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!
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.
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!
I recently learned that the former Ranger’s Cottage at Varner-Hogg Plantation in West Columbia is now available to rent for overnight stays. I didn’t hesitate to make a reservation immediately!
The Varner Hogg Plantation is a State Historic Site featuring the original plantation home and several outbuildings. See my previous post for more about it: https://bit.ly/2Nxki0L
Though the website had basic information about the cottage, the photos online don’t do it justice. Being a Girl Scout leader, I know that the word “cottage” sometimes means extremely rustic and bare bones. While that won’t scare me away, I was pleasantly surprised with this location.
Built in the 1920s, the Ranger’s cottage sits slightly back across the site road from the main house, beneath large pecan trees that probably predate my grandmother.
Rocking chairs and a bistro table and chair set wait on the porch, inviting guests to linger and enjoy the immense trees, heavily draped with Southern moss. I honestly wasn’t sure I’d get much further, since I have in incurable weakness for porches, but I’m glad I did.
The entire cottage has been updated and decorated with comfortable, modern furnishings. No detail has been overlooked in making each room a welcoming space. The living room even has a basket of monogrammed blankets so family or friends can curl up on the sofa to enjoy an evening movie.
To the right of the living room is a brightly colored, spacious master bedroom with space enough to do a little dancing before bedtime. The master bath has a dressing room with sink and mirror, and a separate room with shower and toilet. The amenities (towels, shampoo items, gels) are more who I would have expected from a hotel than a historic cottage on a state historic site!
The kitchen was the next pleasant surprise (and by the time I saw it I was regretting not bringing a group of friends with me!). Stocked with serve ware and basic cookware, it features a full size refrigerator/freezer, microwave, range and coffeemaker. It would be such fun to stay here with family or friends and gather on the barstools at the counter to chat while fixing a meal! The attractive concrete counters, by the way, were made by one of the site employees (and I wonder if he would mind stopping by my house to make some for me!).Just outside the kitchen door is a small back porch big enough for a couple of chairs. It would be a relaxing spot for a chat and cup of coffee or cocoa.
A stairway from the rear of the cottage leads to the second floor, and an additional full bath and two large bedrooms. Again, I was surprised by the size of the rooms, considering the age and original use of the cottage!
The yellow bedroom with twin beds and floral bedding seemed bright and cheery even on the dreary rainy day that I arrived.
The second upstairs bedroom was decorated in a lovely shabby chic violet, with full beds.
The cottage was so comfy, it would have been easy to just nest inside, but of course one of the major advantages of staying on site at the plantation is being able to explore the grounds even after visiting hours. Everything on site is within easy walking distance, including the main house, the ruins of the sugar mill and slave quarters, picnic grounds, the old family cemetery and more.
It was a special treat to wander around after an evening rain taking in the beauty and history while being serenaded by the frogs in Varner Creek.
For information about making a reservation for your stay at the Varner-Hogg Plantation, visit https://bit.ly/2oHdpkB
Have you ever stayed at a historic site? If so, which one and did you enjoy it?
When most of us think of plantations, our thoughts go immediately to Louisiana or Mississippi. But just an hour south of downtown Houston an enchanting reminder of the past sits tucked backed on acreage covered by magnolia trees and a pecan orchard, beside a lazy, winding creek.
The Varner-Hogg Plantation Historic Site shares the story of three owners and their families.
Martin Varner came to the area in 1824 and was granted 4,428 acres by Stephen F. Austin. Along with the two male slaves they brought to the area, his family raised a small amount of livestock and established a rum distillery.
Ten years later, Columbus R. Patton moved from Kentucky with a large number of slaves. He became active in politics and served in the Texan army. During the years the plantation was known as the Patton Place, between 40 and 60 slaves made bricks by hand, constructed a plantation house, smokehouse, sugar mill and their own living quarters.
The two-story sugar mill, which sat across Varner creek within sight of the front porch (now the back) of the main house, made Patton highly successful.
His long-running, open relationship with a slave named Rachel was unpopular in the community. She had many of the rights a white wife would have, and was known to have ruled over the other slaves in a harsh manner.
Patton’s extended family also disapproved, and his nephew and brother were disinherited by Patton because of their actions against her. The extended family had Patton declared insane in 1854, and had him committed to an asylum in South Carolina where he died in 1856. After his death and a prolonged court battle, Rachel was granted her freedom and an annual stipend.
Between 1869 and 1901, the site changed hands several times. Many of the original buildings, including the slave quarters and sugar mill were destroyed during the 1900 hurricane.Governor Hogg purchased the plantation in 1901, convinced that there were oil reserves beneath the land. His 1906 will recommended that his children retain the mineral rights, and the discovery of oil a short time later made the family extremely wealthy.
His daughter Ima was a renowned collector of antiques and decorative arts, and furnished the main house with exquisite pieces before donating the plantation to the state of Texas in 1958.
A stairway leading from the second floor to the third floor, where the boys of families of former residents would have slept, is off limits to current visitors. Luckily, I was allowed access so that I could share these phots with my readers.
Though the quarter round windows would have originally allowed light into the space, it’s hard to imagine how the heat of summer would have been tolerable.
A much smaller set of stairs, tucked beneath what was possibly an original eave, then leads from the third floor to the glassed-in cupola atop the plantation house.
A feature of the plantation site that kids find especially fun is
“Governor Hogg’s Tub” and Swimming Hole.
Fed by a natural spring creating a small fountain from a pipe, the water is retained in a square, brick lined “tub” before continuing to a small lake. The well-maintained feature is now enjoyed by local wildlife.
One of the things this site does so well is to preserve the beauty of this time period and lifestyles, without romanticizing the sacrifices of others that made them possible. In the outbuidling known as Ima’s cottage, where she stayed on her visits in later years, a fascinating account has been gathered of what the lives of slaves on the plantation were like. Visitors can even listen to recordings of reminiscences of former slaves in their own words.
During your visit make sure you visit the barn, where you can see antique carriages. The yard to the barn is now used for special events.
The visitors center, immediately to the left as you enter the grounds, has a small exhibit room as well as a great selection of local history books and souvenirs.
In my next blog post, I’ll share a special place to stay overnight when you
Rosenberg’s historic downtown district has been undergoing a revitalization in the past few years. It’s so great to see the number of buildings that have been standing along the streets housing local businesses for generations.
Among the businesses now are a few impossible to resist antique and gift stores, including Once Again Antiques at the corner of Third Street and Avenue F.
And you won’t believe the fun connection it has to a notorious couple!
In 1934, the Eagle Cafe was housed in this building, and a favorite among locals. One day, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (yes, THAT Bonnie and Clyde!) came in and sat down. Even in the age before electronic media, their faces were easily recognizable, so it’s a bit surprising that no one confronted them or left to get the police.
The couple sat down, ordered lunch and ate it without ever looking up or making eye contact with the staff or other customers. Can you imagine how exciting, and perhaps a bit unnerving, it must have been for the locals inside?
It shouldn’t have been too surprising to have spotted them in town, since Bonnie was from Roweena, Texas and Clyde was from Ellis County, near Dallas.
When they finished their meal, they returned to their car, which they had left running out front, and left.
Shortly after this particular stop in Rosenberg, the couple was killed in a shootout in Louisiana.
These days the building is filled with happier reminders of the past, in the form of antiques. The charming co-owner proudly pointed out the small sections of exterior wall at the front where they uncovered “ghost signs” or remnants of original painted ads. They preserved them so that future generations could enjoy their find.
Once Again houses the booths from 18 different vendors and one of the best assortments of antiques I’ve seen in a long time. They also have a few art pieces, like these adorable “canines” made from antique toasters, cameras, spoons and other amusing parts. They’re worth the stop all by themselves, but the history of the building makes the visit pretty memorable, too!