WACO, TX - I’ve heard that sometimes Texans think that they live in their own country. And you might expect that from someone who has to drive for 11 ½ hours just to get to the other side of the state.
Texans seem to be pretty welcoming people (their state motto is one word: Friendship), they tend to be pretty individualistic and don’t necessarily like to follow road signs all of the time. A journalist told me years ago she saw a speed sign on a lonely stretch of road in west Texas Hill Country that read, “Do What You Can.”
And with those thoughts in mind, I didn’t need a roadmap to tell me where I should head next for a visit. Texas, it was. I chose Grapevine because of its tourist railroad and popular historic area; Waco because of its downtown cultural district and food; and small Granbury because it was described to me as “the most charming place in Texas.”
In Waco, dubbed “The Heart of Texas,” I started my day at the famous Magnolia Silos on Webster Avenue and the beginning of the Magnolia Trail. Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s hit show Fixer Upper, are the talk of Waco, and are attracting legions of their fans to the area. Their upscale home and lifestyle store, called Magnolia, was packed with visitors/shoppers within an hour of opening. Families were playing games on the lawn outside, checking out the garden, taking photos near the silos (an icon of the TV show), and dining at the food trucks located behind the silos.
Left: Towns like Waco and Grapevine are the heart of Texas. Right: A ‘mammoth’ graveyard in Waco.
Tip: Those who want their picture taken with this rising TV couple can trek down to the Waco Visitor Center where there’s a life-size cutout of them.
Located just a couple of blocks from the Magnolia Market, the Dr. Pepper Museum is housed in a historic three-storey bottling plant. Exhibits feature the history of Dr. Pepper and the soft drink industry. Be sure to get a tasty hand-dipped Dr. Pepper float at the cozy, old-time soda fountain. If you want to learn the formula for Dr. Pepper, don’t ask. Spokesperson Mary Beth Farrell says, “It’s locked in the vault,” but she did guarantee me, if you really tried, you could taste 23 different flavours in the drink.
At the fascinating Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum you can see more than 300 pieces of original Western art as you learn about the duties of the Texas Rangers (there are 150 rangers — three of them women — but 22 more will join the ranks soon). Lariats (ropes), spurs, badges, rifles, handguns, cowboy hats and boots, and even a Bonnie and Clyde display is featured. Interestingly, Casey Eichorn, education coordinator for the museum, says some of the gifts in the souvenir shop are made by Texas State prisoners.
Don’t skip the nation’s newest national park while there — Waco Mammoth National Monument. In 1978, two area men discovered some unusual bones near the Bosque River, and today a giant climate-controlled building protects numerous bones that are believed to be from the Ice Age. It’s suspected the huge woolly mammoths that lived in the area succumbed to a catastrophic event.
Left: Old courthouse vault in Granbury. Right: Grapes are plentiful at Delaney vineyards.
The oldest continuously operating university in the state of Texas is at Waco; Baylor University with a student population of 16,000 keeps the town alive and young. Alumni include the founder of People Magazine, five Texas governors, the CEO of Oracle Corporation, Nobel Prize winners and several Olympians.
Pretty old for an American city, Grapevine was founded in 1844, the same year that the first telegram was sent in the U.S. by Samuel Morse.
In 1888 when the Cotton Belt Railroad came to town, the city flourished and the wooden structures were eventually replaced with ones made from local brick.
Today, many of those ornate brick buildings remain and tourists now shop there for antiques, special Texas wines (thus the name “Grapevine”) and various other unique treasures. Some of the establishments include Dr. Sue’s Chocolates, Bermuda Gold & Silver where friends of the famous robbers Bonnie and Clyde held up the bank at gunpoint in 1932, and the Messina Hof Grapevine Winery, which began in 1977 by the Bonarrigo family, pioneers of the Texas wine industry.
––––Today the family produces more than 130,000 gallons of wine annually.
The historical museum downtown — schoolhouse museum, City Museum and Cotton Ginners Museum — all located adjacent to one another on Hudgins Street, highlights the city’s history, describes cotton production on the prairie and displays numerous old photos of the town.
Since Grapevine was a hub for area commerce, the museum speaks to the hard life of making a living on the Texas prairie years ago. Finally, don’t miss a stimulating ride on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad; you catch the train right downtown.
Left: Grapevine railway. Right: Downtown Grapevine is anchored by the town’s showy visitor information center on Main Street.
Over at Granbury you’ll enjoy a “blast from the past” with its historic square, the first to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1890 limestone courthouse — with ornate tin trim — is the Texas version of the French Second Empire style, which was widely used in municipal and corporate buildings both in Europe and America. Take the time to investigate the wood interior of the three-storey courthouse; you’ll be amazed at the beauty inside.
At the mid-19th century Sheriff’s House on Spring Street, you’ll get a peek how Hood County A.J. Wright (and two other county sheriffs) lived in this well-built, hand-hewn limestone frontier homestead.
For dinner, go out to Acton Highway and feast on the juicy ribs at the Rib Shack. They said the establishment was unassuming, but I didn’t think it would be a small, one-story ramshackle tin-roofed hut.
But it was, and I’d readily go back again for the delectable food — pulled pork, brisket sandwiches and banana pudding are all on the menu as well. Ambience? Not much, but who cares when the food is this flavourful.
Pioneer Davy Crocket once was to have said, “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.” Make that two of us.