Adventures in Longview
Visitors find shopping, dining, music, history, and nature
By Kimberly Fish
Some friends from Dallas called the other day, giving me grief about why I hadn’t made the drive to see them in a while, and I said, quite simply, that I was having too much fun in Longview to mess with the traffic in Big D. Since they seemed dubious, I invited them to Longview for the weekend, prepared to surprise them with the arts and eats treasures found in my East Texas hometown.
East of Canton, Texas’ landscape begins to change from prairie to a classic Piney Woods terrain, complete with pine forests and rich, acidic soil. In the springtime, dogwoods, azaleas, and roses entice admirers from across the state, and few East Texas gardens can top the early-spring carpet of yellow daffodils found at Mrs. Lee’s Daffodil Garden in nearby Gladewater. In 1960, Helen Lee, the widow of a wealthy oil baron, bought a boxcar of daffodil bulbs and planted them around a small lake on her property; today the flowers spread across 28 acres. The window of opportunity to view them is small—six weeks in February and March, depending on rain and other conditions—so don’t miss it if you make the trip during this time.
My friends arrived on a Friday evening, so we beelined to downtown Longview for dinner at Tyler Street Bistro, where we caught up over étouffée-topped crab cakes, thick T-bone steaks, and glasses of cabernet sauvignon. After dinner, we strolled the two blocks to the Longview Museum of Fine Arts, which was hosting an exhibit of Andy Warhol paintings on loan from a local resident. Year round, the museum showcases an impressive permanent collection of works by Picasso, Chagall, and Texans such as Jerry Bywaters and Charles Umlauf. And, an insider tip: Every other month or so on Friday night, the LMFA serves as an unlikely live-music venue, with intimate concerts in the main gallery.
Early Saturday morning, I picked up my friends at their hotel, excited to take them to one of my favorite weekend events: the Historic Downtown Farmer’s Market, which operates April through November beneath white party tents at High and Cotton streets. We found coffee and cinnamon rolls to satisfy our breakfast cravings and visited with vendors offering artisan breads, native flowers, gourmet goat cheeses, fresh eggs, humanely produced meats, and organic fruits and vegetables. Thinking ahead, I had packed a cooler.
With a shared interest in architecture, we drove next to the nearby Nugget Hill Historic District, a neighborhood that developed in the 1930s after the discovery of the East Texas oilfield turned many area wildcatters into tycoons. Spanish-Colonial and Mediterranean-style mansions with broad lawns and gardens speak to the influx of wealth that transformed the city during this period.
My Dallas friends did have one “must-see” site on their agenda: They wanted to go to The Bargain Box. Managed by the Junior League of Longview, the Box is packed with past-season couture from Neiman Marcus stores in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and out-of-state. Searching for Armani dresses and Blahnik heels at a fraction of the original price was enough to keep us occupied for hours, but with more to show them, I hurried them to one of my favorite Longview restaurants: Pizza King.
They hadn’t lived—I promised—until they tried Pizza King’s thin-crust pizzas. Started as a walk-up in the 1960s, the Pizza King has maintained its retro ambience with a stylized sign, chrome barstools, and red vinyl booths. And the pizza—a bold grilled-chicken version and another made with mushrooms and sausage—made good on my promise. We couldn’t dawdle too long, however, as we had tickets to see a production of Oklahoma! at LeTourneau University’s S.E. Belcher Performance Center, a hall with a reputation for excellent acoustics and a diverse lineup of entertainment ranging from pianist Jim Brickman to Riverdance.
The next day, a tour of the Gregg County Historical Museum, housed in a 1910 building that still has its original tile floors and pressed-tin ceilings, helped flesh out the county’s history of Caddos, gunslingers, inventors, wildcatters, and entrepreneurs. Longview, we learned, contributed mightily to the 1940s war effort by supplying petroleum to the northeast via an above-ground pipeline known as “The Big Inch.” Shipping oil by tanker would have risked sabotage by German submarines, so this pipeline—in reality, two feet in diameter—played a significant role in the Allied victory.
For our last meal together, I took my friends to a combination meat market/restaurant called the Butcher Shop, where we indulged in eggs, crispy bacon, and plump biscuits with gravy. We moved on to the Paul G. Boorman hike-and-bike trail, an easy path that bisects the city, to refresh our senses. With sunlight filtering through the trees, my friends told me it was time to head back to the Metroplex. But they promised they’d be back to Longview again, and soon.
From the January 2012 issue.