Residents cherish Oak-Hickory history

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David Minton/DRC
The Oak-Hickory Historic District in Denton is anchored by many beautifully restored and preserved homes from the 19th and early 20th century.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one story in an ongoing series spotlighting different neighborhoods in Denton. The stories by journalism students are part of an ongoing partnership between the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas and the Denton Record-Chronicle.

 

It’s a cold Friday night in Denton, and droves of college students are making their way to local bars and restaurants.

The night dwellers tend to walk down Oak Street, which is a straight shot from campus to downtown, leaving in their path a trail of trash that will make the residents of the Oak-Hickory Historic District cringe in the morning.

Broken beer bottles can be seen scattered on driveways and sidewalks, while an empty snack food bag is shoved into a perfectly trimmed bush whose leaves and branches have been broken by littering.

The families of the Oak-Hickory Historic District cherish the history deeply embedded in their neighborhood. Yet, year after year, these residents battle the littering.

The situation is all too familiar to Don and Dolores Vann, who have lived in this historic district in their Georgian-style two-story home for nearly 40 years and have fought hard to keep it nice.

Dolores Vann, 78, lays out historic maps and articles published in various newspapers about her family and their home. She is soft-spoken but firm as she recalls how the Denton Historical Society, led by members including Yvonne A. Jenkins, Elizabeth Lomax, Carroll Rich and Vann herself, petitioned the city and the state for nearly 20 years to obtain the official historic designation to preserve their homes, some built as early as 1855.

In a time when most Texans lived on farms, Denton businessmen built large homes to display their increasing wealth on what would be known as the “Silk Stocking Row.”

By the late 1890s, what is now known as the University of North Texas began to take shape, and over time, the college took up new residence on Avenue B and Hickory Street. The university would grow in size and stature for the next several decades, often buying and repurposing homes in the surrounding neighborhoods, including what would later become the Oak-Hickory Historic District.

In 1966, the city of Denton rezoned the area multifamily, which would permit the development of apartments and duplexes, and even allow Greek housing to move into existing homes. Vann and many of her neighbors felt their neighborhood would be destroyed, its rich history lost forever unless the area could be designated a historic district.

The battle wasn’t easy. After a hard-fought conflict that lasted nearly two decades, the Oak-Hickory Historic District was officially declared in 1985.

“It was a great relief,” Vann said. “It is a pretty area, and the architecture is significant.”

Annetta and Randy Ramsey are among the beneficiaries of this historic designation, moving into the neighborhood in 2004.

They restored a Colonial Revival home built in 1906 by Jim Christal, a cowboy friend of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Edison was so fond of Christal that he sent him an original Edison light fixture, which still hangs in the Ramsey’s dinning room.

“We’re history geeks — we love history, and that’s why we are [living] in an old house,” said Annetta Ramsey, who co-founded the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science. “All of the people that live in these houses cherish history.”


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