Master naturalist Rich Jaynes has documented many of the native plants and grasses found at what he calls the “miracle prairie” at Frankford.
Carolyn Oldham and Jerri Kerr, members of Prairie and Timbers Audubon Society of Collin County, have documented many of the bird species observed at Frankford.
These documents are updated periodically and are available for download below.
In late May 2010 Rosa approached me about discontinuing the mowing of parts of our fields “just to see what might come up.” We selected a portion of our west meadow not far from the church to begin our experiment. In short order, plants of all kinds pushed their way through the black soil.
As our experiment continued we noticed a significant number of non-native plants encroaching on the native plants. Rosa advised that if we did not remove the non-natives the project would not be successful. Two excellent helpers, trained by Rosa, and I worked most Fridays and Saturdays for three years during the growing season removing plants that Rosa had identified as non-natives and undesirable. Neighbors who walked our site wondered what on earth we were doing.
In late June 2010 while removing non-natives my co-workers and I noticed a new grass distinctly different from others in the meadow. It had rich, waxy, bluish-green, long blades that arced out to the ground in a circular pattern. Standing in the middle of the meadow I called Rosa and described this “new” plant. “Should we pull it, Rosa?” Her reply: “I’m not sure what you are describing but don’t touch it until I return to Frankford.”
About two weeks later, on a late Sunday afternoon, Rosa and I met at Frankford and I showed her the unidentified plants. By that time they had sent up seed stalks the tops of which looked like turkey feet. Rosa gasped. “This is big blue stem,” she replied. She explained that big blue stem is one of the “Big Four” grasses of the Blackland Prairie which can grow up to eight feet tall. It is unusual to find it indigenous to an urban site today. There it was, however—a solid mass of big blue, sturdy and green despite the intense heat and drought. It seemed delighted we had given it a chance to grow after so many years of mowing.
It was at that moment, with the setting summer sun casting its light on our west meadow that Rosa knew what we had was “the real deal.” Under Rosa’s guidance my helpers and I continued our work reinvigorated and with a new-found sense of purpose. All the while, the plants, native and not, continued to come up. Still today it is hard to describe my feelings during those amazing first years of work in the prairie. It was, as naturalist Matt White has said, like discovering a lost world. We forged on.
As the native plants sprang up all around us and we continued to pull the non-natives, I wondered about the history of the Frankford site. Could it be that this little patch of prairie existed because it had escaped the plow in some miraculous way? The historic deeds for the church site held some of the answers.
In 1852 W. C. (Captain) McKamy bought land from Peters Colonists in what is now southern Collin County and northern Dallas County. This land included Indian Springs on the banks of a tributary of White Rock Creek. On the site was an area still referred to today as “the wagon yard.” Native Americans camped there as early as the 1400s and settlers parked their covered wagons on that spot in the mid-1800s. Captain McKamy sold firewood and drinking water to the settlers that camped near Indian Springs.
Eventually, the town of Frankford grew around the everlasting springs. At the end of their lives, residents of the tiny community were laid to rest under the prairie grasses, thus beginning the formation of Frankford Cemetery.
In September 1873, Captain McKamy sold five acres east of the creek and Indian Springs to the White Rock Masonic Lodge for the building of a church. It is possible that McKamy was willing to sell the five acres to the Lodge because the limestone was so close to the surface and unsuitable for farming but would provide a solid foundation for a church. He and his wife, Rachel, were devout Methodists who held services in their home in the early years of Frankford.
Captain McKamy had not tilled that five-acre tract since he had bought it in 1852 and between 1873 and 2010 no one else broke ground on it. Starting in probably the late 1940s the site was mowed sporadically for events like Decoration Day. Though the tract was mowed, it was never plowed and the roots of its ancient plants lay under the surface until 2010 when they were finally given an opportunity to grow once again.
In May 2011, as I addressed the Decoration Day crowd in the little church, I saw through the windows an unfamiliar man in his Sunday suit walking through the prairie. After the service I met this man. Rich Jaynes, native Blackland Prairie enthusiast and teacher, was fascinated by our prairie remnant. Before he left that day he implored me to allow the east meadow to grow. We did just that.
In early March 2012, photographer David Rogers, who had been taking pictures for a Frankford brochure, called me. “Have you been to Frankford lately?” I could sense the excitement and urgency in his voice. “The east meadow is covered with light blue flowers. You must come at once.” I hurried to Frankford where I found the east meadow awash in light lilac flowers that clung to seed stalks rising about a foot from the ground. Each plant by itself was beautiful. The hundreds, perhaps thousands grouped together were spectacular.
This newly discovered plant was soon identified as Camassia scilloides, or wild blue hyacinth. It is rather unusual to find it in abundance in North Texas but is sometimes found on limestone prairies, like the Frankford Prairie.
The discovery of big blue stem at Frankford convinced Rosa that we had a genuine remnant of prairie at Frankford while the emergence of the wild blue hyacinths convinced some of the neighbors that this puzzling project could have some merit. Seven years after their re-appearance the hyacinths each spring have become a greatly anticipated event. Neighbors and visitors from all over the Dallas area come to enjoy the fragile beauty of these remarkable flowers.
After the discovery of the Frankford Prairie we opted for a path we had not expected when we embarked on the restoration of the church. I am deeply grateful to the Frankford Cemetery Association, the newly formed Frankford Preservation Foundation, Rosa Finsley, Rich Jaynes, Matt White and his family, countless master naturalists, historians and prairie tour enthusiasts. Your steady support, work and encouragement make us realize we chose the right path. In the words of Robert Frost, “It has made all the difference.”
Frankford Preservation Foundation
Hello Frankford friends, Over these past long months while many of our events were put on hold, we completed several significant projects that enhance the Frankford site. We have been heartened by your encouragement during this unpredictable time. As we gradually begin to return to our normal event schedule, we look forward to seeing you in person at Frankford. Thank you for your continued support. Faithfully, Kathy Wells Power,
President Projects Completed in 2020 & 2021
Windmill Restored We restored our vintage windmill circa 1952 so the blades now move with the wind.
Invasive Plants Removed Members of North Texas Master Naturalist chapter removed non-native plants from our remnant of the Blackland Prairie – an ongoing process.
Telephone Poles Removed Frankford Cemetery Association (FCA), our sister organization, removed old telephone poles from our site and buried electrical wires. Thanks to FCA for sponsoring this project. Now, more than ever, visiting Frankford is like stepping back in time.
In 1896 the Frankford community decided to rebuild Frankford Church using some of the wood from the first church, destroyed by a tornado in the 1880s. WC (Captain) McKamy and others hired Phillip Bethea Hamer, a noted builder from the nearby town of Renner, to supervise the project. Hamer was married to Henrietta Coit, daughter of John Taylor and Catherine Bunting Coit. In April, 1896 Henrietta Coit Hamer died in childbirth. The beautiful little Frankford Church was completed in 1897. In his grief, Phil Hamer created a sacred space that continues to warm hearts and souls all these years later.
Resource: Angela Fabry, great-great granddaughter of John and Cattie Coit.
Catherine (Cattie) Bunting Coit 1837-1883
In 1859 Catherine (Cattie) Bunting Coit, moved from South Carolina to a farm in Renner, near Frankford, with her husband John and small child. Cattie Coit was a remarkable woman. Born on an Alabama plantation, she was orphaned by the age of eight and moved to South Carolina to live with relatives from her mother’s family. Cattie graduated as Valedictorian of her college class where she excelled in Latin and mathematics. She taught school in her Renner home and later in Dallas where she and her family moved after her husband returned from the Civil War in frail health. After John Coit died, Cattie moved her family back to the Renner farm to restore it. She added room on the second level of their cabin which was used as the boys’ bedroom while the ground floor served as a school. Here she taught school, educated her own children, and managed to pay off heavy debts with which she was burdened.
Cattie Coit’s family in South Carolina prevailed upon her to return to her childhood home where they could take care of her and her children. By this time Cattie had lost a leg due to a diseased bone and moved with great difficulty, but she insisted on staying in Texas. She wrote to her relatives saying that the land in Texas was her children’s legacy and they must remain in Texas.
A prolific writer through letters and her diary, Cattie wrote extensively about her experiences in Texas. She wrote of waking up on a spring morning to see her prairie blanketed in wildflowers. Cattie seemed to view the prairie in poetic and in very practical terms in equal measure. She would sometimes let the farm animals graze on the native plants in the prairie as if she were giving them a treat. Cattie Coit, her husband John and other members of their family are buried in Frankford Cemetery where she is once again near a bit of the North Texas prairie she loved so much.
Louise Cook Simmons 1925-2015 (from oral history interview)
Louise Cook Simmons grew up near her grandparents, Henry and Opha Jane Needham Cook, northwest of Frankford. In 1846, Louise Simmons’ great-grandfather, Henry Cook, led a caravan from Illinois to Texas at age seventy-five, a task seldom undertaken by any but a younger man. Henry patented land as a Peters Colonist selecting property in two different tracts, one with a spring and one with an adequate wood supply, both vital necessities. The Cook farm was a substantial farm in what is now far west Plano for well over a hundred years.
Louise Cook lived with her Grandma and Grandpa Cook for a time during her childhood and participated in the everyday farm chore. Every year Grandma Cook raised turkeys to sell for Thanksgiving. The turkeys invariably got out of the yard and headed down to the creek looking for water. Louise vividly remembered chasing the turkeys out of Frankford Cemetery as a small child.
Nancy Cartledge Dudley is buried in an unmarked grave at Frankford. She died in 1879 in a log cabin at Willow Springs where she was visiting a married son. Knowing that death was near, Nancy asked that her family wrap her body in a winding sheet made of handkerchief linen for her burial. After she died her family rode by horse drawn wagon to Sanger Brother in the village of Dallas. Dutifully, they prepared Nancy Dudley’s body for burial. Wrapping a body in linen is an old Irish burial custom. Many early North Texas settlers, including those at Frankford, were of Irish descent. Frances Bate Wells
Indian Springs at Frankford
In the 1840s and 1850s travelers moved in covered wagons south along the Shawnee Trail also known as the Texas Road and Preston Road. Travelers camped where there was source of pure water, firewood and native grasses for their animals. The site we now know as Frankford had all of these elements. The springs on the west side of the creek on the property had been used by Native Americans and others for centuries. The area west of the creek was perfect for camping with its soft prairie grasses, and the creek beds were abundant with trees for firewood.
Later the tiny town of Frankford grew up around Indian Springs. In the 1880s the town began to diminish after the Cotton Belt Railroad built a station at Addison, south of Frankford. By 1910 all that remained of the town of Frankford were Frankford Church and Cemetery. A few farm families remained but Indian Springs was not as vital as it once was.
In the 1930s during a drought, someone covered Indian Springs with a concrete “cap.” It is surmised that this was done to provide more pressure for Keller Springs to the south, which was more accessible to the road making it easy for people to drive by to fill containers with water. Today, Indian Springs at Frankford flows again. Master naturalists known as the Stream Team regularly test the water of all the everlasting springs in the Dallas area, including Indian Springs at Frankford. These dedicated people report that the water of Indian Springs is amazingly pure and drinkable even today. Frances Bates Wells, J. C. Foster
The name Frankford
Some early Frankford residents speculated that the name was chosen because it was descriptive of local conditions. A “ford” is a portion of a stream where the water is shallow enough and the banks low enough to made wading possible for man or animals. “Frank” can mean free with respect to conditions or absence of restrictions. Thus “Frankford” might mean a ford available for public use.
Caroline Drake Nix wrote in her 1900 autobiography that Julia and Warren Cotton’s three year old son Frank was the person for whom Frankford community was named. The Cottons came to Texas in 1857 around the time of the development of Frankford community. Frances Bates Wells
Many visitors to the historic Frankford site are fascinated by the little Prairie Gothic church that has stood there since the late 1890s. Upon entering the church one is struck by its simple grace. The walls, ceiling and floors are lined with dark stained long leaf yellow pine hauled to Frankford from Jefferson, Texas by horse drawn wagon.
Philip Bethea Hamer, from the neighboring town of Renner, designed and was in charge of the construction of Frankford church. A recognized local builder in his day, Phil Hamer also constructed the Renner cotton gin and the fine Victorian home of Henry Coit. Of these buildings Frankford Church is the only one that remains standing today.
Phil Hamer married Henrietta Coit, the daughter of John and Catharine Malloy Bunting Coit and the sister of Henry Coit. In 1896 Henrietta Coit Hamer died in childbirth and was laid to rest near her parents in Frankford Cemetery. Around the time of his beloved wife’s death, Phil Hamer began the Frankford Church building project. He eventually remarried, had more children and moved to Oklahoma with his son Robert by Henrietta and his new family. Near Henrietta Coit Hamer’s grave in Frankford Cemetery stands a small monument with the initials P. B. H.
Today Frankford Church stands as a testament to the skill and artistry of a man named Phil Hamer who in his grief created a sanctuary that continues to warm hearts and comfort souls.
Kathy Power, President frankfordpreservationfoundation.org frankfordcemetery.org
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