This post is the next in our series, Hidden Gems, where we visit places hidden in plain view, in and around Dallas, that we have explored this summer and in the past. You can access that series of posts here.

This evening, as the hot summer sun made his way home, we set out from our own to explore Historic Downtown McKinney. The city was founded in 1848, and its downtown is one of the oldest and most authentic, working hard to preserve many of the original buildings that once formed the business center of a thriving city.

Mural depicting McKinney
Historic Downtown McKinney mural

There was some construction along the sidewalks on Louisiana and some restaurants were doing curb-side or delivery only. Still for the most part, the downtown was vibrant, quirky, bustling, and unique. There are many ways to visit the historic city center. One can visit simply for the pleasure of hanging out and eating at its many restaurants while enjoying live music at some. Or do some wine tasting at the local winery. One can also shop at one of the many distinctive and idiosyncratic stores or enjoy a quick pick-me-up at the local pie shop or the coffee place.

Yet another way to enjoy is to take a walking tour of the downtown area. Or a historical building walking tour. Using QR codes posted on the front of such historic buildings, visitors and history buffs alike can learn about each building’s history and view its photos. There is also a walking tour of about 42 historic residential homes in the area. Maps for such trips are conveniently located at this website.

old drug store with original storefront facade
Oldest operating business on the square

We chose to do the downtown walking tour using the attached PDF. The trip was supposed to be done in about 20 minutes, which would give us enough time to enjoy the area and finish the tour before the sunset, and it got too dark for good photos.

There was parking space available on Kentucky street just across from the Old Collin County Jail, which also happened to be the start of our tour. There are twelve places listed on tour, many are native businesses, others include a medical clinic, a turn of the century drug store, and the original opera house. The map was clearly laid out with directions from one place to the next. The kids took turns acting as the tour guide and reading the historical information detailed in the PDF.

Old Collin County Jail, McKinney
Old Collin County Jail
Old three-story building in downtown McKinney
One of a kind three-story building of its time

The buildings were one or two stories mostly, but there was one three- story building. The architecture on each of them was different and captivating, with decorated cornices, special corbelling, cast-iron columns, and terracotta tiling. We enjoyed the Greek elements of the Old Collin County Courthouse, now the McKinney Performing Arts Center.

entrance leading up to the Old Collin County Courthouse
Old Collin County Courthouse, now the McKinney Performing Arts Center

All around us, people were in and out of restaurants and businesses. Some wore masks like us, and many did not. Couples hung out at restaurants and coffee shops, multi-generational families met for dinner, and a few youngsters could be seen milling around. The historic downtown district is also home to many frogs displays, welcoming visitors at some storefronts. We found a couple, but there are several more scattered around.

Frog statue in McKinney downtown
One of the many “ribbiting” frogs in downtown McKinney

McKinney’s Stormwater Management Program also has a geocaching fun activity set up with six geocaches in the local area. They can be located using a smartphone or GPS, and finders can help themselves to a gift inside the cache. We did not try this on this visit, but it sounds exciting and perhaps something we might attempt the next time we visit.

Cast-iron columnsand other architectural details
Great place for architecture lovers!

Research suggested we try the pies at Emporium, the popcorn at Mom and Popcorn, and the coffee at Layered, among others. The area is also home to stores like The Groovy Coop, which owns an eclectic collection of vintage items, as well as Local Yocal farm to market, which offers locally sourced products.

We stopped to order pies at Emporium; a couple were sold out, so we chose Papa don’t peach, and Lord of the pies and both were fantastic. And that’s coming from one who doesn’t enjoy pies as much. We need to go back and try the other stores and restaurants in the future. What I liked about the business was how innovative they were with making it a contactless transaction. The front door was barred with a Plexiglas and a drawer underneath. A bell located at the foot of the door frame alerted the staff who then took the orders. We made a swipe on the card reader and waited a couple of minutes for the pies to be delivered via the drawer! Very creative and safe for them and us!!

emporium pies signage
Emporium Pies, Downtown McKinney

We spent a little over an hour taking in the historic McKinney downtown. It was heartwarming to see a slice of history preserved through the preserved architecture and by re-purposing the landmark buildings. Although we must always look forward, we cannot forget our roots, and maintaining a link to the past by protecting the buildings is a great way to stoke the imagination, take us back to what had been and see how far we have come. Its a great way to honor those who have walked before us and paved the way. Its no wonder then that the historic downtown is unique by nature. And I hope it stays that way!!

old building with a chicken on the wall
Chicken on the wall building

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