony to Mr. Wells' pride in his family
The 105-year-old house is among 19 city-designated
historic landmarks that trace Plano's evolution from a loosely knit
farming settlement in the mid-1800s to a small, self-contained city
at the turn of the century with grand houses and handsome
Over the years, local preservationists have
struggled to save the old houses for posterity, fighting both
redevelopment pressures and public apathy. In 1979, the city passed
its first preservation ordinance. In 1982, four old houses came
under the protection of that law.
"The city doesn't have that large an inventory of
houses that are 100 years or older because so many of them were torn
down over the years," said Maggie Sprague. She is chairwoman of
Plano's Heritage Commission, which was created by the
"But we are working to preserve as many as we can so
that future generations can appreciate the richness of Plano's
Most of the city's oldest buildings are clustered in
small neighborhoods around the old downtown strip on East 15th
Street. Like older neighborhoods everywhere, they went through
periods of decline followed by restoration attempts. But in Plano, a
new city has sprung up west of North Central Expressway in the last
three decades, seemingly with little connection to the older
"I never cease to be amazed that people are so
surprised to discover this neighborhood over here," said Pam
Hatcher, who heads the Haggard Park Neighborhood Association and
lives in a 100-year-old farmhouse that was moved to Avenue
At one time, even city officials seemed to have
little appreciation for the historic value of Plano's oldest homes.
In the early 1980s, the city rezoned the east Plano neighborhoods
for multifamily development.
"The city was waiting for apartments to be built
there," said Kate Singleton, a community redevelopment consultant
hired two years ago by the city to help revive downtown and the
surrounding area. "It was a struggle to get the zoning back to
single-family, but the homeowners won that battle." The zoning was
changed last year.
Marcus Watson, who was hired this year as Plano's
first heritage preservation officer, explained that the city has had
to balance its rapid growth in recent years with the need to
preserve its history.
"The development pressures are there, but the city
has a commitment to preserving the historic areas," he said. "If it
didn't, this all would be gone."
The surviving historic buildings have taken on the
names of their most prominent former owners, amassing their own
historical footnotes to the city's history as well as survival
stories that rival those of the pioneers.
When Ron and Elta Chandler bought the historic
Roller House on East 15th Street in 1975, the sellers were relieved
that it had escaped the threat of demolition, said Mrs.
"A father and daughter had bought it to restore it,
but he got cancer and they had to sell it," she said. "It was on the
market for several years, and I had watched it closely, waiting for
the price to come down."
Too far from town
The Queen Anne-style house with a three-story turret
looks almost like something out of a storybook. It was built in 1901
for the family of A.G. McAdams, a St. Louis architect and lumber
dealer. He ran a lumberyard near downtown Plano and had the house
festooned with wood accents, including a floating staircase and
gingerbread trim throughout.
Despite such splendor, city folks often could not
make the adjustment to life in Plano. It was particularly hard on
the wives of local entrepreneurs who were not used to living in an
emerging prairie town with dirt streets and few
"Mrs. McAdams was from Dallas, and she couldn't
stand being five hours from her family by horse and buggy," Mrs.
Chandler said. "They moved to East Dallas and built a house in
Munger Place to be closer to them."
The McAdams family lived in the massive house only a
few years before selling it to E.J. Roller, one of Plano's early
civic leaders. His relatives kept the house until World War II and
are most closely associated with it.
Since 1975, the Chandlers have updated the Roller
House while raising four sons. The house received landmark status
from the city in 1982.
Next door, the historic Carlisle House offers a
vision of modern conveniences, though it was built only 11 years
The sprawling Prairie-style home featured
electricity, central heat and the city's first indoor bathtub - rare
amenities for 1912. It was the longtime home of H.B. Carlisle, whose
downtown grocery store became the local gathering place for
politicians, including a future speaker of the House named Sam
The Carlisle House was sold in 1976 to its current
owners, Michael and Harriet Linz. Despite its World War II
conversion into two apartments, the house retained its original
light fixtures, linens belonging to the Carlisle family and a
massive Stickley dining-room set purchased long ago to fit the scale
of the oversized room.
Rich in stories
On a recent tour of her house, Mrs. Linz pointed out
a number of unique features that also survived, including a beggars'
bench positioned near a side entrance.
"Beggars who came to the door were offered a meal
and could sit in the hall and eat it, but never with the family in
the dining room," she said.
A favorite story about the Carlisle House is that it
offered refuge to Plano schoolchildren when heavy rains washed out
the dirt roads, she said. Unable to get home, the children would
seek shelter in Mr. Carlisle's grocery store and then spend the
night on the Carlisles' massive living-room floor.
The Linzes sought landmark status for the house in
1993. After that, they remodeled the kitchen and bathrooms and gave
all 5,000 square feet an extensive refurbishing.
"For years, it was really drab and dark because of
the eaves and the porches," Mrs. Linz said. "But we brightened it up
by painting the woodwork white. It feels almost like a new house but
with all the charm of an old house. We have the best of both
Over on Coit Road, Mr. Wells says he has been
approached repeatedly by people who would like to buy his landmark
house and transform it into something else. One planned to make it a
Now 82, Mr. Wells holds out hope of turning the
vacant house into a museum. It was declared a city landmark in
"If I live long enough and am able to do it, I want
to have it as a reminder of my farm and the times when agriculture
was the way of life out here," Mr. Wells said. "People have no idea
what Plano was like in the old days. It's up to us to tell
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