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Stories Within Walls: New Project Brings Residents Closer To Denton County History

Denton touts its downtown as one of the best-preserved in North Texas. The county historical society aims to keep it that way – and tell the stories of some downtown’s most iconic buildings.

Inside Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream on Denton’s downtown square, you’ll notice the bright yellow walls, checkered blue floors and the one thing that customers just can’t avoid.

“They walk into the door and they say, ‘Oh it smells so good in here,’” said Beth Marie’s manager, Margaret Rich. “They don’t even have to walk into the door. Sometimes they’re walking down the street, and they smell the smell and the aroma just brings them into the door.”

Rich started working at the shop just a few years after it opened in 1998.

“Thirteen years ago, we were a little ice cream shop, making maybe 20 gallons a week, and since then, it has grown so much,” she said.

Now, Beth Marie’s churns out 40 gallons a day -- from flavors like cupcake to the Salty Dog, a caramel-sea salt swirl. What customers don’t see, though, is 138 years of history. Beneath those blue checkered tiles are old wooden floors. The contemporary pressed metal ceiling now replaces the burgundy cloths and gold molding, which were lost in a fire decades ago.

Stories within walls

These stories are the purpose behind a new project called, “This Building has a History.” Together, the Denton County Office of History and Culture, the Denton County Historical Commission and Historic Denton, Inc. will spotlight historical sites across the county.

Before this, you had to shuffle through libraries and archives to learn that Beth Marie’s was first the J. A. Hann Dry Goods Store back in 1877. Now, all you have to do is take a smartphone and scan the QR code posted on the front door. It’ll then take you to a website with historical photos, facts and anecdotes

“It would mention some of the different businesses that have been in it, like water beds at one point and a photography studio at another point,” said Bob Moses, who owns Beth Marie’s as well as the entire building on West Hickory Street. It was also once home to a Burr Department Store, an antique shop and a five a dime.

Credit Courtesy of The Denton County Office of History and Culture
The building at 117 W. Hickory St. has cycled through many businesses, including the Burr Department Store.

The history project will eventually highlight eight buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, two bridges, two farms and five pottery archeological sites. Up next are buildings in the Roanoke and Pilot Point Historic Districts.

“We want people to understand that they’ve been around a long time, so they are sustainable. And hopefully the owners will find ways to maintain them and preserve them,” said Peggy Riddle, the director of the county’s Office of History and Culture.

That, unfortunately, wasn’t the case for the Exchange National Bank Building on the Square’s southeast corner. After a string of name and ownership changes, it was ultimately torn down in the early 60’s and replaced with a sleeker 8-story structure.

Riddle says these historical sites, and the stories and character they add, are what people love most about a city. Beth Marie’s is a prime example. Owner Bob Moses has quite the memory for his building’s dated history, but it’s his first day he remembers best.

“When we first bought it, I sat in the back of it one day and watched people walk in the front door and they were happy,” Moses said. “And I watched people as they picked out and ate their ice cream, and they were happy.”

Everything at Beth Marie’s is old-fashioned -- from the 100-plus hand-swirled flavors to the long luncheonette-style counter. There’s an antique gas pump in one corner and old photos and vintage posters in another.

It’s a living -- and tasty -- tribute to the way things were.