McCafferty, Clara Sue Blackstock (1935–2004)


By: Judy Alter

Type: Biography

Published: September 15, 2021

Updated: September 16, 2021


Clara Sue Blackstock McCafferty was a historical preservationist in Fort Worth. With her husband, Charlie McCafferty, she founded the North Fort Worth Historical Society in 1975 and was instrumental in preserving buildings in the Fort Worth Stockyards district, with an emphasis on architectural accuracy and historical integrity. She was known for her outspokenness and willingness to take on developers, entrepreneurs, and city officials who would have turned the Stockyards into what she called “a glorified amusement park.”

She was born on July 29, 1935, in Geary, Oklahoma, to Thomas C. and Elizabeth (Jones) Blackstock. Her family moved to Fort Worth when she was an infant, and her father worked for Lone Star Gas. She grew up in North Fort Worth and attended Fort Worth schools, including Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School. At the age of eighteen, Clara Sue Blackstock married Billy Joe Cornstubble on June 11, 1954. The marriage ended in divorce seven years later, and she later refused to talk about that part of her life with reporters. Left with three sons to support, she had no income, home, or car. She worked two jobs, and her health suffered from overwork.

One night she ran into a former neighbor, Fort Worth fire engineer Charlie McCafferty, a Democratic precinct chairman and fixture in the Stockyards area. He got her involved in Democratic party politics and persuaded her to join the union at General Dynamics, where she was then working. She became a union committeewoman and was appointed to the Central Labor Council. Sue and Charlie married on July 3, 1965, after a three-year courtship. Charlie adopted her three sons.

By the early 1970s the Stockyards area was threatened with change and decay. The major packinghouses, Armour and Company and Swift and Company, had both shut down their outdated, expensive packing plants. Fire and neglect had ravaged many buildings, and major redevelopment was needed. Tourists were not attracted to the area, and businesses were struggling to survive. The McCaffertys were afraid that the entire area would be bulldozed and replaced with sterile, modern buildings that did not reflect the colorful history of Fort Worth.

They formed the North Fort Worth Historical Society (NFWHS) in 1975. The following year, the Stockyards was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Fort Worth Stockyards Historic District. They used the San Antonio Conservation Society as their model because they liked what had been accomplished in that city. They organized a group of mostly North Side residents for meetings in the Northside Library. Their goals were to establish a museum, distribute historical information about the livestock industry and packinghouse history to schools and libraries, and maintain the historic Oakwood Cemetery. Sue took over as president, a position she held until her retirement in 1998.

Dubbed a “master of true grassroots persuasion,” by the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram, Sue McCafferty could and did mobilize groups of Fort Worth residents to speak at city council meetings when an issue at hand involved the Stockyards. In 1993 she led an effort to flood Washington with faxes when a much-needed development grant to the NFWHS was held up for politically motivated reasons.

Among those with whom she tangled were Billy Bob Barnett, who developed Billy Bob’s Texas, and Holt Hickman, a developer who took over Billy Bob’s from Barnett. McCafferty and Hickman locked horns over various issues, such as the housing of beef cattle in the original pens. She wanted tourists to see actual cattle in the pens; Hickman wanted to move them. She insisted that there was nothing personal about these disagreements. “I can fight with you one minute and have my arm around you the next. There's nothing more fun than a good cause, and I like having lots of fun in my life," she told a reporter for the Star-Telegram. Hickman and his business associates, as of 2004, owned 108 of the Stockyards’ 125 acres. Hickman respected McCafferty and came to agree with her point of view on maintaining the historical value of the Stockyards.

In 1983 the NFWHS won a State Archaeological Landmark designation for the Cowtown Coliseum, the world’s first indoor rodeo area, built in 1908. The city, wanting to keep options open for developers, had opposed granting historical status, as it would have severely limited changes to the exterior. Prior to the designation, Sue McCafferty heard a rumor that the city had arranged for demolition work to begin either in the dark of night or before dawn one specific night to avoid protests. Hoping to deter the operation, she personally spent a night alone on the steps of the building although the demolition crew never materialized.

The historical society rented a room in the 1902 Mission-Revival Livestock Exchange Building, which was renovated in 1976, and charged members enough to pay the rent. Charlie McCafferty would tell visitors a few stories about the history of the area and often take them on informal walking tours and show them the historic buildings. Local people began to bring things to donate—pictures or items their family had owned. One of the prized items is the world’s second longest-burning light bulb. Originally installed in the downtown Palace Theatre, the bulb had burned for 112 years as of August 2021. The society was forced to rent a second room just to show off the items it was collecting.

In 1989 the society opened the Stockyards Museum in the Exchange Building. McCafferty was credited as the mother of the museum. In 1992 the museum received around 80,000 visitors and was the fifteenth most popular tourist attraction in Tarrant County.

Charlie McCafferty had been in poor health for some time when he collapsed and died on the Exchange Building lawn in August 1991. Grieving and seriously ill herself, Sue McCafferty was away from the museum for an extended period. She returned full-time in January 1993 and was quick to credit the museum staff who carried on without missing a beat in the absence of her and her husband.

On her return, she accepted a salary for the first time in her long tenure with the NFWHS; she had refused previous salary offers. Sue McCafferty retired on August 2, 1998, although she retained close ties to the museum and the society. She died of congestive heart failure at her home in Fort Worth on May 26, 2004. She was survived by her three sons, Mark, Michael, and Barry McCafferty, and their families. She and her husband were buried together in Oakwood Cemetery in Fort Worth.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram, June 3, 1993; January 27, 1998; May 27, 2004.

Categories:
  • Museums, Libraries, and Archives
  • Museum Administrators, Curators, and Directors
  • Women
  • Preservationists
Time Periods:
  • World War II
Places:
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Judy Alter, “McCafferty, Clara Sue Blackstock,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/mccafferty-clara-sue-blackstock.

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September 15, 2021
September 16, 2021

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