by Mary Carole Strother
McKinney has a unique, rich and diverse spirit in part because of the history that shaped it. The area we now call McKinney was originally settled by pioneers in the early 1840’s. Fannin County originally encompassed most of northeast Texas. In 1846, Collin County and several other counties were created out of the original area, and each was about 30 miles square. The Texas legislature decreed that a county seat had to be within three miles of the center of the county. This would allow a rider to get from the edge of the county to the county seat and back home in one day.
The original county seat of Collin County was a town called Buckner, but the legislature’s decision that the county seat needed to be within three miles of the geographic center of the county meant it had to be in a different location. Two locations were put to a vote: what is now McKinney and a location near Sloan’s Grove which is in Fairview today. Heavy rains and swollen creeks prevented Sloan’s Grove voters from reaching the polls on voting day, and McKinney was voted to become the county seat.
Although residents believed the new county seat would be named Buckner, the Texas Legislature named the town McKinney for Collin McKinney. Collin McKinney was an important part of our early history. He was a pioneer and land surveyor and helped bring settlers to the north Texas area. He also helped draft and sign the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico in 1836 and the Texas Constitution. The state legislature passed an act establishing McKinney as the county seat for Collin County on March 16, 1848.
On May 3, 1848, twelve yoke of oxen pulled McKinney’s first building to the northwest corner of the downtown square. McKinney was first incorporated in 1849 and by the end of 1850 the population of McKinney was 192.
The Houston and Texas Central railroad that came to McKinney in 1872, ushered in a period of unprecedented growth for McKinney. It became a commercial center with mills for flour, corn and cotton. There were banks, churches, schools, newspapers and an opera house. The courthouse was completed in 1875 as the tallest building in Texas north of San Antonio.
The first telephone exchange arrived in 1883, a volunteer fire department was organized in 1887 and electric lights first lit up the town in 1889. Many of McKinney’s most impressive historic homes were built in the 1890s.
Today, McKinney is a picturesque city with a small-town feel, though it is just 32 miles north of the more urban city of Dallas. It is home to a charming historic district, beautiful tree lined streets, diverse neighborhoods, outstanding educational opportunities and a robust business environment. McKinney’s vibrant downtown has received recognition as a Texas Main Street and a Historic Downtown Cultural District. The new McKinney ISD Stadium and Event Center now boasts 12,000 seats. McKinney also has two airports for private and business air services.
As one of the fastest growing cities in the nations, the current population is estimated at 206,654 as of January 2022. McKinney has been named as a popular “Best Destination” and “Best Place to Live in America”. In 2021 and 2022, McKinney was the proud host of the prestigious AT&T Byron Nelson Golf Tournament.
In life, there are people who come before us and clear the path that makes our walk easier. There are people that lay the foundations on which we will later build. The men and women who built the shops and businesses in the early days were the same ones who rebuilt after fires burned the downtown square. They were the same ones who cleared the rubble after the collapse of the Mississippi store in 1911. There were men and women who wrote newspaper stories and kept diaries and journals that preserved the stories that tell of our past.
Our generation must empower a new generation of leaders that will have the same fortitude and passion to continue to grow our city. We need to preserve the stories and pass on our rich history to the next generation.