Skip to content

The Three Historians Who (Literally) Wrote the Book on Hidden Plano

The first Iranian and first enrolled Native American in space have both called Plano home. You can read about them in the upcoming Hidden History of Plano , a book created by three of Plano’s biggest fans.
Photo courtesy of the Facebook of Downtown Plano Arts District.

The first Iranian and first enrolled Native American in space have both called Plano home. You can read about them in the upcoming Hidden History of Plano, a book created by three of Plano’s biggest fans.  

If anyone were going to write the book on the “hidden” parts of Plano, these three have the chops and the passion to do it. 

Jeff Campbell saves a record of the Plano stories he finds over time when doing research. Cheryl Smith has records, books and newspapers—and the know-how to navigate them all—at her fingertips. Mary Jacobs will use any and every resource she can find to track down a story. 

For this book, the three have teamed up with the Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation, compiling some lesser-known histories that have helped shape the City of Excellence into what it is today. 

The book, set to be released in March, covers topics ranging from a Plano-based butcher to the odd story of the University of Plano. 

The three aren’t new to the game of collecting Plano’s history.

We sit in the back office of the Interurban Railway Museum. Bright fluorescent light gives life to the desks and shelves of what are probably records of some sort tucked away at the top of the museum’s hidden stairs. As we get settled, Cheryl mentions how exciting it was to see her name on the book’s recently-designed cover. 

The three are part of the conservancy, which authored Football and Integration in Plano, Texas: Stay in there, Wildcats! and Plano’s Historic Cemeteries. Jeff is the conservancy’s executive director. Cheryl Smith is also a senior public services librarian specializing in genealogy with the Plano Public Library, and Mary Jacobs wrote Haunted Plano, Texas. She’s also the producer of the Plano Podcast. 

Jeff and Cheryl’s occupations in archives makes them go-to open ears for anyone who has a piece of history to share. 

“I think we’re just kind of magnets for this kind of stuff,” Jeff says. His research on one topic will often lead him to other stories that he sets aside for future use.   

Cheryl’s name will pop up in conversations if someone has a piece of local history to share. 

“I have several people that go out into the world and say, ‘Oh you have that? You need to take it to Cheryl over at the genealogy center at Haggard Library,’” she says. 

The book will provide a concrete one-stop-shop of Plano lore that gives a sense of place to residents new and old, and to anybody else who’s interested. 

For Mary, it’s more a matter of chasing after some stories, such as the story of John Herrington, the first enrolled Native American in space. Searching for his story included asking for any information from people on Facebook, tracking down his yearbook picture and finding talks he did on YouTube.    

Read more: The Plano City Secretary caught in the middle of the Plano Tomorrow controversy

Some stories are heartwarming, like the one recounting how in 1947, the volunteer fire department raised today’s equivalent of $13,000 in a mere six hours in order to fund an iron lung. Others, like the story of the pagoda that used to stand tall on Plano soil, donated by the Malaysian government, remind us that even the skyline we see in front of us can’t be taken for granted. 

It isn’t always easy to tell Plano’s story. Even today, there are elements of its history, like its own christening, that are mostly unknown.  

“There are no facts for how the story of Plano got started, or how we named Plano,” Cheryl says, “but there’s enough of the story for how the name was created that it almost makes sense. The main thing is that somebody said, ‘Let’s call it Plano, Spanish for plains.’”  

But the stories that made it into Hidden History of Plano each add a piece to the puzzle of what Plano was as today’s residents help decide what Plano will be. Mary sees a connection between the two. 

“I think the thing that has struck me in doing all this work is that people came here for opportunity,” she says. 

In the past, Mary says, people could come here for the chance to get land. Today, she says people come for the opportunity to work at businesses like Toyota.  

“Now it’s people coming from China and India. But it used to be people from Kentucky,” she says. “So there are some interesting common threads.”

Inside the Collin County Courthouse, more women than ever before are—literally—holding court

As more people come into the city, they will see the many voices of today’s Plano ranging from the newer Legacy West businesses to the halls of Plano’s three senior high schools. Each of those places could host yet more hidden Plano stories that might someday crop up as local lore. 

For now, those voices can quiet down, if only for a few hours, while readers appreciate the wonder of what came before them.