Even though almost 90 percent of Texans now live in urban settings, the most consistent requests made to Texas Highways are for details about small-town destinations and off-the-beaten-path attractions. What do those requests represent? A longing for an idealized past? A desire for a more relaxed life?
Then again, maybe city dwellers simply want to escape the pressures of urban living for just a weekend. Or even for just a few hours.
Whether they represent an authentic regional culture, a simpler time, or an escape, certain small-town symbols elicit nostalgia and an appreciation for an out-of-the-way stop with the potential to create vivid memories.
The Texas Highways staff searched the state to find the elements that most consistently resonate as representative of the quintessential Texas town. We’ve named that collective community “True, Texas.”
Water Tower: Saint Jo
Mindful of this lofty role in parched times, we’ve chosen the tower in the hallowed town of Saint Jo for our True ideal. The multi-column-tank-style structure, which quenches the thirst of some 1,000 residents, replaced the community’s original “Tin Man” tower about 10 years ago.
Courthouse: Fayette County courthouse, La Grange
The centerpiece of downtown La Grange, the 1891 Fayette County Courthouse stands resplendent after a two-year, multi-million-dollar restoration completed in 2005. Designed by noted architect J. Riely Gordon, the Romanesque Revival structure offers three magisterial stories and boasts an exterior of blue Muldoon sandstone, red Pecos sandstone, Belton white limestone, and pink Burnet granite. A clock tower tops the stately edifice.
Café: Bakery Café, Aransas Pass
Here in “Saltwater Heaven,” the fish are jumping, but most everything else keeps pace with the relaxing vibe of Aransas Pass. One place that’s always hopping, though, is Bakery Cafe, a mainstay of down-home cooking since 1929, where locals, Winter Texans, and weekenders gravitate.
Hotel: Casa de Palmas Renaissance, McAllen
Lounging poolside in the courtyard of McAllen’s three-story Casa de Palmas hotel, watching clouds drift across a blue sky accented by swaying palm trees and fuchsia bougainvillea, it’s easy to imagine you’re relaxing in a tropical hacienda. Opened in 1918 at the height of the Mexican Revolution, the hotel witnessed a particularly vivid period of border history.
Movie Palace: Plaza Theatre, Paris
When Paris’ Plaza Theatre opened in 1927, it was the talk of the town. Residents welcomed the former dry goods store-turned-glamorous movie house with great fanfare. Its elegant but sturdy architecture (a response to the Paris Fire of 1916, which destroyed much of downtown) complemented the Culbertson Fountain in the downtown square.
Wacky Art, Tribute to Barbed Wire Monument, McLean
The West would not be settled if it hadn’t been for barbed wire,” says Ruth Trew, secretary/treasurer of the Historical Museum of Barbed Wire and Fencing Tools (a.k.a., Devil’s Rope Museum) in McLean, home of the Tribute to Barbed Wire monument.
High School Football: Abilene High Eagles, Abilene
After every game—win or lose, at home or on the road—the Abilene High School football team assembles in front of the stands, faces its legion of loyal fans, and joins them in singing the school song, “Dear Old Abilene High.” Head coach Steve Warren says the custom gives the players a chance to connect with the student body and the rest of their supporters.
Town Mascot: Paisano Pete, Fort Stockton
Travelers heading to Big Bend often pause en route to snap a photo with one of Texas’ largest town mascots—Paisano Pete. At 11 feet tall and 22 feet from beak to tail, the giant bird, whose first name means “roadrunner,” stands in downtown Fort Stockton, the seat of Pecos County.