(Photo courtesy of Marla Bush)

Before Valley View Mall grew out of a cotton field, the Preston Road property belonged to the Byrd-Pierce family for five generations.

The expansive farm disappeared in the 1960s, but North Dallas’ Marjorie Pierce Beard was determined to preserve her family’s history. In the late 1980s, she researched and wrote “Growing Up on Preston Road: A Family Portrait.” The 120-page book was distributed to her expansive family.

“Through the years, it was swept under the rug,” says Marla Bush, a member of the Pierce family. “Nobody knows what was on that property long ago.”

Their ancestors, James and Mary Byrd, were among Dallas’ earliest pioneers. In 1844, the Tennessee natives trekked to what was then Nagadoches County, enticed by the prospect of owning their own piece of the city.

People were hesitant to live in Texas, still a wild and often unlawful land, after it won its independence from Mexico. Dallas wasn’t a city yet, and the area’s only occupants were Native Americans. “An Act Granting Land to Emigrants” was an incentive for people to relocate to the republic. A man could homestead 640 acres if his family settled in Texas before July 1, 1844.

The couple built their new home near White Rock Creek. James, a member of Dallas’ first Methodist Society, was a cotton farmer and raised horses, Pierce Beard writes. He and Mary raised eight children together.

The family acquired another 1,960 acres after their parents’ death. When James and Mary’s granddaughter, Martha Elizabeth Byrd, married Andrew Pierce, a family feud erupted, and her father banned her from the property.

After the couple began having children, her father forgave her and gave them 90 acres of his land, according to a 1965 Dallas Times Herald article. They moved into a house that stayed in the Pierce family for a century.

The family maintained the acreage until Andrew Pierce died.

Her great-grandmother, Martha, sold pieces of the cotton farm to make ends meet, Bush says.

The McCutchin family purchased some of the property and sold it to Trammel Crow, who constructed Valley View Mall. When Sears offered them money for the remaining land, the family moved off Preston Road for the first time in decades.

Alecia Milliken’s father, Ray Pierce,  was the final generation that grew up on Preston Road before it became a retail destination. She didn’t listen to her father’s ramblings about the family when she was young, she says, so the book is giving her a glimpse of what she ignored. She’s also reconnected with family members, like Bush, through posting about her family history on Facebook.

“People just go crazy over this stuff when you’re a native, native Texan.”

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Preston Hollow.