Bonham isn’t that different from a lot of small cities in Northeast Texas. But it’s about to be. Over the next decade, Bonham, the seat of Fannin County, is expected to watch its population boom, its economy grow – and its character change.
That last part is the hardest for some people to swallow.
"I don’t want Bonham to grow because I get anxiety when I drive to McKinney or anywhere that has traffic," says Taryn Kincade. Originally from Farmersville, she moved to her husband’s hometown of Bonham last year when they got married. Even in Bonham, she lives outside of downtown, where traffic is light. "We’re kinda spoiled because we don’t have to deal with traffic," she says. "Then again, it’s like we have to drive, if we want to go to Target or anything, we have to drive thirty minutes to get there, so it’s kind of an iffy situation. But I definitely don’t want it to grow as big as Frisco."
Frisco, in Collin County, is one of the Metroplex’s biggest success stories. And one of rural Texas’ great cautionary tales. Gen-Xers and older who knew Frisco as kids will tell you how the city barely had more than a red light and a post office. Definitively not the case any longer. Allen Sanderson, president of Fannin Bank in downtown Bonham, paints this picture:
"My son, graduated in 2000 from Bonham High School," he says. "In our conference, or in our district, was Frisco High School. One high school, and they had about a thousand students, we had about 550. In 17 years, they have 10 high schools. And they have 150,000 in population. Of course Bonham’s never going to do that, but it just shows the impact of the growth of this area."
Sanderson expects Bonham to be more of a bedroom community, which it already sort of is. Residents live in the city but many commute to places like McKinney, down State Highway 121 to work.
"Besides just a few companies like the VA hospital and Clayton Homes, and some of these, we don’t have major employers," he says. "So most of our growth is going to be on the bedroom side, and a lot of our growth in the future is going to be from the retail and service side."
Whether Bonham turns into another Frisco or another McKinney or even another Sulphur Springs, the simple fact is, development is coming – north and east, from the Metroplex, as Dallas’ outlier suburbs continue to fill up and get more expensive.
Bonham officials have been putting a lot of effort into meeting what the Texoma Council of Governments refers to “the concrete tsunami.” That term is in the introduction of a report put out this past summer called “Visioning Bonham, 2017-2025.” It’s an ambitious plan built specifically to get the conversation started on how to cope with an influx of population, traffic, and commerce expected to make its way into Fannin County over the next eight years.
The trick, says Bonham City Manager Sean Pate, is not to try solving every issue at once.
"We know we can’t knock ‘em all out in the first year," he says. "That’s why it’s a seven-year vision, and could go longer than that. But perhaps take about two to three different ideas and challenges and then start creating committees."
Pate says those committees need to be citizen committees. Because citizens with knowledge of issues like commercial development or the effects of growth on specific populations are better ambassadors than government officials.
"We all have a tendency to kinda not trust government," he says. "It’s easier to trust neighbor Joe across the street that’s maybe a good Christian guy, a guy that coached tee ball, but also had a few irons in the fire. It’s easier to talk to him because he’s a trustworthy individual that also had played a key component in that committee."
At the moment, Bonham is actively looking for Neighbor Joes, but isn’t finding a lot of them. For the record, Allen Sanderson is one of those citizen ambassadors, but Pate believes there are plenty of other voices out there to give Bonham stronger direction and bring fresh ideas. One obstacle to finding those coveted ambassadors, however, could be life.
Samantha Lumpkins is an 18-year resident of Bonham and active member of the city Chamber of Commerce. She says that "if my plate wasn’t so full, I wouldn’t mind doing that." She’s also the vice president of marketing for Homestead Wineries and Ivanhoe Aleworks in Denison. And while that keeps her busy for now, she says she would consider being an ambassador in the future.
Officially or not, Lumpkins is not short on optimism for what Bonham could be. While it might not be a sleepy town, exactly, Bonham is not much of a destination for people who don’t already know it. But, she says, if you look around Downtown Bonham, you will see the potential on the Square.
"You look at what towns like Denison has done and is doing, you look at what Downtown Paris is becoming, you look at Sulphur Springs, and we have the opportunity to become a destination place just like those towns have become," she says. "And I’m not talking about an influx of population, I’m talking about an influx of visitors that’s going to bring income to the community. I see an enormous amount of tourism potential that Bonham is missing out on."
Before any of that can happen, though, Bonham needs to settle a few outstanding problems. There’s a lack of solid housing, an aged infrastructure, and, remember, almost no major employer. And there’s not a single institution of higher education in all of Fannin County.
There is, however, a lot of past to build on.
"We need to get the railroad back through Bonham," Sanderson says." I think that’s going to be very important for the growth of Bonham and this county. We’ve talked to companies, I know we have, and they really need rail. There’s just so much you can bring in on trucks, and they need rail."
Bonham is at least ahead of the curve on how to meet that concrete tsunami – which, by the way, is currently rolling up 121 through Melissa and Anna, less than 30 miles away. And it’s the only Fannin County town in the path of that wave that so far that has admitted that the ever-growing arms of the Metroplex are stretching their direction. And that those arms don’t seem to care about how bucolic rural Texas might want to be.