San Marcos Update for Hill Country book, February 26, 2013

February 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

Back in December 2011, I wrote the following:

“A thoroughly wretched drive to San Marcos today for a doctor’s appointment, but it gave me a chance to check on the progress of the old Hays County jail restoration (page 260). The outer walls’ stabilization appears largely completed and the old bastille looks nice and tight, not fixing to crumble and fall like before. The windows are all boarded up with what appears to be gun metal gray steel plates, but which are probably plywood. The jail is fenced off so closer examination was not possible. The lot on which it sits has also been cleaned up and is free of weeds.

“Unfortunately, there has been no progress on the future Eddie Durham Museum (pp. 260-61), and the sign proudly announcing its coming is fading into illegibility.”

I am happy to say that the jail stabilization work has been completed and it looks tight as a drum. Hopefully its interior will be restored and it will be open to visitors some day.

Restoration work has finally begun on the Eddie Durham Museum bungalow, and there has been substantial exterior progress.

I would have taken pictures, but my daughter absconded with the digicam last week to Mexico.


What’s Goin’ Down in Georgetown

October 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Being in the fire service, I am a fan of fire department museums, so it’s sad for me to report that the Georgetown Fire Department Museum (Williamson County chapter) has made its final run, the victim of space needs at its former location downtown.

I have never known Georgetown to be blessed with decent barbecue in my 41 years in central Texas, and it’s sad that some things never change. My fellow fire service colleague from Georgetown, Don Jenson, newly elected president of the Texas Fire Marshal’s Association, tells me that when he needs barbecue, he drives down to City Market in Luling. But while he mourns this obvious Georgetown short(rib)coming, he’s quick to praise the Georgetown Winery (715 S. Main, They have already won a slew of awards in their short existence, and if you’ve always wanted your own wine without the trouble of making it, they do custom labels.

On Earth as It Is in Purgatory

July 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Today was my quarterly doctor’s visit in San Marcos, and as is my custom, I did some sightseeing along the way, precisely, an hour’s exploration of the 463-acre Purgatory Creek Natural Area. There are three access points; I chose the southwest or “Wonder World Extension” Entrance, which is probably the easiest to get to and certainly for the readers of Central Texas, since is it located on Hunter Rd., just a few feet south of the intersection with RR 12/Wonder World Drive.

The access point here includes parking, a kiosk and the trailhead to a 1 mile-long, crushed stone and dirt hike and bike trail. Where the trail’s bike ramps merge onto the roadway, the trail splits south (connecting to the lower Purgatory/Prospect Park trails) and north (connecting to the more challenging upper Purgatory trail). There are several miles in all of hiking and mountain biking trails. The kiosk has a map of the rather complicated trail system. Just a few yards north of the kiosk is a fenced in Native American campsite where the only known metal arrowhead was found several years ago, by accident. The metal was probably obtained from early Spanish settlers or explorers, whether through peaceful trade or more hostile encounters is not known.

The Area is within the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, is home to Purgatory Creek, and includes upland meadows, canyon bluffs of 40 feet or more, dense juniper thickets, an champion oaks. Several areas within this natural area are habitat for golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos, meaning that parts of the area are closed during the spring mating season.

Portions of Purgatory Creek Natural Area are generally referred to as lower and upper Purgatory. Lower Purgatory, also known as Prospect Park, is about 9 acres of passive-recreation parkland with about 3 miles of trails, including a 1-mile accessible, crushed limestone trail. Lower Purgatory sits on a rather porous section of the Edwards Aquifer with juniper groves, meadows, ephemeral wetlands, and oak mottes. This in-town location makes a perfect destination when you need a quick nature fix. Benches are located at various points along the accessible portion of the trail.

In upper Purgatory, visitors can travel along the mostly natural “Dante’s Trail.” Work is underway to improve and add trails throughout the Purgatory natural area, with the goal of eventually leading all the way to the San Marcos River.

I’ll be bringing the mountain bike with me in October; you can bet on that. Given the congestion of Austin’ few remaining bike-friendly/legal trails, I am counting on this being a singular pleasure. (Don’t get me started on how many trails we have lost since I started mountain biking in 1981, and trail riding on an old 3-speed in 1973.)

Download Wonder World Extension trail map

Warning: There are no restrooms or drinking water in Purgatory Creek Natural Area.

Along the Old Post Road from San Marcos to Buda

April 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last week I trundled down I-35 down to San Marcos for a doctor’s appointment (Where he leads, I will follow.). Rather than face a return drive along I-35’s unrelenting ugliness, as well as stop-and-go traffic beginning south of the Hwy. 71 interchange (now a standard feature any weekday beginning about 11 in the morning, I decided to toodle up the Old Post Road, past Kyle and through Buda, before taking refuge along the brief stretch of toll road that leads from just north of Buda to US 183.
The pristine, 1950s-era stainless steel train passenger coaches are still resting in their open-sided shed on a spur of the old IGN tracks as you leave San Marcos. I have never mentioned these classic cars in Hill Country or what is now is Central Texas, for fear that they would disappear from the scene (I hate it when I put something in one of the books and then it goes away before the next edition, making me look stupid.), but maybe I will now since they’ve been here for well over a decade and I am putting more of a railroad emphasis in the next editions of both books.
As I have noted before, development has encroached farther and farther out from San Marcos over the last three decades, pretty much to the Blanco River low-water crossing, which, thankfully, hasn’t been replaced, as is also the case with the massive, high, limestone-pier, IGN railroad span bridge across the Blanco, which, I believe is the original bridge built in the early 1880s.
I have reported on this drive on my blog before, and nothing much has changed in the intervening months, but I must make a few corrections, one of which is flat-out embarrassing. In Central Texas, I give an accurate description of the historic Kyle cemetery, but in best brain-fart tradition, I place it approximately 0.3 miles north of the entrance road to “Claiborne Kyle Log House” (2400 S. Old Stagecoach Rd.) , instead of its correct location, 0.3 miles south of the cabin entrance. The Skyview cemetery is located 0.3 miles north of the Kyle log cabin entrance; it has some graves dating to the 1880s but lacks the historical pedigree of the Kyle cemetery.
I parked at the entrance to the cabin and ducked under the gate for the brisk 5-minute walk to the cabin grounds, which are fenced in by a high wire-mesh fence. Bluebonnets, verbena, winecups, and a couple of Indian paintbrushes were in bloom along the dirt path.
Soon I was at the 4-way intersection with Cypress Rd. to the west, and the road into Kyle, which becomes Center St. once in town.
As long-time readers of Hill Country/Central Texas know, Cypress Rd. leads eventually to the old Ezekiel Nance homestead and mill. Contrary to what I state in the current edition of Central Texas, Cypress Rd. is not closed to the public beyond the gate; the Nance family property owners just want you to think so. The road is county owned all the way to its dead end, so feel free to open the gate, drive through, close the gate, and drive on to see and enjoy the old Nance homestead. The gate is just there to keep the cattle from straying off their property. But don’t trespass along the way; stick to the road and you’ll be OK.
Once in Kyle, a brief look at the old Auction Oak reveals that it is not too much worse for wear from the drought.
One of Kyle’s most historic structures has been heretofore excluded from previous editions of Hill County/Central Texas, because, I suppose, of its altered features. But what the hell, I’m mentioning it now, and it will be included in future editions. This being the old D.A. Young building, one-story, built from rough-cut limestone blocks, notable for being Kyle’s first permanent store, built in 1881 by David Alexander young who had come from Tennessee in 1857 and settled in Hays County. He and his wife moved here from Mountain City with the coming of the railroad. The chief alteration consists of a three-bay wing with three roll-up doors, leading me to suspect it once housed the fire department. It is located at the corner of Burleson and Miller streets, one block south of Center Street. Turn right at the Burleson Street traffic light, just after passing the Porter house.
The old IGN depot by the tracks is about to undergo restoration, as previously described.
On my last trip through Buda, the old stage stop house and post office were still undergoing renovation and were closed to the public. Work has been completed, and though the tiny post office is locked up, the house is open to the public and quite a pleasant little visit. The original look has been mostly restored, but as it serves as parks and visitor center office, it sports all the necessary modern conveniences. Several display cases are full of local artifacts and a variety of local history books, booklets and calendars are for sale, as well as free tourism pamphlets and such.
If you want to see the original IGN bridge across Onion Creek, built in 1881 and similar to the bridge that crosses the Blanco river, take a left on the gravel road just before you cross the railroad tracks as you leave “old” downtown Buda. Go past the park pavilion and facilities, and before long, you come to the bridge. The road dead ends soon after, so there’s no chance of getting lost.

The Peripatetic Kyle City Jail

April 2, 2012 § 2 Comments

Back when Aquarena Springs was a hokey tourist resort, complete with Ralph the diving pig and a submarine theater featuring Texas State University co-ed mermaids, one of the less cloying attractions was the Texana Village, a collection of old area buildings and reconstructions. The Merriman cabin, built in 1846 by Dr. Eli Merriman, was San Marcos’ oldest standing home. The saloon was a recreation, but the front bar was from Fredericksburg’s famous White Elephant Saloon. Kyle’s city jail from 1884-1925 had also been moved to Texana Village. Small and simple, it is of a very rare construction technique. Sawn 2-by-4 boards are laid flat like logs and built like a two-pen log cabin, layer stacked atop layer of boards, reinforced by iron bars and braces. In 1884, when Kyle was still a wild child of a town, it is said that the Hays County Commissioners Court decided Kyle needed its own jail and moved a cell from the original, 1873 county jail in San Marcos to a spot just north of Center St. and old Hwy. 81 (the current I-35 frontage road). I personally fail to see how the current structure, as is, could have been part of the old county jail, but that’s the official wisdom. At any rate, the two-room jail was used until 1925, and stood vacant until moved to the Pioneer Village on the Aquarena Springs grounds in 1964.

One of the mysteries following the dismantling of the Pioneer Village was where various of its components went. The Merriman cabin was moved to a spot adjacent to the 1867 Charles Cock Home, at Allen Parkway and E. Hopkins. But when I contacted Aquarena Springs’ management several years later, no one was able to tell me where the other items and structures of interest to me had gone, specifically, the White Elephant Saloon’s bar and the old Kyle City Jail. Unbeknownst to them and me, the jail had been rescued from destruction at the last possible moment and moved onto the grounds of the grounds of the second-empire-style, Hays County jail (used 1884-1936). It sat there for seven years, hidden from view by the vines and assorted brush that had grown up along the chainlink fence that enclosed the jailhouse lot, until it had to be moved again, when the old county jail preservation project began, to its present location in a field behind a building on the grounds of San Marcos Academy. It now belongs to the Hays County Historical Commission, which is now seeking the funds necessary to restore it and move it to a more prominent location, hopefully back in Kyle. It was named to the 2012 Preservation Texas Annual List of Texas’ Most Endangered Places, which will hopefully aid in the necessary fundraising. I still don’t know where the White Elephant’s bar ended up.

Lockhart Correction

March 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

After eating some great Lockhart barbecue, it’s time to eat some words. On page 211 of Central Texas (Shiner-Lockhart Pilgrimage), I state that the Emmanuel Episcopal Church sanctuary was used as a horse stable by federal troops during Reconstruction days. This was the conventional wisdom around Lockhart for many years. But according to the congregation’s website, “Research shows that the Union troops were actually stationed in Austin, and when sent out on patrol to Lockhart, camped at springs near the old ice house, adjacent to the Livengood Feeds property. Some cut nails found under a wooden floor laid in 1899 lent credence to this story, but apparently there is no truth in it.”

And while I’m at it, the construction of the damnable toll roads between Lockhart and Austin has totally altered — that is, ruined — what little beauty there is along most of the route. And besides being a pox on the landscape, they will be, at best, only lightly used. But big bucks were stuffed into a certain statewide-elected official’s pockets by the contract winners as a result. Republicans brought the carpetbagger mentality to Texas, and like herpes and malaria, once you’ve got it, it’s here to stay. We used to have to import the greedy, unscrupulous sons of bitches; now we grow our own.

Livengood Feeds property. Some cut nails found under a wooden floor laid in 1899 lent credence to this story, but apparently there is no truth in it.

A Day in Lockhart and Luling

March 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

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My sister-in-law, America, and nephew, Jonas, who live in Hannover, Germany, are visiting us this week, along with my daughter’s Colombian rock-star boyfriend (who’s here for “South X get the F___ Out of My Town,” but that’s a different story). If there’s one thing that Germans like as much as their beer and spring-crop asparagus, it’s all things Texan. America’s father-in-law wears a bolo tie and boots to church every Sunday, even though he’s never been here (although it is his profoundest wish to do so).
So naturally, we had to get out of town yesterday for some real, good, old-time Texas barbecue (Sorry, Aaron Franklin – you’re good, but you’re not lord of the brisket, despite what Texas Monthly “eat al” might say). Since Jonas is your typical cranky 3 year old with a short attention span, we chose close-by Lockhart over fellow ‘cue meccas Llano, Luling, Taylor, Schulenburg, or Elgin. Now anyone who really knows barbecue knows that you can’t go wrong in Lockhart, at Kreuz Market, Smitty’s, Black’s or Chisholm Trail. They’re all good, and truth is, many locals prefer to eat at Chisholm Trail because they can get vegetables and cruise the salad bar.
But we wanted real, old-time Texas atmosphere to go along with our larrupin’ good smoked meat and sides, so Smitty’s was the obvious, and only, choice. After getting our pork ribs, pork chop, ring sausage, lean beef, fat beef and Orange sodas, we settled down in the air conditioned dining room – for Jonas’ sake. If I had my druthers, we would have sat in the old room out back next to the back-up pit, where we used to eat our meat with the carbon-steel knives chained to the tables.
As is usually the case, our lunch was a pan-humanic experience, with whites, blacks, hispanics, orientals, SXSW refugees and assorted other human detritus happily gnawing away.
After a few words with the amiable “Mr. Nina” Sellers (the owner’s husband), it was time to go to the back rooms and pay homage to the good old days 30 and more years ago when we would ride our bicycles down to Shiner, get plastered at the brewery hospitality room while visiting with our friends there, climb into our designated driver’s vehicle, and head for the original Kreuz Market (now Smitty’s) to get our meat and settle down at one of the back room tables, and start sawing and chawing away, the way God almighty and old man Kreuz meant it to be. These “pilgrimages” as we called them, became the basis for one of the chapters in Central Texas (The Shiner-Lockhart Pilgrimage) as well the epic mass bike ride several of us invented, called the G.A.S.P. (Great Austin to Shiner Pedal).
Well, there is only one table left out back today, and no knives chained to it, but there was one patron seated there, cut “out of the old rock,” as the old saying goes, happily gumming away at his ring sausage quartet with crackers: the amiable Tally Gabriel, who’s been a regular customer for 65 years now. And by regular, I mean several times a week. He was going to a funeral later in the afternoon, for an aunt who had passed away at the age of 90. I offered my condolences, which he gently brushed aside; she had lived a long and full life – there was nothing to be sad about.
Tally had worked for the Southern Pacific railroad, on track maintenance crews. As such, he knew Sanderson, my home away from home, well, but I was disappointed that he had not known Hank Parrish, an SP engineer and the king of eccentrics, whose home I had purchased from his niece several years after his death. Hank had died from heatstroke one June, it is supposed, having refused to turn on his “swamp cooler” for relief from the oppressive heat, despite the fact that a swamp cooler draws about as much power as a light bulb. But after all, this was a man so stingy that when he went to the post office to pick up his mail, he would bring his VW beetle to a stop by crashing into the guard rail out front rather than use his brakes. Now when it came to his locomotives, he drove the hell out of them. He was as famous along the SP line for abusing his engines as he was for his tight-fistedness. Tally just grinned. “Guys like Hank guaranteed us our jobs, god bless ‘em.”
Tally also worked on several of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass lines (The SAAP, or “SAP,” figures prominently in several chapters of both Hill Country and Central Texas; one of its branches once ran up to Lockhart), including the branch that ran south through Skidmore and Beeville, nicknamed “The Sausage Line,” because of all the hogs it hauled up to the San Antonio stockyards.
We finally bade Tally and Smitty’s farewell and walked over to the newly renovated and restored Caldwell County Courthouse, to admire, among other things, its beautifully restored courtroom.
Our next stop was Westy’s Pharmacy, to check out the damage done to our waistlines on the “Moderne,” the most beautiful scale I have ever encountered in all my travels, and the only thing you can still do for a penny anywhere that I know of in Texas (although it accepts nickels if you’re not a nickel nose). Pharmacy owner Brad Westmoreland has been offered upwards of a thousand dollars for the “Moderne Peerless Weighing Machine,” but he just laughs off any and all offers. His father bought the Moderne second-hand from the Imperial Amusement Co. in San Antonio in 1942 for $25. At a penny a pop, the Moderne had paid for itself by 1944, and it’s been pure profit ever since. One the other side of the front door from the Moderne is a little display case full of old patent medicines and other vintage pharmaceutica; Brad says he has plenty more downstairs (Westy’s has been serving Lockhart for more than a century), but there’s no place to put it. Lockhart may be a prime contender for Barbecue Capital of Texas, but it’s not squat for home-grown sweets; luckily Westy’s carries an abbreviated line of Lamme’s candies from Austin (Lamme’s has been satisfying greater Austin’s sweet teeth since 1885), so we left with a box of chocolate covered pecans to give the rest of town a quick looky-loo before continuing south to Luling. America was quite impressed with the many Victorian mansions and brick business palaces dating to the days when Cotton was King. After popping into the 1856 Emmanuel Episcopal Church, we headed for Storey Springs, where Sam Houston gave his famous speech in 1857 (Read about it in Central Texas, Shiner-Lockhart Pilgrimage) to check on their condition after the recent flood and let Jonas blow off some steam on the park playscape. The springs looked as good as ever.
Once in Luling, we were still too full from lunch to eat any of the best pork ribs in Texas at Luling City Market (Sorry again, Franklin’s), so we went down to the Zedler’s Mill museum complex on the Guadalupe River. Progress on restoring the complex is slow but steady, and you can now take an audio guided tour via your cell phone (I forget the number now). The river was still running a bit high and debris-cluttered after the recent flood, but was almost back to its normal beauty.
After a tour of all the decorated pumpjacks (the butterfly was a favorite), we stopped at the old Sarg Records shop to pay homage to the late, great Charlie Fitch, who first recorded Sir Doug Sahm back when he was “Little Doug” and who turned down Willie Nelson back when Willie was a nobody trying to become a somebody. A peek inside the window showed the shop virtually undisturbed since Charlie’s death, messages such “R.I.P, We love you Charlie” finger-wiped in the window dust, now several years old. A recent documentary about Charlie has been running lately on KLRU, the local PBS station. And of course, my beloved little cast-iron stop signs are still embedded in the asphalt at several downtown intersections.
With Jonas now growing sleepy/cranky, it was time to head back to Austin via Stairtown and Joliet, through Edgar B. Davis’ fabulous Rafael Rios oilfield, the oilfield that changed Luling forever and gave rise to the phrase, “All you have to do is follow your nose to Luling.”

Roadtrip to Elgin

February 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Diana and took a most pleasant afternoon excursion to Elgin this afternoon — that is, after we got to Manor and on to Old Hwy. 20. We made the mistake of taking US 290 out of Austin (instead of 969/973) to Manor, and wasted at least 20 precious minutes in backed up traffic because of toll road construction. But on to pleasantries. Passing through Littig, the old store/post office there crumbles more each year and is no longer identifiable as such. Coming into Elgin, the old brick cotton gin is gone, although some of the old Elgin brick lives on in more modern perversions of the building trade. The little H&TC freight depot is now the Elgin Chamber of Commerce headquarters. Our first stop was the Elgin Antique Mall, looking for God knows what, and that ended up being a piece of Smith Ballew sheet music, “We Can Live On Love,” with lyrics by Smith and Edward Pola. Smith is prominently featured in my as-yet unpublished opus “If You Can’t Dance, Get On and Ride: Austin During the Jazz Age.” After that pleasant $4.56 surprise, it was on to Meyer’s BBQ (instead of Southside; Gregg Meyer generously provided food for one of my book signings last year, so I was obliged to return the favor, although the pleasure was all ours.) Diana pronounced the half-chicken magnificent in all respects, and I was quite content with the brisket, rope sausage and kosher dill pickles.

On our way back, we took the Upper Elgin River Road to check on the status of an old iron bridge that is just past the intersection with Hogeye Rd. The bridge is in full retirement but looking hale and hearty; thank God for the historic preservation mentality that was so scarce 40 years ago.

Upper Elgin River Road dead-ends into 969, and we headed thusly for Austin. Webberville’s city limits stretch farther and farther to the east every year so it seems. There was water standing everywhere, which is a good harbinger for spring wildflowers, but other than some isolated stands of rain lillies, nothing is blooming yet, except new traffic lights along the way (sigh).

As I rue the fading of the old Central Texas I grew to love, I am now going to assuage my anguish with some leftover brisket, sausage, and potato salad of my own making.

Get out and enjoy it while it’s still there, because less of it will be there tomorrow.

Comal County Restoration Update

February 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Work on the $8.6 million restoration of the Romanesque Revival Comal County Courthouse in New Braunfels, designed by J. Riely Gordon (who also designed the Gonzales, Fayette and Lee county courthouses included in Central Texas), is shifting from demolishing to rebuilding the 1898 structure.

The three 20th-century additions that had obscured its victorian-era beauty have been torn off and hauled away by the general contractor. As demolition crews inside finish removing structurally unsound walls and floors, other workers are building new floors, scraping paint and installing ductwork. A new foundation has been added, which required excavating a basement.

The restoration has included replication of original floor tiles and courtroom chairs and plugging a well discovered almost directly beneath the jail cells that were added to the building in 1930.

Among the artifacts unearthed by excavation of the basement, according to an article in the San Antonio Express-News, were a tire from a Ford Model A and a stone chisel whose blade matches the cuttings on the building’s original limestone blocks

Local support of the restoration is strong; recently the owners of Pat’s Place, a local restaurant, donated a window from one of the building’s original doors, bearing the words, “Comal County Courthouse,” which they had purchased at an antique store in the 1970s and displayed in the restaurant. In return, the county will give the restaurant owners a newer window from the same doorway.

An interior balcony in the second-floor courtroom that was removed decades ago will be reinstalled. Limestone blocks that made up the demolished wings will be reused to patch the gaps created by their removal. So, the restored courthouse will basically look like it did when built, but will have modern features, such as security alarms, air conditioning and an elevator.

The restoration is supposed to be finished by July 31, but given the project’s complexity, that deadline may not be met.

You can read the complete article and see a photo gallery of the restoration at

Comfort and Kyle Updates

January 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

In Comfort, the blessed old Ingenhuett’s Store, which burned to its bare stone walls a half-decade ago, is finally undergoing restoration, now sporting a new roof. It will never return to its former soul — its quaint charm and inventory, but at least the body will survive for us to enjoy in the years to come.

In Kyle, bids are being taken for restoration of the old train depot.

Kyle was once a cotton shipping center. Local farmers brought their cotton to the depot’s freight room to load it onto the IGN trains. The city plans for that freight room to be restored.

The depot’s old segregated waiting rooms will also be restored to the way they were:  one small room for black passengers and a larger room for white passengers. The black passengers’ waiting room will become a museum for African-American history.

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