For most people, history begins when they arrive on the scene. For the majority of Keller’s estimated 44,050 residents, that goes back about 20 years or less.
They may not remember when U.S. 377 and Keller Parkway were two-lane country roads with bar ditches on both sides. U.S. 377 even had a canopy of trees on either side. Or that Keller enlisted high school students for its volunteer fire department.
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They may not know that the earliest settlement was located just outside of town or that Keller originally had a very different name.
Those who don’t know the city’s history have obviously never spent time with Joyce Gibson Roach, a retired history teacher and passionate keeper of all things Keller.
She’s written books about the town’s history and is on the Old Town Keller Foundation board.
“We’re trying hard to save the history of Keller,” Roach said. “It’s as important as anything that’s done in this town.”
She moved to Keller in 1962, but her knowledge goes back more than 160 years. That’s when a group of Missouri pioneers discovered the Double Springs area and decided to relocate their families there. This was a few miles north of Keller in what is now north Fort Worth.
In 1881, news spread that the Texas and Pacific Railroad would extend its tracks north from Fort Worth to Denton with stops in Roanoke and Watauga.
“When those at Double Springs heard the news that a train was going to be passing by, they pulled up their houses, loaded them on big wagons and settled themselves close to the railroad track,” Roach said.
They named that settlement Athol, a reference to a region in Scotland. Then, an enterprising T&P railroad official named John Keller offered to build a train station in the town — with a stipulation.
“He apparently had enough clout that he said if you name this town after me I will see that you get a depot,” Roach said. “And that was done.”
On May 9, 1882, the first train rolled into the newly named town of Keller near what is now U.S. 377.
“Keller exists because of the railroad. Keller would never have come to be anything,” Roach said.
She remembers the days when the school district was intimately connected to the town. She never missed Friday night football. If there was a fire or other emergency during the school day, the volunteer fire department would sound the alarm.
“A good many high school senior boys were in the fire department,” Roach said. “When you’d have a fire alarm, the alarm would ring in town. At least a quarter of my class would go. I’m happy to say that there are a few who went into that as a career and were on Keller’s fire and rescue.”
Many of Keller’s earliest homes are still around, though many aren’t in the original location.
Cathie Jackson, chair of the Old Town Keller Foundation, has fond memories of an old two-story yellow home on Keller Parkway where she and her sister, Marrianne Stevenson, owned Catherine Anne’s Antiques and Collectibles from 1997 to 2003.
In those days, Keller Parkway wasn’t nearly the bustling thoroughfare it is today.
“We’d sit out on the porch and say, ‘I wish somebody would come by,’ ” Jackson said. “A car would come by every now and then.”
Like a lot of Keller residents, Justin McMurry moved to Keller in the 1980s. He worked for IBM and commuted to Las Colinas first then later to the campus in Westlake.
He bought a home on Johnson Road before all the subdivisions started popping up.
“I’d go out and get the newspaper in the morning and there were the cows over there with the bells jingling,” McMurry said. “I thought I was living in the country. All of a sudden I woke up and it wasn’t so country anymore.”
While he loves the old small-town Keller from 1980, McMurry had a hand in shaping Keller during his 15 years on the Planning and Zoning Commission. He was chairman for several years and made recommendations on critical developments.
“I can remember some contentious public hearings,” he said. “People screaming at us, saying we were taking bribes.”
In the 1980s, he and his wife would drive all the way to Grapevine, Hurst or other nearby cities to shop for groceries or visit a sit-down restaurant.
“We had a Dairy Queen,” he said. “Beyond that, I’m not sure I could identify what we had.”
As the city has tripled its population since then, the retail and restaurant options have dramatically improved as well.
“We’re getting some decent restaurants,” he said. “The tax base for the city has grown as new shopping options have grown. We sure as heck got the gas stations.”
Carl Hopkins, a longtime Keller firefighter, was born and raised in Keller and, like Roach, has a passion for the city’s history. He led the effort to dedicate a wall inside Town Hall to Keller’s history.
His great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side, William Crawford Sr., lived in Double Springs in the 1880s. His great-grandfather helped install the first phone service in Keller at the start of the 20th century. His parents met at the old Keller High School.
Longtime residents who have called 911 for fire emergencies probably know Hopkins well. He’s been a firefighter since 1986.
“We covered all the way to I-35 and all the way to Fossil Ridge,” Hopkins said. “There none of the current roads were there then. It was all farmland.”
You’ve come a long way, baby
Keller has certainly come a long way from its early beginnings as a railroad town to being named No. 7 on the list of best places to live in the country by Money Magazine. Early settlers wanted to be close to the railroad track, while families moving to Keller today are attracted to schools, jobs, airports and abundant retail and restaurants.
“It’s natural for Keller to be part of the DFW natural growth,” said Trina Zais, director of the city’s public services and economic development. “Juxtaposed between Alliance and DFW International airports and near both Texas 114 and I-35W adds geographic attractiveness.”
The city also looks back at its past as it revitalizes and reshapes Old Town Keller, a $4.25 million project that will add parking, public art and a pedestrian promenade.
“The city investment into Old Town Keller has already begun to establish it as a destination,” said Zais, referring to two new restaurants that are locating at the development on U.S. 377. “The close proximity and mixture of businesses with high pedestrian activity is what makes Old Town Keller highly desirable.”
The desire to grow into a modern suburban city while maintaining the appeal of a small-town is evident throughout Keller, reflected in the city’s vision statement “to balance big-city comforts with small-town charm.”