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Gainesville: A Taste of Texas History, and Fried Pies, too

mtrak pulls into Gainesville

Gainesville is, and always has been, the gateway to Texas. The first town that visitors hit after crossing the Oklahoma state line on Interstate 35 was once an important stop for the stagecoach, and later for the Santa Fe Railroad.

Cowboys driving cattle north would stop and feed their herds here, and after the city boomed with cattle commerce, local livestock may well have been the first in Texas to have a run-in with double-strand barbed wire.

The city became infamous in 1862 for a mass hanging of supposed Union sympathizers, and famous in the 1930s for a wildly popular community circus.

And I'll get to all that in a minute, after I finish my fried pie.

The plump pastry on my plate is so fluffy it looks like a baked potato. It's one of the hundreds that the Fried Pie Co. and Restaurant sells each day. They come in six fruit flavors, plus chocolate and coconut.

"Most people like apricot best," says Jennifer Hess, who's been working at Fried Pie for five years. "All the waitresses love coconut. A lot of people ask, `Are they really fried?' They really are, but they're not all that greasy."

No, they're not. They're perfect. And for my money, they're a good enough reason to come to Gainesville.

Another is that the locals love their history and have preserved a good bit of it, from historic homes to the Santa Fe Depot, restored in recent years and now once again a rail stop.

Gainesville is on Interstate 35, 7 miles south of the Oklahoma border and about 65 miles north of Dallas-Fort Worth. The area code is 940.

For more information, contact the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce at 101 S. Culberson, Box 518, 76241; 665-2831 or 888/585-4468; www.gainesville.tx.us. And, stop by the Texas Dept. of Transportation’s newly remodeled Travel Information Center off Exit 502 (4901 N. I-35; 665-2301), where you can pick up a wealth of tourism information about Gainesville and the entire state.

Where to stay

Miss Olivia’s Bed & Breakfast Inn, 319 S. Denton St. Rates: $95-$115. Call 665-5558; www.missolivias.com.

C Quarter Circle Ranch, 8484 S. FM 372, is a Quarter Horse ranch specializing in reunions, retreats, and other group events. You can also rent a hotel room starting at $89. Call 668-2855; www.cquartercircleranch.com.

Where to eat

Fried Pie Co. and Restaurant, 202 W. Main St., 665-7641.

Main Street Pub & Eatery, 216 W. Main St., 668-4040.

Seafoodville, 424 E. California St., 612-3474.

What to do

Frank Buck Zoo is in Leonard Park off I-35. Admission $5; $3 ages 3-12, free age 2 and young-er. Call 668-4539; www.frankbuckzoo.com.

Morton Museum, 210 S. Dixon St., 668-8900. Admission: Free.

Santa Fe Depot, 605 E. Cali—-fornia St., 668-8900. Admission: Free.

Butterfield Stage, 210 S. Denton St., offers both locally produced and touring shows; 665-8152.

Gainesville Factory Shops, Exit 501 off I-35 (www.gainesvillefs.com), has more than 80 outlet stores such as Brooks Brothers, The Gap, and Mikasa.

Antique stores are located all around the courthouse square and next to the Santa Fe Depot.

Outdoor Fun

Gainesville is an excellent jumping-off point for fishing, boating, and other watersports, with the massive, 89,000-acre Lake Texoma about 15 miles to the northeast, and 30,000-acre Lake Ray Roberts 10 miles to the south. A lot of locals like the relative serenity of 2 smaller lakes: 583-acre Lake Kiowa, 9 miles east of town, which has an 18-hole PGA-rated golf course, and 1,140-acre Moss Lake, 10 miles northwest of town.

Biggest Annual Event

Depot Days, always the 2nd Sat. of Oct. (Oct. 14, 2007), honors Gainesville’s railroad heritage with music, food, children’s games, and an antique-car show. Call 668-8900.

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