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.
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.
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’.
Adrian – Midpoint of Route 66
The Bent Door Cafe’s Quirky Origin
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.
When you’re a history buff, visiting historical sites is just part of any well-rounded getaway!
My sister and I just got back from a trip to Oklahoma, where we spent part of every one of our childhood summers. My grandparents’ farm was built on my grandfather’s Indian land grant (he was a Cherokee, born in 1899…but I’ll share more about him later).
In addition to that, I had heard of an amazing Catholic church in town built by the Osage Indians. The stunning stained glass windows are the feature that draws most visitors to this historic church.
Before we left on our trip, I called the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, and confirmed that we would be able to take a tour on the day we planned to be in town. The lovely lady who answered the phone assured me that she would be there. If you plan to go, you can also check their Facebook page for details.
Pulling into the parking lot, there is nothing particularly grand about the exterior appearance of the structure, but the moment we stepped inside it took our breath away.
The 22 windows in the sanctuary are considered to be among the most unusual stained glass of any church in the United States. Traditional Catholic windows feature biblical scenes, and twenty of those found in this church do as well.
The other two, however, depict images of people who were alive at the time the church was erected – which is strictly against Catholic guidelines. The Pope gave special dispensation for these to be created as an acknowledgement of the special relationship between the Osage and the Catholic missionaries.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First I’d like to share just a bit about the history of the church itself, which is as interesting as its details.
Knowing that the Osage in the area may have been the richest people per capita in the world at the time may come as a surprise to many, but definitely explains the exquisite cathedral and its rich details.
In the beginning of the 20th century when oil was struck on Osage land, the tribe suddenly went from one of the poorest tribes to the richest.
The men are said to have driven the finest cars and simply replaced them if they broke down or got a flat tire. The women of the tribe walked the streets of town with diamonds on their shoes.
Their parish priest at the time was Father Edward Van Waesberghe, who laid out plans and designs for the church around 1910. The priest even did much of the brickwork himself, aided by Osage members.
Inside the church, the ceiling is a series of cross-ribbed arches, painted with a pattern that mimics traditional Osage ribbon work.
Ribbon work patterns also appear as details in many of the stained glass windows.
Being created in a country in the midst of World War I held dangers for such fragile masterpieces however, and for a while the German artisans buried the almost completed windows in a local sandy river bank in Munich to protect them from possible shelling.
The artisans themselves traveled to Oklahoma with the 36 foot tall windows, which were shipped in sections to Pawhuska and placed in the church prior to its completion in 1916.
Each of the windows is a stunning masterpiece, with the brilliant red panes achieved through the addition of gold dust.
The ‘Columbus Window’ in the south transept depicts the Pentecost scene on the upper panels, and Christopher Columbus’ first encounter with Native Americans in the New World on the lower panels. It was donated by the William S. Mathews family.
Opposite this window, on the north side of the building though, is the exceptional work of art that many travel from around the country (and world) to see in person.
The ‘Osage Window’ portrays the scene of Jsesuit missionary Father John Shoenmakers, known as ‘Black Robe,’ bringing Catholicism to the Osage Nation, at a time when the tribe lived in Kansas before they were moved to Indian Territory. Shoenmakers was held in such high regard by members of the tribe that his name, as Sho-Mink-Ah, is now used as the Osage word for priest.
In addition to the clergyman, the window depicts the images of actual people in traditional Osage dress surrounding the priest, intently listening to the word of God. Many of the tribal members were still alive at the time it was created. They include Osage Chief Bacon Rind, his wife Julia, Chief Saucy Calf, and interpreter Arthur Bonnecastle and his wife. Photographs of those included were sent to Germany along with the order for the windows. This window was donated by Rose Hill, Angie Bonniecastle and T. J. Leahy.
Two adorable little girls stand out from the rest of those pictured, partly due to their stance of staring directly out from the window. They are actual portraits of two young girls who died tragically young from the devastating smallpox disease. They represent the eternal saving power of God’s words to their souls.
Father Shoenmakers worked for 36 years among the Osage until his death in 1883.
A very small room off the vestibule holds the original baptismal font, as well as a partial view of the ‘Expulsion’ window depicting the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and the ‘Revelation of St. John.’
Only the lower half of the Eden window is visible however, until one climbs to the organ loft to view the upper half, where musical instruments appear in the design.
The same can be said of the ‘Annunciation’ window in the vestibule on the opposite side, which is partially obscured by the tightly winding steps to the loft. The roses at the feet of Mary glow impressively in the late afternoon sun.
My sister spotted the name ‘Juanita Scott’ on the donor section of one of the window, which made us smile because…although we knew it wasn’t the same person…it was our grandmother’s name.
The remaining windows at Immaculate Conception depict traditional Biblical scenes in a highly detailed and theologically symbolic manner, including ‘The Child Jesus Teaching in the Temple,’ ‘Wisdom, Age and Grace,’ ‘The Wedding Feast,’ and other classic biblical portrayals. Each one is beautifully detailed and worthy of study.
When we asked how many people attended mass there now, the guide responded about 80 to 100 people. For a cathedral of this size, that took us aback. But generations of families have been attending since the church was built, and about 80-90 percent of the parish remains a part of the Osage.
This treasure trove of glass masterworks is definitely worth a detour from any nearby trip route.