Looking for a roadside attraction that’s “on point?” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)
In line with making sure that everything really IS bigger in Texas, the town of Bowie offers a Guinness World Record Bowie knife.
Now in case you aren’t familiar with Bowie or just need a quick refresher, Colonel James Bowie was one of the heroes of the Battle of the Alamo. But what his name will forever be linked to was a custom knife, designed for him by his brother Rezin. It was reportedly 9.5″ long, 1 1/4″ thick and 1 1/2″ wide with a simple riveted wood handle. It was his skill using this weapon that became legendary.
In an 1827 brawl with several men on a sandbar outside of Natchez, Mississippi, Bowie was stabbed in the chest, shot multiple times and beaten half to death but still managed to win the fight using his large knife. Two of his attackers lay dead and two grievously wounded. The action would be almost unbelievable if we watched it in a modern movie.
But back to the impressive roadside attraction that bears his name…
Bowie, Texas, Jim Bowie’s namesake town in Montague County, erected the world’s largest Bowie knife in his honor. The impressive weapon is 20’6″ in length and 16’10” high. The steel blade alone (which was created hollow to lessen the weight) is over 14′ long! Constructed basically the same as more functional versions of the knife, it is made of steel and brass with a wood handle made from a Bodark tree (*more information about this side fact below!). It weighs 3,000 pounds and had to be lifted into place with a crane. The monument was designed by engineers to withstand normal seismic activity, winds up to 90 per hour and an inch thick layer of ice. Basically, to be as tough as the man for whom it was named.
The blade isn’t sharpened for safety reasons, although crawling on the monument isn’t allowed. But the positioning of the knife provides some interesting photobombing opportunities.
You can see this cutting edge monument (sorry…again) for yourself in Pelham Park in Bowie, Texas. There is easy, free parking at the site as well as a few brief explanatory plaques about the man and his weapon.
This is one of those sights that will convince you everything really IS bigger in Texas.
*The Bodark tree that was used to create the handle of the monument goes by other names you might recognize: bois d’arc, Osage orange, horse apple, and hedge apple. The hardness of bois d’arc made it popular with wheelwrights for use in the spokes and hubs of wagon wheels, bridge timbers, foundation piers for houses and paving blocks. It was also prized for being the the perfect post material for barbed wire fences due to its toughness. I’d say that makes it an appropriate wood to incorporate into a Bowie Monument, wouldn’t you?
SITE: Roadside monument
LOCATION: Pelham Park, on the northbound side of US 81/E. Wise Street
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.
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.
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.
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
Both U.S. presidents most associated with Texas in recent years weren’t actually born here. Former President George H. W. Bush was born in Massachusetts, and his son was born in Connecticutt.
The two actually born in Texas? Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson.
You can visit the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site in Denison.
The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is in Stonewall, Texas. The “Texas White House” is temporarily closed, but other park facilities are open.
Now just for fun, how many Texas places can you think of that share a name with a former President? Try your hand, and then see below for a list, in order of the presidential office year. (Not all of these places were named for the President whose name they share.)
Hays County (O.K., well – the prez spelled it Hayes so this one’s a stretch)
Kenedy (again..spelled slightly different than Kennedy)
How many were you able to name without peeking? It’s O.K. if you did peek…no judgment here.
Happy President’s Day!
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.
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.