As Denton resident Randy Hunt gathered data for the Texas Historical Commission for a project, he realized he had a tool just about anyone interested in Denton history would like.
Hunt’s group, Historic Denton Inc., promotes the preservation of and advocacy for Denton’s historical neighborhoods and areas. Hunt, backed by a group of fellow homeowners along West Oak Street, started the work to develop National Register districts in 2014. In January, he expects the National Register of Historic Places to announce the West Denton Residential National Register District.
In the meantime, a virtual tour of the original 1921-era residential neighborhood gives anyone a look into Denton as the University of North Texas grew. It’s sort of a bonus from the 125-page document Hunt created as part of his efforts to have the area north of West Hickory Street named a National Register district.
“When we started working with the National Parks Service, we were working with all new people because of the pandemic,” Hunt said. “As we worked with them, it became easier to put everything in a map. Once we did that it made sense to share it with everyone on our email list. We have a big email list — I’ve got probably 1,000 people on it — and we’ve gotten some feedback on the virtual tours.”
The virtual tours take you to a bird’s-eye view of 16 streets: Alice, Amarillo and Anderson streets; Congress, Denton and Egan streets; Fulton, Gregg, Haynes and Hickory streets; Mounts, Oak and Panhandle streets; Parkway, Pearl and Ponder streets.
Hunt said to satisfy officials with the state historical commission and the U.S. Park Service, Hunt said he had to pull together 300 data elements for each structure.
He credited Mike Cochran, a former City Council member and local history buff. “While he was on council, he saw these old property tax records, and I’m talking about information on old manila cards,” Hunt said. “They were going to be thrown out, and Mike was there on council, and he said, ‘Oh no, they won’t.’”
Hunt said a lot of the data elements gathered came from those tax records, and other information came from photos, newspaper articles and the public record.
“When you put this together, you gather as many details as possible: current owners, the [geographic information system] location for it,” he said. “We also look for the survey name, the legal description of the building, which includes its purpose. The park service like to have three to four photographs of the current building, but they prefer to find a historic image, too. They want to be able to tell the architectural style — is it a Tudor or a Craftsman? Then there is a lot of details that old house lovers would enjoy: Is the roof metal and is the siding original, or has the garage been converted into a music studio?
“The park service also wants to know: Has this house been on a previous survey? You find to find all that out and then you determine is it contributing — contributing is really the key,” Hunt said.
“Contributing” property owners are those who maintain their property and preserve the historical integrity of it.
Hunt said the tours orient visitors to the time when architects and builders were preparing to accommodate university and faculty administrators.
“It’s been really fun doing this and hearing from people who tell you, ‘I’m looking for the house my granddad loves,’” Hunt said. “It’s even more special when you encounter people who see that they live a few blocks away from that house their granddad loves.”
The virtual tours are just a small part of what a National Register district can create.
“In a town like Denton, you have so many people who move in and they don’t really know the history of the neighborhoods,” he said. “How do you get buy-in for people to preserve these old buildings? And when people start to contribute, it makes a difference. There’s an owner over on Parkway that started working on a house, and you look around and people are starting to paint their houses. We’re doing what the Parks Service calls heritage tourism. You’re establishing something that explains, here’s who lived in this house. And you learn to tell its stories better.”