For several years, the city of Plano has been trying to figure out what to do with the 155-year-old Collinwood House. The City Council could decide the future of the West Plano house as early as April. Preservationists are hoping that a look into its past could save it.
Most folks drive right by the Collinwood House without even knowing.
It started as a humble log cabin built before the Civil War. But like many North Texas homes, it’s gone through numerous renovations and has seen its surroundings transform over generations. The house today sits on 124 untouched acres of land between Preston Road and the Dallas North Tollway.
'It's pretty amazing'
Candace Fountoulakis, with the Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation, knows a lot about the history of the house, and is an advocate for its preservation. She said the original Collinwood structure still survives.
"It’s still underneath the modern finishes that we see. The shingles hide all the cypress boards on the side of the house, the wooden pegs between the hand-hewn logs, and the timbers underneath the house and the roof," she said. "It’s pretty amazing when you walk in there. There’s nothing like it in Plano left."
Beneath those modern finishes, you’ll also find some original floorboards and stones from the fireplace. You'll also see original window frames and doors.
On the endangered list
Last month, the Collinwood House was placed on Preservation Texas’ Most Endangered Places list. Even with its growing public interest, preservationists are still trying to uncover more of the house’s history -- attempting to close a knowledge gap that could ultimately save the house.
For instance, they know it has passed through many hands over the years -- like Plano’s prominent Haggard family.
At one time, other families even used it as their summer home, escaping Dallas to vacation in what was then considered the countryside.
Historians have also discovered that the house possesses rare pre-Railroad architecture, and serves as a window into farming and business life during Plano's earliest days.
"It has ties to all the early frontier families as well as to previous cultures: Native American, African-American, early Eastern settlers that came through to Texas from Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois," Fountoulakis said.
The city owns the house now; in 2009, it bought the surrounding 124 acres, which are slated to become Windhaven Meadows Park. Back then, a city preservation official claimed the Collinwood House had little to no historical value after so many renovations and because nothing historically significant is believed to have happened at the house.
The hunt for a buyer
In 2014, the city began calling on private citizens to take the house off city hands.
Plano Parks Director Amy Fortenberry said there were just a few requirements: "The house would be restored. It needed to be a use that served a recreational need," she said. "They needed to have a plan to secure the house and to protect it and to renovate it at their cost. And they needed a method to keep the house from coming back to the city in the future."
The city received some offers, but they didn’t quite cut it.
Now the city wants someone to physically move the Collinwood House off the land all together.
Fortenberry said if no one claims it by Sept. 1, the house will be demolished. She said, with an estimated restoration budget of at least $2 million, there just isn’t the budget to keep it.
"Keeping a structure there that would be staffed and manned, having to protect it and secure it from vandalism -- those things all added cost that were never planned on by the city," Fortenberry said. "So it’s not that we don’t like heritage preservation, not that we don’t value it. I think there is a significant investment that occurs every year from the city of Plano in that effort."
'Plano ... tear down and build new'
Plano business owner Patti Snell has offered to take the house several times. She has experience with old homes, having restored the Wells House in Plano seven years ago. She submitted a proposal last year to restore the Collinwood property and open it on site as an event center, but the city rejected her plan because of disagreements over restoration costs and security requirements.
Snell said she’s not backing down.
"Plano is very much a city where you tear down and build new," she said. "It's a lot of concrete, and to tear down the oldest home when it’s in incredible shape, it’s located in a city park where everyone can enjoy, it’s a passion of mine. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to tear down that house."
There might be some hope after all. Following all the publicity surrounding the house, the Plano Heritage Commission voted last month to start the process of designating the Collinwood House a Heritage Resource, which would mean the home is recognized as being “historically, culturally, archeologically or architecturally” important to the city. That designation could delay or even cancel the planned demolition, but that decision is ultimately up to the city council.
In the meantime, the Heritage Commission is studying the history of the house further.
"People just want to make sure that their voices are heard in the process, which is what we’re trying to accomplish," said Anthony Ricciardelli, who is the vice chair of the commission. "We want to pass that voice and that information on to the City Council so that they can make their decision fully informed."
Until then, the parks department will continue building Windhaven Meadows Park. At the very least, the city would like to save some pieces of the Collinwood House -- the fireplace stones, some windows, doors and those floorboards -- and incorporate them into a pavilion in the park.
Plano Magazine: Collinwood: Plano's Oldest Home
The Dallas Morning News: Plano's Oldest Home Put On Most Endangered List