Last autumn we had the unfortunate experience of a tornado touching down and destroying two of our historic cemeteries (Young and Rowlett Creek Cemeteries in Plano, Texas). There was major tree damage and some of the gravestones were knocked over and damaged due to the high winds. Luckily, the tornado did not cause any major damage or injuries in the adjacent neighborhoods.
Fortune also shined on us when the City of Plano, Texas offered an emergency grant to restore both of the cemeteries. It was very obvious to see the tree damage in the two cemeteries. However a question came up on whether the damaged gravestones were due to the storm or were they damaged from a pre-tornado incident.
We had restored Young Cemetery two years ago, so we had photo documentation of the gravestones there. Rowlett Creek Cemetery has not been restored yet so we had a hard time assessing what was damaged by the storm. We used sites like a findagrave.com, partial documentation from a local Daughter’s of the American Revolution group and pictures we had taken for our arcadiapubublishing.com book “Plano’s Historic Cemeteries”.
In December we received the emergency grant from the Plano City Council. All of the tree and debris work has been completed and the gravestone work will be finished in April and May. The incident has led us to start a photo documentation project of our area’s historic cemeteries.
So far we have documented every gravestone in Old City, Davis, Baccus, Rowlett Creek and Leach Thomas Cemeteries. After we complete the initial photo documentation our plan is to conduct an annual site visit to see if anything has changed.
Photo documentation is not only important for situations like a natural disaster but gravestones can also become damaged in other ways. Weathering over time, vandalism and even a car accident can damage gravestones. Photo documentation is an excellent way to document what’s there and in the worst case scenario, what was there. – Jeff Campbell
May is Historic Preservation Month, a time dedicated to promoting heritage tourism and the benefits of historic preservation. While Hike Through History was cancelled this year, we have a fun virtual event planned: the Picturing Plano’s Past Photo Contest!
Presented by the Plano Conservancy, the contest is open to all. Grab your camera and shoot some photos that tell the story of Plano’s history.
Photos must relate to Plano history and must include a caption (50 words or less) describing where the photo was taken and its connection to Plano’s past.
Photos should be minimally edited for color or exposure only, no photo manipulations.
Photos will be judged on photo quality, creativity, and the photo’s ability to tell a story about Plano history.
One winning photographer’s work will be selected for each of these three categories:
Prizes: Copies of Hidden History of Plano and Haunted Plano.To Enter: Send your photo as an attachment (JPG format, no more than 4 MB) to:
Deadline is 5 p.m. Central time on Friday, May 29, 2020. Please submit one photo per email to ensure that the files do not exceed email size limits. Multiple entries are accepted, however, there is a limit of one prize per individual entering the contest. Entries unrelated to Plano or submitted without captions will not be considered. Photos should be current (i.e. taken within the last two years.)
With the cancellation of this year’s Hike Through History, the Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation instead held Haiku Through History. We were gratified by the number of entries. Due to a tie in the voting by our judges, we chose four rather than three winners. And here they are!
Plano farmer sweats Today’s heir plucks fruit, relaxed in Her backyard garden
Other than a decade spent overseas, Christopher has lived in and around Plano for 50 years and loves Plano history. “Every year the importance of preserving our past becomes more important to me as I realize how fundamentally it shapes the geography, infrastructure, and even the cultural institutions that make us who we are today,” he said.
Feathers, veils, ribbons Along Plano’s rutted streets Historical hats
Marian M. Poe is a Dallas native who married a career military man and spent 60 years “in exile,” until moving to Plano seven years ago to be near family. Her haiku is a direct result of a power point presentation about Plano history given at Haggard Library to the Collin McKinney chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
Plano nature trails
Bygone folk once roamed this land
We walk together
Andy is a fourth generation Texan who has lived in Plano for 21 years. He is looking forward to learning more about the history of Plano. His family has a historical connection to the area, too — in 1853, one of his ancestors and her family moved from Kentucky to central Texas. In her journal she wrote about traveling and camping along White Rock Creek as they made their way into Dallas from McKinney, with both cities are named in her journal. (And yes, Andy is related to Marian – he’s her son. We used a “blind” judging system and chose two winners from the same poetic family.)
crossing the tree stump the ant pauses a moment at the Civil War
Mel is an author who has published two books of poetry: Memories (Finishing Line Press, 2020), a book of free verse, and The Weight of Snowflakes (Red Moon Press, 2017), a book of haiku. Mel and his wife lived in a small motor home and traveled throughout the U. S. Canada, and Mexico. On their way south from visiting friends in Norman, Oklahoma, they stayed at the Spring Creek Village RV Park and visited the town of Plano.
Hike Through History has been cancelled due to COVID-19. However, we’ve got something else up our sleeve!
Instead of our annual “Hike Through History,” the Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation is hosting “Haiku Through History,” in celebration of International Haiku Poetry Day on Friday, April 17.
Please send your Plano History Haiku to firstname.lastname@example.org. Three winners will be selected to each receive free copies of Hidden History of Plano (History Press, 2020) and Haunted Plano (History Press, 2018).
Submissions will be accepted through Sunday, April 19th, and we’ll publish the winning poems on our blog.
Remember — a haiku consists of three lines: the first with five syllables, the second with seven syllables, and the third with five syllables.
Here are a couple of examples to inspire you:
Quick way to Dallas / Texas Electric Railway / Back in forty eight
Peters Colonists/ Old City Cemetery / Here they rest in peace
The coronavirus pandemic has brought us to a moment of stressful uncertainty and anxiety. The good news is that walking outside, while maintaining physical distancing, is still very safe and healthy. The fresh air of a Texas Spring day will benefit your immune system and your emotional health.
In Plano there are numerous historic cemeteries where you can learn about the people who built the foundation of the internationality we know today, while getting some exercise and keeping a safe distance (at least six feet) from others. The Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation offers a map, available for free download, to get you started. (Link below.)
Plano has ten historic cemeteries, ranging from large (Plano Mutual, Old City and Davis) to small (Leach-Thomas and Young). Many of these pioneer cemeteries are tucked in hidden corners of the city; others are more visible, like Baccus Cemetery, situated in the middle of the Shops of Legacy. There’s Old City Cemetery, started by five Plano’s founders, and next to that, there’s Davis Cemetery, a predominately African American cemetery.
If you do visit one or more of Plano’s cemeteries, be sure to follow proper cemetery etiquette. Visit only during daylight hours. Don’t pick the flowers, and don’t move anything, not even a random stone. Don’t pick up anything except trash or, for the cemeteries near golf courses, perhaps a golf ball.
A few tombstones of particular interest:
At Young Cemetery, a small graveyard hidden behind an apartment complex at 121 and Independence, you’ll find the grave of Thomas Finley, who fought in the War of 1812, making him one of Plano’s oldest veterans. You might also notice that a number of the headstones are identical—that’s because they were likely purchased by mail-order from a Sears catalogue. (At one time, the catalogue offered dozens of pages of monuments of all types.)
In many Plano cemeteries, you’ll spot tall, elaborately carved tombstones that look like tree trunks. Those are Woodmen of the World markers. Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society, a not-for-profit fraternal benefit society, still operates out of Omaha. (If you saw the movie About Schmidt, Jack Nicholson plays a retired Woodman actuary.) Until 1930, the organization provided members with distinctive tombstones shaped like tree stumps. The headstones featured Woodmen relics and symbols: a stump or felled tree, the maul and wedge, an axe and often a dove of peace with an olive branch. As Woodmen “do not lie,” a common inscription is “Here rests a Woodman of the World.”
The Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation has produced a driving tour brochure of Plano’s ten historic cemeteries, with a map of cemetery locations and historic information about each cemetery. Download a copy and find the cemetery that’s close to your neighborhood.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned life upside down in Plano and the nation. Almost overnight, downtown Plano became a ghost town. The new reality seems unreal. It’s a frightening and historic moment, and likely one we will tell our children and grandchildren about years from now.
But this is not the first time Plano has faced a frightening outbreak – or a quarantine.
1895: Smallpox Outbreak
In May 1895, the area between what is now Spring Creek Parkway, Park Boulevard, Coit and Preston Roads was under quarantine. Anyone within the area was forbidden to leave. An armed guard patrolled the perimeter.
With an emergency meeting, Plano City Council established the quarantine in response to a smallpox outbreak “to protect our citizens from this loathsome disease.” The same emergency order required all citizens to get vaccinated.
The sad saga began days earlier, when, following frontier custom, the family of Daniel M. “Milt” Collinsworth welcomed a traveling peddler into the home. At the time, Plano was a small community of just 1,300 souls; the extended Collinsworth family owned large portions of what is now west Plano. They were farmers from Tennessee and Virginia and relatives of James Collinsworth, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence.
When the peddler left the next morning, he mentioned that he felt unwell. The chore of changing his bed linens fell to one of Milt’s daughters. Within a few days, she fell ill, and passed away.
Family members traveled from Allen and Frisco for the funeral. It was a dreary, rainy day, so mourners crowded into the home, with the windows shut. Silently, the deadly disease spread. Within a matter of weeks, the family’s patriarch, Farwick Collinsworth lost his wife, two sons, a nephew and at least three grandchildren. About 15 people ultimately died in the outbreak.
McKinney’s newspaper, the Democrat, printed a resolution by the Collin County Alliance, expressing sympathy: “The family of Brother F.M. Collinsworth of Haggard Alliance have been terribly afflicted by the visitation of smallpox in his family resulting in the death of several family members.…Therefore, be it resolved that we tender to the surviving members our heartfelt sympathy in their sore bereavement.”
For those within the quarantine, food supplies were limited. One survivor, a man named Bob Fortner, later vowed that he’d never eat rice again, having relied on it for so many meals during this time. A few brave souls endeavored to assist. One smallpox survivor, Albert Garrett, nursed the sick. Silas Harrington, owner of a pharmacy downtown, delivered groceries to the quarantine line.
Many of those who died in the outbreak are buried in the Collinsworth Cemetery, which now occupies a quiet spot between two homes near Parker and Ohio Roads.
On October 4, 1918, a brief article on the inside the Plano Star-Courier from City Health Officer W. D. Ellis urged citizens to “be very careful” – to stay home, to avoid crowds, to catch coughs and sneezes with a handkerchief.
“If not careful there will be pneumonia and deaths in our town,” Ellis warned.
A few weeks later, the deaths began.
The disease making its way invisibly through the community of Plano was the Spanish flu, the most lethal infectious pandemic in recent history. According to the CDC, an estimated 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. In the U.S., some 675,000 died from the Spanish flu.
(Experts have since concluded that “Spanish” is a misnomer; the outbreak likely started in Kansas. A doctor serving at the post alerted public health authorities, but his report was ignored.)
Unlike COVID-19, which so far seems most dangerous to older adults, the Spanish flu killed healthy young adults, with the highest mortality rates among those ages 20-40. Many would fall ill in the morning and end up dead in the evening. Accelerating the spread of the contagion was the fact that in 1918 Army camps in Texas swelled with young men preparing to fight in Europe in World War I.
Dallas was hit hard. On December 13, 2018, The Dallas Morning News reported that 456 residents had died from the flu or pneumonia since October 1.
Initially, Dallas officials downplayed the danger. A gathering on September 28 in Dallas brought thousands downtown for a military parade. Just a few days later, cases of the flu increased exponentially.
There is little historic information about exactly how the Spanish flu affected Plano. However, the October 18, 1918 front page of the Plano Star-Courier carried the news of three deaths – Mrs. Lula Beverly, 36, of pneumonia; Miss Maurene McMillen, 19, who died of “lagrippe;” and Robert McMillen, 31, who died of influenza. Given the lack of testing, it’s likely they were all struck by the same virus.
From September 1918 through February 1919, 27 Plano residents passed away, with influenza, pneumonia or “lagrippe” cited as the cause on their death certificates. Given Plano’s population of about 1,700, that was a frighteningly large number. Of the 27 who died, 17 were ages 20 – 39. Not included in that tally was a stillborn child, whose mother passed away of influenza two days later, or a Plano family whose son died while serving in the military in San Antonio.
As with this COVID-19 crisis, schools were closed to stem the spread of the disease. A brief history of the 1919 graduating class of Plano High School notes that school was closed for three weeks before Christmas 1918 due to the Spanish flu epidemic.
The October 18, 1918 newspaper featured an ad from S.M. Harrington, Pharmacist, offering “Sick Room Requisites” like ice bags, bed pans and rubber sheeting. A list of “Spanish Flu Precautions” from the American Red Cross offered tips that are so familiar to us now: avoid crowds, cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, wash hands often and avoid sharing cups, towels or utensils. A few others might not hold up to modern science today: keep windows open and drink water freely. (Staying hydrated is still recommended, but not likely to help prevent a viral infection.)
According to Plano, Texas: The Early Years, early Planoites relied on each other when a family member passed away. Families cared for the bodies of their loved ones and held funerals in the parlors of their homes. During the flu epidemic of 1918, however, this communal system was strained. Many died and others were too sick to perform funeral duties. When a death occurred, residents did the best they could. Someone would get a coffin, somebody would find a wagon, a grave would be dug.
“Very few people were up and going, sometimes whole families were stricken,” according to Plano, Texas: The Early Years. One family lost seven people during that epidemic.
Infectious disease experts have studied the history of the 1918 and have predicted the inevitability of another “big one” – another worldwide pandemic that could threaten the lives and livelihood of millions.
The situation we face now with COVID-19 has similarities and differences. COVID-19 is a novel virus – that means no one had any immunity at the time of the outbreak – and it’s fairly contagious. However, scientists and physicians today better understand how viral infections are spread. Although there’s no cure of vaccine for COVID-19, supportive treatments have advanced over the past 100 years.
But even today, until a vaccine is developed, social distancing remains the best preventative step. Closing schools means Plano high school seniors will miss some of the rituals and traditions of their last year of school. Businesses are closing, throwing many people out of work. But the stories of the 1895 smallpox outbreak and the 1918 Spanish flu in Plano remind us: we can survive these challenges.
Story by Mary Jacobs with research contributed by Cheryl Smith.
In this uncharted time of social distancing and self quarantines, we have decided to make our historic preservation coloring books available for anyone, and everyone, to download and print from home! We typically offer our coloring book for free to any visitor who comes into the Interurban Railway Museum, but the museum is now closed for the next few weeks (see updates on their closure here). These books include 14 historic locations around the City of Plano, including the Heritage Farmstead, the Texas Pool, and Old City Cemetery. The hand-drawn pictures are from one of our prior board members, Sid Wall, and one of our volunteers, Abagael Heimann. The first version is an English-only book compiled and written by prior intern Swaneet Mand, and the second is a bilingual English/Spanish version put together by prior intern Sydney Landers.
We hope everyone is safe and healthy at home!
Saving Plano’s Treasures: An Adventure in Historic Preservation Coloring Book (2016)
This coloring book features twelve historic locations around Plano, Texas and details their significance in Plano’s early history. This book is perfect for both children and adults who want to learn more about the most significant sites around the City of Plano.