Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Collin County Needs Your Help and Upcoming Events

The folowing is reprinted with permission of th Dallas Morning News:

Collin County looking to preserve historical record — before it’s too late

Staff Writer
Published: 16 October 2011 in the Dallas Morning News Metro section, page 1
A small army of amateur historians is racing the wave of development sweeping Collin County.
With expanding highways, new homes and future retail nipping at their heels, these folks are on a mission: Find every historical site in the county. They’re looking for old school buildings, cemeteries, farms, cattle trails — anything with historical significance.
And they need help before it’s too late.
The project, a massive “historical asset” survey, is an attempt to document the county’s history before it’s erased by development, said County Commissioner Joe Jaynes.
“The first casualty can be your local history,” he said. “It’s real easy to lose.”
Jim Ryan, director of the Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation, said the Collin County Historic Asset Survey Project started a few years ago with the simple goal of finding and documenting sites.
Then members of the historical commission had the idea to take the project online and make it interactive. The result is what Ryan hopes will be an in-depth look at every nook and cranny of the county.
Already, visitors to the online map can find details of a barber shop in McKinney that’s been cutting hair since 1892. Check out the story behind the 1844 Muncey Massacre in Plano, site of the county’s last fatal Indian attack. Or learn about the Spanish Oaks in Frisco where the Shawnee Trail cattle drive passed.
Ryan, a retired computer consultant, admitted that the word “hobby” barely described his fascination with history. The Plano resident has mapped his family’s genealogy back to the first century A.D. and is working with The History Channel on a documentary about the Santa Fe Trail.
Now he’s going on a treasure hunt in his own backyard
“You get absorbed. You get obsessed,” Ryan said. “Or at least I do.”

Find a site and its story
He is coordinating the efforts of 120 volunteers across the county as the director of the asset project. He takes their information, formats their data and inputs the information into a database that feeds the online map.
The volunteers are doing all the footwork.
They start with a set of simple instructions — find a site, document its location, classify it into a category and gather as much of the site’s story as possible.
Of course, it’s not that simple, said Diane Miller, the captain of volunteers in the northeast quadrant of the county. While some can find what they need in libraries or on the Internet, the most interesting pieces of information come from folks who have lived in certain areas for decades — or longer.
“We’re looking for stuff not in the history books,” said Miller, a fourth-generation cattle rancher in Melissa. “We’re looking for what’s in the hearts and minds of people.”
She raises cattle on more than 500 acres hidden behind a canopy of trees and unpaved roads. Just five minutes from her house, Miller is overseeing the archaeological excavation of the remains of the Wysong Blacksmith Shop, which dates to 1850.
Miller and other volunteers visit the site three days a week to dig. They’re in a race against a new highway that will come straight through the blacksmith shop’s remains.
“We’ll dig until the bulldozers come through,” Miller said. “It’s a race to get it before it’s gone.”
Her small band of amateur archaeologists has found more than 2,000 artifacts — everything from brands, tongs and nails to a coin from 1864, barrel rings and wagon parts. The items belonged to Charles Hopkins Wysong, a tanner, wagon maker and blacksmith who lived and worked at the site in the latter half of the 19th century.
Wysong settled in Collin County in 1850. His blacksmith shop was a stagecoach stop and one of the first post offices in the area, serving the Highland Community that would later become the town of Melissa.
Losing the site to the new highway is exactly the type of situation that drove Miller to volunteer for the survey. She said she hates the development changing Melissa but knows she can’t stop it.
“I’m 64, and I can remember going to the old ladies in town to hear stories about what was here,” she said. “Now they’re gone, and it’s kind of weird to think that what’s left is in my head. If I don’t write it down, it’ll disappear.”

‘History is who we are’
Joy Gough, who is the project’s cemetery expert and author of Cemeteries of Collin County, said those who do remember are generally older and aren’t always able to fill out the project forms on their own. So it falls to the volunteers to take down an oral history. But even that can be difficult because specific details have faded.
“Back in the 1800s, people were buried in their backyards,” Gough said. “Now someone will start developing land, and they’ll find a cemetery no one knew about.”
That’s why the project needs help. Gough said she hopes more people will send in stories or — even better — become a volunteer.
Ryan understands the project is daunting — and probably never-ending. One story always seems to lead to another, he said.
For example, while researching the massacre in Plano, Ryan discovered two mounds in a nearby flood plain. The size and location of the mounds indicated they weren’t made by a farmer. His hunch: They could be Caddo Indian burial mounds from before the massacre.
He can’t wait to conduct tests and add the find to the survey map for future generations.
“A community is known by its history,” Ryan said. “History is who we are.”

If you are interested in submitting site suggestions or volunteering for the Collin County Historical Asset Survey project, contact:
Jim Ryan
2724 Bengal Lane
Plano, Texas 75023

Upcoming Events:

This Saturday, Oct. 22 10:15 - 11:45 at the Roy and Helen Hall Memorial Library - Genealogy 101.  This FREE two - part program is for people who want to start tracing their family tree, but aren't sure how to get started.  The second part will take place on Saturday November 19.  You can attend both parts for the full program or you can choose which date fits into your busy schedule and we can update you on the part you miss.  Please contact Susan at or 972.547.7343.

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