Watching Frisco GrowMay 29, 2021 ● By Bob Warren
It has been my pleasure to watch Frisco grow in many ways for the last 100 years. Come with me as I recall some of the major – and a few minor – adventures my hometown has been a part of in its early life.
Frisco got its start in the year 1902 as a “whistlestop” on the railroad when the Frisco Railroad extended its line from Denison to Carrollton, coming right through this part of the country. In those days, the old steam engines needed water every 25 to 30 miles, so they dammed up Stewart Creek making a lake. They built a water tower and a depot and decided this would be a good place for a town. In order to get the town started, they held an auction, selling lots for about $250 each. How much are they worth today?
A “railroad town” looked good to some of the people in the two surrounding towns of Lebanon and Little Elm, and they started moving here. It is said that 15 houses were moved from Lebanon to Frisco within just a few years. Today’s Randy’s Steakhouse, a historically-marked facility, is one of those that were pulled here with a steam engine.
In 1908, the people voted to incorporate and elected their first mayor, Dr. I.S. Rogers. The little town started growing slowly. Its first census in 1910 showed a “whopping” population of 332 people and had reached only 736 by 1950. But by 1987, it hit the magic number of 5,000 making it eligible for the coveted title of a Home Rule City, thereby being more able to govern itself.
One of Frisco’s first major events was a disastrous one – the “Landmark Fire” of 1922, which wiped out 13 buildings on Main Street. The little town sprang into motion and built back in a hurry, this time in brick and mortar to replace their wooden structures.
Next, an occasion I recall vividly, is the “Great Depression” of 1929. Like most of the nation, it hit Frisco with a deadly blow, closing both banks and causing many of the farmers to lose their farms. My dad lost his life’s hard-earned savings. I had saved $20, hoping to buy a new bike, and my savings were wiped out. However, over time I picked enough cotton to buy a bike, ending my personal depression.
When I was 13 years old, I had the privilege of watching something that would affect the growth of Frisco and this part of North Texas in a very positive way. I was a “soda jerk” in Curtsinger’s Drug Store, and Dr. Saye had his office in the back of the store. When he was not busy, he often came and sat at one of the alabaster-topped tables near the soda fountain where I was working. He would order a fountain Coke and proceeded to draw what I thought was a map on the tabletop. As it turned out, he was drawing plans for a road from McKinney to Fort Worth, a road which would, with the help of then-Speaker of the U.S. House Sam Rayburn, become Highway 121, today’s Sam Rayburn Freeway.
One of Frisco’s greatest assets is its school system. In recent years, Frisco ISD and its reputation has been the drawing card that has brought many of our new residents here. The district dates back to 1876, well before the town of Frisco began. It was first a consolidation of existing one-room schools, then, in 1903, a two-story, four-room schoolhouse was built. That building was soon outgrown, and in 1911, an $11,000 bond was approved to build a three-story brick structure. That fine old building housed all 11 grades for many years and was demolished in 1939, to be replaced by a Spanish-style building built by Works Progress Administration labor.
Today, with that history behind us, Frisco ISD now has 10 high schools with two more in the making. There are 18 middle schools and a mind-boggling 43 elementary schools. In recent years, Frisco ISD has continued to prove its citizenship by partnering with the city, state, county, the Toll Road Authority and other entities, thereby hastening our growth.
Now for a look at economic development: For many years, Frisco could not attract the attention of any developers or investors. Highway 121 seemed to be a barrier which no investors wished to cross. Then, in 1992, Dallas restaurant owner Mariano Martinez did the unthinkable. He bought a 2.3-acre parcel of farmland about a mile north of Highway 121 on Preston Road and proceeded to build La Hacienda Ranch, a fine Mexican food steakhouse. At that time, almost all of Frisco business was clustered a mile west of Preston Road in the old downtown area. Most everyone thought Mariano was crazy coming out to “the middle of nowhere” to build, but he proved them wrong. The restaurant was, and still is, a big success.
Soon, Brookshires built the city’s first real supermarket a little further north on Preston Road, and the historic old road was on its way to further development.
By 1987, Frisco hired George Purefoy, our first – and only – City Manager, one of the best moves our city has ever made. Thanks, George! Stay with us.
In the mid 1980s, a developer started building Stonebriar Country Club, the city’s first golf course and gated community. The clubhouse provided a nice meeting place, one to which we were proud to invite Dallas-area developers and investors for meetings, and that we did.
In 1991, our voters approved a .5-cent sales tax for economic development, opening the door for us to collect some much-needed funds.
About this time, things really began to fall into place growth-wise. In 1996, we signed a long-sought-after contract with the mall developer who went to work building Stonebriar Centre. The 1.6-million square-foot mall opened in 2000, kicking off a retail boom of almost 4 million square feet at the intersection of Preston Road and State Highway 121. That mall has been called “the economic engine that started Frisco’s growth.”
Soon, more things began to come our way. In 1995, Collin College opened its Preston Ridge campus in Frisco. The Dallas North Tollway was extended into Frisco. Hall Office Park began construction, opening seven office buildings by 2002.
About that time, someone must have decided that Frisco would be a good place for major sports. In 2001, the city announced that it would build a minor league baseball stadium to host a class AA team affiliated with the Texas Rangers. That stadium, now called Riders Field, has been – and still is – a “howling” success, hosting a great number of activities.
Then, the professional soccer team FC Dallas built its stadium, now called Toyota Stadium, which now houses the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Next, Jerry Jones brought his Dallas Cowboys headquarters here – a really big addition to our city.
And, next, one of the biggest of all: Professional golf’s PGA of America is moving its headquarters from Florida to Frisco. The half-billion-dollar project, which recently had its ground-breaking, is to be a first-class resort, a destination place for people from all over. In addition to golf courses, it is to have an Omni Hotel and more than 125,000 feet of conference and meeting space. This promises to bring thousands of people to our city annually.
And, as the saying goes, “The beat goes on, and where it will stop, nobody knows,” but we see no sign of it stopping. Our little city has come a long way from its humble beginnings – a railroad town of 332 people in 1910 to an estimated 210,000 today.
A man came here a few years ago proposing that our city change its name from “The City of Frisco” to “The Town of Frisco.” I went to the meeting and spoke in objection to the change. I said, “We have fought so long to be a city, and I highly oppose the change. I would, however, hope that we retain our friendly and neighborly reputation. Let us be known as “A CITY WITH THE HEART OF A TOWN.” So let it be!
Bob Warren is a local historian, former mayor of Frisco and a regular contributor to Frisco STYLE Magazine.