EDITOR’S NOTE: Students from the University of North Texas Mayborn School of Journalism wrote about people and places around Denton County as part of their spring coursework.
BARTONVILLE — A John Deere tractor towers over a muddy four-wheeler. The two stand in front of an empty horse stable that gets its beige color partly from paint and partly from wear. Across a gravel path, a 1970s camper shell sits next to a traditional red barn. A red hay baler and a landscaping trailer take up the rest of the driveway.
“Usually, I’d be in my denim overalls, looking like a farmer,” said Ronnie Brown, straightening his shirt.
Brown embodies living history in Bartonville, and he is one of the last of his kind. The town boasts a rich farming and horse ranching heritage tracing back to the 1860s.
“My grandmother’s family came here from Missouri by covered wagon, with two big oxen tied to it,” he said. “They heard that Texas had a lot of free land, and so that’s why most of these people are here now — the old group, they came here lookin’ for free land.”
At first glance, there still appears to be plenty of land.
Entering the town from the north, visitors are welcomed by vast expanses of white picket fencing that corrals the green, rolling acres of horse ranches along FM407.
The pastoral landscape stops, however, when a master-planned housing subdivision called Lantana comes into view just outside the town limits.
Denton County is listed among the top three of North Texas’ fastest growing counties.
There are, however, still a few remaining artifacts from old Bartonville, including the Bartonville Food Store, which opened in the 1930s and is now owned by James R. Price, whose family bought it in 1959. Inside, old soda bottles line a dusty shelf. The chipped white paint on the shelf resembles a picket fence that has weathered many storms.
“When I was growing up, everything was centered around three places: the Shiloh Baptist Church, the Double Oak School House and the Bartonville Food Store,” Brown said. “My dad bought the west side of the cotton gin, when it was right across the street from Price’s store.”
Brown and Price remember when peanuts grew in the rich, sandy soil of Bartonville. Brown has fond memories from his childhood of shaking the dirt out of freshly thrashed peanuts and eating them when they were so green that they gave him a bellyache.
“But the government controlled all the commodities back then,” he said. “They’d come out and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got 10 acres, or 3 acres,’ and they’d cut it down to where you couldn’t make a living at it anymore.”
Price said that when residents couldn’t grow peanuts anymore they quit farming.
“Change and growth are inevitable,” he said. “You either grow or you decline.”
The food store is one of the only places holding fast in the midst of the town’s development storm. In 2003, Phase I of Bartonville Town Center was completed, and it occupies 15 of the town’s 3,904 acres. And although Lantana isn’t incorporated into Bartonville, its presence looms over the remaining acreage.
The owner of the town center, Denmiss LLC, which claims to be “part of an eight-generation family enterprise with 140 years of experience in property development,” is planning to build Phase II, which is still in the “visionary stages,” according to its website.
The town center’s property manager, Linda Terrill, said that Phase II construction will begin when Phase I fills up, and that the company hopes to bring in a major retailer or grocery store, and possibly both.
“The sooner, the better,” she said.
Price said that until a 7-Eleven opened recently at the town center, his store and the Exxon station down the road were the only places in town to get groceries and convenience items. “[The developers] told me that my store and the supermarket were like apples and oranges,” he said.
Bartonville, however, isn’t known for being easily pushed aside.
In the 1960s, a hostile annexation attempt by the city of Irving rallied Bartonville residents to incorporate in order to protect their land.
“I was a council member, and we reorganized the township so that they wouldn’t come up and get us,” Brown said. “Somebody had to do it. We was just sittin’ here for the wolves to come pickin’.”
Price said Bartonville is now a “bedroom community” whose residents don’t have a huge stake in the history of their town. But he is rolling with the punches of modernization.
His Bartonville Bull Sharks — a group of locals who meet in the mornings to drink coffee and shoot the breeze at two picnic tables in the food store — have morphed over the years. The oldest “old timer” in the group has only lived in the area for about 20 years. The conversations have shifted from hay, grain and cattle prices to development costs and smartphones, Price said.
It doesn’t seem to bother him much — yet.
Construction workers are good for business, Price said, and he’s always looking for ways to attract Lantana residents. In a world where the flood of development rushes in, he has to stay afloat.