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The Jackie Townsell Bear Creek Heritage Center is home to three separate museums that collectively tell the story of the west Irving community of Bear Creek. As one of the oldest African-American communities in Dallas County, Bear Creek is where the lives of freed slaves began to take root, making way for a true community for African-American families in search of a home of their own.
Visitors to the Jackie Townsell Bear Creek Heritage Center can explore engaging exhibits that share the stories of the residents of Bear Creek, meander through the center’s beautiful Native Plant Garden, and reflect on the simplicity of life from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
During the late 1850s, a mix of free blacks along with whites and their slaves began settling along the upper areas of Bear Creek. After emancipation, former slaves began moving into the area, which developed into a rural African-American enclave during the era of racial segregation.
Bear Creek has long been a refuge for African-Americans in the Dallas area, a place for community and a place to call home. The three museums comprising the Jackie Townsell Bear Creek Heritage Center tell this history of the Bear Creek community and the African-American experience from the time of emancipation through the civil rights movement of the 1950s-’60s.
The Honorable Jackie Mae Howard Townsell was a visionary, trailblazer, and force for good in the Irving community. In 1977, Townsell became the first African-American, and just the second woman, elected to the Irving City Council, where she also served as Mayor Pro Tem. Amazingly, she was elected for nine consecutive two-year terms. Her 18-year service on the council is the longest uninterrupted service of any council member in Irving's history. Though she passed away in 2002, she remains an important figure in the history of Bear Creek and Irving to this day.
Now a Bear Creek history museum, the J.O. Davis House was the former residence of Josey O. Davis, a longtime teacher and mentor to the children of Bear Creek. This museum tells the story of the Bear Creek community through the eyes of Davis. To honor her, the house was moved to the center where it was restored. Explore the rooms of the house, observe authentic period pieces of furniture, and learn about the life of this important Bear Creek resident who shaped the lives of many.
To see what life was like in Bear Creek in the 1920s, stop by the Green House. Once the home of Sam Green, a leading resident of the Bear Creek community for many years, this house was moved to the Heritage Center and restored as an authentic period home. Wander through the rooms of this quaint dwelling and admire the period pieces, including the furniture, stove, and dining table where Sam Green and his friends and family made their lives in the early 20th century.
While it was moved to the Jackie Townsell Bear Creek Heritage Center, the Bear Creek Masonic Lodge maintains its authenticity as a former gathering place for the area’s African-American masons as well as the Bear Creek community at large. Special events, like proms and parties, were held within the walls of the lodge for many years. Now, the lodge functions as a museum where visitors can admire the simple architecture, examine various exhibits detailing the lives of African-American people in Bear Creek, and walk through history.
The Jackie Townsell Bear Creek Heritage Center is located at 3925 Jackson Street in Irving, just west of Belt Line Road. Make sure to visit their website for updated hours of operation. Appointments are also available upon request.
Any trip to Irving is enriched by visiting the Jackie Townsell Bear Creek Heritage Center. Perfect for the whole family, learn about the important African-American history of the Bear Creek area and the people who have made this community home for generations.