Situated at the corner of 15th Street and Custer Road stands a Victorian-style home that can be easily missed by motorists. But the Wilson-Farrell House is a crucial part of Plano’s history that should never be forgotten, according to its caretakers.
“I don’t think there’s anything like this [in Plano],” said Kathy Strobel, the Heritage Farmstead Museum’s director of development. “A lot of people don’t know much about Plano’s early years. The museum helps educate them and give them a greater sense of city pride.”
Home to a few farm animals and complete with artifacts and activities that harken back to yesteryear, the Heritage Farmstead Museum occupies 4 acres and offers a glimpse into Plano’s pioneers and settler life on the Blackland Prairie. The Farrell-Wilson House and its outbuildings also tell the unorthodox life of Mary Alice Farrell and the legacy her daughter, Ammie Wilson, left on the property.
Mary Alice married Hunter Thomas Farrell in 1889 and called Plano home during a time when the city was rebuilding. Two fires—one in 1881 and the next in 1895—devastated the burgeoning settlement that originated in today’s downtown district along and near Mechanic Street.
In 2013, authors Jessica Bell and museum Curator of Collections and Exhibitions Hillary Kidd published the book “Never a Good Girl: The Renegade Spirit of the Farrell-Wilson Family.” The book outlines the history of the family and explains how the formation of the Plano Heritage Association saved the farm from development.
The museum celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2011 and provides educational programs and events for people of all ages.
Ammie was a rebel in her time. Divorced and later in life revered for her sheep business, Ammie was characterized as a “strong, hard-core woman” who also drank and smoked cigars at her poker parties, and raised sheep in a male-dominated field, according to the book.
“[Ammie] began to raise sheep as a tribute to one of the last gifts her son had given her a year before his death, a baby lamb,” the book states. “From 1941 on, Wilson’s life was dedicated to her thriving sheep business. Her flock grew to be one of the largest in the United States and she was the only woman breeder in Texas.”
Time magazine reporters traveled to Plano in 1951 to photograph Wilson and one of her newborn sheep for an article they wrote about her and her prize-winning animals.
“She visited different parts of the world to come up with this stock, and at one point had more than 300 sheep on this property,” Strobel said. “She’s the woman who inspired it all [here].”
Since its inception, the Heritage Farmstead Museum was part of Plano ISD’s third grade history lessons, Strobel said. But tight state budgets cut the museum from its curriculum a couple of years ago, she said.
“The sad part was [that] now we weren’t educating our schools. We weren’t part of that process,”
Strobel said. “Now we try to get them over here any way we can.”
As Plano looks toward the future, the museum stands as a reminder of where its roots lie, Executive Director M’Lou Taylor Hyttinen said. Although money comes with new developments, Plano’s growth also holds opportunities to educate new generations, she said.
“Do both sensitively and honor [the past and the future], a lot of cities do it. It’s a constant struggle between the old and the new,” Hyttinen said. “There were some very strong women who saw it as important to save [our] history. Where else [in Plano] can we tell our story?”