Not many would imagine that the legacy of unrequited love would result in the oldest continuously operating library and the first city library in Texas…but it actually did. So it’s only appropriate that we stop in for a visit just in time for Valentine’s Day.
The Dr. Eugene Clark Library in Lockhart was built in 1899, and dedicated on July 6, 1900. It’s the oldest library continually operated in the same building in the state of Texas. (There are other libraries in the state who claim the “oldest” title with other criteria, of course.)
The beautiful two-story red brick Classical Revival dome-topped, original building was designed in an ingenious Greek cross plan with a corner entrance. It was built by local contractor T. S. Hodges, who was also known for his work on other projects such as the Tyler County Courthouse, Luling’s Walker Brothers Building, Lockhart’s First Christian Church and the castle-like Caldwell County Jail.
The pressed-tin ceiling, woodwork, lighting fixtures and perimeter shelving you’ll see on your visit here are all original. The eastern arm is accented with a stained-glass window above a stage.
Until 1956 when the seats were removed, the building also served as an auditorium. Local productions and traveling shows performed in the room now filled book shelves and reading tables. President William Howard Taft gave a speech from the stage, which still exists beneath the striking window.
When actress Dorothy Sarnoff performed there, she told the audience, “If you’re bored with my performance tonight, you can just reach over and grab a good book to read.”
To the rear of the main room are two iron, spiral staircases that lead to a narrow upstairs gallery. Though this area is not open to the public, I was given access so that I could share these photos with my readers. Now mind you, it was a bit unnerving since the unstable brass railing barely reached the height of my knees…but those are the lengths I’ll go to in order to experience history!
The room behind this gallery is the home of the second oldest chapter of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs. The organization began as a lyceum club, which was a club for women interested in the arts, professions, science, contemporary issues and lifelong learning. The space still has many of the original furnishings, including Dr. Clark’s collection of medical books and a photograph of him.
It’s this room dedicated specifically for use by women that leads us back to our love story and why Dr. Eugene Clark founded the library that bears his name.
Clark was born in New Orleans, but was orphaned by the age of six – his father dying on a Civil War battlefield, and his mother passing away three years later. He was raised by friends of his parents, eventually attending Tulane Medical School.
Upon his graduation in 1883 he moved to Lockhart to practice medicine with the local physician, Dr. Lancaster. The elder doctor soon left his practice though, leaving the 21-year-old Clark to handle the practice alone which he did for 13 years.
During those years he met a young lady named Mamie Steele, a member of the local lyceum club, and fell in love with her. Unfortunately Mamie’s heart belonged to another man.
The heartbroken doctor went to Vienna, Austria in 1896 to study the specialities of ear, nose and throat, and chose San Antonio as his new home when he returned.
Dr. Clark became seriously ill soon afterward and stopped in Lockhart to visit friends on his way to New York to have surgery. While he was on the east coast it was determined that his condition was terminal, so he returned to his native New Orleans to spend his remaining days. During that time he dictated his will, leaving $10,000 to build a library for Lockhart. He specified that it should always include a meeting room for the local women’s lyceum.
He died in 1898, leaving a last token of his affection in honor of his feelings for Mamie. One wonders what Mamie’s reaction was to the tribute, as she still lived in Lockhart with her husband John Jarratt at the time.
The story of the library is even more interesting since it expanded in 1996 to include the 1850 Masonic Temple next door. The refurbished temple houses a second-floor technology room providing internet access and educational courses.
The only visible clues that it was once a Masonic Temple are a tile inlay on the ground floor, and an unadorned stage on the third.
You can visit the Dr. Eugene Clark library at 217 South Main Street in Lockhart.
Roadside motels in the 1950s and 60s lured travelers in from the road with their distinct architecture, flashy neon signs, clever names and often the promise of a cool dip in the courtyard pool.
My father was definitely more of a “chain hotel” kinda guy on our family trips, so I just watched as we drove past these intriguing pieces of nostalgia every summer.
But now…ta-da! They’re making a comeback. (Who would’ve thought?)
So obviously, when one of the newest ones in Texas invited me to stay and check it out, the answer was “Absolutely!”
The Texican Court boutique hotel opened its doors in Irving in November, and just one look lets you know it isn’t a “cookie cutter” experience. Arriving guests are greeted by a beautiful neon sign of a lasso wielding cowboy on horseback that would make Roy Rogers grin.
The facade of the hotel is highly reminiscent (intentionally or not…but I’m convinced it is) of the Alamo Plaza Motor Courts – America’s very first motor court hotel which, it happens, was just a few miles away in Waco. But that’s a topic for another time.
It’s immediately obvious that every detail of the hotel was carefully curated to bring to mind the nostalgia of old fashioned motor courts while providing the utmost comfort to today’s travelers.
Merging Southwest and mid-century style, everything from the custom furnishings to the mid-size bright orange fridges in every room (fully stocked enough to have a party on the patio!) made me want to settle in and ‘stay a spell.’
If it had just been a bit warmer (darn that norther that blew through town), you would have found me in one of the poolside chaises with a margarita in my hand.
My sister and I agreed that the shower was hands-down THE nicest shower we’ve ever experienced at a hotel (and we’ve been in a few).
Half of the rooms open into hallways and the other half open onto balconies facing the pool area. each evening fire pits are lit around the property to provide gathering points for guests (not that that’s a challenge, with two separate bars).
For a short video “tour” of our room, visit Texican Court.
Friendly and polite staff who were ready and willing to answer questions and do anything they could to make our stay more comfortable.
The complimentary European style breakfast was surprisingly varied, and included fresh fruits, pastries, yogurt, oatmeal and plenty of other options to start our day off right. And since our stay was during a cold snap we were especially happy to see a wide assortment of teas and coffees available.
The Texican is right across the street from the Toyota Music Factory and Irving Convention Center, and would make a terrific place to stay if you were in town for a concert or business. It’s easy to find, positioned right off the freeway and close to public transportation access, as well.
One of my favorite features was the presence of outdoor fire pits – one by the pool and one in a large open courtyard outside of the restaurant and bar. Both great spots for gathering with family and friends.
If you love the look of the Texican (I know I do!), you’ll love staying there even more.
DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary stay at this hotel, but that in no way effects my opinion or review of the property.
One of the most challenging – and fun – parts of travel is finding truly good places to eat. I love somewhere with fun atmosphere, but tasty affordable food is definitely more of a priority. And because I’m usually more about experiencing the sights and experiences of the place I’m visiting, I’d rather not have to set aside half of a day or night to dedicate to one meal.
When I visited the Irving and Grapevine area recently, I found a few spots that fit the bill. If you’re heading in that direction any time soon, you’ll want to check them out.
Texican Courts, 501 West Las Colinas Blvd., Irving
Yes, a hotel! So often the restaurants at hotels are cookie-cutter decor, bland food options. Not here!
The unique updated, motor court decor with a nod to Texas charm travels from the exterior to the interior spaces. If you’re lucky enough to be staying at the hotel, you’ll be treated to a wonderful complimentary breakfast, including pastries, fresh fruit, yogurt, oatmeals and plenty of other options to start your day off right. Our stay was during a cold snap, so we were especially happy to find a wide assortment of teas and coffees available, too.
But even if you’re staying elsewhere or passing through, you can enjoy the ambience of this new property at lunch and dinner. I tried the barbecued beef tostado with black bean puree, caramelized onion and tomato. Yeah…your mouth is starting to water just thinking about it, isn’t it? It was so good! After the main course (which was portioned just enough to be filling without being ridiculous), my sister and I split a deliciously moist piece of Tres Leches cake. Now that’s how you wrap up a day of tourist ramblings!
The hotel also has a separate tequila bar with a cozy fireplace that would make a great meet-up location with friends (especially if you have tickets to an event at the Toyota Music Factory right across the street).
Willhoite’s Restaurant, 432 South Main Street, Grapevine
Grapevine is such a charming town, we wanted to be sure to find a restaurant that reflected the history and tastes of the area. Boy, did we find it!
Willhoite’s is one of the most unique restaurants I’ve been in, but it is also one of the oldest and most historical buildings in town! And you KNOW I love historic buildings.
The 1914 structure was first used as a dry good store, and then a theater. But in 1919 it was transformed into the first automotive garage in Grapevine. Pretty darn cool.
In 1975, the Willhouites closed the garage, and six years later it was purchased by local Phil Parker and turned into one of the most atmospheric hamburger joints in the state. Lucky for us he worked to keep as many pieces of automotive history as possible. So many that sometimes it’s hard to concentrate on whether to eat or wander around!
Where diners eat now may have been the wash rack, oil storage area, or beside the indoor kerosene pump.
The centerpiece of the restaurant is a Texas-sized buffet with a beautiful, vintage auto perched right on top! The menu offers all sorts of comfort food in addition to sandwiches and hamburgers, all at prices that won’t use up all of your gas money.
Salsa’s Mexican Grill , 3601 Regent Blvd #140, Irving
Yes, I know…Salsa’s is a chain. But I’ve never eaten at one and had anything but a good experience, so on those evenings when I’m really tired and ready to call it a day, a familiar name can be welcome. This particular location was easy to access, clean and had a very friendly, easy-going staff. And the food…mmmmm. We had to order combination platters so we could enjoy a sampling of enchiladas, tacos, tostadas, tamales, rice and beans. They also had a salsa bar, which is something I haven’t seen at other locations. It was fun to sample a few different salsas that we may not have otherwise tried.
This one may not have had the ambiance of the other two restaurants mentioned, but the food and prices make it a good option to keep on your list!
So there are three options to consider while you’re in the Irving area. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you give any of them a try … or if you have other suggestions! Bon appetit!
Have you ever thought about volunteering during your holiday (or other) travel? It can be easier than you might think, and is a great way to take the focus off of busy schedules and squeezing in more shopping.
These ideas work if you are staying home for the holidays as well of course, but giving back in a place you are visiting can give you a special feeling of connection with the community.
Here are some ideas to start you off:
Ronald McDonald House
RMH supports children and families undergoing medical treatment, typically long-term treatment, and who have often traveled to a RMH from their homes. They have locations around U.S. and the world and volunteers are needed to prepare meals, greet visitors, interact with guests, and much more.
A group of friends and I put up and decorated the Houston RMH Christmas tree at the beginning of the holidays. It was especially fun when some of the young residents wanted to help!
A couple of weeks before that, another group of friends and I got together to make lunch for 50 residents at the Galveston house. Besides doing something that we knew was truly helping out, it was a fun excuse to get together in the kitchen with friends and enjoy each other’s company. It wasn’t a fancy or expensive meal, so with each of us bringing a few ingredients it came together quickly. I even approached a local restaurant about supplying a couple of side dishes, which they graciously did! And a lovely local nursery gave us a few potted flowers to decorate the buffet.
Organizations like this are always looking for people, families and groups to help out with activities, like crafts, playing bingo with residents, and other simple activities.
To find a RMH near your destination, visit:
Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels programs provide meals to homebound seniors. Different communities have different rules about how the public can volunteer. Some need people to deliver the meals, and possibly help setting up, checking in delivery drivers and assisting with clean-up.
If you have little ones, you can call ahead to a local chapter to ask how many meals they deliver daily. Then while your kids are trapped in the car in route, they can make small cards to decorate the recipient trays with crayons, colored pencils, stickers and construction paper. Once you can arrive at your destination you can simply drop off the tray decorations knowing you’re your family has brightened peoples’ day! I sued to do this with my Girl Scouts when they were little and they loved being artsy and helping out.
Each December on National Wreaths Across America Day, our mission to Remember, Honor and Teach is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 1,400 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad.
Wreaths Across America
A trip to the dollar star before your trip, and an evening of prep in from of the TV or at the table after dinner can make a big difference to local homeless shelters. Just stuff new, warm socks with water bottles and granola bars to be taken to a shelter in any city. Another big need is gently used books
Food Banks are always in search of help sorting canned items. This can be a one hour volunteer effort, or all day…but every little bit helps!
Local children’s hospitals will usually gladly accept gently used books and DVDs, coloring books and crayons. Another neat idea is to sort the materials for a small craft project (beaded bracelet, Christmas ornament, etc.) into individual baggies that the kids can get from the nurses station to keep their minds off of being stuck in a hospital.
But you get the idea, and it doesn’t have to be during the holidays. Whether you decide to pull together something to donate when you reach your destination or to dedicate a couple of hours once you arrive, there are so many ways to spread the love!
It’s my biggest weakness…Diet Dr. Pepper. Guess that’s part of what makes me a true Texan. The same goes for my sister.
One of the sites that sends heart emojis through my brain when I’m on the road is spotting a Sonic Drive-in, where I can order a Route 44 (yep, 44 ounces!) Diet Dr. Pepper with vanilla. Oh…my…goodness. Especially since I don’t drink coffee, these caffeine boosters really come in handy!
So when my sister and I were in Waco recently, of course we HAD to visit the Dr. Pepper Museum.
The drink itself originated at Morrison’s Old Corner Drugstore, which is represented with a charming reproduced facade at the museum. Go inside and you can hear an automaton of Charles Alderton talk about how he invented the beverage through a series of experiments with fruit syrup mixtures in 1885.
He dubbed his creation “Dr. Pepper” (the period was dropped in the 50s). In 1891 the bottling operation was founded that later became the Dr Pepper Company.
Once the drink was introduced to a larger audience at the 1904 World’s Fair, it’s popularity spread like wildfire.
During the 1920s and 30s researchers discovered that sugar provided energy and that the average person experiences energy “letdowns” during the day at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. It was suggested that drinking a Dr. Pepper (no sugar shortage there!) at 10, 2 and 4 would avoid that. This was incorporated into an advertising campaigns for about 20 years, and helps to date any old advertising (including outdoor murals) that includes “10, 2 and 4.”
There’s so much more history to see at the museum including a working bottling line and a dizzying peek into the 27 1/2 foot deep, original artesian well that provided water for the product.
There are also period delivery trucks, promotional toys and even a miniature town diorama that will steal your heart.
This is one of those rare tourist attractions that would be great to see with multiple generations of your family, as they can all find things that will jog memories and bring a smile.
And at the end of your visit you can treat yourself to something from the on site ice cream parlor and soda fountain!
Operating soda fountain and ice cream parlor
To find out more about the Dr Pepper Museum including hours and admission, visit Dr Pepper Museum .
Growing up, my sister and I spent part of every summer (and some other holidays) at my grandparents Oklahoma farm which had been in the family since Indian Territory days. So when I recently received the opportunity to stay at an 1890 farmhouse in La Grange Texas, I couldn’t think of anyone else I would rather share the experience with than her.
I had seen photos of this farm on the owner’s rental listing, but had no idea how much it would capture a part of my heart from the time I drove up the lane, past fields where cows lazily looked out way as we drove by.
Mae’s Hill Farm was built over a century ago by the Steinmanns, a family of Germans who immigrated to Texas and settled in Fayette County. The home remained in the same family until the current owners purchased it several years ago.
The farm’s new name “MAE’s” is a clever acronym created with the first initials of the current owners three children.
The welcoming, buttery yellow home sits on a hill just in front of a quaint red barn and outbuildings. Porches on three sides of the house provide peaceful places to enjoy the views and wildlife from sunrise to sunset.
Stepping inside, visitors are greeted with a comfortably furnished living area that opens into a kitchen with a family style farmhouse table. It isn’t difficult to image generations enjoying meals together here.
Vintage furnishings, including several wooden rocking chairs, and rugs fill the home and the beds are covered in layers of welcoming quilts and coverlets. Framed artwork from when the current owner’s children were little adorn the walls, adding to the charm and homey-ness.
As we walked through the house exploring room after room, the original floorboards gently creaked beneath our feet. And surprisingly, even though the evening we arrived had close to freezing temperatures, the home was warm and cozy.
There are two bedrooms downstairs and a large space upstairs with three beds and enough room to accommodate a number of extra cots and sleeping bags if the occasion called. It would be the perfect hideaway for children to enjoy late night giggle sessions
Outside, the rustic barn still holds remnants of days gone by as well as the promise of a future life the owner hopes will be as an event venue. Wandering through the building and the fields, my sister and I reminisced about the barn at my grandparents’ place and the memories we shared there. The birds that sang little songs in the fields nearby even sang the same tune we remembered from those Oklahoma pastures.
Mae’s Hill Farm sits conveniently between La Grange, hometown of the famous Texas band ZZ Top, and Schulenburg. Both are quaint, friendly towns with more than enough sites and mini-adventures than we could squeeze into the three days we spent there on this trip.
I hope that every city kid (and adult) get the chance to find such a lovely spot as Mae’s Hill to slow down, enjoy the simpler things and wake up to a sunrise with a view that can’t be beat.
To see a video tour of the interior of Mae’s Hill Farm, visit my Youtube channel at: 1890 Mae’s Hill Farm.
Mae’s Hill Farm’s instagram account can be found at @maeshillfarm.
Oh my gosh, the holidays can get so hectic. Everyone’s schedules are tight, there are different events to bake for, the challenge of finding time to do something special with good friends…oh wait! You can do some of it at the same time!
This season might be the right time to schedule a Holiday Cookie Exchange!
If you haven’t participated in a cookie exchange, here’s a brief overview of how it works.
Make a list of friends, and send the invitations with instructions. We simplified ours by creating a Facebook event for our group. That way we could all keep up with the number of attendees and invitees could ask questions.
Decide on a location and time to hold your get together. Renting a
beautiful location to hold your exchange takes the pressure off of any individual to get their house “holiday perfect” so early in the season. And since I was in charge of finding a location, you KNOW I wanted to have it at a beautiful, historic property! We had ours in the dining room of the elegant Lasker Inn in Galveston during the middle of the week, when the inn would most likely not be filled with other guests. Look for a similar location in your community and ask if they will charge a lower fee for a weekday morning. Our event was from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Each person is asked to make (or buy – no guilt trips here!) one kind of cookie to share with others attending the exchange. We asked that everyone bring sampling cookies and enough to send at least four cookies home with each guest, that way the baking process wasn’t overwhelming. (Some exchanges I’ve been invited to ask for a dozen of each type of cookie for each guest!)
Everyone can be asked to bring their own containers to fill, or the hostess can provide containers (the dollar store and craft stores have cute options).
With some exchanges, everyone will bring printed copies of the recipe they used to send home with the others. That way, not only does everyone leave with goodies – but also a stack of new recipes to try for themselves.
Yes, THIS is where we got to have our exchange! (Can you believe how lucky are are?!) The 1870 Lasker Inn B&B and Event Venue in Galveston, Texas. It’s a stunning home inside and out, and the owner is a delight.
I decided to share Laura Bush’s Cowboy Cookies because….hello…Texas! They are a delectable combination of so many favorite cookie ingredients. My family finds them irresistible. Anything that starts with three sticks of butter just HAS to be pure goodness. And the large treats definitely make a Texas-sized statement when stacked on a platter!
Here’s a link to Mrs. Bush’s recipe on the Southern Living website.
After we spent some time visiting and enjoying our exquisite surroundings (and of COURSE taking some photos), we gathered samples of each kind of cookie to take home. I filled up my pick-up truck (well, at least my truck shaped platter) with all kinds of goodies.
What a great way to spend a morning together and start off the Christmas season!
We all went home with plenty of cookies in a variety of flavors to share with our families or to take to our next event. Phew!
To find out more about the Lasker Inn, visit their website, here: The Lasker Inn
Thanksgiving is, of course, a time to be grateful for gifts. For me these include a loving family, surviving breast cancer, and the opportunity to travel and explore.
But it’s also a great opportunity to capture family stories. Have your kids (adults can do it, too) use their phones to interview older family members about what family holiday celebrations were like for them as kids. Who was there, what they ate, a favorite memory.
It will get generations talking with each other and create a priceless video keepsake at the same time.
Need some questions to start you off? Here are a few suggestions:
What was Thanksgiving like when you were a kid, and what did you eat?
What was/is your favorite kind of pie?
Who came to celebrate Thanksgiving with your family?
Were your grandparents there? What were their names? What were they like?
Did your family play music during gatherings, themselves, on the radio or records?
Who did the cooking? Who set the table?
What did you do after the meal was over?
What is your favorite Thanksgiving memory?
What were you most thankful for?
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!
Ah, the smell of fresh Christmas trees can sure get us in the mood for the holiday season. This year why not take the experience of choosing a tree to the next level by staying overnight at a Texas Christmas tree farm?
Yes, you actually can!
Holiday Acres Christmas Tree Farm in Manvel offers not one but two “tiny houses” you can book for overnight (or longer) stays through Airbnb.
I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of tiny houses, so I was excited about checking one out for myself. Both options at Holiday Acres look equally charming nestled beside the pond and fire pit, but I chose the Bluebonnet for its simple, more traditional design.
Walking into the Bluebonnet I was immediately surprised at how well the limited room was used to create a cozy space.
Though it was admittedly much smaller than most people who stay at hotels might be accustomed to, it included all of the necessities: a bathroom with shower, kitchen with sink and microwave, kitchen utensils, coffee maker, mini fridge, small fold-down table top with two chairs, television, WiFi, heating/air conditioning, and towels.
A futon style sofa folds down to provide extra sleeping space, though it would work better for two small children than adults. A roomier, fluffy mattress with pillows is tucked into a snug loft area, reached by ladder leading from the living area.
The diminutive porch with chairs and table invites guests to enjoy their coffee outdoors while enjoying nature.
While you’re there you’ll definitely want to wander through the tree farm acreage filled with Virginia pines, Leyland cypress, Murray Cypress and Arizona cypress, and take one of the best scents of the season.
A visit to Holiday Farms can be a great getaway for some personal, couple or family time. Take a hayride to look for a tree, enjoy a complimentary cup of hot chocolate or mulled cider by a cozy campfire and a watch the kids wear off some of that holiday energy on the natural playground.
Then stroll back to your tiny house digs and grab some marshmallows to roast over the campfire to make my favorite treat…s’mores!
Where else can you stay and take home your very own hand-chosen Christmas tree? And a stay here is definitely less expensive than a hotel room, and offers a lot more atmosphere for the season.
Holiday Acres opens for Christmas tree cutting on November 23 this year, but the tiny houses are available for stays year-round. You can find the booking listing here: http://www.airbnb.com/rooms/14282082 and more details about the farm, here: www.theholidayacres.com.