jeff campbell

Courtesy of Jeff Campbell. Campbell speaks at the conservancy's Tombstone Mysteries event in 2017. 

For those interested in Plano's history, Jeff Campbell's face is likely a familiar one. As the director of the Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation, Campbell spreads the word on the intricacies of the city's past. 

To close out Historic Preservation Month, Campbell took a moment to tell the Plano Star Courier about his life before the conservancy and how the city can move forward with preservation. 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Lost Mountain, Georgia, a small rural community – not that rural anymore – about 40 miles northwest of Atlanta.

How did you choose to work in historic preservation?

I’ve always had a love for old buildings, barns, ballparks, churches and cemeteries. I’m also on the Advisory Board for Texas Dance Hall Preservation, a member of the Forest Fire Lookout Association and other historic cemetery organizations.

What brought you to Plano?

Eight years ago I was living in East Texas and looking to get back to DFW. It’s amazing how you miss the little things like Half Price Books and Taco Cabana. An opportunity came up to work for the conservancy, and I was fortunate to be selected for this position.

Is there a historic spot in Plano you admire most?

Probably Old City and Davis cemeteries, which lie adjacent to each other. Both cemeteries hold a lot of Plano and Texas history. Plus I know how much effort and how many people worked to restore both of those cemeteries.

What do you love most about your job?

In one word: collaboration. It’s very rewarding to work with people on a project they are passionate about and see that project come to fruition – whether it’s a book, cemetery, museum exhibit or event.

Do you have any projects coming up?

Yes. We currently have three gravestone restoration projects at Young, Rowlett and Plano Mutual Cemeteries.

Also we are working on a cemetery photo documentation project. We are photographing every gravestone in every historic cemetery in Plano. These photographs will be donated to the Haggard Library genealogy department. In the future if we have a natural disaster, accident or any sort of vandalism we will have “before” photographs on file.

I am also working with the Texas Historical Commission on a project that we can hopefully announce soon.

COVID-19 has resulted in our staff coming up with creative ways to stay engaged with the people. 

Plano has a long history. Why is it important to preserve it?

Well my standard line is, “Plano did not just fall out of the sky." Meaning it’s important to remember the people who laid the foundation and the people in ensuing decades that contributed to the city’s growth.

Why is it important for younger residents to know about the city’s history?

It’s important to know where you’re going but also where you have been. An example is car 360 at the Interurban Railway Museum. The Interurban Railway ran from 1908 to 1948, in the days of segregation – Jim Crow laws. The car was segregated, with white people riding in the front half of the car. There’s two drop down signs in the middle of the car. One side reads “white” and the other side reads “colored." When we tell young people this story they are shocked that was the norm at the time.

I think that’s progress that they’re shocked.

Is there an intersection of historic preservation and environmental conservation?

Yes, and I think it’s something we need to look at as we go forward. It’s a big subject, and I would recommend two books: “Sustainable Heritage – Merging Environmental Conservation and Historic Preservation-Balancing Nature” and “Cultural Landscapes – Balancing Nature and Heritage in Preservation Practice.”

How does historic preservation represent Plano’s diverse population?

May is Historic Preservation Month and it’s also Asian Pacific American Month. Plano is an international city, which is becoming more diverse all the time.

History happens every day, and Plano’s diverse population will add new chapters to Plano’s history and preservation efforts.

What do you hope the future of historic preservation looks like?

I hope more people will become involved and want to share their story and the places that are important to them.

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