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by Pat Rodgers

Welcome to the Collin County History Museum where our new exhibit, “Created in Collin County” is opening soon. This article will give you an overview of what you will experience.

Evolution of Food Products

Our first stop on the tour is the grocery store Safeway. It was built in 1929 in downtown McKinney and is representative of the many family-owned grocery stores in Collin County. Its windows are filled with local produce such as onions and peaches; Aunt Betty’s Bread, produced in a McKinney plant; McCraw’s Candy Company from Farmersville; Mrs. Tucker’s Shortening, produced from the cotton seed oil mill in McKinney, and Shelby’s Chili Company.

Education and Community Creating Leaders for Tomorrow

Next on the tour you will see a beautiful representation of the first free public school in Collin County. Built in 1883, it was named Central Public School and was located on Louisiana and Church streets. Grades 1 through 10 met in the building until 1902 -03 when 11th and 12th grades were added. The school was successful until it was replaced in 1915. Many outstanding educators and students were a part of this educational community and are beautifully highlighted. The exhibit also tells the story of the elementary ward schools: East Ward, North Ward, South Ward, and West Ward.

Ice and Bottling

An authentically-clad Coca Cola mannequin and a bright red antique Coca Cola iced box points us to the story of the bottling plants in McKinney and Collin County. Represented are Coca Cola, Nehi, and RC Cola. Cabell’s Ice Cream plant is showcased as well. The historic McKinney icehouse, named Crystal Ice Company, is faithfully recreated to remind us of an era long ago when the ice man delivered ice with his mules and wagon to each household. Listen and see their story unfold.

Entertainment and Sports

Next up you will see the men and women who entertained Collin County over the years: Haystack Calhoun, the wrestler from this area weighed in at 600 lbs. He could pick up two cows at one time; Dickie Jones, the boy actor, was the voice of Disney’s Pinocchio in 1940; Benji, the furry little mutt in the eponymous movie, roamed McKinney in the box office hit in 1974; and finally, Barney the purple dinosaur from Collin County, brought joy to the hearts of boys and girls with song and dance. Don’t miss their stories.

Collin County is the home to many talented musicians - -from jazz guitarist Herb Ellis to the innovators of Texas Swing, the Light Crust Dough Boys. Enjoy the outlandish genius of Dude Kimball, featured on Ed Sullivan, who created hand-crafted musical instruments out of plumbing supplies!

Hospitality and Industry

The hospitality industry is our next stop in the exhibit. The cafes and hotels in McKinney and the surrounding communities opened as a result of convenient transportation. The coming of the railroad in 1872 brought the world’s goods to our door while transporting cotton and other crops to the great markets of Europe. Hotels and cafés opened for business as the interurban railway system brought visitors to McKinney for dining and entertainment. It began operation in 1908 and ran from Waco to Corsicana, Dallas and north to Denison. Visitors flocked to McKinney movie theaters showing the latest in silent films, from “The Great Train Robbery” in 1903 to slapstick comedy with Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Sadly, the interurban ceased operation in 1948.

Hotels and saloons are among the favorite memories of Collin County residents: The Elm Saloon, the favorite hang-out for Jesse and Frank James; the Tucker and Foote Hotels, and of course Lane Motor Court where Bonnie and Clyde were notorious customers.

Collin County has been home to many memorable eating establishments. You will see Steffey’s, home of the Jiffy Dog, Carpenter’s Tamales, Baker’s Drive In, City Drug, and of course Woods’s Café.

A stop by Bill Smith’s Café is a must on your museum tour. The iconic café has been a part of McKinney and Collin County since Bill Smith opened his doors in 1956. It was originally a one room café featuring a grill, which was the center of all activity. My how times have changed.! In 1956, a T-bone steak was $1.45 and lunch specials were .85 cents. Swing by and get a chicken fried steak or pancakes while they last!

The museum is packed with many other Collin County memories you’re sure to love. Be sure and check our website ( for exact opening date in late Spring.

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