By Lynette Scruggs, Gainesville Main Street board member
Unique to the Gainesville Main Street program are the Legends and Lore recognition plaques that shine a spotlight on significant architecture and historically rich buildings within the Main Street district. Historic downtown Gainesville is at the heart of the city and Legends and Lore is a way to share the past with local residents and visitors. While the historic structures may all be made of stone, brick, and mortar, the “legends and lore” are unique to each building, and the stories are both educational and entertaining.
Keeping Gainesville’s history alive through promotion and preservation are two of the goals of our Main Street program. Therefore, the need to document and recognize our historical past is what prompted this idea. Utilizing old photographs, vintage documents, historical artifacts, interesting anecdotes about the buildings and information about residents that once walked the downtown brick streets, preserves this visual history. These pictorial plaques are placed in each building to offer the viewer a glimpse of the past while standing in that specific building today. The dates, places, and events are reported to be true and factual through research of vital records, interviews and information obtained by local historians, and Gainesville Main Street representatives.
Legends and Lore plaque recipients are selected based on the building owner’s willingness to help provide a historical retrospective of their building and the building’s architectural significance and contribution to the downtown. A business must also be in operation in that space. Plaque recipients currently include specialty retail shops, restaurants, business offices, a photography studio, furniture and home goods stores, and the local community theater.
The finished plaque is the collaboration of efforts of several volunteers, including the researchers and staff at The Morton Museum, local photographers, historians, and the creative talent of a local graphic designer. This is an inclusive project where the community at large can participate by sharing stories that have been passed down, as well as their own personal collections from the past. This partnership between Main Street, the community, and local business owners helps achieve our mission by promoting local businesses, encouraging the community to shop local, fostering tourism, and preserving history in a cohesive downtown footprint.
May is national Historic Preservation Awareness Month, and in Gainesville this is when the new Legends and Lore plaque recipients are acknowledged for their preservation efforts. Those acknowledgements take place in the form of announcements in the newspaper, on the chamber of commerce website, and through informal ribbon cuttings that the public is invited to attend. This is just another way to utilize Legends and Lore for business promotion.
The Legends and Lore full-color brochure is available to visitors and includes a walking map, brief synopsis about the historic buildings that have been awarded the plaques, interviews with building owners, and past and present thumbnail photos. The walking tour brings visitors to our city center where they can tour the historic buildings, shop in our specialty stores, and eat in downtown restaurants. For added convenience for our downtown patrons there are framed walking maps strategically placed around the downtown square.
One of the businesses featured in the Legends and Lore brochure is Kinne’s Jewelers. This excerpt is taken from an interview with the owner, Gina Wiese Dill:
“Kinne’s is one of three Texas jewelers listed in the Jewelers of America 100 Club (more than 100 years old). The vault in the back of the store came from the First National Bank in Gainesville. During the Depression when some of the banks failed and others merged, William Kinne bought the vault. It was dragged down California Street to the store on a deadman, which is similar to a pulley apparatus. Two mules named Red and Duke pulled it. The back of the store was built around the walk-in vault, which can be seen today.”
Another example from the brochure is the Carnegie Public Library, which was constructed in 1914 and is located in Historic South Gainesville. After many years as a library, the building was repurposed for use as the local community theater. Butterfield Stage Theater was named after the Butterfield Stage coach line that ran through Gainesville in the mid-1800s. The theater is a nonprofit organization and has produced more than 1,700 shows to date and continues to entertain the community in this historic building.
Each new year presents increasing business opportunities within our historic core. Legends and Lore will be an ongoing project to help recognize and promote these new merchants, preserve their history, and provide an interesting retrospective of our history to residents and visitors alike.
This post is a modified version of the feature article in Main Street Matters, a monthly newsletter published by our Texas Main Street Program. It is part of a series of case studies that highlight successful initiatives and events of Texas Main Street cities.
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