Skip to content
×

Warning

JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 298

Written by

By Charles Lohrmann

An an inveterate backroads rambler, I enjoy a particular affinity for mysterious derelict buildings and out-of-the-way communities that are bricks-and-mortar ghosts of a time long past. In most cases, these looming, sometimes frightening, wrecks represent faded memories or dreams and aspirations either outgrown or abandoned. When I spot these re-purposed or unpurposed buildings along the sometimes unmarked and often unpaved roads, I know many of them were once schools that embodied the ambition of the long-missing occupants. Each time I approach the always-open windows or never-open doors, I inevitably sense the presence of teachers and children drifting through the halls.

When I recently discovered the book Early Texas Schools: A Photographic History (University of Texas Press), I realized I had found a guidebook that tells the stories of many lost communities now languishing at backroads intersections. Because it touches the far reaches of the state, the book photographically docu-ments more schools than I’ll probably ever visit. But even though I don’t know all the communities represented, I enjoy reading the history and imagining from the photographs what the schools were like in their heydays.

Writer Mary S. Black and photographer Bruce F. Jordan searched diligently to find the institutions included. And while the word “institution” is appropriate for the abandoned Mary Allen Seminary in Crockett or the WPA high school building in Yoakum, it’s far too grand for Kimble County’s modest Ivy Chapel and School, the crumbling adobe schoolhouse in Terlingua, or the Junction School on the Pedernales River, where former President Lyndon B. Johnson studied as a child and to which he returned in 1965 to sign the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

As they gathered the stories for this book, Black and Jordan focused on Texas schools built between the 1850s and 1930s. This is the period when the quest to offer education was an outgrowth of a general passion for a better life in tough, often unforgiving, country. After that period, folks began to shift away from the rural settings and into larger towns and cities, leaving the rural school districts to consolidate among themselves and, in many cases, to slowly decline.

The stories of these schools, and the people who built them, resonate so clearly today because they are the personal stories of struggle, commitment, and survival against powerful odds. Some of the schools, such as Austin’s Huston Tillotson, started small, but laid the groundwork for important institutions that continue to play a role in education today.

Others were built and maintained, and then redirected to another use for the community, just as San Antonio’s Ursuline Academy is open today as the Southwest School of Art and Craft.

I’m particularly taken by the Clairette school (locals pronounce it with three syllables: Clare’ - e - ette) that sits beside Texas 6, just off U.S. 281 between Hico and Dublin. Or if you’d rather be even more obscure, between 281 and Alexander. Built in 1912, the two-story, native stone school building survives as a community center and polling place. In 1939, Works Progress Administration workers added a star-shaped fountain when they built a recreation building nearby. Even though the old school building is still in use, the recreation building is just a shell, and the authors aptly compare its foundation posts to headstones in a cemetery.

The stories of these schools are inspirational, but it is still the abandoned buildings themselves that speak most provocatively. I believe the buildings are haunted by hopeful spirits. And the scrape of a broken door against an out-of-kilter frame recalls the energetic youngsters bustling in to sit down and get to work.

For all its dreams faded and promises not delivered, an old school building still embodies a very real aspiration. Perhaps by seeing where these institutions started folks on a path to larger community, it’s possible to gain in-sight into how we relate to education today.

By Charles Lohrmann

As I survey a dozen of Malou Flato’s bright watercolors and acrylics on display in San Antonio’s Hunt Gallery, I see more than the bright colors of oranges, figs, and pomegranates assembled in still-life compositions. Rather, I see the paintings as small-scale landscapes in which the oranges, figs, and pomegranates take on the roles of the hills, boulders, and trees; over-size details distilled from an alternative-reality landscape that captures the imagination with vivid color and deceptive simplicity.

I’m drawn immediately to a group of three paintings along one wall, the bluebonnets and cactus flowers, because those paintings are the ones I see as most clearly derived from the landscape paintings that Flato has painted over the years. I select these images in part because of a personal preference for landscape, and also because of a fascination with the creative process. The more I can find out about an artist’s working history and motivation, the happier I am.

The Texas landscape is essential to Flato’s work. For more than two decades, she has employed a range of media to create impressions and experiences of land and water, often including figures of friends and family to make the statements more personal. Flato’s images offer a glimpse into her individual experience of the landscape, which she shares through color and paint.

In one recent series, Flato moves away from the strict representation of the landscape and toward the interpretation of its forms, colors, and textures. She calls on digital technology as a tool in her work, deconstructing natural elements of the landscape and rearranging them—scanned animal skins, photographs, fruit, plants—into abstract images.

Such multimedia works offer unexpected combinations of scanned objects with digitally enhanced components overlaid by painterly color work. Flato’s representational paintings document the artist’s sensitive exploration of landscape and form, while the newer images acknowledge a provocative advance in the evolution of an artist’s relationship with the natural world.

Flato explains, “When I look back at what I’ve done over the last 25 years, I have the same feelings I want to convey, but in a much rougher form. It becomes even more about the paint, and how you put the paint on, to create a feeling about the subject, whether that’s land and water or a composition of cactus and tassajillo.”

Rediscovering Windmills and Bluebonnets

The bluebonnets in the painting at Hunt Gallery leap from the picture’s surface as larger-than-life visual elements, enthusiastically beautified with gestural use of bold color. The iconic Texas wildflowers create an unexpected visual extrapolation from the familiar Texas “Bluebonnet painting.” To compare Flato’s more expressionist, abstract paintings to Hill Country bluebonnet scenes seems an unlikely exercise. But this juxtaposition offers the opportunity to explore the evolution of a highly personal expression.

When she was just getting started as a young painter, Flato migrated back to her home in Texas from college in Vermont on a quest for new subjects to explore with her art. In her earliest work, she developed themes based on research, but soon found she preferred to work directly from the natural world instead.

She remembers the process of getting settled back in Texas and finding her way as an artist, and recalls a particularly unsettling conversation with a well-meaning family friend who proffered some apparently heartfelt advice.

“Windmills and bluebonnets,” the friend explained, “are the subjects people in Texas like.” Flato compares the conversation to the iconic scene in the film The Graduate, in which Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin Braddock, listens dutifully as a meddlesome family friend advises him to ponder one word, “plastics,” as he considers his options.

Whereas Ben Braddock responded blankly to his advisor, Flato’s reaction was more visceral. “I was appalled,” Flato says. It’s easy to imagine her youthful outrage—even to a well-intentioned suggestion—because windmills and bluebonnets symbolized everything Flato didn’t want to become as an artist. The only way to make the concept more off-putting for the serious young artist would be to add a Longhorn steer into the picture. Despite this early shock to her artistic sensibilities, Flato did not turn away from the challenge of the bluebonnet and, to this day, calls on the Texas landscape for inspiration. She now can return to the limestone cliffs and spring-fed streams of the Texas Hill Country, seeing new opportunities as her abilities become more refined.

Flato’s landscapes convey a delicate but decisive application of both color and paint, and the resulting images evoke an experience of the subject and communicate a sense of secret and mysterious information. The work goes beyond the representational landscape and offers an alternative answer to the conventional questions about what the land means, how individuals relate to it, and what the human role is—how the elements of water, land, and plants relate to one another. To communicate that intimacy with the landscape—particularly the Texas Hill Country—Flato draws on generations of attachment to it. She literally grew up enjoying paintings of regional landscapes.

A Landscape Tradition

In fact, Flato’s earliest inspiration to pursue her interest in landscapes is generations old. Her great-grandfather, L.A. Schreiner, may have inadvertently started Flato on her course. As a young man in the first half of the 20th Century, Schreiner commissioned noted Texas landscape artist Julian Onderdonk to create a painting of his favorite fishing hole, on the Guadalupe River not far from Kerrville. The particular site is now part of Camp Stewart.

When Onderdonk completed the painting, he presented the work to Schreiner along with a bill for the commission. At the time, Schreiner could not afford Onderdonk’s bill. So he consulted with his father and suggested a loan to cover the invoice. His father, former Texas Ranger Captain Charles A. Schreiner, founder of the storied YO Ranch, didn’t let paternal compassion get in the way of sound business.

Essentially, he said, “I’ll pay for the painting, but I get to keep it.” The old ranger paid Onderdonk’s bill, but insisted that the painting remain on his wall. So, the younger Schreiner was not able to take possession of the painting until his father willed it to him. Then it came to Malou’s immediate family. “Ultimately, my mother inherited the painting,” says Flato. “She was the only granddaughter and loved the painting. It was what she wanted most, so she got it.

“And it was great for me to grow up knowing a painting was so important. That’s rare.” It wasn’t just that a fine landscape was ever present in her early life, but along with the painting was the appreciation of the work itself.

By Maxine Mayes

Last winter, on a hunt for a pair of decorative wooden ducks to give as a gift, I visited Old Ingram Loop, a shopping village and artist colony in the historic district of Ingram, just off Texas 39. Traditional mega-malls hold no appeal for me, but Old Ingram Loop’s serene ambiance and vintage buildings full of one-of-a-kind treasures “had me from hello,” as the Kenny Chesney song says. Recently, with my cousin, Shirley Spencer, I returned to Ingram to browse the Loop at leisure.

Two Labrador Retrievers, one mouthing a purple ball, greeted us at the Copper Cactus, where Sherri and Jay Chatfield live and work. The dogs escorted us across a porch and through a chili-pepper-red door. Inside, Sherri guided us through the eight-room gallery, starting with the couple’s kitchen, which doubles as Sherri’s showroom. We admired her creations, especially a necklace fashioned from silver, smoky quartz, and red coral. In the back room we met Jay, who crafts art furniture from rustic woods and copper. We liked a hammered copper table on a cypress base, accented with short pieces of old cedar fence posts from local ranches.

A few doors down, the Stage House Gallery showcases the paintings, mostly Western scenes, of Roy Lee Ward, the Texas State Artist of 1994 and 1995. Roy Lee’s wife, Betty, told us that he sometimes “paints the light into his pictures,” using a technique that imparts a glow—to windows of a house, a sunrise, a campfire—even when external lights are dimmed. Later, he described the process. “I separate the distance between the bluer shadow areas,” he said, “and heighten the warmer color areas. The effect is startling.”

At Judith’s, the shop where I bought the ducks last year, we found merchandise old and new, from Chinese Satsuma pottery to a lobby bench from the Menger Hotel in San Antonio. But, like a pair of children, Shirley and I lingered longest before a collection of musical bears, pressing paws to hear jangly renditions of songs like “The Gambler” and “I Hope You Dance.”

Outside Judith’s, we followed a corridor to a wide veranda that looks down upon a terrace brightened by beds of red impatiens, and across a sloping lawn to Old Ingram Lake. It’s actually the backyard of long-time Loop residents Harold and Judy Wunsch, who own Riverside RV Park and serve as the Loop’s de facto tourism promoters. Fortunately for visitors, they share the peaceful view. Theirs is one of many camps, lodges, and summer homes along the Guadalupe River from Kerrville to Hunt and beyond. Just upriver from Old Ingram Lake, the Wunsches told me, is New Ingram Lake, where summertime visitors can slide inner tubes down the dam’s 100-foot spillway.

When it was time for lunch, we headed to Hardin and Yvette Covington’s Old Ingram Deli, hoping to try Hardin’s famous Reuben sandwiches or homemade pizza, but we struck out. The deli was closed. Instead, we went back to the highway, and we snagged the last empty table at Spirit Wind Java, where we enjoyed cups of savory bacon-and-potato soup and hearty sandwiches.

Back on the Loop, we visited Horsefeathers, where the vibrant colors of Latin American imports brighten every shelf and corner. My pick was the lacquerware from Mexico. “Each is painted with several colorful layers,” explained shop owner Marrena Robinson. “Then the artisans etch out intricate patterns using a thorn, cactus spine, or other sharp object.” I asked about Pierre, the loveable resident cat I’d met last time. “Oh, he only comes inside during winter,” she said. “Then he chooses the most expensive textile to lie on.”

Vivid images of Guatemala stand out from the paintings of Western characters, roosters, buffalo, and bluebonnets on the walls of Steven Napper’s studio. Napper travels to that country annually to conduct workshops and further explore a land and culture he loves.

Silversmith Clint Orms has designed pieces for Tiger Woods and Prince Charles, but you don’t have to be famous to appreciate his stellar workmanship. Orms designs all the belt buckles crafted in his shop. “I’d like to see that one,” I said to salesman Joe Rolls, pointing to a beautiful buckle about the size of a deck of cards. On a sterling-silver canvas, using three types of gold, the shop’s artisans had layered an entire Western scene, including a bearded cowboy on horseback, six Longhorn cattle, clouds above and cactus below. This intricate piece costs $37,500, but you’ll find other items that are less dear.

At Don Atkinson’s Custom Boot & Saddle Shop, we paused to savor the distinctive, pleasant smell of the leather saddles and boots displayed throughout the lobby. The walls are covered with framed prints of intricate, decorative boot patterns; autographed pictures of famous clients, from astronauts to movie stars; and photos of the younger Atkinson as a rodeo cowboy. (My favorite memento was the custom boot pattern he made for country musician Bob Wills back in 1948.) Atkinson has been plying his craft since the early 1940s, broken only by a stint in the Korean War. “I made my first saddle when I was 12 and had my own shop when I was 18,” he said, “and I still work 12 to 15 hours a day. It keeps me young.”

Next door, we found sculptor Tom Moss in the middle of his studio, detailing the clay model of a horse. “This will be the mount for a circuit-riding preacher,” he explained. “It’s a commissioned piece for a Methodist minister.” All of Moss’ custom-and-limited-edition bronzes—Indian warriors, cowboys, pioneer women—reflect his passion for the Old West. Shirley especially liked Attitude Is Everything, his depiction of a frontier cowgirl with a proud stance and confident countenance. What caught my eye was a miniature fountain featuring a colt and a turtle at a watering hole.

Though I lean toward Western art, I was intrigued by the contrasting styles of Loop artists Kathleen Cook, Todd Winters, and Lavinia Schlabach. Cook, in her loft-like studio, works primarily with pastels. Surprising objects in some of her paintings, like a pinwheel in the hand of a dignified, elderly lady or scattered marbles sharing table space with an elegant floral arrangement, suggest playfulness. Winters’ acrylic and watercolor canvases burst with bold, exaggerated color. Schlabach, known for her acrylic renderings of geraniums, has been painting for 50 years and is affectionately called “Mother of the Loop.”

I’m glad I live within an hour’s drive of the Loop, because I plan to revisit soon to shop, dine at the deli, and renew my acquaintance with Pierre the cat. Besides, Sherri and Jay Chatfield said to stop by anytime “to pet an old Labrador on the head and have a cup of coffee.” You can’t get that at the mall.

Old Ingram Loop is 5 miles west of Kerrville off Texas 39. For more information, contact the Kerrville Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800/221-7958; or call Harold and Judy Wunsch, 830/367-4843.

ESSENTIALS

Copper Cactus, 100 Old Ingram Loop; 830/367-7711; www.thecoppercactus.com.

Stage House Gallery, 211 E. Old Ingram Loop; 830/367-3016.

Judith’s, 211B Old Ingram Loop; 830/367-5107.

Riverside RV Park, 211 Old Ingram Loop; 830/367-4843; http://riversidervpark-tx.tripod.com.

Old Ingram Deli, 241 Old Ingram Loop; 830/367-2362.

Spirit Wind Java, 109 Texas 39; 830/367-7585.

Horsefeathers, 215 Old Ingram Loop; 830/367-5020.

Steven Napper Fine Art, 217B Old Ingram Loop; 830/367-7775; www.napperfineart.com.

Clint Orms Engravers & Silversmiths, 229B Old Ingram Loop; 830/367-7949; www.clintorms.com.

Don Atkinson’s Custom Boot & Saddle Shop, 229 Old Ingram Loop; 830/367-5400; www.donatkinson.com.

Tom Moss Studio, 229D Old Ingram Loop, 830/367-3430; www.tommossstudio.com.

Kathleen Cook Studio & Gallery, 109 Coultress Rd.; 830/257-6288; www.kathleencook.com.

The Winters Gallery, 214 Old Ingram Loop; 830/285-1382; www.wintersgallery.com.

Old Ingram Gallery & Studio, 210 Old Ingram Loop; 830/367-4104.

By Lori Moffatt

One Sunday in July, en route from Austin to visit family north of the Red River, I took a detour north of Fort Worth and headed west to explore Wichita Falls.

I rolled into town around five and proceeded to downtown, where the wide streets, flanked with brick buildings erected during the North Texas oil boom of the 1920s, were virtually deserted and mildly surreal. I had borrowed a fancy digital camera, and I walked down the middle of the streets snapping photos of the old City National Bank, the Hamilton Building, and other architectural remnants from a time of frenzied commercial and industrial expansion.

Eighth Street, I’d learn later, was known as “skyscraper row” in 1919, when proceeds from the oil wells in nearby Burkburnett began pouring into Wichita Falls coffers. Six trains a day brought workers back and forth between the two towns, 19 hotels opened to accommodate travelers, and a bustling stock exchange operated on Ohio Street. And, like in most boomtowns, prostitution and bootlegging kept the Texas Rangers on their toes.

The tangle of railroad tracks northeast of downtown, along with silos and switching stations, reveal clues to the city’s even earlier identity. After the railroad’s arrival in 1882, I learned, Wichita Falls grew from a struggling prairie town into a major North Texas commercial center. Dozens of rail lines soon connected Wichita Falls with towns from Fort Worth to Denver. Mercantiles, banks, drugstores, and other businesses sprang up, particularly along Seventh Street. Downtown even had a streetcar system! And here’s a fact I found particularly amusing: For many years, the city had so many saloons that its nickname was “Whiskeytaw Falls.”

As I made my way to dinner, I wondered if that reputation might still be based in reality. Past Krank it Karaoke, the It’ll Do Bar, and a popular watering hole called It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere, I found the highly-recommended Pioneer #3, known by locals as the P-3 since it opened in 1949. The parking lot was packed.

I felt a rush of déjà vu as I stepped inside the lobby. When I would visit my grandparents in Cushing, Oklahoma—the self-proclaimed Oil Pipeline Crossroads of the World—in the 1970s, restaurants felt like this: Dark paneling and country music, red meat and cigarettes, hungry roughnecks and farmers still in their work clothes. The unremarkable lobby, which doubles as a small non-smoking section, paled in comparison with the back dining room, where diners puffed away and then put away plates of enchiladas, chicken-fried steak, fried ham, and the Sunday Night Special—beef tips over rice with green beans and mashed potatoes.

The booths on the edge of the dining room had tabletop jukeboxes, and as I waited for my Special to arrive, I selected Merle Haggard’s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” and settled back for a listen. In a few seconds, a pair of powerful speakers subjected the entire P-3 smoking section to Merle’s up-tempo breakup song. I dressed my salad with a dollop of house dressing from a mustard squirter, and felt like I was in a movie set. All I needed to complete the odd little scene in my head was a Benson & Hedges Ultra Light 100.

When I checked into the Harrison House B&B later and told owner Suzanne Staha about my experience at the P-3, she laughed. “Next time, come back and try some of the restaurants out by the base.” Sheppard Air Force Base, she told me, opened in 1941, and its international community of pilots means that you’ll find all kinds of restaurants nearby, including places that specialize in Greek, Thai, and South American cuisine. Who would have thought?

Suzanne returned to Wichita Falls, her hometown, to help her parents clean up after the 1979 tornado, a storm that cut a mile-and-a-half-wide path through the city. She eventually bought and restored a spacious 1919 Prairie-style home and opened it as a bed and breakfast. I had the whole place to myself.

Suzanne normally prepares a lavish breakfast for guests, but I was atoning for those P-3 beef tips. So, over a meal of fruit and banana bread the next morning, we visited about the city. Suzanne learned that I liked to ride bikes, and we made plans to check out the new butterfly conservatory at the River Bend Nature Center, on the edge of popular Lucy Park.

Lucky for me, Suzanne keeps a few bicycles in the storm cellar beside the house, and we set off. We rode through neighborhoods filled with beautiful Craftsman homes in various stages of restoration and disrepair. We pedaled through the Morningside Historic District, an eclectic neighborhood constructed between 1900 and 1949. It’s in the National Register of Historic Places, and some of the homes here—bungalows, futuristic spaces, and fabulous pillared mansions—rival dwellings I’ve seen in swanky lifestyle magazines.

At Lucy Park, an expansive tract of land on the northwest part of town with ball fields, a swimming pool, picnic areas, and some 10 miles of paved trails, we rode along the Wichita River to a replica of the famous waterfall that gave the city its name in 1876. (The real waterfall washed away years ago.) A few anglers cast lines into the reddish-brown water, which, thanks to the recent heavy rains, flowed northeast toward the Red River like an angry version of Willie Wonka’s river of chocolate.

When we arrived at River Bend Nature Center, director David Bindel met us at the center’s pavilion. Beside it, the new glass butterfly conservatory, similar to the Cockrell Butterfly Center in Houston and the conservatories at Moody Gardens in Galveston, soars to 50 feet on the northern end. With a few years’ growth, the conservatory should be lush and wild, but already it contains some 20 different butterfly species, along with 105 kinds of plants, trees, and grasses native to the Rolling Plains. Behind the conservatory, a switchback trail leads to 15 acres of nature pathways and a wetlands area, which attracts birdwatchers in the spring and fall.

After returning my bicycle and packing my things, I made a final stop downtown to do a little shopping, see some art, and have lunch.

Downtown Wichita Falls has more than a dozen antique shops, though most are closed on Sundays and Mondays. But on Indiana Street, across from the old Wichita Theater,

a shop called the Mansion II was open for business, with more than 63 booths offering everything from antique fishing gear to collectible coins. There, I met book dealer Willie Bremer, a former “shoe man” who told me his perso-n-al library num-bers more than 5,000 volumes. Among the thousands of titles he had for sale, John Dos Passos’ trilogy U.S.A. called my name, and Willie and I made plans to talk about his favorite “Lost Generation” authors after I had finished it.

A few blocks away, I stopped at the restored 1926 Marchman Hotel building, which still has its yellow-and-brown linoleum floor, art deco light fixtures, and other details from the Twenties. In the lobby, a lunch counter called Gidget’s Sandwich Shop, which has since moved to larger quarters nearby, catered to downtown workers and the occasional lucky tourist. The Marchman houses state offices these days, and as I enjoyed a topnotch chicken-salad panini and crisp mixed-greens salad, I watched folks come and go, taking care of business.

Next time I visit, I’ll spend time at downtown’s Museum of North Texas History, as well as other sites that close on Mondays. The Kell House Museum, housed in the home of city founding father Frank Kell; the Littlest Skyscraper, which now contains an antique store; and the Kemp-Kell Depot were all closed during my visit, but I managed a look-see at the city’s art museum, the regal Kemp Center for the Arts. Built by influential resident Joseph Kemp for his wife, Flora, in 1917 as the city’s first public library, the center now hosts art exhibitions and classes, a film series, and performances of dance, theater, and music. An outdoor sculpture garden features some 20 unusual works from Texas artists—pieces like a metal agave, a folk-art depiction of a buffalo soldier, and towering mixed-media flowers. Definitely not staid stuff.

So color me surprised. Wichita Falls may not be your typical tourist destination, but it offers uncommon discoveries at nearly every turn. I’ll definitely return to see how it reinvents itself for the future, once again.

By Lori Moffatt  

Carpe Diem

HURRY! It's May, which means that it's going to get HOT here soon. Carpe diem, we say, and seize the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors before the state’s hardworking air conditioners start lulling you inside. You have endless options for embracing Mother Nature—here are a few ideas to ignite your imagination.

Got a Handle on That?

Spring arrives late in the Texas Panhandle, which means that by the time the bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and other warm-weather harbingers have set seed in most areas of the state, they’re just beginning their annual spring show in this scenic part of North Texas.

Try these drives on for size: Mosey your way from Guthrie to Crosbyton on Texas 114, which crosses the White River east of Lubbock, and marvel at the landscape that in 1541 inspired Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado to wax poetic in a letter to the King of Spain. For more eye-popping scenery, travel north/south on Texas 170 between Silverton and Claude, where Palo Duro Canyon will take your breath away.

Wild Horses Couldn’t Drag Me Away

There's nothing like a little adrenaline to put life in perspective—that’s why such modern pastimes as skydiving, driving fast cars, and riding rollercoasters hold a certain appeal for some of us. If you’re a thrill-seeker who doesn’t like crowds, May is a great month to visit the state’s numerous amusement parks. For the major players—Six Flags (in Arlington and San Antonio) and Sea World (in San Antonio)—see www.sixflags.com and www.seaworld.com for schedules. Also, don’t miss the smaller parks in Amarillo (www.wonderlandpark.com), El Paso (www.westernplayland.com), and Lubbock (www.joylandpark.com).

Of course, a hundred years ago, a horse was our fastest mode of transportation, and throughout the Southwest, mustangs won respect for their speed, grace, and independence. If you’re an equine enthusiast, check out wildlife artist Robert Glen’s The Mustangs of Las Colinas, a bronze sculpture of nine larger-than-life-size mustangs at Williams Square Plaza office park in Irving. Inside the office complex, a small museum features a film about Robert Glen’s life and a gift shop offers T-shirts, posters, coffee mugs, ornaments, and other souvenirs. Call 972/869-9047; www.mustangsoflascolinas.com.

¿Qué Paso in El Paso?

Arid El Paso, where the average yearly rainfall rarely tops 12 inches and the sun shines year round, probably isn’t the first city to come to mind when you think of gardening. That’s one reason the Garden Conservancy highlights gardens in El Paso this May as part of its annual Open Days schedule.

The five gardens on tour include a registered Backyard Habitat with koi ponds and waterfalls; a series of “hidden rooms” created by heat-tolerant trees and water features; and a pastoral garden full of fruit and nut trees, arbors, ponds, and flowering trees nestled beside a 1950s lap pool.  Call 888/842-2442; www.opendaysprogram.org.

Get Lei’ed in Corpus Christi

If you've ever been to Hawaii or attended a traditional luau, you probably know the aromatic thrill of wearing a lei made of fragrant plumeria blossoms. Plumeria, a tree native to the Caribbean but abundant in Hawaii, also grows well in Corpus Christi, as long as it’s protected during the winter.

Beginning in May, the 100-plant plumeria collection at the South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center begins an intoxicating bloom period that lasts until November. From the new Willoughby Viewing Platform, an elevated structure built at treetop level, you can smell (and see) the stunning shades of red, pink, yellow, and white in the uppermost bloom clusters.  Call 361/852-2100; www.stxbot.org.

Still Swinging

Here's an idea for a perfect day: Make tracks to San Marcos for the annual Texas Natural and Western Swing Festival, which takes place at the San Marcos Courthouse Square and on the banks of the lovely San Marcos River. You can bring a lawn chair or a blanket and settle in for the tunes, chow down on festival fare, and even explore some of the cozy square’s shops.

Along with music, the festival features free mule-team wagon rides, cowboy poetry, chuck-wagon cooking, trick-roping demonstrations, the inauguration of this year’s inductees into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame, and an evening concert featuring numerous Western Swing legends. Don’t miss the beat. Call 888/200-5620; www.ci.san-marcos.tx.us.

 

By Aaron Gilbreath, Cave Creek,Arizona

One of Texas’ earliest attempts at creating an Indian reservation came to a tragically bloody end. In 1854, the Texas Legislature authorized Major Robert S. Neighbors and Brigadier General Randolph B. Marcy to establish a reservation in Young County. For a while, life on the 37,152-acre Brazos Indian Reservation went smoothly: Some 2,000 Waco, Caddo, Anadarko, and Tonkawa peoples grew wheat, melons, and corn on 600 shared acres of land. They ate beef provided by the government and valued the protection from warring Comanches living in a neighboring reservation. But in 1858, racial tensions mounted between the Brazos Reservation Indians and the white settlers living in Belknap and other nearby communities, according to the book Ghost Towns of Texas by T. Lindsay Baker.

 

See full article in July 2008 issue. 

 

By Mary G. Ramos, Dallas

When the Southern Pacific Railroad was built westward from San Antonio toward El Paso in the early 1880s, the Pecos River presented a major obstacle. The first Pecos railway bridge was a low span completed in 1883 at the mouth of the river, where it joins the Rio Grande.

To access the bridge, trains on the so-called Sunset Route used the Loop Line, a steep and twisty route that dropped some 300 feet from the surrounding plains to the banks of the river below. After crossing, the train had to make its way up the other side by a similar path. The line’s grade and curves required that trains be short and speeds slow. The canyon’s soft sandstone walls presented a constant threat of rockslides, and the route was dangerous and expensive to operate, according to the book Building the Lone Star by T. Lindsay Baker.

 

See full article in July 2008 issue. 

 

By Regina Philip

For Mexican-Americans in the 1920s and ‘30s, social clubs didn’t involve apple martinis or strobe lights, but rather, young adults gathered in exquisite ballrooms for themed dances, dinners, and athletic events that raised money for local charities.

One of the Mexican-American social clubs that hosted ravishing events was Houston’s Club Cultural Recreativo México Bello. Founded in 1924, it recruited mainly first-generation-immigrant men under the age of 50 who were respected citizens in the community. The club’s philanthropy included helping new immigrants, raising money for the poor, and uniting people from Latin America and the United States. Its emphasis on Mexican culture unified members, bringing together the Mexican consul and influential journalists and scholars at plush events like the “Black and White Ball.”

Members of México Bello often attended programs held by other local clubs, including Club Terpiscore. Begun in 1937, membership consisted of 13 single women, each in her late teens or early 20s. The group organized themed dances, such as “A Night in Old Mexico,” and hosted various programs to raise money for the Salvation Army and other organizations.

Capturing the athletic side of Mexican-American women, Club Femenino Chapultepec provided social and recreational activities, which enabled young women to network within the community. The club also sold government bonds and provided sugar stamps during World War II. Through the sponsorship of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the club emphasized acquiring U.S. citizenship and advocated having careers, according to the book Las Tejanas: 300 Years of History by Teresa Palomo Acosta and Ruthe Winegarten.

Although few of the social clubs remain in existence, they did break ground for many young Mexican-Americans in Texas and beyond, and helped develop confidence and community for future generations through charity, elegance, and culture.

By Steven Schwartzman

"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Those words by astronaut Neil Armstrong mark one of the most significant of all aviation feats. Thirty-six years prior, another great aeronautical accomplishment took place when Texan Wiley Hardeman Post became the first person to fly solo around the world.

Born in Van Zandt County in 1898, Post saw his first airplane at a county fair when he was a teenager. He immediately decided he would one day learn to fly. In 1919, he paid $25 to ride in an open-cockpit biplane, but found the experience uneventful. Five years later, the thrill seeker parachuted out of an airplane operated by the “Texas Topnotch Fliers,” a barnstorming troupe, and was hooked. While making subsequent flights and jumps, he made his first solo flight in 1926, according to the National Air and Space Museum.

Desperate for money, Post worked in the Oklahoma oilfields, but within months, an accident cost him an eye. Fortunately, he earned enough workers’ compensation to purchase a used airplane, in which he gave rides and taught flying lessons. This was how he met Mae Laine. The couple soon decided to get married, but faced opposition from Laine’s parents, so they eloped—by plane, of course—to Oklahoma.

In 1930, Post purchased a plane called the Winnie Mae, which he piloted during the Los Angeles-Chicago air derby. He won. He later joined Australian navigator Harold Gatty in a flight around the world in a then-astounding 8 days, 15 hours, and 51 minutes. In 1933, Post shattered that time when he completed the first solo flight around the world in just 7 days, 18 hours, and 49-and-a-half minutes.

In 1935, humorist Will Rogers called on Post to fly him to Siberia in a new hybrid Orion-Explorer airplane. On August 15, upon takeoff, the engine abruptly quit and the plane crashed. Both men, to use the words of Post’s brother Gordon, “flew into eternity.”

The Winnie Mae and the world’s first pressurized flight suit, which Post helped develop, are on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Virginia.

Texas Highways readers are like our field reporters, so find out what these readers recommend.

 

Blue Quail Deli

On a recent trip back from the coast, we stopped for lunch in Goliad at Blue Quail Deli, just off the courthouse square. The Southwest grilled-chicken sandwich was delicious, fresh and served on cracked wheat that is baked on site. My husband had potato soup that had large pieces of potato—it was the best he’d had!  The server was friendly and the service efficient. It was a great place to stop, and we’ll plan to lunch there again.

 

Les and Winnie Gage, Austin

Blue Quail Deli is at 224 S. Commercial; 361/645-1600; www.bluequaildeli.com

  

The Star Drug Store

The Star Drug Store in Galveston is back in business as a restaurant. They have Sunday brunch with live music, a real old-fashioned soda fountain with all the goodies, and the burgers are good, too.

 

Karen Peterson, Texas City

Star Drug Store is at 510 23rd St.; 409/766-7719; www.galvestonstardrug.com

  

Del Sol

In a city where there are many fine Mexican restaurants (San Antonio), Del Sol is perhaps the best.  The food is excellent, the dining room is light and airy (well-shaded patio dining is also available), the wait staff is friendly and expert, and the prices are astonishingly reasonable.  The chipotle enchiladas are great, but the fajitas will knock your socks off!

 

Marguerite Kownslar, San Antonio

Del Sol is at 2267 NW Military Hwy.; 210/525-8150.

 

2 Ole Biddys Cafe

There is a little deli/coffee shop in Odessa called 2 Ole Biddys with big portions of home cooking, reasonable prices, and a quaint atmosphere.

 

L. V. Hunt, Stinnett

2 Ole Biddys Cafe is at 3952 E. 42nd St., Ste. N; 432/362-0422.

 

Creekhaven Inn

My girlfriends and I just wanted to get away from our daily routines for a while.  I chose Creekhaven Inn in Wimberley.  I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a weekend more!  Guests drive down a winding road to arrive upon the fairytale-like “cottage.”  Beautiful cypress trees and greenery are all around.  There’s even a babbling creek.  Bill and Pat Appleman are gracious and good-humored hosts.  Pat baked her own breakfast pastries each morning.  We did not want to leave.

 

L.D. Miller, Austin

Creekhaven Inn is at 400 Mill Race Lane; 512/847-9344; www.creekhaveninn.com

 

By Bert Miller

Downtown Navasota is alive now more than ever! The year-old Navasota Blues Alley in the heart of downtown is a museum and gift shop that boasts a variety of distinctive gifts, and serves as headquarters for the annual Navasota BluesFest (held the second weekend of August). The shop also offers work by local artisans, music memorabilia, and items about the Navasota area and its rich blues history. There’s much to see and do in Navasota, the Blues Capital of Texas.

Navasota Blues Alley is at 129 E. Washington Ave.; 936/870-3331. For more information on the Navasota BluesFest, call 800/825-6600; www.navasotabluesfest.org.

Ziplining at Wimberley Zipline Advertures by Kevin Vandivier

“Flying” was not exactly what I had in mind when I embarked on an afternoon ziplining excursion, but with the record-setting heat of a 2008 June day just starting to fade, I welcomed the prospect of flying over the treetops of the rugged Hill Country landscape.

Back to top