There’s simply no place like home.
It’s hard to put your finger on it exactly. It’s a feeling. It’s a place to be yourself. A place to exhale. It’s a nostalgia for days gone by and people you hold dear.
That first hometown love you have is a bit like your first love.
It’s special. There’s a sacredness to it.
A Bledsoe felt that way when he left his home in Lancaster, Kentucky, and moved to Texas in 1847. He worked in government. He was also a pioneer.
He bought some land in Dallas County and mapped out a new city. The layout, though, wasn’t completely new to him. It was nearly identical to his beloved hometown back in Kentucky. And that hometown love didn’t end there, either. Bledsoe even NAMED this new town after it, calling it Lancaster, Texas. He had high hopes of honoring the old love while also creating something new: it would be his new home and a special hometown for future generations.
Fast forward to today, a century and a half later, and for 42,000 folks, Lancaster, Texas, is home. Located in Dallas County, Lancaster is part of the larger Dallas- Fort Worth metropolitan area.
But Lancaster is a lot of things, really.
“We have nature preserved,” Lancaster City Manager, Opal Mauldin-Jones attests. They have 33 square miles of beautiful rolling hills and nature, complete with parks and trails. “You can have this peaceful-picture environment, and yet we are just 15 minutes away from world-class entertainment with the city of Dallas,” Mauldin-Jones continues. “That is what makes Lancaster an ideal location.”
What they’re most proud about, though, are their schools. “We have an excellent school system which creates an environment both for business as well as families,” states Mauldin-Jones. “When you have a quality education system, it allows individuals to come into your community and immediately feel connected.”
The schools are robust and well-rounded. “We have academics,” Mauldin-Jones explains. “We have fine arts. We have athletics.” It’s a complete system, from early childhood all the way through community college. At the northern tip of their city is the University of North Texas at Dallas. That means that you can start daycare– and eventually graduate with a Master’s Degree– all within Lancaster.
They have a number of partnerships with the schools, fostering business recruitment and workforce development. “One of the incentives that we offer as a community is related to workforce development and training,” shares Mauldin-Jones. “We literally set aside dollars to make sure that those businesses can train or retrain, whether it’s their existing workforce or within our community.” Lancaster was the first full school district to be a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) district in the state of Texas, thanks in large part to a grant from Texas Instruments.
Decade of the Renaissance
Lancaster is in their self-deemed Decade of the Renaissance, which started in 2015. Mauldin-Jones is quick to praise both the city council and the administration: “They understand that business operates at a rapid pace to keep up with the economy. We have to function and operate in that same mindset, so that our processes and procedures are quick and easy to move through. From the concept of a business with an idea to construction and grand opening, we need to be able to function at that speed. Our council embraces that. Our staff embraces that. And we make sure we operate with that same mindset.”
Currently, Lancaster is working on a myriad of projects. For starters, they are in the process of developing the Roy Crawford Park, in the northern part of their community. The new trails there will connect with the master hike and bike trails that traverse the entire city. Lancaster already boasts an impressive indoor aquatic facility and a 60,000 square foot recreation center with an indoor walking trail.
In terms of housing, Lancaster has over 400 residential lots in process. There’s a great deal of building in terms of industry, too. Walmart is simultaneously building two facilities in Lancaster: a cold storage center that’s over a million square feet and an 800,00 square foot food distribution center. They are both set to open within weeks of each other.
And that’s just the beginning in Lancaster. Also in the works are buildings for The Niagara Bottling Company, Thread Up, Wayfair, and McKinley Box. In addition, they will be welcoming a new data center that will consist of three buildings in a new corporate complex, with the big name reveal coming soon.
Part of the attraction, according to Mauldin-Jones, is the Lancaster Regional Airport. It has a 6,500 square foot runway, allowing corporate jets to land there. “We have a great restaurant at the airport, amazing fuel capabilities, and a rental car facility,” she explains. “You can land here, jump in a rental car, take care of your business, get right back out to have a meal and jump back on your jet and head out.”
The heart of Lancaster, though, is its downtown center. “You haven’t visited Lancaster until you visit our historic downtown,” Mauldin-Jones states. “A lot of communities are creating a downtown because they don’t have that.” Recently, a developer purchased a few buildings downtown and is in the process of redevelopment. “We’re really excited about the opportunities that we have to move forward,” says Mauldin-Jones. The historic Town Square hosts concerts, community festivals, Market Days, and bike rides. There’s a feeling of community here, even with its size.
Through Fire and Flood
The people here have a lot of heart, too. They are strong. Trauma and tragedy have that effect. And Lancasater has had their fair share of natural disasters over years. They’ve been hit time and time again. Massive fires swept through in the 1800s, destroying the town square. In 1994, there was an F4 tornado. Ten years later, in 2004, there was a 500-year flood, one that the National Weather Service had, at the time, not seen anywhere else in the country. Another tornado ripped through in 2012, this time an F3. They were also hit hard with the recession in 2007. “This community is resilient,” Mauldin-Jones believes. “The council, the staff, and the residents never fall apart; immediately, we come together like a family and work together to move this community beyond.”
Moving forward remains a focus in Lancaster. “We have 33 square miles of incorporated city that’s less than 50% developed. As we grow, this council– this community– is making sure it is sustainable,” comments Mauldin-Jones. “The environment is a big decision factor– we’re not just covering every acre or space or land with concrete.” Green space is important to this community. “We enjoy the beauty of our rolling hills and our beautiful treeline streets and the creeks and the lakes and the ponds,” Mauldin-Jones says. “Smart-growth is important to the council and it’s important to the community. And you see that in what’s been proposed, and what’s been approved in the development that’s happening in our community.”
Smart leadership is important, as well. And Lancaster has found that in the talented Mauldin-Jones. And while her resume is impressive, with degrees and accolades and accomplishments aplenty, it’s hard to put passion on paper, per se. She’s even got a few things in common with Bledsoe, Lancaster’s founder: she works in government. She’s also a pioneer. She’s broken many barriers, including being the first African American woman to be appointed to the role of City Manager in Lancaster.
Mauldin-Jones is actually a native of East Texas, from a tiny town with one flashing light. But she’s lived most of her adult life in Lancaster. “I’ve been with this community for 20 years,” she shares. “I’ve grown with this community.” And while Lancaster is her home now, her first hometown will always have a piece of her heart. She loves it there. Her family is still there. “When I go home, there’s a love and an affinity there,” she muses.
That nostalgic feeling for home is a motivator for Mauldin-Jones in all she does. She wants her own children- who now call Lancaster home- to speak of home someday in the same way she does.
It goes beyond just her own kids, too. “When students leave Lancaster School District,” she explains, “I want them to be able to talk about home, wherever they go in the world and whoever they encounter. I want them to be able to talk about home in a positive light. I want Lancaster to have that same feeling and emotion for them.”
“If you haven’t been to Lancaster,” Mauldin-Jones laughs, “you should hurry up and get here.”
Welcome home, they’ll say. Welcome home.