Texas is very special to us. I am not sure if it is the various landscapes, amazing geography, diverse personalities or colorful history, but there is just something about this huge state that pulls us to hit the road and explore. Maybe this is why we have a hard time telling each other “no” when a destination is brought up. More often than not, the travel within our state’s borders seems to always be spur of the moment. It doesn’t matter how many times we tell ourselves we won’t do any travel this weekend, we just get the urge and cannot seem to fight it off. Maybe this is not a good thing, but it is how it seems to happen. This past weekend was no different for sure.
Looking at the huge map of Texas that is securely pinned on our living room wall, there is much yellow telling us what counties we have visited. It is a very satisfying feeling and one I view often with much pride. Unfortunately there is just as much white giving me the impression that Texas is laughing at me; boasting that we will never touch every county within her borders. The other morning was one of those mornings I found both Scott and myself glaring at the map, both thinking there had to be some way to mark off another county or three.
Since we will be traveling to the Austin area in a few weeks, I didn’t want to go to the southwest and I definitely didn’t want to go northwest because we are still having low-to-mid 90 temperature days. I do so hate the heat, but we live in Texas and there is not much you can do about that. The only other area we have not visited was the southeast. Scott, in his Texas history loving way, found a celebration of the 80th anniversary of the Stone Fort in Nacogdoches area. It was happening in the evening that day and we had plenty of time to get there before the activities began. A plan had been hatched and a hotel reservation made. We were off.
We left late enough that it would be about 3PM before we arrived at the hotel, but we would still have a few hours before the event at the Old Stone Fort took place so we knew there was plenty of time. However, we did’t feel a need to do much stopping except to stretch our legs. We traveled down State Highway 175 through Athens, Rusk to Alto where we turned on to State Highway 21 and then to Loop 59 around Nacogdoches. It was such a pretty drive through loblolly-shortleaf and longleaf-slash pine forest. We were in the Piney Woods region of Texas and it was beautiful. I have been told by many who have been through Tennessee that they are very similar, except for the mountains. This areas does not have mountains, but there are some amazing rolling hills that go on and on upon the landscape.
Nacogdoches, Texas, the county seat of Nacogdoches County, is actually the official OLDEST town in the state of Texas. In 1779 Colonel Antonio Gil Y’Barbo led a group of settlers to the Nacogdoches area and later that year they received designation from Spain to be a town. Y’Barbo was a spanish trader and the Lieutenant Governor of the area. He established the laws for the local government, laid out the plan for the town and made sure to connect the main street of town with the El Camino Real. This location was eventually to become the gateway from the United States to the Texas frontier.
Knowing this was the county seat, you know we had to find the county courthouse to take a photo so we headed to find the old downtown where the majestic building would be sitting squarely in the center. All we found there was a brick building that had once been the post office, but was now the city’s visitor center. We were stunned, but not too surprised; we had found one other county seat that had a post office in the middle of the square. However, we did come across an interesting sound and sight. At the corner of Fredonia and Pilar a small group of people were sitting on the sidewalk playing Old Timey music. Our interest was caught.
This was the awning covered sidewalk in front of the General Mercantile and Oldtime String Shop owned by Steve and Sheryl Hartz. They have owned this shop since 1977 where he does his luthier work and she builds other wooden specialities like amazing handcrafted brooms. The storefront has the original doors, windows and signs from way back when and when you enter the building you feel as if you have been transported to the past. Here you can find the banjos, mandolins, and other instruments Steve has made. You will also find CD’s from his recording business Mystery Ridge Recordings and Publishing. On Saturday evenings you will find them and many others sitting out playing the music that resounded throughout the hills of the Piney Woods area.
We would have stayed for hours just so Scott could enjoy the music, but we were on a mission to learn more about this Old Stone Fort. Prying ourselves away, we headed to the Stephen F. Austin University to find this building and 80th anniversary celebration. This is definitely a two personality place. On the one side it is a very historically focused place with historical markers on almost every building and street corner; while on the other side, there is a good sized university full of young students who come from many different backgrounds giving this place an interesting modern vibe.
We eventually located the Old Stone Fort on the university campus and the event had just started. The SFA Piney Woods Fiddlers from the School of Music opened the event while the Nacogdoches Boy Scouts prepared a dutch oven feast. There were speeches by the museum’s director, Nacogdoches Mayor, and the living history re-enactors. I was able to talk with re-enactor Two Hawks (David Pistole) and discuss his part in the Texas Revolution. There was cake, El Camino Real de los Tejas lecture, and a outdoor showing of the 1930 John Wayne film, “The Big Trail” movie. This was a very nice celebration but it was not quite what we either expected.
I was expecting this to be a city wide festival complete with hundreds of city folk, multitude of rides, and a sense altering parade, but it was not. This was literally the celebration of a building and its history. The Old Stone Fort was built near the center of what is now the downtown square along the El Camino Real de los Tejas between 1788 and 1791 by Colonel Antonio Gil Y’Barbo, the leader and founder of Nacogdoches. This building passed from him to a couple of different owners to be used as a store, cobbler shop, and eventual saloon. However, the most important bit in this building’s life was the part it played in the Republic of Texas history.
On December 16, 1826, the Edward brothers, who were the men responsible for obtaining a charter for populating the area from Spain, seized the building from the Spanish Magistrate starting the Fredonia Rebellion. This rebellion only lasted until January 23, 1827, but it is said to be the one of the causes for the Texas Revolution for freedom from Mexico. This building saw plenty of history happen between the Fredonia Rebellion through the Texas Revolution, to the Civil War. In 1902 it was dismantled but in 1936 the Cum Concillio, a civic organization in Nacogdoches, and efforts of the FDR New Deal program used original stones and built a replica of the structure on the campus of the Stephen F. Austin University. It is now the Old Stone Fort Museum that houses many artifacts from the time period and the El Camino Real de los Tejas.
Sunday morning we woke up early and proceed to check out and explore the downtown area better than the day before. We were able to view all of the historical markers and I counted at least thirty and there were still plenty more to stop and read. The square where the Old Stone Fort lived is now home to what was the town’s post office, but is now a visitor center. Unfortunately it was closed on a early Sunday morning. One of the things I wish I could have seen from the inside were the nine flags that flew over Nacogdoches. We will eventually go back so we will be able to get a photo of them from the inside.
Most of the buildings in the square are from the mid to late 1800’s and they had names on the tops. Many of the buildings we walked by were definitely updated, but still held the historical architecture and artwork. We found a couple of store fronts built by the Mesker Brothers out of Missouri. You will find these storefronts throughout the U.S. and they were sheet metal and iron cast.
While we wandered about, we came across Nancy Yarbrough who owns Downtown Arts which a custom embroidery shop (machine embroidery). She was extremely thrilled to see visitors on a Sunday morning and invited us into her shop to show off her work. I loved how she had her applique pieces set up and her work. I was very impressed with her creative spirit and found out she not only does embroidery, but she paints. Forty-seven years ago she and her family moved to Nacogdoches from the DFW area so she has seen the downtown square go from well lived in to almost dead to tourist destination. It was thrilling to see the area from her view. If you are ever in Nacogdoches, you should look Nancy up at her shop at 405 E. Main.
Once we had exhausted our visit to Downtown Nacogdoches, we headed to Center, Texas which is another county to mark off. We were able to mark of Nacogdoches, San Augustine (a full .01 mile) and Shelby. I love that we are counting down which counties were travel across, it makes me see our travels as progress in a way. The traveling has enabled me to learn about regional history, customs and cultures. One of the most interesting things I have learned about has been the Woodman of the World (WOW). The founder was Joseph Cullen Root who founded the Modern Woodmen of the World in 1882, but decided he was not happy with the organization and left to create the Woodmen of the World which was a fraternal organization dedicated to helping others, promoting patriotism and civic responsibility, as well as providing financial protection for families. While we were on our trip we located a Woodmen of the World building that was built by the organization and used as their offices. At one time in its history, WOW did offer grave monuments to families of deceased members. Sometimes these monuments have the motto Dum Tacet Clamat, which means “Though silent, he speaks , ” etched on the stone.
Since Center is a county seat of Shelby County, we stopped to take photos of the county courthouse and were amazed at what it looked like; it looked like an Irish castle. Upon reading the historical markers, the building was designed and built by John Joseph Emmett Gibson from Dublin, Ireland. He wanted to show off his brickwork skill so he went with a very Irish feel. I know that I say this every time, but I think this is my favorite courthouse!
Finishing up photos we decided to head over to Logansport, Louisiana. It was a spur of the moment side trip, but we had read a historical marker mentioning Logan’s Ferry on the Sabine River. We decided since it was not more than fifteen minutes away from us we would go ahead and visit. Both Scott and I were ecstatic to cross the Sabine and then to see a park right on the river’s side. They had a walking trail with some signs discussing the history of Logan’s Ferry, a pier and a stage. It was a very beautiful location and a great place to stop and decide our travel home.
The only problem with spur of the moment quick trip is the drive home. We always find new and unique things, but by the time we see the apartment we are more than ready.