Route 66 Kitsch & Culture in Vega

 

   The next stop on our Texas Route 66 trip was the charming little town of Vega, the county seat of Oldham County. Locals, or “Vegans,” are some of the friendliest folks you’ll find along this trek. The people here and their love of the history of Route 66 are a perfect example of how the road and its travelers can become the fabric of a community.

     Walking around the courthouse square, it was easy to spot the show stopping mural of a white buffalo on the side of a building at the corner of South Main and West Main – just across from the Bee’s Knees Café (whose “Sweet Tea” sign would have tempted me into sitting on their bench for a spell if they’d only been open!).

     The massive painting screams Southwest pride and will capture the heart of anyone who loves the area’s history, wildlife and deserts. It is one of four murals painted by talented art partners Joshua Finley and Valerie Doshier in 2014. Tragically, Valerie died of a brain tumor just two years later. What a beautiful legacy of public art she left for passersby to enjoy for years to come.

     The children’s book character of Cheeky Maneeky whose stories she had outlined before her passing were later brought to life by her mother D’Ann Swain’s writing and Finley’s illustrations.

     Another of the duos’ murals appears on the side of a 100+-year old building at 1005 Coke Street that used to serve as the town’s lumberyard. Expanded a few years ago, it now houses the Milburn-Price Culture Museum that displays memorabilia from around Oldham County including a 1926 Model T affectionately named “Tin Lizzy.” (But I’ll say a bit more about her later.)

     The mural at this site depicts the famed XIT Ranch, whose history will be at least vaguely familiar to anyone raised in the state an subjected to local history books. The Panhandle ranch encompassed a mere three million acres (yes, really!) and was conceived in 1879 to fund a new state capital building. At its peak, it raised 150,000 head of cattle, represented by the large longhorn statue who,…ahem…has a “66” brand instead of an “XIT.” The last of the cattle were sold in 1912.

     What’s most likely to catch your eye as you approach the building is the world’s largest branding iron laying on the ground beside the parking area. The XIT iron, made by Greg Conn, was designed so that visitors who drove into the lot at night could cast an immense “XIT” shadow brand onto the side of the building with their headlights. It’s certainly impressive even if you only visit during the day.

 

There are countless vintage gas stations in every stage of repair and disrepair along the route, but the restoration on North Main Street (Coke Street) is sure to make visitors smile.

 

     Colonel James T. Owen opened the “Hi-Way” Magnolia station in 1924 on what was then the Ozark Trail, a partially bricked and partially dirt road. It was only the second service station built in Vega. Owen was an important figure among highway boosters rallying to have Vega as part of the upcoming Route 66.

     Edward and Cora Wilson leased the station from Owen just a couple of years after it was built. The Wilsons lived above the station until 1930, in two cozy rooms with one sink. They had to go downstairs to access the bathroom. Can you imagine? Right on Main Street.

    After the Wilsons, a string of businessmen leased the property including E. B. Cooke and A. B. Landrum. One operator, Kenneth R. Lloyd, claims to have actually married his wife at the small station before moving upstairs to live.

     The station went back under family control when Owen’s son Austin took over the operation in 1933, and entered into a lease with Phillips 66 Petroleum which charged him one cent per gallon of gas sold. The average price of gas was 18 cents per gallon, so that was a pretty good profit!

     By 1937, the year J. T. Owen passed away,  Route 66 was paved through Vega just south of the station.

     Vega’s Magnolia station shut down its pumps in 1953. From 1953 to 1965 the building was home to Slatz Barbershop.

Before restoration, 2002

     The service station remained vacant for decades, until Vegans rallied to restore it. The before and after photos are pretty impressive, don’t you think?

     Restoration was completed in August of 2004, and now the station contains mementos of its previous life. The museum is open on special days or by appointment, but you can glimpse many of its contents through the large windows. A glass-globed pump and blue oil pump sit out front.

 

 

 

     If you’re into the more “kitschy” finds along Route 66, it’s hard to beat Dot’s Mini Museum on North 12thStreet. Dot Leavitt’s family ran a refrigerated storage facility named the Vega Zero Lockers. For years they provided services to locals and travelers along the Mother Road, including “Jugs Iced Free.” Sounds like a pretty good deal, considering most cars didn’t have air conditioning! It was also the only place to buy ice on Route 66 between Amarillo and Tucumcari.

     Determined to share reminders of the era after the interstate passed Vega by, Dot began an informal collection of Route 66 artifacts and memorabilia, which turned into her “mini museum” in 1963.

     Known for her sweet and chatty nature, Dot became instant friends with all who stopped by to learn more about her unlikely treasures. She is said to be the inspiration (along with Lucille Hammons from Hydro, Oklahoma) for the character of “Tin Lizzie” in the Disney/Pixar movie ‘Cars.’ (See? I told you that “Tin Lizzie would come up again!) The character, voiced by Galveston native Katherine Helmond, owned the Radiator Springs Curio Shop and was the oldest auto in town.

“Tin Lizzie” from ‘Cars’

     Dot passed away in 2006 at the age of 89, and the collection is in the care of her daughter, Betty Carpenter.

     If you’re lucky enough to run into Betty on the property, she’ll show you around. There wasn’t a sole in sight on the hot afternoon of our arrival, so we satisfied ourselves by taking some photos of Dot’s whimsical outdoor collections.

     There’s quite a variety to see, including a gravestone for a newspaper that no longer exists, a waving cowboy made of reclaimed metal parts, signs with humorous bits of advice, and…my very favorite…the cowboy boot tree.

     The living tree, decorated with discarded boots of all shapes and styles, actually gets more fascinating the longer you look at it. Taking in the details, you’ll find “well-loved” boots weathering to the point of stitching unraveling, sole nails protruding and heels expanding like the “grow capsules” my daughter used to play with that expand into interesting shapes when you drop them into water. It’s definitely a no-place-but-Texas kind of thing.

     The yard of this diminutive museum alone is worth pulling into the town of Vega.

     If you’re into staying in “rooms with a past,” you’ll definitely want to check out the historic Vega Motel that opened as Vega Court in 1947. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s one of the last remaining tourist courts on the Texas stretch of 66. The Lucky Horseshoe “residence” at the Vega Motel recently opened as an accommodation option for road weary travelers, with enough room for the entire family. Here’s the link. (If you haven’t ever stayed in an Airbnb before, this code will get you $40 off your first booking!)

     There’s even a barber shop on the property, so if you’re in need of a trim after getting windblown on the road…you’re in luck. The rest of the motel is currently undergoing renovations, so I’m looking forward to heading back that way to check on the progress!

     The last thing I wanted to search for before we had to move on down the road was this wonderfully weathered Pepsi-Cola sign…and I feel lucky have have found it.! If you’re in the area and want to see this beauty for yourself, it’s on the original Route 66 between 14th and 15th Streets. And yes, those of you who know me well know that I’m a Dr. Pepper girl through and through, but who could resist this beautifully hand-painted relic?

The building also had “ghost signs” advertising “ice” (which would have been welcome in the heat!) and “Cafe.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Just in case you’re interested, Oldham Country has the longest stretch of Route 66 stencils painted on the roadbed, at ever other mile marker beginning east of Wildorado (don’t-cha just love that name?) all the way to the west of Adrian. And though I don’t advise sitting on the road for a photo opportunity, there are a surprising number of places on the original Route 66 alignment that you’d be hard-pressed to spot an on-coming car. I settled for snapping my shadow rather than taking a chance. Just sayin’.

Related stories:

Getting Our Kicks on Route 66

Glenrio Ghost Town: Exit 0

Stories Along the Road

A Hero on Route 66

Adrian – Midpoint of Route 66

The Bent Door Cafe’s Quirky Origin

 

The Bent Door Cafe’s Quirky Origin

BENT DOOR Café & (Phillips) Midway Station

 

     Can you see it? Yep, the door is actually bent but not because it is damaged.

    There’s nothing cooking in the kitchen of Route 66’s Bent Door Café in Adrian, but it’s still one of the most recognizable stops along the Mother Road. A highly frequented photo stop along the Texas Stretch of the route, it had a bustling business during its heyday when it was a 24-hour café and gas station.

     Parts of the building have been on this site since the 1920s, but it was during the 40s that it gained its unique appearance.

     When Robert Harris returned from serving in the military in World War II, he put his efforts into wheat farming. After a particularly successful year in 1947, he used his profits to buy the original small structure and began looking for a way to turn it into one of Route 66’s unique attractions.

     The answer came from an unlikely place. Nearby Dalhart Air Force Base began selling surplus military in 1948 after being decommissioned. The imaginative Harris purchased the top portion of the air control tower that included angled windows for viewing the airfield. He incorporated the tower into the northeast section of the building, replacing one of the angled windows with a door been to fit the slanted walls of the structure. How’s that for an unusual vision?

    Harris celebrated the completion of this dream with a huge dance with a live band and BBQ for the community. Oddly, the very next day he closed the business and went to Germany for two months. There is speculation that he just wanted to see if the project could be done.

     His mother took charge of the business, selling it to Manuel Loveless who turned it into Tommy’s Café in the early 60s.




   The attention-grabbing look was a success in luring travelers off the road for food, gas and souvenirs. A former waitress shared memories of the café being filled with stranded people during winter blizzards.

     But being unique couldn’t save business from declining when I-40 was built bypassing the small town.

     That era of the café closed in 1972, and the café and station were sold to a family that let the architectural oddity fall into disrepair, eventually losing for non-payment of taxes.

     When Harris got wind of the building being slated for demolition in 1995, he bought it back. The county gave him the ultimatum of having it back in operating order in just two months or the demolition would be carried out.

     Despite the heavy damage to the building, Harris wasn’t about to see it torn down. He worked around the clock for two straight months to restore his one-time dream. He set a reopening date for September 9, 1995, but he café never re-opened.

     Oddly the Bent Door Café was never the official name of the business.

     In July 2006 Roy and Ramona Kiewert purchased the property and began the process of gradual restoration that’s still ongoing. You can follow the progress on their Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/Thebentdoor/

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    The Kiewerts also own the Fabulous 40 Motel next to the Bent Door. Don’t you just love the name? If the motel doesn’t catch your eye, the old rusted pickup with a huge wooden “66” in the bed sure will.

    The motel was built by Kenny and Marjorie Callstrom in 1967. Ramona Kiewert explained the origin of the name to me this way:

     “When the building was being built, the original plans were for two buildings with 20 rooms each (40 total), and at the same time Interstate 40 was going in so…Fabulous 40s Motel on I-40.”

    The 20-unit motel closed in 2004 after the couple passed away, but luckily relatives kept the property in fairly good shape. After being shuttered for more than a decade, the Kiewerts came to the rescue. They are restoring the property room by room, but several of the guest rooms are open and receiving great reviews.

    A quick check on traveler review websites show just how much visitors enjoy the friendly family that hosts them, and the free continental breakfast served in the recreation room.

    As I walked beneath the carport at the Fabulous 40 to take photos further onto the property I was greeted by Ramona who was evidently alerted about me by a motion sensor. She was so sweet that I wished I was able to stay overnight, but I had to settle for a short chat and some photos.

    The Fabulous 40 is alive and well, making guests feel like a part of the Route 66 family.

     As if they didn’t already have their hands full, the Kiewerts have also rescued a 1920s Phillips station, moving it all the way from Vega to Adrian three years ago! It doesn’t appear on Google maps as of the date of this blog post because the Google images haven’t been updated, but it’s there. Once known as Knox’s Phillips 66, it patiently waits on their property for its turn at restoration.

Adrian – Midpoint of Route 66

    Leaving Glenrio we headed just 25 minutes east down Route 66 to the tiny town of Adrian, whose claim to fame is being the “geo-mathematical” midpoint of Route 66.

     1139 miles to Los Angeles and 1139 miles to Chicago, or as they like to say, “When you’re here, you’re halfway there!”

     Like so many other small towns that dot I-40 across Texas, Adrian began when it was chosen as a stop on the Rock Island Railroad. Never mind that the first train didn’t arrive at the station until 1909.

     Even though it had its own printing press, post office, lumber yard, blacksmith, brickyard, bank, and running water pipe the scarcity of water and recurrent droughts kept the farming community small and by 1915 the entire town was made up of only 50 people.

     After we took a left at the first intersection after Exit 22 and went over the overpass, and the iconic Midpoint Café appeared on our right (not that there are so many other buildings around you might get confused!).

     Midpoint is the oldest continuously operated café between Amarillo and Tucumcari. It was once a one-room building with a compacted earth floor built in 1928. A waitress named Zella Crin brought her dream of owning her own BBQ restaurant to Adrian and leased the building, naming her café Zella’s. True to her roots, she had the wood for her fire pit brought in from Oklahoma.

     In 1947 the café, which was then open 24/7, was enlarged to accommodate the growing number of visitors traveling Route 66. After Zella passed away, Jesse Fincher and Dub Edmunds bought the place in 1956 and operated it as Jesse’s Café along with the gas station next door for 20 years.

     When business took a downward turn because of I-40 bypassing the town (is this story starting to sound familiar?), they sold it in 1969.

     Terry and Peggy Creitz operated the restaurant as Peggy’s Café, and another owner changed it to Rachel’s before the café was sold to Fran Houser in 1990.

     Houser redubbed it the Adrian Café and ran it until she retired in 2012, renaming it Midpoint Café to capitalize on it’s unique location along the Mother Road.

     But its location on Route 66 isn’t its only claim to fame. Houser and her café were the inspiration for Flo and Flo’s V-8 Diner from the movie “Cars,” and the characters of Mia and Tia were based on two of her employees at the time, sisters named Christina and Mary Lou Mendez. You can even spot Fran and her café mentioned in the film’s credits.

     What was once a gas station next door is now an antique and souvenir shop named the Sunflower Station. In front is an old, red pickup that visitors have written their names all over. Most seen to have been done in a white sharpie, so if you’re planning to stop in you might want to bring one along.

     Now owned by Donna and Dennis Purschwitz, the Midpoint’s bright, cheery interior filled with retro chrome and Formica tables and shelves neatly filled with Route 66 memorabilia is probably one of the friendliest stops you can make on the Route.

     Though word has it their burgers are tasty, we’ll have to take others’ word for it because we didn’t arrive until 2:00…after the “grill was closed.” We were momentarily disappointed (and hungry!) until we realized they WERE still serving their famous “ugly crust” pies. Pie for lunch? Well…if we must!

     Coconut cream, whiskey pecan (yes, you could taste the whiskey), and chocolate pie…just to make sure our bases were covered. A white board near the register lists your choice of “ugly pies” for the day, but one peek in the refrigerator case and you’ll want to run off with all of them.

     The lesson here is, of course, to remember to double check their hours online if you head their way. Their Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/MidpointCafe/

     A rocking chair reserved for the mother of the family sits by a pie safe in a corner of the dining area to rest in after baking her famous pies.

     The staff is relaxed and chatty, which encourages the patrons to make small talk with each other as well. We met several people from different countries there who were vacationing in America strictly to drive the entirety of Route 66. Everyone was in a great mood, because…pie!…and offered to take photos of each other in front of the Midpoint photo op sign across the street.

Can you tell it was windy?!

     Inside the diner is a small gift shop with what we later realized were some of the cutest, most affordable Route 66 theme shirts and souvenirs. I couldn’t leave without a Midpoint Café shirt with a map of Route 66 on the back.

     I look forward to going back one day and trying one of their burgers and, of course, more pie.

     In my next post I’ll take you to another iconic stop just a few yards away. You won’t want to miss this one!



Glenrio Ghost Town: Exit 0 on Route 66

     After spending the night in Tucumcari, New Mexico so we could get a “running start” at the stretch of Route 66 that cuts through Texas, we headed out to find our first bit of nostalgia.

     Glenrio is a town that’s actually in two states, straddling the border of New Mexico and Texas, so it was an ideal place to begin our adventure. Now a ghost town (although it still technically has two residents), it sits silently except for the hum of semis rushing down Interstate 40 just about 1000 feet behind what was once a popular stop along Route 66.

     Crossing into the Lone Star State and Central Time zone, we took Exit 0 and two short right turns to end up on the original roadbed of old Route 66 that runs through town.

     My heart raced a bit, because the crumbling bones of the few remaining buildings looked so familiar to me after doing much research for the trip. That’s when it hit me that we were actually doing this roadtrip I’ve looked forward to for so long!

     Here’s just a bit of background on the town to put things in perspective (then we’ll get to the ‘good stuff!’).

     The town site was primarily populated by large cattle ranches, and then wheat and sorghum farms. Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway established a station there in 1906, one year after the region was opened to small farmers to settle.

Humorous clipping from the Glenrio Tribune

    In September 1910, J. W. Kirkpatrick opened the first business in town, the Hotel Kirkpatrick. Other buildings soon popped up including grocery and mercantile stores, a bakery, a post office, the Glenrio Tribune newspaper (published from 1910-1934), a barber shop, a blacksmith shop, a feed store, a telephone exchange and a Methodist church. A school was added to the community in 1912.

    In the 1920s the government improved the dirt road running through town by paving it and dubbing it as part of the Ozark Trails Highway. By then the town had added a hardware store, a land office, more hotels/motels, service stations and cafes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo taken shortly after the road through Glenrio was paved.

     One of the amusing facts about Glenrio is how its businesses were divided by the states they sat in. Deaf Smith County in Texas was dry, so the bars and any establishment selling alcohol were built on the New Mexico side of town. No service stations were on the New Mexico side because of that state’s higher gasoline tax. Just a few steps along the road changed the laws and the prices.

     The original Glenrio post office was on the New Mexico side, even though the mail arrived at the railroad depot on the Texas side. Years later a new post office was built on the Texas side.

Photo by 20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

     In 1940, just two years after the final pavement through the Llano Estacado terrain of Route 66 was finished, scenes for the movie version of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was filmed in Glenrio for three weeks. Pretty big excitement for a little panhandle town.

     At the midpoint between Amarillo and Tucumcari, Glenrio became a popular stopping point for Route 66 travelers and a “welcome station” was built near the state line.

 

Glenrio Welcome Station on Route 66


     The town’s population never rose above about 30 people. Most of the residents made their living from tourist based operations for Route 66 in the 1950s, but its popularity couldn’t save the town when Interstate 40 was built, bypassing the community.

I can only imagine how many families took their “New Mexico photo” and then just steps away took the Texas version.

     The Rock Island Railroad depot closed in 1955. By 1985 the Texas post office was the only business open, but it has now long been closed.

     You’ll want to step carefully if you walk off the road toward the buildings, because the biggest population in this town just might be the snakes judging by the number of holes I saw in the dirt.

     The remnants of the few buildings left standing each must have innumerable stories to tell, if only they were able. All of the remaining buildings are on the north side of the road.

State line marker as it appeared just a few years ago
State line marker as it appears today

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Texaco Gas Station and Brownlee House

Image via Google Maps

 

     One of the first things visitors encounter is this old, abandoned Pontiac in front of a forlorn gas station. Thanks to the fascination for abandoned places and the internet, even those who haven’t visited Glenrio are familiar with the car. What most dod’t realize is that the classic automobile has a much darker story than most cars that are left in place to rust, but I’ll share that in my next blog post. (You can find the story here.)

     Built by Joe Brownlee in 1950, this Texaco station still sports its original gas pumps and front door, which is pretty amazing considering the harsh climate and years of abandonment. Because it was posted as private property and was in such close proximity to the Brownlee House, I respected the owners privacy by not venturing too close. But I sure WANTED to!

Joseph (Joe) Brownlee House

     Sitting about 40 feet in back of the station is the Joe Brownlee house. Originally built in Amarillo ca.1930, he moved the bungalow style home to this location in 1950 to inlaced wrought iron porch posts and a faux stone veneer.

     Roxann Travis, daughter of Joe Brownlee still resides in the home, and if you hear dogs barking when you step out of your care…they’re hers. It’s pretty fascinating to think of her living her entire life in Glenrio.

     An interview once quoted Roxann as relating that, “My father had two gas stations here. Traffic would be lined up both directions. He’d have all five of us kids out there washing windshields and changing the oil so all they had to do was pump gas and keep moving them through as fast as we could.”

     “We used to keep horses across the road but it was hard to get to them there were so many cars. When my kids were being raised here, they played ball on the road. You could take a nap on it now.”

     West of the house is a picturesque horse corral made of native wood, and a handful of agricultural buildings.

Brownlee Diner / Little Juarez Cafe

     This little Streamline Moderne building sits just west of the Texaco gas station. It housed the Brownlee Diner, later known as the Little Juarez Café. It served its last meal in 1973.

   The curved aluminum sign panel on the roof has the barely discernible word “Diner” visible on each side. On the east side I could barely make out the outline of a Mexican sombrero with the words “Little Juarez.” Photos that I’ve seen of the diner from as few as five years ago show the lettering quite a bit more clearly. Panhandle weather is a tough beast.

How the abandoned diner appeared in 2013. You can see more of the original sign paint still existed.

     The windows were covered from the inside (no peeking allowed, evidently!), so there was no sense in disobeying the ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted all over the property.

     But the little building does have quite a modern day claim to fame…


     Does this look familiar from the movie “Cars?” Yep, it was the inspiration! The animators for the movie actually traveled Route 66 and used many of the roads iconic sites in the film.

From the movie “Cars”

 

Texas Longhorn Motel, and the State Line Cafe & Gas Station


     In 1939, businessman Homer Ehresman purchased the State Line Bar and operated it for several years before selling the property to Joseph Brownlee.  In 1953 Ehresman constructed the State Line Café and Gas Station just east of his former property on Route 66.

1965 postcard of the Longhorn

 

     The one story building housed both the cafe and gas station, and a garage bay for auto repairs was on the west end of the structure. Not surprisingly, none of the twenty-light glass panels in the original bay doors are intact. An original hydraulic auto jack sits inside.

 

   In 1955 the Ehresman family opened the Texas Longhorn Motel directly in back of their gas station and cafe, which was in operation until 1976. The U-shaped motel featured side eaves supported by wrought iron posts to provide guests shade on the walkways in front of the rooms.

     As I walked into the center court of the motel (it was difficult to imagine it filled with autos at one time), I could easily see that the “U” was composed of two sections.

     The wing to my left (on the west) housed five rooms of stucco construction, and had most of its original doors. I was surprised to find that each of the rooms once had small kitchens in addition to a sitting area, bed area and bathroom. Though some of what must have been original furnishings were inside, they were covered with crumbled drywall from the ceilings and walls.

     The eight rooms at the back (north side) of the court appeared to be more simple, with a bedroom, bath (much of the original tile in place) and closet constructed on concrete block.

     A detached office wing to the right (east) also providing living space for a manager, and was apparently occupied once again as recently as five years ago. Even then the condition of the building would have been rough, to say the least. Whoever lived there seems to have left their furnishings (or those provided to them) behind.

     The most recognizable feature of the property to Route 66 afficiandanos is what is referred to as the towering “First-Last Sign” built directly in front of the buildings in 1955. Considered one of the most popular novelties along Route 66, it originally read “Motel – First in Texas – Cafe” or “Motel – Last in Texas – Cafe” depending on which was motorists were driving.  A line of cars waiting for the pumps was a daily sight during the Route’s heyday. Now the only cars in in sight are ones that haven’t run for years, and the famous sign sits deteriorating. Soon none of the words will be left.


 

State Line Bar & Motel

Vintage photo of State Line Bar and Gas Station

 

     The State Line Bar and Texaco gas station (gee, all the “necessities” in one stop!) was built about 1935 by John Wesley Ferguson who originally came to Glenrio to be the Rock Island station master. It was remodeled in 1960 with a concrete block exterior and aluminum and glass door. The little wooden lean-to building in the left of the old photo above (taken ca. 1950) functioned as the New Mexico post office.

     Peering inside you’ll glimpse the caved-in ceiling, and pieces of carpeting and wood paneling. Other than that and some refuse there isn’t much to see.

State Line Bar

 

     To the northwest of the bar is an abandoned eight-unit adobe motel built ca. 1930. The main façade has nine entrances, with eight opening to guest rooms and one to a storage area. A concrete sidewalk runs across the front of the motel in front of the warped, three-panel doors and each room has a window whose glass has long since disappeared.

     To walk far enough back on the lot to reach the rooms, you’ll want to be wearing boots or snake guards because . . . well, yeah. The nearest hospital isn’t exactly around the corner.

 

Ferguson (Mobil Oil) Gas Station & Post Office

     This charming little concrete block and stuccoed wood ruin was originally a Mobil gas station built in 1946 by John Wayne Ferguson, Jr. Its missing all of its doors and windows, which makes it appear even older than it is. The wood ceiling has collapsed into a maze of slats for the sun to filter through, creating patterns on the debris inside.

     My favorite part of this building is the ghost sign reading “Post Office” on one side. It was a fun discovery when I was walking among the remnants of buildings trying to identify them. For this one I only needed to literally read the writing on the wall!

The original circle driveway concrete planter at the post office is still visible.

 

Texas Route 66 Roadbed

 

     One sight that many visitors to Glenrio  may not even realize they are looking at is a section of the original Route 66 roadbed that runs through town.

     The first road through Glenrio was a dirt track which was gradually improved in the 1920s as part of the Ozark Trails highway. In 1926, the section of road was officially designated as U.S. 66, with a two-lane paved road completed through Glenrio by the late 1920s. Due to the popularity of the town and amount of traffic on the road, Route 66 was widened to four-lanes with a concrete median added on the New Mexico side. This asphalt-surfaced, four- lane highway remains drivable, but eventually runs into dirt road where the state pulled up the asphalt to avoid maintenance.

     Grass now grows through the cracks in the asphalt on the four lanes but its worth the short drive just to say you’ve traveled part of the original Route.

     A handful of other foundations exist, but I won’t mention them here since the buildings they supported are gone. If you explore the town in person or just via Google maps, this key to the buildings and foundations will help to act as a good guide.

Courtesy of Texas Historical Commission
Courtesy of Texas Historical Commission
Courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission

 

Courtesy of Texas Historical Commission

     You can drive through Glenrio in less than one minute without even going the speed limit, since the drive is just over a mile in length, but there is so much history there for those willing to stop.

     After a bit of exploring, it was time to hop back in the car (and air conditioning), drink some cold water and to head to our next stop which I’ll share soon!

THE SAGA – LIGHTING UP THE NIGHT

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Absolutely stunning!

     I have been looking forward to seeing this since I first heard about it several months ago, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful and emotional it would be.

     “The Saga” is a video art installation in San Antonio created by French artist Xavier de Richemont. Projected on the facade of the imposing San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest operating sanctuary in North America, in the heart of downtown it definitely makes my “must see” list for the city.

     In the minutes before the show our trio slowly wandered into the plaza to join others who were deciding on their ideal viewing spot in anticipation of the show. A few brought folding chairs, children made their way to the front of the gathering to sit cross-legged on the pavers, but most just stood.

     A rumble of rain followed by crashes of thunder surged through the speakers to start the show, and all eyes were on the cathedral.

 

Click here to watch the first moments of “The Saga”

 

   Light, color and a collage of images burst onto the 7,000 square foot projection choreographed to music provided in surround sound speakers.

     The progression of images- drawings, photos and maps – took us on a historical journey through the discovery, early settlement, and development from this 300-year-old city.

     Pictures of landscapes, Native Americans, famous battles and finally skyscrapers filled the space, surrounded by wavy blue lines signifying the San Antonio River. A progression of timely music from Native American songs, German polkas, fiddle solos, and more kept our hearts pumping with excitement to see what would come next.

     Richemont worked with local scholars in the creation of the monumental show. He has produced similar projections on famous architecture throughout the world, including Chartres Cathedral in France.

     Totally mesmerized by the breathtaking display, I didn’t have any problem standing for its 24-minute length, even after walking all day…and I bet you won’t either.

   And one of the best parts about this $1 million monumental attraction? It’s absolutely free to the public! I guarantee that if I my schedule had allowed, I would have attended more than once.

     The multimedia work will be projected on the facade of the cathedral three times a night each Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:00 p.m., 9:30 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. through 2024.





What a Blessing! Hotel Blessing Serves Up Tradition

Who could resist pulling over to see this amazing hotel?

Danish-born Jules Leffland, the most famous architect in Victoria during the Victorian era, designed the the historic Hotel Blessing in Blessing, Texas.  He adapted his take on Mission Revival style into wood construction instead of the traditional adobe or plater over brick.

Amazingly, the original blueprints drawn and signed by Leffland were discovered in the attic of the historic Abel Pierce home in Blessing in 2005.

The town of Blessing was established on property belonging to Jonathan Edwards Pierce, who granted a right-of-way to the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad to increase commerce.

So why isn’t the town named Pierce?

The businessman was so relieved to get a town to ship his cattle that he had suggested the name “Thank God,” but postal authorities considered that somewhat blasphemous. Blessing was suggested and the post office opened in 1903.
Between 1903 and 1905 a library building was attached to the train station, and in 1905 the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway also built through Blessing.

One of the oldest remaining buildings in town, Hotel Blessing has served as a community gathering place since it opened in 1907 when G. H. Crandall from Wisconsin was the manager.

Pierce and his son Abel built the hotel to provide lodging for new settlers, traveling salesmen and as a home for himself. The elder Pierce resided on site until his death in 1915.

The hotel was refinished and painted in the 1930s. During World War II wives and girlfriends of soldiers at Camp Hulen in Palacios would often stay at the inn. After the war ended the camp closed, freight train service stopped and eventually the hotel stopped renting rooms in 1972.

In 1977, Able Pierce, Jonathan Pierce’s grandson, and his wife Ruth renovated and reopened the hotel. The hotel was deeded to the Blessing Historical Society, which currently takes care of its operation. The hotel has 25 rooms, most which have a semiprivate or shared bathroom in a hall.

These days Hotel Blessing is widely known for food rather than overnight stays. Walk past the original registration desk, down a hall lined with screen-doored rooms and across the creaky floors, and enter the dining room You can count on bountiful breakfasts and a famous $10 lunch buffet with immense trays and pots of chicken fried steak, chicken, green beans, corn, breads, and more. Going away hungry just isn’t an option!

Generations of visitors and locals have spent countless hours in the dining room/coffee shop enjoying tasty, home-cooked meals and discussing local events.

The hotel is rightly proud to be the first building in Matagorda County ever listed on the National Register of Historic Places, earning that honor in 1979.

If you’re within a couple of hours of Blessing treat yourself to a leisurely lunch and then go down to the nearby shore to sit back and let your meal settle. It makes a great daytrip for family or friends.

Back to School – Airbnb Style!

     Many people spend a big part of their lives trying to get OUT of school, but there’s one schoolhouse in Texas you’ll want to make a special trip to get INTO.

     The Martindale Schoolhouse may say “time for class” on the outside, but don’t let that fool you. The minute you walk in the door it invites you to relax, and that gets an A+ in my book!

     Nestled across the road from the San Marcos River in the quaint town of Martindale, this 1921 Mission Revival style building has been turned into a five-bedroom, four-bath vacation rental.

     If you’re looking to de-stress or spend some quality time with your “people,” this place is ideal. Follow the road down to the river, across the street to a historic cemetery or walk into town to take in a few historic buildings. Think long talks and long walks, with only the birds and rushing water for background noise. Ahhhh…

     The Martindale School Campus operated from 1921-1968, initially serving grades 1-12 until the late 1940’s when the high school split off and the school became a primary and junior high school serving grades 1-8.

     Those were the days when the tiny town supplied over 65% of hybrid seed corn and a large percentage of the cottonseed supplied to the world. Pretty hefty bragging rights for a community of that size. The mill still sits right down the road from the school.

     Since the school closed over 50 years ago, the building has housed an antique mall, an auto repair shop and a private residence before falling into disrepair in the 1980s and 90s.

     The basic structure of the schoolhouse remains intact, but the spaces have been renovated into cozy living spaces and decorated largely with the owner’s collection of mid-century modern furniture. It will inspire you to pull a Dean Martin LP from the large album collection on the living room shelves and pop it onto the turntable.

     The main building is over 4,700 square feet, with high ceilings and large windows, and classroom spaces have mostly been changed into bedrooms and bathrooms, providing room to accommodate up to 14 guests. You can even stay in the old principal’s office! Others have been used for the living and dining rooms and kitchen.

     The kitchen is large enough for a houseful of cooks to prepare party fare, but my sister and I chose not to cook during this particular stay. There were just too many tasty temptations in the area calling our names!

     The schoolhouse is right down the road from El Taco Feliz, a taco truck with cheap, yummy breakfast tacos.

     Just around the corner from that is the Highway 80 Feed Barn. Yep, it’s actually in an old cottonseed building (super clean and cute) and the décor echoes its past in an only-in-Texas way. The burgers were so good – don’t expect for there to be room for dessert! (But you better believe they have Blue Bell ice cream, just in case.)

     But let’s get real, here. Martindale is also just 11 miles away from Lockhart, the BBQ Capital of Texas! We’ll leave that tasty discussion for another time.

     My sister and I stayed in the “Harper Hall” room, courtesy of our hosts. It’s the bedroom that most still resembles an original 1921 classroom, complete with blackboard. The long-leaf pine floors creaked in friendly reply to our footsteps. Two queen cast iron beds are tucked beneath the chalkboard, and two twin sofa/daybeds sit to the side.

     The “Ellison Suite” with its four-poster king bed and sitting area boasts the largest of the private bathrooms, with two sinks and a double head shower.

     Looking for a room to meet your instagram feed needs? Say “Ole” to the “Lady Martindale” with 12-foot high, arched windows, king bed, wet bar and separate entrance from the front patio. It even has its own turntable (the other turntable and records collection is in the common room).

     I especially liked one of the side table lamps in this room that’s made from an old band instrument. It might be a nod to Miss Louise Lawson, the school’s music teacher between 1931 and 1958. She was instrumental (if you’ll pardon the pun) in keeping the love of music alive in the community. She would have surely appreciated the piano and guitar in the living room for guests’ use, too!

     “The Bagley” is the smallest of the rooms, but has it’s own 12-foot, arched window behind the queen bed.

     And last but not least, if you get sent to the “Principal’s Office,” it’ll be a reward rather than a punishment. The office itself now serves as a large, brightly tiled bathroom to a southwest-vibe bedroom, with a kind bed and separate entrance from the back veranda.

    Oh, and the school colors? Blue and gold. I don’t know whether or not it was planned (I think it was just kismet), but those colors live again throughout the schoolhouse’s mid-century modern furnishings that the owners collected over a number of years before even purchasing the property.

    The long hallway leading to three of the bedrooms is lined with photos of students of the school and some of their sports teams, including the Wildcats girls’ basketball team of 1935. It was fun to try to match up the locations in the backgrounds of the photos with present day features of the schoolhouse.

     Being located so close to the river, you can enjoy a little tubing without fighting the crowds around San Marcos. But…shhhhhh! That’ll just be our little secret.

      And when you get back and dried off, the back porch fireplace or fire pit and back yard make great gathering spaces with plenty of room for younger ones to run off any excess energy.

     Just behind the schoolhouse sits the Martindale Gymnasium, built in 1939 as one of the last projects constructed by the Public Works Administration. Over the years it hosted countless sporting events, dances, concerts, plays and community events.

     Luckily it has returned to serve as a gathering place under the name of the Martindale Social Hall, available to rent for special events. Now open air (the roof is long gone) the space is ideal for a party or concert beneath the stars, with 4,200 square feet to spread out in.

     A little side note for you trivia fans…

     In 1938, Martindale High School played Prairie Lea High in one of the first six-man football games ever played in Texas. It was a demonstration games for the UIL to determine whether to officially sanction it as an alternative for small high schooled to field a football team during the Great Depression. Within a year, over a hundred schools in the state were playing six-man. Pretty cool, huh?

     Martindale, Texas is centrally located between the cities of Austin and San Antonio. If some of the buildings look vaguely familiar, it’s possible you’ve seen them in a movie or two, like “The Newton Boys” with Matthew McConaughey or Clint Eastwood’s “A Perfect World.” One of the buildings even served as a courtroom in the TV miniseries “Blood Will Tell,” about the Cullen Davis murder. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch one of the movies while staying right down the street from where they were shot? Next time, I’ll be prepared for a movie night!

     To see a “video tour” of the Martindale Schoolhouse, visit my YouTube channel at Martindale Schoolhouse.

     And to book your own stay, visit www.martindaleschoolhouse.com




A Library Born From Unrequited Love

     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.  

President Wm Howard Taft

     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.

1952

     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.

 

Texican Court – A Nod to Nostalgia

     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).

How much do I love this version of “Do Not Disturb?” Sooo much!

     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

Hop on a bike and ride around the property.

 

 

Friendly and polite staff who were ready and willing to answer questions and do anything they could to make our stay more comfortable.

Two Mules Cantina Restaurant

     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.

Tequila Bar

     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.

Great place to sit and relax in the evening.

     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.

Good Eats in Irving & Grapevine

   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.

      Have a burger for lunch here, and you probably won’t need dinner.

 

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!