While the Houston Astros adopted the motto “earn history” this season, another Houston venture could take on the slogan, “learn history.”
As part of a local non-profit education initiative called “Mister McKinney’s Historic Houston,” the Houston History Bus features guided tours of the city’s historical sites, from the famous to the obscure. Tours also feature “micro-history” lessons of Houston neighborhoods, all in a converted open-top yellow school bus.
R.W. McKinney, who goes by “Mister McKinney” while on the job, has been running the tours for over a decade. A native Houstonian, McKinney says he became a local history buff at a very young age.
“When I was in middle school, my mom’s a single parent and she didn’t have a lot of money, you know. AstroWorld was our Disneyland and Galveston was our Florida beaches,” he told a Houston newspaper. “She was a hairdresser and she would drop me off at the Julia Ideson building downtown – that’s our library – and I would just be in the Texas Room looking at old maps of Houston.”
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McKinney upgraded his touring transportation to a converted school bus after a successful fundraising effort earlier this year. One person who recently took the tour posted a picture of the new bus in their customer review:
The tour options include general history tours for visiting dignitaries, as well as neighborhood-focused tours for school children.
“I’m talking about micro-history,” McKinney said. “We go into neighborhoods with kids and we teach them about local history – their neighborhood, their area, so that when they walk to school the next day or when they drive around the neighborhood, they’re teaching their parents about local history.”
One of the neighborhoods featured in McKinney’s tours is the Heights. McKinney led a tour of fourth-grade students through the area as he described how millionaire Oscar Martin Carter developed one of the state’s first “master-planned communities” on a rise of land just 23 feet above the rest of downtown Houston.
“What I’m noticing is the kids now have an appreciation for the history in their neighborhoods,” McKinney said. “They understand the differences between replicas, architecture and why it’s important. I’m seeing their eyes open.”