From Emerson, TX to Emerson High School

Famed education reformer John Dewey once said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself,” and by that logic, Frisco is becoming even more alive.

In November 2018, the Frisco ISD issued a press release announcing the construction of its eleventh high school, and it was revealed in October of this year that Emerson High School will be the name of this pending facility. Moreover, plans for a twelfth high school are underway, and FISD personnel are currently taking name suggestions for the innominate project. 

Of these developments, Emerson remains on the horizon while high school No. 12’s construction has not even started yet. The former’s imminence, therefore, has warranted community-wide discussion due to the scope of the project and the meaning behind its name. 

“The total cost for Emerson High School is estimated at just under $118 million,” says Meghan Cone, the district’s assistant director of communications. “That includes construction ($111.7 million) as well as furniture, fixtures and equipment.”

These funds come from a May 2014 bond referendum, approved by 77 percent of the voters. The $775 million bond was proposed for the specific purpose of creating new educational facilities and maintaining existing ones, and, so far, it spearheaded the opening of five elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools. In addition to Emerson and high school No. 12, the referendum is also funding the construction of two additional elementary schools. It has also provided older schools in the district more buses, security enhancements and technological upgrades. 

Still, the construction of Emerson has not been without its growing pains. An October report from The Dallas Morning News found that the project has actually encountered labor shortages and unforeseen costs, and as a result, a $13 million increase led to the $111.7 million construction budget Ms. Cone noted. $4 million of that is appropriated toward previously-unaccounted amenities such as baseball/softball fields and a designated rehearsal field for the marching band.

The state-wide shortage of contractors is a significant encumbrance for this endeavor, as well. This is largely in part to the specialized nature of such labor and increasingly-stringent immigration policies that are thinning out the workforce. The rising cost of materials such as lumber and steel have also accounted for unanticipated budget increases, and as is the case with most projects of this scale, unidentifiable future occurrences will likely add to this burden. 

Indeed, there are some inefficiencies to account for, but it is not for lack of necessity that these efforts are being carried out. Frisco’s population is ever-increasing at a rate that exceeds just about every city in the country and its 2020 population is projected to reach up to 203,973 people.

Consequently, the FISD is constructing its two pending high schools on opposite ends of the city, in areas that conveniently lie adjacent to residential areas. High school No. 12 will be constructed at the intersection of Teel and Rockhill Parkways, within the vicinity of Prosper and Little Elm. Emerson, on the other hand, will be located at the easternmost side of the city, around the border between Frisco and McKinney.

Apropos to Emerson’s location is the symmetry McKinney and Frisco both share in the context surrounding its name. The history is quite fascinating, in fact. The city that would become Frisco initially sprouted in 1902 when residents of neighboring Lebanon, Texas, settled northwest of the Preston Trail to be closer to the newly-constructed St. Louis-San Francisco Railway. The people of Lebanon initially had high hopes that this railroad would break into its boundaries and thus lead to flourishing economic development. 

This prospect, however, did not come to fruition, and a mass exodus from Lebanon to the near proximity of the railway caused the city to dwindle. To add insult to egregious injury, a March 1904 tornado destroyed nearly every remaining house in the community, and the closing of its post office in June 1905 did nothing to salvage its standing. 

The sudden migration that doomed Lebanon made way for the establishment of a new railway town just a stone’s throw northwest. The name of this city was Emerson, named after McKinney businessman Francis Emerson. Mr. Emerson, an Irish immigrant who moved to McKinney after the Civil War, had previously owned this land, before selling it to railway developers for $30/acre in 1901. 

As integral as Emerson’s role was in the formation of the city, the name “Emerson” did not stick for long. An application for a post office was refused because a Lamar County city bearing the similar name “Emberson,” and so the railroad company changed the name of the township to Frisco City. “Frisco” was an elaborate portmanteau of the words “Francisco,” “Louis” and “Company,” and it stood out so well on its own that two months later, Frisco City changed its name to Frisco.

The name “Emerson High School” is a nod to this rather obscure part of Texas history, and a fitt ing one at that. In fact, as these enormous developments were being made, a school near the border of McKinney and Frisco already existed. It was called Baccus School, and it was located around what is now the intersection of Sam Rayburn Tollway/State Highway 121 and Custer Road. Baccus closed its doors in 1930 and got replaced by the short-lived Bush School, and following its subsequent dissolution, students got transferred to the Frisco and Allen school districts. 

There have been a sparse number of school openings in this particular area of Collin County in years since, but bear in mind, this was not long after Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). The Supreme Court decision’s “separate, but equal” doctrine only reinvigorated officials’ resolve to further segregate schools, and as such, black students in Frisco were sanctioned to Hamilton School, located at present-day First Street Park. Hamilton shut down in 1964 following the passage of the Civil Rights Act. 

Indeed, Frisco has come a long way in years since. It is a multifaceted history that has its virtues and vices, but growth has been a constant through all of it. This growth takes on more forms than just character. As previously mentioned, Frisco’s population has been on a rapid increase. So has its economy and education. 

These same proclivities are at play in the openings of Emerson and high school No. 12, and the former’s name seems to acknowledge that. 

As for Mr. Dewey’s aforementioned quote, whether one chooses to affirm its veracity or dismiss its schmaltziness, growth plays a crucial role in both education and life. More precisely, education is the life blood of a community, and proponents of Emerson’s construction would note that its costly nature is a small price to pay for the growth it will provide the city. 

To that point, Frisco’s transformation from a humble railway town to the economic and cultural powerhouse we celebrate today is staggering, and between the city’s infancy to its present status lies more than a century of continuous growth. The name “Emerson High School” is an acknowledgement of what the city once was, and what it is becoming. 

Garrett Gravley is a Dallas-based arts and entertainment writer, journalist and music critic.

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