by Mary Carole Strother
It is funny how a smell can easily transport you back to the days of your childhood. Driving through Dallas, one could hardly forget the delightful aroma of freshly baked bread that blanketed the air around the Mrs. Baird’s plant on the southwest corner of Mockingbird Lane and North Central Expressway for almost 50 years. When the plant opened in 1953, the location was considered to be on the outskirts of Dallas. It grew to be one of the largest automated independent bakeries in the world producing 2 million pounds of bread a week. The facility was fully air conditioned, an innovation for bakeries at the time. As the North Dallas population boomed, there was little room for expansion in the current location. In 2002, the North Texas “Queen of Bread” closed its doors and moved operations to the Fort Worth plant.
The beginning of the company can be traced back to a determined lady named Ninnie Baird
who was well known in her neighborhood for giving away her pies, cakes and breads.
In 1908 when her husband’s health began to decline, she came up with a way to support her family of eight children by baking bread and selling it out of her home in Fort Worth. Her kids helped bake the bread and at first delivered it on foot, then on bicycle. As the demand for delivery grew, they converted the family buggy into a delivery wagon. Their horse named Ned, knew the route so well that after each stop he started trotting down the street to the next house that was buying bread. The Baird family soon built a small bakery in their backyard and then built a plant in Fort Worth that launched the thriving business that would quickly become a household name.
Around the same time, thirty miles up the road, in the small town of McKinney another baking business, Knott’s Suburban Bakery, opened its doors for business in 1915. A seasoned baker for twenty years, W.H. Knott opened shop in a brick building on North Tennessee street. The newspapers of the time said, ‘the making of bread and cake is an art for Mr. Knott and one in which he takes just pride. He can turn out a good loaf of bread or a tasty pastry.’ A few years later he spent $3,000 adding new equipment to his bakery. One of the machines he installed was a dough-break machine which gave the bread a finer texture, pressing out the air cells and thoroughly kneading the dough to the proper state where it was fine and velvety. He put a new loaf of bread on the market, which he christened ‘Aunt Betty Bread’, the finest he had ever been able to produce in his many years of baking. He bought two trucks and put the design of Aunt Betty wearing a quaint little bonnet on the side of each truck. One truck delivered in McKinney and the other delivered to the small towns in the county.
In 1938, R.H. Finney bought the bakery and his son Bill Finney ran the McKinney bakery. Bill’s brother Jack opened another bakery in Greenville. By 1945 the population of McKinney and North Central Texas had significantly increased and Finney Bakery trucks were delivering bread to distribution centers and to over a thousand grocery stores. On November 26, 1948, disaster struck as a fire broke out in the plant completely destroying the building and its contents leaving behind only a heap of ashes. Bill Finney vowed to stay in McKinney and build a new modern establishment with the help of his brother Jack who supplied bread to the customer routes from his bakery in Greenville. The new bakery reopened with a celebration in August of 1949 and the aroma of fresh baked bread filled the streets of McKinney once again. In later years Finney’s Bakery sold bread under the Butter-Nut brand and began baking for Affiliated Foodstores. Production at the bakery gradually came to a halt in the mid 1960’s when the company merged with two independent firms, the Golman and the Oak Cliff Baking Corporation. Today, the old building still stands on North Tennessee Street with only the memories of those delightful smells.