For Dallas, Texas, history buffs or those who want to learn more about farm life, there’s a great resource . The Heritage Farmstead Museum in the Plano suburb has been accredited by the American Association of Museums for its fine exhibits. Located on 15th Street off Custer Avenue, the museum’s 365 acres portray life at the turn of the last century.
The exhibit costs $3 to enter and $7 if you want a guided tour of the main house, offered once per day. The main house was built in Victorian style by a wealthy Plano citizen in 1891. In 1901 a wrap-around porch, kitchen and bathrooms were added. The owner, Hunter Farrell, made his riches supplying gravel to upgrade the mainly dirt roads of the time. He was rarely at home, but his wife, Mary Alice, and daughter, Ammie, lived in the house and took care of the surrounding wheat farm.
The house being located on 15th Street, which was a main east-west thoroughfare, was ideal for access to surrounding markets, the school and for postal delivery which started in 1904. A museum book entitled Never a Good Girl delves into insightful details of the Farrell family, including rare divorces.
After her mother died, Ammie continued to live in the main house. She acquired the reputation as the best sheep breeder around, winning many awards. When she died in 1972, without any children or close heirs, a movement to preserve the house and farm as a museum came to success through various maneuvers in 1975 through 1977, which are explained in the book referenced above. The museum opened to the public in 1986.
Many school groups visit as part of their history lessons. I suggest arriving after 1 p.m. when they tend to leave. One of the nice things about this site is its appeal to the very young and the very old, so a baby boomer can bring grandchildren and parents here, and both will enjoy it. The parents will recognize some of the household furnishings while the grandchildren will enjoy the farm animals although they may not to be pet or fed as in a petting zoo.
Once on the property, both the structures and the farm offer a lot to see. Among the highlights are the following:
• The Farrell house is fascinating for its structure as well as its antique furnishings. Because there was no air conditioning, its design strategically placed doors opposite windows to help cool the house. The pier and beam foundation and deep veranda also assisted cooling.
• Prior to refrigeration, meats needed to be cured. Two techniques for doing this (by salt and by brine) are explained in the “curing shed.”
• The “carriage house,” an early equivalent of the garage, kept the 1908 “surrey” protected from weather, and stored tools and supplies.
• Every farm raised hogs for meat. Beef was rare as it could not be cured. Mules were preferred over horses as they could haul heavier loads. All are on site today, along with turkeys and chickens, the later adjacent to a coop.
• The sorghum mill demonstrates how this important sweetener was produced. Four gallons of sorghum juice made one gallon of syrup. The syrup, unlike refined sugar of today, contained a lot of nutritional value.
• The “instrument shed” contains rare turn-of-the-century vehicles: a John Deere, Farmall tractor and early Ford tractor.
• The “Young house” was moved to the museum from nearby where it was built and inhabited by one of Plano’s original settler families until the last descendant died in 1998, still without indoor plumbing.
• A replica of a 1895 one-room schoolhouse from Ponder, Texas, is painstakingly furnished in period style.
• The garden can generate fresh produce sufficient for a family of six for a year.
Add it all together and you get a vivid glimpse of life and times gone by. It is well worth a visit and so close to home.