Main Street Matters: Spotlight on Winnsboro

By Denise Miranda, Winnsboro Main Street Manager, and Anita Williams, publisher of the Winnsboro Online Guide

Before there was Winnsboro, the town was known as Crossroads (due to the intersection of roads), then Wynnsborough and Winnsborough, in honor of John E. Wynn, an Englishman who settled in the town in 1850. After the Civil War, the city began growing, aided by the addition of the East Line and Red River Railroad in 1876 and the Texas Southern Railroad in 1904. By 1914, the flourishing community had about 2,300 citizens.

Winnsboro Main Street (WMS) became a Texas Main Street city in 2003. Proud of its first-year accomplishments, in 2004, WMS published (with financial assistance from a strong downtown partner, the Southwestern Electric Power Co.) a 16-page Winnsboro Main Street 2003 Progress Report. Numerous accomplishments were cited this first year, including the completion of a downtown building inventory, reinvestment of more than $1 million in downtown, establishment of an incentive grant program with matching funds provided by the Winnsboro Economic Development Corporation, production of a downtown historic walking tour and business directory, acquisition of key donations for the program, and more.

More notable achievements since that first year include:

  • Receipt of a Main Street Texas Capital Fund Grant for a paved parking lot in front of the Chamber of Commerce/Travel Center for downtown visitors.
  • Purchase of a vacant lot due to fire in 2002, and construction of a new compatible building after working with the local and state Main Street programs.
  • Feature in the Dallas Morning News, Sunday edition, and in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, front page travel section, April 2005.
  • Establishment of the first annual Classic Car Cruise-In show in September 2005. Currently, Main Street shares this responsibility with another nonprofit—Main Street profits go to downtown façade grants.
  • From 2008–11, receipt of a grant from the federal Vista/Americorps Program to secure individuals to work on many downtown projects, a few of which were forming a farmers market and writing grant applications for downtown.
  • Passage of a preservation ordinance in 2009.
  • Revision and reprinting of a walking tour booklet.
  • Receipt of “Best Afternoon Stroll” and “Best Small Town Downtown” designations in 2008 by readers of County Line Magazine.
  • Establishment of the Main Street Fine Art Market, the first of which was held in November 2009.
  • Completion of a downtown map in February 2012, which is displayed at the Chamber of Commerce kiosk.
  • Passage of sign ordinance in April 2012.
  • Establishment of Facebook page in July 2012.
  • Building rehabilitations resulting in more than $12 million reinvestment in downtown.
  • Consistent 95 percent occupancy in downtown.

WMS will be proudly celebrating its 10th anniversary with a Celebrate Main Street event on March 15. The event will include a community-wide reception at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts, with downtown window displays featuring the history of each building and how they have been preserved/renovated. The town has been transformed by the presence of the Main Street Program.

Cultural Arts District

Winnsboro is unique in that the historic Main Street area has more than one designation, including Certified Retirement Community, Preserve America Community, and a Texas Cultural Arts District. The city was among the first seven state designations of Cultural Arts Districts and the only downtown area to be so honored.

Winnsboro has been a magnet for painters, potters, photographers, writers, musicians, and performers for many years. Today, not a weekend goes by that there aren’t multiple events in various venues all within a walkable area.

Over the years, well-known musicians, such as the legendary Ray Wiley Hubbard and actor/musician Ronny Cox, have made Winnsboro a convenient tour stop on the way to or from Austin or Dallas. In addition, many local musicians, including the award-winning duo of Adler & Hearne, have their own home-grown fan base.

In the past few years, interest in fine art has increased. Keyring Gallery is a sizable gallery with works of numerous local artists. In addition, several stores and the coffee shop, Art & Espresso, hang photos and paintings for sale. Sayadream Studio offers classes to visitors and local residents. They also work closely with the Winnsboro Center for the Arts (WCA) in downtown, managing major exhibits including a Dali event in 2012., Located in a historic building on Market Street, WCA manages to combine art exhibits with the requisite receptions, as well as theater productions. WCA also serves as temporary venue for Crossroads Music Co., while the adjoining building is renovated.

On the first weekend in November, the Winnsboro Fine Art Market (WFAM) is held on Market and Elm streets and features many Texas artists. The 2013 event will mark the fourth year for outdoor WFAM.

Not to be overlooked is the significant number of writers in the area who enjoy the solitude of the country to write their novels and screenplays, as well as photographers and videographers who are documenting life in the “Upper East Side of Texas.”

In Winnsboro, everyone is encouraged to either participate or be part of an appreciative audience at the various venues. The downtown Art Walk is held every 3rd Friday, and includes a Fashion Walk with those in costumes for the particular theme: Medieval, Victorian, Steampunk, etc. The theme for February is Mardi Gras. Main Street works with the downtown merchants for monthly Art Walk advertising. These events are getting popular enough to attract out-of-towners to don their attire and drive to Winnsboro.

During the past 10 years of being a Texas Main Street city, Winnsboro has become the destination city it has dreamed of by focusing on preserving and restoring its downtown, retail, arts, entertainment, and restaurants.

Winnsboro has grown from a sleepy town to a vibrant cultural center that draws people from Dallas, Tyler, and other cities. It’s hard to find a parking space on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights—it’s a great problem to have!

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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