Historic Texas town to be reborn in Anna, Van Alstyne

By Joshua Baethge
For the Anna-Melissa Tribune
The collection of historic homes known as “Dry Bones” at Storybook Ranch may soon be coming to Mantua.

Plans are in the works to relocate the historic buildings at McKinney’s Storybook Ranch to the Mantua Development currently under construction in western Anna and Van Alstyne.  The old west town known as “Dry Bones” is a collection of 21 buildings curated from around the region. They include a jail, saloon, barbershop, post office, opry house, bank and more.   

According to Michael Hanschen, vice president of development for Risland US Holdings, the tentative plan is to move the buildings to the historic site of the former city of Mantua. The town was founded in 1854 but practically abandoned less than 20 years later. Most residents moved a couple of miles east after the Houston and Texas Central Railway laid tracks and built a stop in present-day downtown Van Alstyne.  

“If we are able to make the pieces come together, this would literally be the rebirth of a historic Texas town. But there is much work to be done and the nonprofit organization behind the efforts will need community support to make it happen,” Hanschen says.  “It would persevere a piece of Texas history that cannot be replaced if lost, in addition to being a destination where families and students can learn about life in the old west.”  

The collection of historic homes known as “Dry Bones” at Storybook Ranch may soon be coming to Mantua.

Storybook Village once served as a popular event space as well as a location for films and photoshoots.  However, it has now been three years since it was open to the public. The nonprofit that used to run it moved, and the land was sold. 

Plans now call for the site to be transformed into a new housing development. This put the historic buildings in jeopardy until Whitewright resident Kristi Avalos founded The Bethel Village Foundation to help save the buildings.  She also started a Go Fund Me page to raise money in hopes of moving them to her ranch. Her efforts garnered the attention of multiple North Texas media outlets 

“They cannot bulldoze this down,” she said in an April interview with the Dallas Morning News. “We just have to do something.” 

Hanschen is a sixth-generation Texan with development in his blood. His Grandfather, Angus G. Wynne Jr., developed Wynnewood, one of America’s first Master Planned Communities during the post-WWII boom of the 1940s. He would later go on to found Six Flags Over Texas in 1961.  

“While I don’t claim to have the level of vision my grandfather did, his work is certainly an inspiration to me as I consider ways to make Mantua an outstanding project and a desirable place to live,” he said.  

The collection of historic homes known as “Dry Bones” at Storybook Ranch may soon be coming to Mantua.

As a native Texan with an affinity for local history, Hanschen worried that relocating the building to a sparsely populated area would mean fewer people getting to experience them. He proposed moving them instead to the Mantua development closer to US 75 where he believed it would attract more visitors. It’s one of several historic elements he intends to incorporate into the master planned community. Multiple streets will be named after local families who once owned or worked the land that is now being developed. The residential amenity center will also feature a history wall to educate visitors on the area’s founders and past. 

Signs of progress 

While much of the work currently being done in the 3,000-acre mixed-use development is not visible from the highway, signage was installed last month to direct visitors to the site. By summer’s end, people will likely begin moving into newly completed homes in the 223-lot first phase on Panther Parkway (formerly County Line Road).  It includes houses built by Highland Homes, David Weekly Homes, Perry Homes, and Risland Homes.  

The new amenity center in Phase I of the Mantua residential development project includes a 5,50 square foot pool connected to a children’s pool.

Hanschen says the area was designed to feature “above market amenities.” Among the amenities planned for Phase I are over a mile of trails, three irrigated community gardens, and a community center.  The latter will include 2,300 square feet of covered areas, a large pool and a connected children’s pool with a splash castle. It is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. Plans also call for a rock climbing area, children's playground, and an additional playground for older children to be built next door 

Bidding for the adjacent Phase II residential section is expected to begin in the next couple of months. 

As for commercial development, Risland officials are in discussions with the Weitzman Group to bring a commercial center anchored by a major grocery chain. It would be located near the intersection of Rosamond Parkway and US 75 in Anna. Several businesses have expressed interest in the 23-acre site, but nothing has been finalized yet. Developers are also still working with local officials to iron out the infrastructure details required to make those plans a reality. 

Original plans for that area called for a three-level office building as well.  That is now on the back burner as developers evaluate changing workspace demands in the post-COVID-19 economy. 

Long-term plans call for, among other things, a lake district with local shops.  However, it will likely be several more years before work begins. Projects of that scale require a large customer base.  Therefore, the primary focus now is building homes and bringing in more residents so that those types of businesses can succeed in the future.  

“We’ve taken inspiration from a lot of different master-planned communities,” Hanschen says. “We also want to do it differently so we can make it something special and unique.”