Embracing the Big Four-Oh!

January 14, 2020 | Main Spotlight: Embracing the Big Four-Oh! The Story of the Texas Main Street Program—And How it Almost Didn’t Happen | By Debra Drescher, Texas Main Street Program Coordinator, Texas Historical Commission, and Rob Hodges, Communications Project Coordinator, Texas Historical Commission

Anice_and_program_mgrs.jpgAnice Read, founder of the Texas Main Street Program (left of center), with some of the state’s earliest program managers in the 1980s. Courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission.

The Texas Main Street Program, Texas Historical Commission, and Friends of the Texas Historical Commission will co-host the 2020 Main Street Now Conference in Dallas, May 18–20, with the opening reception occurring the night of May 17. Get to know our host city, state, and Main Street communities through this special blog series. Conference registration is now open. Early-bird registration closes February 3!

2020 is an important milestone for the Main Street movement, as the national program celebrates its 40th birthday. This anniversary will be even more special since we’ll be celebrating it at the Main Street Now Conference in one of the original six states where the program launched. Texas is honored to commemorate our special anniversary, not only with Main Street America, but also alongside the other states that were the first to sign on—Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

The first Texas Main Street communities came on board in early 1981, a year after the Texas Main Street Program was established as part of the Texas Historical Commission (THC). Four of the original five remain active Main Street communities today: Eagle Pass at the Texas-Mexico border, Hillsboro south of Dallas, Plainview in the Panhandle-Plains region, and Seguin in Central Texas. During the past four decades, Texas has served 181 communities. Cumulatively, more than $4.4 billion has been reinvested, along with the creation of over 41,000 jobs and 10,000 small businesses.

Today, a Texas Main Street Program staff of nine provides services to 90 Main Street communities of all sizes across the Lone Star State—ranging from less than 2,000 in population to 50,000 or more, including urban areas such as Corpus Christi and Emancipation Avenue Main Street in Houston. Twenty-eight communities have participated in the program for 20 years or more. And several of those—Hillsboro, Denton, Denison, McKinney, and Grapevine—are hosting field sessions during the Main Street Now conference.

TMSP_staff_2019.jpgCurrent staff of the Texas Main Street Program in front of their headquarters, the Anice Read Texas Main Street Center next to the State Capitol in Austin. Courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission.

But the Texas Main Street Program almost never happened.

In January 1980, the White House sent a letter to the states inviting them to bid in a competition that would select six states to start the Main Street program. The story goes that the Texas letter ended up in the garbage of another state agency (confirmed later by the person who threw it in the trash) because there was no money attached to the invitation. But that misfortune would not stop our founder.

The foundation for the Texas Main Street Program was laid by Anice Barber Read, whose legacy lives on today. Working alongside early leaders of the national project, such as Mary Means and Kennedy Smith, she brought Main Street to Texas and became the state program’s first director, a position she held until the 1990s prior to her passing in 1998.

Read created some of our program’s important traditions that are still observed today, including the annual visit by the First Lady of Texas to each incoming Main Street community to welcome them into the network. In a 1998 oral history of the Texas Main Street Program, Read recalled the initial First Lady’s visit in 1981, when then-First Lady Rita Clements put on a pair of gloves and painted a final patch of a downtown building as part of the event! The four First Ladies since have continued the tradition. And—again thanks to Read—the Independent Bankers Association of Texas has sponsored this event for the past 26 years. It has created a wonderful alliance between Main Street and community banks that are well-suited to support Main Street entrepreneurs.

Buda.jpgFirst Lady of Texas Cecilia Abbott unveils a design rendering during a 2017 event welcoming the town of Buda into the Texas Main Street network. Courtesy of Texas Historical Commission.

Five years after organizing the Texas Main Street Program, Read formed the Texas Downtown Association, which continues to serve as an important partner for our work. Another of her creations was the Texas Main Street cake she baked and delivered when visiting legislators to drum up support for the program. The legacy of that cake lives on—our state office and local programs still serve it at celebrations.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation honored Read with the renowned Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award in 1998. She rests in the Texas State Cemetery, which is reserved for legendary Texans. Learn more about the creation of the Texas Main Street Program, Anice Read, and the Texas Main Street cake in past issues of our Main Street Matters newsletter (January 2016, October 2016, and March 2019).

To celebrate the 40th anniversary and the Main Street Now conference being hosted in Texas, the Texas Historical Commission is offering the Let’s Texas, Main Street! sweepstakes. One lucky person will win a travel prize package to Denton featuring two nights of lodging, dining, tours, and more. Located just north of Dallas, Denton has been a Main Street community since 1990 and is one of just two Great American Main Street Award™ winners in Texas. Entrants do not have to attend the conference, or even be associated with Main Street, to win. However, if the randomly selected winner turns out to be a conference attendee, they might consider staying a few extra days during the Memorial Day weekend.

The sweepstakes will be open February 1–29. Learn more and enter at letstexasmainstreet.com.

The Let’s Texas, Main Street! sweepstakes is modeled after a similar contest we hosted a few years ago for the Texas Main Street Program’s 35th anniversary. The Celebrate Main Street sweepstakes was recognized by the National Main Street Center with a 2017 Innovation on Main Street Award. Sponsors of Let’s Texas, Main Street! are the Texas Historical Commission, Texas Main Street Program, Travel Texas, City of Denton, Discover Denton, and Denton Main Street Association.

About the authors:
Debra Drescher has been state coordinator of the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Main Street Program since 2006. She spends most of her work hours traveling the Lone Star State working with its 90 Main Street communities.

Rob Hodges joined the Texas Historical Commission in 2009 and has worked in the Communications Division as the brochure development coordinator, media relations coordinator, social media coordinator, and now is a communications project coordinator.