City celebrates 50 years of friendly progress

A lot has changed as Highland Village nears its 50th anniversary. But enough has stayed the same for two long-time residents to still feel as much at home there as they did after they first moved in.

The city was officially chartered early in 1963, and didn’t reach a population of over 1,000 until the mid-’70s.

With over 15,000 residents now, the city doesn’t have quite the same small-town feel as when Dianne Ashmore moved in with her family three dozen years ago.

“It was pretty tiny when we moved here,” she said. “If you had told me 36 years ago that the city would be this size, even after this length of time, I would still not have believed it.”

Does it feel like the same city?

“The answer would sort of be a yes and a no,” Ashmore said. “Yes, from the standpoint that the community still has a smaller-community feel, and our city employees do an incredible job of being accessible and friendly and helpful.”

Peggy Gentry, who served on the Historical Committee which produced the book “A History and Heritage of Highland Village,” moved in about a decade after the Ashmores, though she lived in Lewisville for 11 years before that.

“Back then, Highland Village was considered to be some distance from where we lived,” Gentry said. “There was a lot of open land in between, and part of Highland Village Road was gravel — not in 1985, but previous to that.

“It has grown — in doing our book, we learned so much about how it all came about,” Gentry said. “When we moved to Lewisville in 1973, we went to the Double Tree Ranch for square dancing, and it seemed like it was quite a distance away.”

Each of the residents said that the major change has to do with how much open space Highland Village had when they first arrived, compared to the built-out city it is now.

“There were no houses on the west side of Highland Village Road, what we now call Highland Shores,” Gentry said. “My daughter was on the drill team, and they had a parade down Highland Village Road. In the pictures, you can see that there was nothing but beautiful open space and trees on the west side of the road.”

“As far as the open space that was here when we first moved here, no, it doesn’t resemble it at all, because now it’s just solid houses,” Ashmore added. “What is now Highland Shores, we used to call Mobile Land, because Mobile owned it and the whole 9,000 acres or so was undeveloped.”

“Mobile Land” was a fun place for her daughters, Ashmore said.

“There was an area that everyone called Crystal Mountain, and it had all these rocks — it didn’t take much digging to uncover crystals, and my kids used to drag those home by the box-loads, thinking they’d found real treasure.”

When Ashmore and her husband, Ken, moved in, their daughter Emily was 10 days old and their eldest, Allison, was 4.

“They rode their horses on Mobile Land,” Ashmore said. “We’d have picnics over there, and in fact the city used to have picnics over there.”

Gentry reflected on how the city has changed since 1985, when she first arrived.

“In some ways it still feels the same, but in many ways it does not — it’s so much more convenient to go shopping now; the people are still friendly,” she said.

“Of course, we live on the east side, which I call the old portion of Highland Village. But I still feel like it’s a great place; I mean, the city has done a super job with all the trails and the parks, and it’s very comfortable. The police are friendly and we see them out in the community. If we ever have a question or a problem, we get answers right away — they’re very open.”

The Highland Village Police Department has received national recognition on numerous occasions as the city is consistently ranked one of the safest, if not the safest, places to live in the United States.

But Ashmore recalls the department’s humble origins with fondness.

“When we came there were two police officers; Fred Chance was the chief, and the other officer was Tom Teague,” Ashmore said. “My husband used to joke that Fred carried the gun and Tom carried the bullets.

“There was one police car which pretty much went 24/7, which Fred and Tom shared. When Emily was about 3 or 4, one day she crawled over the fence and disappeared, and we couldn’t find her. I called the police department, and I was so frantic that then I flooded the car and couldn’t get it started. Fred was moseying up and down the roads, looking for her, and this was so typical Fred — we found her, and he pulls up and says, ‘You don’t look big enough to have caused all this trouble!’

“The city hall was in a trailer on Double Tree. Back then, there was Double Tree and there was Single Tree, both of which were owned by the DuVall family,” Ashmore recalled.

“The police department still has that concern for the citizens, and they’re particularly aware, keeping an eye out for the citizens of the city.”

Each of the residents was asked about her hopes for Highland Village’s next 50 years.

“Inevitably change happens,” Ashmore said. “If change has to come, I think the city fathers have done a good job of planning for the change, and allowing it to happen in an attractive and friendly manner.

“Making sure we have infrastructure to support (future development), and that we continue to attract businesses and retail to provide shopping and a good tax base. And at the same time, preserving the family atmosphere — I think the city has a great family atmosphere, it was for us raising our children and I want to see that continue,” Ashmore said.

“I would hope that it would retain its openness, its friendliness,” Gentry added. “I think we’re made up of ordinary people; we don’t have ‘superheroes,’ but we have a lot of heroes. I would hope it would retain its safety record, and its willingness to provide fun and convenience for its citizens.

“I think the people of Highland Village are involved in good things — we don’t have crime, we don’t have hoodlums running through the city,” Gentry said. “I just think it’s a great place to live and raise a family.”

Gentry was one member of the two-person Highland Village Historical Committee, which produced the book “A History and Heritage of Highland Village” with Pat Falcon, Jennifer Rader and help from many residents and city staff and officials.

“(Falcon) was the impetus for getting this book together. She was so afraid that the people who founded Highland Village would pass from the scene before we got their story. She and I started visiting with many of these people she knew, and we recorded what they had to say, and that’s what we put together for this book. She was the driving force behind it, and we had a lot of help from the city.

“It really was fascinating. A lot of these people were very colorful in their stories, and we didn’t put all that in the book, but we put a great deal of it in.”

The book is available for sale at the Highland Village Municipal Complex.

The first in a series of events to commemorate the city’s 50th Anniversary will be held on September 28, 2012 with a community picnic and a concert at Copperas Branch Park on the shores of Lake Lewisville. The free event will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. and will feature music by Eleven Hundred Springs. The community is invited to bring their blankets, chairs, picnic baskets and gather to celebrate Highland Village.

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