Written by Texas Highways
Houston suffers from no shortage of museums, but I’ve always thought of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as the grande dame of them all. It was here that I first marveled at the splendor of European masters. As a mother, I’ve found that my appreciation for art is magnified when I experience it through the eyes of my children. So on a recent sunny day, I set out with my three young children for an afternoon at the MFAH and its companion sculpture garden to see what this Houston art institution has to offer for a family visit.
Once you step into the Garza Furniture showroom, located along a nondescript side street just blocks from Marfa’s renovated Second Empire-style courthouse, you’ve clearly arrived at one of the community’s many lively creative hubs. Here, the infusion of West Texas light—often responsible for drawing artists from around the globe to Marfa—fills the showroom with a congenial glow. The selection of relaxed, handcrafted furniture, including daybeds, bistro tables, chairs, and barstools, blends luxury with simplicity in both materials and design.
Texans who are lucky enough to live among the vistas of this great big state share a common morning ritual: We get up, we grab our coffee, and we walk to the window to take in our own special view of the desert mountains or the Hill Country or the Gulf Coast waves. The routine is an affirmation of sorts, confirming a kindred sensibility that the world is still a beautiful place to live. But even if your view is nothing more than the neighbor’s scruffy lawn, consider yourself fortunate. Our highways offer plenty of opportunities to enjoy the vistas of the Texas landscape, whether you live in the midst of one or not.
Every Texas town has its distinctive qualities and attractions—just ask the locals. Given the more than 2,000 small towns that populate this vast state, that makes for a lifetime of worthwhile country drives, courthouse square cafés, and quirky local history museums. That’s why we turned to Texas Highways readers to help identify our state’s “coolest small towns.” We had a blast fielding the nominations, which came in from all across the state. Considering the “small” stipulation, we set a population limit of about 10,000, although that meant some popular nominees weren’t included. We believe these small towns reflect the essence of Texas—from peaceful porch swings to sprawling oak trees, chicken-fried steak, and six-man football—and we invite you to join us as we explore their charms.
Each Texan has a story to tell. Each story comprises one thread in the special tapestry that is the Lone Star State. Some threads seem to sparkle especially bright, glowing with special passion. Following are eight such Texas stories. Though not household names, these Texans are respected in their fields. By virtue of talent, good luck, and fortitude, they have done extraordinary things. Each story is unique, yet together they reflect an enduring commitment to sense of place.
Award-winning Austin choreographer Allison Orr is lifting the old Texas saying—dance with the one that brung ya—to new heights. During the past decade, the founder of Forklift Danceworks (and dance professor at Austin Community College) has convinced groups of ordinary folks—from firefighters to roller skaters—to perform choreographed dances that reflect their lives and common humanity.
In Spanish, “conjunto” means “together.” Conjunto is also a lively musical style born on the Texas-Mexico border in the early 1900s. Conjunto blends German traditions of the button accordion with Mexican traditions of the bajo sexto 12-string guitar and the contrabajo string bass.
Donna shaver first glimpsed the Gulf of Mexico in 1980, arriving at Padre Island National Seashore as a college student to study the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. She soon dedicated her career to saving the smallest of the Gulf’s five species of sea turtles.
Tourism in the mountain west got a boost in 1930 with the opening of two nearly identical sister hotels designed by famed El Paso architect Henry C. Trost. Hotel Paisano in Marfa and Hotel El Capitan in Van Horn embodied elegant Spanish baroque style for decades. In the 1950s, the Paisano even housed actors James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson during the filming of the now-classic movie Giant. By the early 2000s, though, the Paisano lay abandoned, and El Capitan was a bank. Then native West Texans Joe and Lanna Duncan bought the venerable lodgings and spent years restoring them. Today the Paisano boasts 41 well-appointed rooms, and El Capitan 38. Both offer stylish restaurants, bars, and gift boutiques. For the Duncans, it was déjà vu all over again.
Tom Perini grew up in Abilene in the ’50s, but spent weekends on his family’s ranch 15 miles south at Buffalo Gap. He loved cowboying—being outside, working with cattle, and cooking for the hands. Perini was so good at cooking steaks that other ranchers, including Watt Matthews of the famous Lambshead Ranch in Albany, asked him to cater their shindigs. Matthews even steered Perini’s career from raising beef to cooking it. In 1983, Tom Perini turned the ranch’s hay barn, at the end of a long dirt road, into the rustic Perini Ranch Steakhouse.
At age 86, Mary Kemp takes the long view about bluebonnets and history. For more than 30 years she has cultivated both on 220 acres in Mt. Nebo Valley south of Weatherford. Amid 20 acres of bluebonnets, she and her late husband, V. Kemp Jr., created a frontier village featuring a dozen replica structures anchored by the 1856 Thomas J. Shaw log cabin. Since 1980, period-dressed volunteers have welcomed thousands of visitors each spring to the Shaw-Kemp Open House.
Most families start with a love story, but not many start like Lareatha Clay’s. Two centuries ago, in Kentucky and Tennessee, her great-great-great-grandparents, Jim and Winnie, were born into slavery. They ended up on a Mississippi plantation and fell in love. When a Texas farmer bought Winnie and the two were separated, Jim ran away to find her, trekking 400 miles under cover of night. After weeks of searching, he found her at a spring gathering water. Winnie convinced her owner to buy Jim, and after Emancipation Jim and Winnie Shankle became prominent landowners in the Newton County freedman’s town of Shankleville.