by RD Foster
In 1953 we moved from what seemed like life on the frontier, Farmersville TX, to the big city of McKinney. McKinney was about eighteen miles west of Farmersville, with a population of about 10,500, mostly blue-collar workers. In 1950 the average cost of a new house was about $8,000. The average income per year was $3,000. You could buy a brand-new car for about $1,500 and a gallon of gas was 18 cents.
Most folks commuted to jobs in the Dallas area. Located in South McKinney, the Texas Textile Mill also called The Cotton Mill was the number-one job source in the county and employed a large number of women. Twenty-four hours a day, six days a week, they turned raw cotton into fabric and thread that was shipped all over the world. That’s where my mom worked. My dad commuted to Garland every morning to Intercontinental Manufacturing Company, where he would eventually retire after 35 years.
The mill opened in 1910 and covered 30 acres, which included an office building, three warehouses, a water tower and cooling pond, a railyard, a meeting house. On the south side was a boarding house and 75 single-family three-bedroom frame houses. At that time the Texas Textile Mill ran three eight-hour shifts, and was said to be the largest producer of denim west of the Mississippi River. There was a big neon sign on top of the building facing the highway, that alternately flashed in purple and red, “TEXAS TEXTILE MILL – TEX TEX FABRIC.”
Our family moved into one of those 75 houses, that all looked basically the same. We would spend the next six years at 711 Clark Street. It was a small three-bedroom bungalow, directly behind the back gate of the mill. Mom would only have to walk about 300 yards to work.
For the first time in our lives, my three brothers and I lived in a house that had an indoor bathroom. I’ll bet I flushed that commode a hundred times that first day. We also had our own television set and could pick up four black-and-white channels, with Disneyland on Sunday evening, cartoons on Saturday morning and Nightmare Theatre on Saturday night. But even better than that, for the first time in my life I had friends other than my brothers and cousins, and backyard baseball games with nine boys on each team. There were kids everywhere!
The majority of families who lived on the Mill Block had a family member that worked at the mill. Most of the men were WWII vets of two-parent households and we were the
baby-boom generation. The Mill Block was definitely booming. With both parents working, that left all those kids unattended during the summer and we were on our own most of the time.
If you are familiar with the old “Little Rascals” or “Our Gang” films from the early 1940s, just update it about ten or fifteen years and then you will have an idea of what living on the Mill Block was like. It may have been the poor side of town, but it was clean. There was no litter or unsightly yards or houses. I guess all those WWII veterans living there, knew the importance of keeping your area clean, and we kids had no trouble with doing our part.
All the houses had big backyards and only a few had a fence. The alley behind our house became our favorite hangout spot. The wide-open yards were our baseball and football fields. Everybody had a dog or two and with no fenced-in yards they all ran loose. We knew every dog’s name.
A few people raised chickens and one of the first things we did was build a hen house with a pigeon coop on top in the backyard. We had White Leghorns for the eggs and meat and little Bantams to raise and sell. What eggs we didn’t eat I would sell to the neighbors. As for pigeons we had all kinds. We had all different colors and color combination: Tumblers, Giant Runts, Fantails, a pair of beautiful Chinese show pigeons. We would sell them to other kids in other parts of town and more times than not those pigeons would be back in our coop within a week.
Life in the Mill Block was always filled with adventure. We learned how to make friends, take care of each other and work hard for the things we wanted. These are the memories that I will forever treasure.