Close your eyes and try to visualize the downtown McKinney square, the heart of downtown McKinney, busy with women in bustles walking across unpaved streets to carts full of goods. Hear the horse drawn carts or the distant whistle of a freight train. If you can imagine, McKinney was once like every other railroad community – full of saloons, brothels and bootleggers – definitely a far cry from today’s square, stuffed with antiques, places to eat and toy stores.
But, the downtown area hasn’t always been so pleasant and it has seen its fair share of disaster and hardship. From the Mississippi Building, now the Magic Shop, collapsing and then catching fire in 1913, to the supposed murder that took place in what is now Churchill’s, one can only imagine what else may have gone occurred.
Creaking floors from the original building, quaint seating and good home-cooking are just a few things that add to the building that is now The Pantry restaurant. However, it was once the Hope Hardware building that for 80 years sold everything from rope to nails. Legend has it that while work was being done on the Hardware building, a worker was crushed by a lift and unfortunately died. Under those circumstances it is no surprise that paranormal activity has been reported, from phantom voices to footsteps after closing. But don’t let those claims deter you from ordering some of the best pie McKinney has to offer.
Walk across the street from The Pantry and head west and north a bit and you’ll come across a unique McKinney treasure. Churchill’s, a lovely English pub, sits right in the mix of the all the activity on the southeast corner of the downtown square. It’s difficult to imagine that this pub was once a popular brothel, entertaining gentlemen brought by the railroad and the cotton manufacturing business. Rumor has it that a scorned man came into the brothel one evening and shot another man. Perhaps the other man owed him money or perhaps he was becoming too familiar with a particular lady-friend. According to Churchill’s owner Marie Briton when she and her business partner started renovating the building, activity began happening.“ Within the first few weeks, the computers and electronics began to go haywire.”, Briton recalls. “Then, upstairs the door near the restroom would slam and jam itself.”And do you want to hear something even more spooky? Well let’s just say, the next time you go to Churchill’s be sure to ask the staff about “the shadow” near the kitchen. And if you’re too afraid to inquire, then just ask for fish and chips and a cold beverage.
Finally,The Magic Shop, on North Tennessee St. was once know as The Mississippi Building. The three story building was a popular store off the square where people met to trade goods. Tragedy struck on January 23,1913 when the building collapsed killing ten people and wounding at least fourteen more.According to records,“The buildings fell with a terrific, grinding roar. Dust and smoke covered the entire street and square. As soon as the dust had cleared, people were climbing upon the wreckage in an effort to rescue those who were trapped beneath the brick, mortar, and timbers. A fire broke out in the center of the Mississippi Store near the stove. The fire raged for over an hour before being brought under control.”With a massive disaster like that, no wonder claims of paranormal activity have surfaced, but be careful if you ask…you never know what is real or what is magic.
It’s hard to believe downtown McKinney once played host to such colorful characters and we, as citizens, are very fortunate to be able to still visit such historic buildings. For just a moment, we are allowed a glimpse into history – back at life before our time. So whether you are sitting down for drinks, hearing strange noises or practicing magic, the square in historic downtown McKinney offers a unique experience for everyone. It stands to remind us that though history is what has gone before, it will never be forgotten.