Mother-daughter weekend getaways with my teenager are a gift, and we recently discovered an inviting bed and breakfast that was the perfect home base for our exploration of the charming town of Waxahachie.
The last thing you might expect to find in this small town just 30 miles south of Dallas are British theme lodgings, but you won’t want to miss experiencing the British Merchant’s Inn for yourself.
Owners Mary and Howard Baskin have been lucky enough to live in the red brick Mission style bungalow style home twice. They raised their family there before moving away for several years, and then re-purchased it in 2016 to turn it into a bed and breakfast.
At the end of a long drive from Houston my daughter and I were relieved to pull into a parking space on the side of the inn, which sits on a lovely residential stretch of West Main Street. After being greeted at the door by a large concrete bulldog painted with the Union Jack we stepped inside, and into an explosion of creative interior design with a nod to the British Isles.
If every corner you see appears to be a picture perfect vignette, there’s a good reason. Mary worked as an interior designer for over 35 years and produced interior design articles for publications such as Traditional Homes, Country Home and Better Homes and Gardens as a regional editor for Meredith Publishing.
She also organizes small group antique shopping trips abroad – which I’d love to take part in now that I’ve witnessed her knack for finding such unique items. Her delightfully amusing discoveries fill every room at the BnB.
The home, whose layout is ideal for operating an inn, was built and occupied by James Wright Harrison by 1910 (according to the census), although the owner’s obituary stated that he built it in 1905.
James was born in Arkansas and came to Texas in 1868 when he was just 12, with his British born father, American mother and a houseful of siblings.
Later, the cotton farmer married an English girl named Fanny and they moved into this home in town where they lived the rest of their lives, passing away just one day apart in 1944.
Though they never had children, I’m pretty sure their love story lives on in the walls of their beautiful home.
Mary took the opportunity to incorporate her love of England to reflect the heritage of the original homeowners, and create an inviting place where guests can recharge between jaunts into town to take in the sights.
We stayed in an upstairs Room 1, which offered two separate beds. My daughter immediately chose the one nestled beneath a window and piled with pillows.
My larger bed was beneath a crystal chandelier in another nook of the room, providing us both with a sense of togetherness, with a bit of privacy.
Each of the guest rooms has a private bathroom in which the Baskins have provided all the necessities down to fluffy towels and make-up remover. My daughter and I were determined to enjoy the large claw foot tub during our stay (although we used the shower more often), so we stopped by a local drugstore and treated ourselves to fragrant bath bombs. (Because it wouldn’t be a girls’ weekend without a bit of pampering, right?) Ooh-la-la!
Mary invited us to explore the other rooms to statisfy our curiosity, and each was a unique little oasis of comfort and style.
Room #3 featured a very British, very red bathroom with walls adorned with antique hats.
The romantic canopy bed in room number 2 is perfect for couples or just to treat yourself. The room features its own private second floor patio balcony.
The only downstairs guest room, number 4, is the largest and features boldly striped walls.
A “formal” downstair parlor and bar areas, complete with grand piano, are also on the ground floor and would make an ideal place to meet up with your traveling friends who may not have been lucky enough to stay at the inn.
Our mornings began with cups of tea sipped from china cups while we were getting ready for the day. My daughter loved visiting the “tea station” in the mornings and evenings and choosing a different floral china cup to use…and I admit so did I.
For breakfast we were given vouchers for an adorable nearby café called the White Rhino Coffee + Kitchen. Conveniently close to the inn it had plenty of parking and delicious food. I hate to think that I may have missed this gem if Mary hadn’t sent us there! Located in an old two-story home, the downstairs has been renovated and opened into large comfortable spaces that encouraging lingering. And, um…the cinnamon rolls served in individual mini skillets? Yes, please! The staff was just as enchanting as the food and restaurant itself, so we were glad to be able to revisit them two days in a row.
Anyone who thinks there wouldn’t be enough to do around this small town needn’t worry. We spent hours in the antique shops and chatting with the friendly owners, searched for and found all of the “Hachie Hearts” (read more about them HERE), had a yummy sandwich and malt for lunch at Farm Luck (an old fashioned soda fountain that is a “must”), photographed the old railroad station and bridge, and Art on the Square where we enjoyed chatting with a local artist patiently creating a new masterpiece.
The recently restored courthouse on the square in town has quite a legend attached to it, that you can read more about HERE.
Movie buffs may recognize several sights around town used as movie backdrops for films that include “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Tender Mercies” and “Places in the Heart.” And the friendly hosts of the English Merchant Inn are more than happy to cue up one of these classics for you to enjoy in the TV room as you put up your feet after a long day of walking from shop to shop.
If you aren’t in the mood for movies, you may want to pull up a chair to the den table to work on a puzzle or curl up with one of the numerous books from the shelves guests are invited to enjoy.
I couldn’t help but think how fun it would be to stay at the inn with a group of friends, taking over the entire second floor and enjoying the common spaces together, or sitting on the wide porch watching the rest of the world go slowly past.
I think it’s the perfect “excuse” to visit again, don’t you?
Wherever we are . . . at home or on far flung travels . . . the night sky offers a brilliant show just waiting for us to take notice.
When I was in west Texas recently, far from the “light pollution” of urban areas, I was reminded that the sky actually more resembles a spilled pot of glitter than an occasional point of light. It was one of those times that I wished I knew how to identify the different stars and constellations. That’s something I have always meant to learn more about when I “had the time.”
When relating to a friend how awestruck I was at the beauty of the sky on that trip, he suggested that I download an app called SkyView Lite, a free version of an application that creates a kind of overlay of the sky as you hold it up. It identifies stars, planets, constellations and more. Once I tried it I was hooked! Even back home on nights that had too much cloud cover to see many twinkly heavenly bodies, it shows me where they’re positioned. Touch a point of light on your phone screen and it will identify it by name, show its trajectory and even give interesting trivia about it.
There is a paid version of this app with more features, but honestly for now I’m finding plenty of enjoyment with the free version. It’s fun to use with friends, family or just by yourself as you sit beneath the endless sky enjoying how vast creation can be.
When was the last time you took the opportunity to star gaze?
I love sharing places to visit across the Lone Star State through this blog, but I hope we’re all being responsible at the moment by staying at home and being healthy. When the Corona virus threats retreat, we’ll all be ready to get out and be social again.
In the meantime, it doesn’t mean we can’t explore Texas!
This morning I was remembering how when my daughter wasn’t quite school age yet, and it was pretty much a full time job to keep her busy little mind occupied and entertained. One of the things we did was talk about how Texas had all kinds of “official” symbols. How many do you know?
Official flower: Bluebonnet
Official large mammal: Longhorn
Official sport: Rodeo
Official Dish: Chili con carne
Official Insect: Monarch Butterfly
Reptile: Horned lizard
Plant: prickly pear cactus
Air Force: Commemorative Air Force (formerly know as the confederate Air Force)
Amphibian: Texas toad
Aquarium: Texas State Aquarium
Bison Herd: Texas State Bison Herd at Caprock Canyons State Park
Bluebonnet Festival: Chappell Hill Bluebonnet Festival
Bluebonnet Trail: Ennis
Bread: Pan de campo
Cobbler: Peach cobbler
Cooking implement: Cast iron Dutch oven
Crustacean: Texas Gulf shrimp
Dinosaur: Paluxysaurus Jones (replace the Brachiosuar in 1997)
Dog breed: Blue Lacy
Epic Poem: Legend of Old Stone Ranch
Fiber and Fabric: Cotton
Fish: Guadalupe Bass
Footwear: Cowboy boot
Fruit: Texas Red grapefruit
Botanical Garden: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Gem: Texas blue topaz
Gemstone cut: Lone Star cut
Grass: Sideoats grama
Official Domino Game: 42
Horse: American Quarter horse
Flying Mammal: Mexican Free-Tailed bat
Small Mammal: Armadillo
Maritime Museum: Texas Maritime museum
Musical Instrument: Guitar
Native Pepper: Chiltepin
Native Shrub: Texas Purple Sage
Shrub: Crape myrtle
Snack: Tortilla chips and salsa
Song: “Texas, Our Texas”
Pastries: (there are 2!) Sopapilla and Strudel
Pie: Pecan pie
Pollinator: Western honey bee
Precious Metal: Silver
Railroad: Texas State Railroad
Rodeo Drill Team: Texas Ghost Riders
Saltwater Fish: Red Drum
Sea Turtle: Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle
Shell: Lightning whelk
Ship: U.S.S. Texas
Stone: Petrified palmwood
Tall Ship: Elissa
Vegetable: Sweet onion
Vehicle: Chuck wagon
And believe it or not . . . there are SO many more!
For each of the symbols, you and your child can explore information online about what makes these things so very Texan.
Make chili con carne for dinner, and follow it with pecan pie and a domino game of 42. (How to play here.)
Plant your own butterfly garden to attract monarchs. My daughter and I still care for our ever larger Monarch garden that we created 15 years ago, and watching the life cycle of these beautiful creatures never gets old. (Everything you’ll need is here.)
Make columns on a poster board and have your child help you separate some of these by category (place, animals, etc.)
Make a list of “official” sites you’d like to visit when travel limitations are lifted. (The tall ship Elissa in Galveston, a ride on the Texas State Railroad, etc.)
But most importantly have fun and share the love of Texas. What is your favorite Lone Star State (the official Texas nickname) symbol?
When I was a kid I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up.
Now mind you, this was in the days (dark ages) before the Indiana Jones movies, so my parents didn’t quite know what to do with this aspiration, other than try to direct me elsewhere.
I’ve never quite gotten over my fascination with archaeological dig sites, and recently I went to the Mineral Wells Fossil Park where visitors can dig for and keep fossils over 300 million years old!
Think of it as the fossil equivalent of searching for seashells along a beach.
Mineral Wells Fossil Park is a primitive, unique site that’s a fascinating place to explore by yourself or with your family. Offering eight acres to comb, the park used to be the city’s “borrow pit,” which is an area where dirt is taken from to fill other areas. The resulting pit eroded over the 20 years it was used, exposing thousands of fossils from the Pennsylvanian Period.
It’s one of the few parks in the nation where visitors are legally allowed to remove fossils from the site, taking home true treasures.
There is plenty of parking in the gravel parking lot, where you’ll also find clean, portable toilets, but no running water. If you’re going to want to wash your hands or rinse off a bit after your outing before you re-enter your car bring an extra jug of water.
Take time to read the informational signs in the parking lot. They’ll help you to identify things you might otherwise overlook.
If you’d like to take along a “cheat sheet” click this link to find a handy, printable reference sheet of fossil types, courtesy of fossilcentre.com.
The park is primitive in more ways than one. You may encounter dangerous insects or animals (it IS their turf, after all) so keep a sharp eye out for them. And once you descend into the pit, don’t expect your cell phones to work. See? Magic – time travel.
Follow the path to the pit (there’s one way in and one way out to minimize damage to the site). A chain handrail will help steady your balance on the rocky soil as you follow the walkway into the search area.
My visit was on a day after a light rain which was ideal, since it washed the top layer of dust off of things and revealed new items in the channels where water runs down the sides of the pit. I had been told that I wouldn’t really need to “dig” for the fossils since most of them would be laying right on the surface, but I was skeptical. I was wrong . . . and it was amazing.
You might find fossils of ancient sea species like trilobites, crinoids (urchins), brachiopods, pelecypods, (clams and oysters), corals, plants, and even sharks.
The type I found with the least effort were sea lilies (which sound much more impressive when referred to as crinoids). Sometimes called “Indian beads” or “Indian buttons” (what my great-aunt used to call them) in reference to their button or bead-like shape, people used to collect and string them into necklaces. Not to get to “science-y”, but this illustration will show you what where in the plant (columnal) they were originally. Fossils from the other parts of the plant can be found as well.
Who would have thought a big pit could be so much fun?
Bring a picnic lunch or snacks and PLENTY of drinking water. Even in non-summer months, there is no shade in the actual digging area and you’ll need to stay hydrated. There are no nearby places to eat, so if you’re planning to stay at least a couple of hours (and you should!) your hard-working archaeology crew might get the munchies.
There is a shaded table area as you enter the park that makes a nice place to give yourself and your family a break from the sun. If your visit will be in the summer months, it would be wise to plan to be there early in the day, or late in the evening.
Yes, it’s basically a dirt pit, so dress appropriately. C’mon, that’s half the fun!
You’ll want to make sure everyone has rubber soled shoes (old tennis shoes are perfect) to help with footing on the loose-soiled slopes. (Say THAT 3 times fast: loose soiled slopes, loose sloiled slolpes . . . never mind!)
Other take-along suggestions: baggies or nail aprons to hold your finds, small hand garden trowels to loosen the dirt, an umbrella for extra shade, a wide brimmed hat, sunblock, bug spray, a bucket to carry tools and water bottles, and a small rubber gardening knee pad to sit on (it’ll feel a lot cushier than the hard ground). As always, please keep a first aid kit in your car to take care of minor boo-boos. Even adults need antiseptic and bandaids, ya know.
Oh, and did I mention water? Water, water, water.
You’ll also want to bring along your sense of adventure and patience. Once your brain adjusts to what it’s searching for the fossils seem to become more and more abundant.
Here’s a quick photo I took of the surface at the side of the pit. No, I didn’t even disturb it by beginning to dig! How many fossils can you spot?
You may even see a few “future fossils” during wildflower season.
The park address is 2375 Indian Creek Road, just northwest of Mineral Wells, Texas. From Mineral Wells, head west on Highway 180. Turn north on Indian Creek Road and drive approximately 2 miles to the Mineral Wells Fossil Park entrance.
It’s open daily from 8 a.m. until dusk and is admission free, which fits my travel budget just fine.
Personally, I can’t wait to go back. Who’s up for an archaeological adventure?
Trail rides are a time honored and much loved part of the traditions surrounding the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Four men from Brenham made the first trek in 1952, and by the next year 80 people had signed up to start the legendary Salt Grass Trail Ride.
One year after that 800 people were participating!
This year more than 3,000 riders will saddle up to make make the trip, heading into Houston from all directions.
The Texas Independence Trailride Association is just one of the groups who participate in the wonderful tradition. Established in January 1961, their group has been hitting the trail for 59 years!
The Texas Independence Trail Ride, whose trail goes right by my neighborhood every year includes rescue horses, three century-old wagons and the nicest bunch of people ever to gather around a campfire.
This year they set out on February 22, and I met up with them on the trail on February 26. A brave 50 to 100 riders will take part in this ride of 100 miles…and they’ve already had a rainy day and a v-e-r-y brisk day (today).
Multiple generations of families and friends take part. These two sweet cousins are pros – this is her second year and his sixth!
If you ever have a chance to visit one of the trail riding groups at one of their break stops, be sure to bring your camera and your smile…and watch where you step!
See a video of the wagons, horses and riders in action HERE.
If you’re looking for something to satisfy a sweet tooth, head to Corsicana!
The Russell Stover Chocolates Shop is filled to the ceiling. . . literally . . . with a candy assortment to satisfy any sweet tooth. You can purchase the chocolates by the box, by the bag or individually. Don’t forget to try their ice cream. It’ll make you glad you turned off the highway, and is a great treat to break up a road trip. There’s even a shaded patio area where you can pull up a chair and enjoy it without risking drips inside the car.
What takes most people by surprise on their first visit is the overstock bargains. Leave your willpower behind as you head to the back of the store, it won’t do you any good! Regardless of the time of year you visit, you’ll find overstocks candy from Easter, Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day and other seasons all at drastically reduced prices. And don’t worry, even if they’re out of season, they taste fresh and yummy!
Be sure to get a “frequent shopper card. Even if you only swing by about once per year, there’s often a free surprise for card holders.
And, oooooh, the freshly made caramel apples!
What’s your favorite type of chocolate?
Russell Stover Shop, 1997 Pecan Delight Avenue, Corsicana
Stone emojis? Well, kind of! These faces silently tell the story of an unrequited love in Ellis County long ago.
The courthouse itself is exquisite. This 1897 Romanesque Revival stunner was designed by architect J. Riely Gordon. If you’re a fan of Texas courthouses, you’ve heard his name before, since he designed 18 of them! But this one is undisputedly his masterpiece.
I promise to tell you more about this beauty another time, but for now we’re just going to talk about those faces! If you feel as if someone is watching you as your walk around the grounds of the courthouse square, you’re probably right.
The story goes that sculptor Harry Herley arrived in Waxahachie in 1895 to work on carvings for the courthouse project during it’s construction. The itinerant English artist moved into Mama Frame’s boarding house, where he met and fell in love with her beautiful 16-year-old daughter Mabel.
As his work continued on the courthouse, Harry’s love for Mabel grew, and he carved her angelic countenance to top the exterior columns of the courthouse.
But, as fate would have it, the love was unrequited and Mabel discouraged his constant attentions. As it became apparent to Harry that his love wasn’t returned, his disappointment slowly turned into bitterness, and the faces he carved to represent Mabel progressed from beautiful to grotesque and twisted. A lasting revenge for his broken heart.
The townspeople weren’t too happy about the unattractive faces on the courthouse they had spend so much money to build, and one story relates that the cattlemen and farmers even tarred and feathered poor ol’ Harry and ran him out of town on a rail.
It’s a sad, but terrific tale ripe for retelling through the generations.
Spoiler alert: If you’re charmed by the legend and would prefer
to leave it at that . . .you might want to stop reading this now.
Mabel’s mother Hattie, although a widow, didn’t seem to be running a boarding house according to the federal census. Even if she had been, the chances are that Herley never met the Frame family.
The biggest obstacle to this story were the characters were when it was supposedly taking place.
The stone sculptures for the courthouse were sub-contracted to the Dallas firm of German stonemason Theodore Beilharz. Hervey, who worked for the company at the time, is created with carving the exquisite red sandstone capitals perched atop the polished pink granite columns, but he also supervised other carvers who worked on the project.
The carvings would have been created in the Beilharz’s Pacific and Hawkins Stoneyard in Dallas and shipped to Waxahachie by rail as finished pieces, ready to mount in place.
So…if Hervey wasn’t actually in Waxahachie, he certainly wasn’t occupied falling in love with one of its residents.
There’s no record of Hervey coming to town until the summer of 1896, a year after his work for the courthouse was completed, to work on another stone carving assignment for a prominent businessman.
It was on this trip that he met local girl Minnie Hodges, whom he married in August of that year.
Many of Reilly’s courthouses feature faces and gargoyles, appropriate for the Romanesque style, and its likely that the design or at least the theme for the faces was under his direction. Unfortunately no records show what the intended meaning of the progression was meant to represent…which opens them up to storytelling.
It’s still a good story, and I bet if we checked back in a hundred years..it will still be told.
Most local lore has elements of truth woven into it. Does knowing the true stories “ruin it” for you, or make it more interesting?
And what’s a Texas legend without a song to go along with it? To listen to Jeremiah Richey’s ditty about the Eliis County Courthouse faces, click here.
National Parks in Texas aren’t stereotypical by any means. From forest to beach, mountains to rivers, battlefields to presidents, and missions to mammoths…there truly is something to interest everyone!
While many national parks are free 365 days a year, 112 of them charge entrance fees. The exception is on fee-free days. These select days throughout the year give everyone a chance to visit parks free of charge.
So what are you waiting for? Mark your calendar and start planning that trip!
THE 2020 FEE-FREE DAYS ARE:
January 20, 2020 (Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.)
April 18, 2020 (the first day of National Park Week)
August 25, 2020 (the National Park Service’s birthday)
September 26, 2020 (National Public Lands Day)
November 11, 2020 (Veterans Day)
Click on each name for further information on these National Parks and Recreation Areas in the Lone Star State: