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Traveling Texas with Nancy Deviney - May, 2006

Traveling Texas with Nancy Deviney                          May 2006


 Those nifty highway signs known as Historical Markers that dot the Texas roads from one end of the state to the other tell some great stories…if you have time to stop and read them. 

 A few years back, when the Banker and I were really keeping the back roads hot every Saturday, we purchased the book Why Stop?, the reference guide to all these wonderful roadside markers.  And, as we sped down the highways and byways, I frantically searched the book for explanations of what we had just whizzed by.  The edition we had, unfortunately, did not include a map, so it was definitely a challenge to pick up on those fascinating tales of Texas towns and their heritage that we so love. 

Recently, thanks to my friend Judy Turner at the Taft Blackland Museum, I found out about an upcoming event known as the “Back Thru Time” history celebration. This tour through eight South Texas counties will capture those bits and pieces of history that we enjoy so much.  It will also give us an opportunity to enjoy a festival, do a little antique shopping here and there, tour some historical homes and museums and visit a pickle factory.

“BACK THROUGH TIME” HISTORY CELEBRATION

I hope you’ll consider joining us for this historical tour that will take place every weekend in June.   You can visit 17 towns in eight counties located in the triangular area bounded by San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Victoria. 

In these 17 towns, you’ll be directed to 52 sites of historical and cultural interest.  Many of these sites are designated by Historical Markers, Medallions or on the National Register.  Some sites will require an entry fee, but most are open to the public at no cost. 

Throughout the month of June, in a different cluster of towns each weekend, you will be treated to a variety of family-friendly activities such as driving tours, live music, a dachshund race, tips on Victorian floral arranging, pottery-making for children and a flea market.  And this all happens on the first weekend!

The second weekend will feature a vintage car exhibit, tours of Victorian-era homes, an outdoor arts/crafts market, antique shops, an inside look at how pralines are made and a visit to a pickle factory.

A bake sale, guided tours of historical buildings including a church, a hotel and a jail, more antiques, a program on endangered wildlife species and a tour of an historic mansion will highlight the third weekend.

The month-long history celebration’s final weekend will offer art classes, tours of an historical bank building, a jailhouse museum and a visit to a ghost town.

MERCHANTS AND HISTORY

In 2003, a group of merchants in Bee County came up with the idea to organize a “Back Thru Time” history trail featuring antique stores, museums and historical homes located along Highway 181. 

The first annual event was held the first weekend of June 2004 and was officially sponsored by the Highway 181 Historical Association.  Twenty-two sites were featured, with an emphasis on antique stores, and the event was declared a success by merchants and historians alike.

The Highway 181 Historical Association held their second annual event on the first weekend in June 2005 with 30 sites featured including some off the original Highway 181 trail and stretching to Goliad, Yorktown and Cuero.

Shortly after the 2005 celebration, with interest quickly spreading throughout the geographical area bounded by Corpus Christi, Victoria and San Antonio, the South Texas Back Thru Time Historical Association was formed.  Today Elizabeth Villines of Tuleta is president.

The association’s mission statement says that it is a voluntary organization made up of merchants, interested individuals and groups whose mission is to celebrate the diverse cultural history of South Texas, to preserve historic sites and the history of the area in general, to increase regional tourism and to enhance the economy in the rural geographical triangle bounded by Victoria, San Antonio and Corpus Christi, Texas.

HERITAGE TOURISM

The South Texas Back Thru Time Historical Association is a wonderful example of the rapidly growing heritage tourism industry.  In the Lone Star State, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) and its not-for-profit Heritage Trails Program are leading this movement.  The Back Thru Time Celebration tour is located within two of the ten statewide THC Heritage Trail Regions – the Texas Independence Trail Region and the Texas Tropical Trail Region. 

Heritage tourism is travel directed toward experiencing an area’s unique heritage and culture, surrounded by local traditions, events and historic sites. One hundred eighteen million Americans included a heritage activity in their travel plans last year, resulting in nationwide revenue of $200 billion.

Texas ranks third as a travel destination behind California and Florida, but Texas ranks second in the number of cultural and heritage travelers.  Tourism is one of the largest industries in Texas with heritage tourism being the fastest growing component of this industry.  Fifteen percent of travelers in Texas are heritage travelers.

Statistics show that travel money spent in Texas last year was $27 per day by fisherman, $39 per day spent by hunters, $78 per day spent by birders, $85 per day spent by non-heritage travelers and a whooping $114 per day spent by heritage travelers.

WEEKEND ONE

June 3 and 4 of the “Back Thru Time” History Celebration will be held in Nordheim, Cuero, Yoakum and Yorktown in DeWitt and Lavaca counties.  You won’t want to miss the Broadway Bar in Nordheim that was featured in the movie “Paris Texas”.  This 100-year old bar, complete with brass rail, will be open for tours and have live music for dancing on Saturday night, June 3.

Your visit to Cuero will include a tour of a Log Cabin complete with Dog Trot and antique furniture.  The Tom Tom Festival will be in full swing in Yoakum this weekend featuring a parade, a rodeo, a polka fest, tomato cook-offs, a dachshund race and much more.  Yoakum was once the “green wrap” tomato capital of the world and celebrates this heritage with the Tom Tom Festival.

You won’t want to miss the Yorktown Victorian-era home of the Hairy Potters, a husband and wife team who handcraft their own pottery to sell in their on-site gallery.  During this weekend, children will be able to make their own pottery. 

WEEKEND TWO

June 10 and 11 will find you in Refugio, Goliad, Bayside, Sinton and Taft in Refugio, Goliad and San Patricio counties.   Stop by Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church in Refugio for a docent-guided historical tour.  It stands on the site of Mission de Nuestra Senora del Refuge built in 1795, which was the last Spanish mission established in Texas. Archaeological "digs" are being conducted to discover and study the heritage of Refugio.

In historic Goliad, make time to visit Mission Espiritu Santo, more commonly called La Bahia Mission.  The mission was established in 1722 to serve the Karankawa Indians.  Bayside is the site of the Wood Mansion, built in 1875 high on a bluff overlooking Copano Bay.  Major John H. Wood, the mansion’s original owner, fought in the Battle of San Jacinto.  I sure don’t want to miss that tour of the Wood Mansion!

A visit to Sinton will not be complete without stopping by Aunt Aggie De’s Pralines gift shop.  The statue of a squirrel, standing eight feet tall, will greet you as you go up the steps.  A video of the praline-making process will be shown on Saturday, June 10, only.

My friend Judy Turner is the director of the Taft Blackland Museum in downtown Taft. The museum is housed in the building originally built to serve as the offices of the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company, known locally as the Taft Ranch.   Two banks, one for company use only and one controlled by the company, a drugstore and a barbershop were also located in the building.  Today, the museum focuses on the history of the city of Taft, and long-range plans call for a major emphasis on the history of the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company.  You’ll enjoy the display of an early Taft bathroom featuring a lady taking a bubble bath.

Across the street from the Taft Blackland Museum is the home of Picklesmith, a unique home-style canning and food preserving company.  Picklesmith is housed in the historic Taft Mercantile Building and is owned by David Smith.  The company introduced its first product at the State Fair of Texas in 1995 and since that time has grown to include a variety of pickles, relishes, jalapeno olives and mushrooms as well as jams and jellies.  Picklesmith also offers county club-style catering served buffet style, by appointment only.  I’m sure looking forward to a jar of those jalapeno olives.

WEEKEND THREE

Father’s Day weekend, June 17 and 18, you’ll be in Skidmore, Pettus, Tuleta, Beeville and Berclair in Bee and Goliad counties.  The Skidmore Museum will feature a bake sale and Pettus will offer guided tours of the WPA-built school and gym.

Be sure and stop by the Park Hotel Antiques Shoppe in Tuleta for guided tours of the historic hotel, Indian displays and a program on endangered wildlife species.  Oh, and be sure and ask about their antique watches.

Downtown Beeville is home to the Beeville Art Museum located in the Esther Barnhart house built in 1910.  This museum will be open only on Saturday, June 17, and features works of renowned Texas artists. 

The Berclair Mansion, built by Etta Wilkinson Terrell in 1936, is one stop you won’t want to miss.  This 22 room, 10,000 square foot, fireproof house is filled with the original furnishings including 16th and 17th century antiques, some straight from European castles.  The mansion’s most unique feature is the 60 tons of structural steel used to build the house.  And, beneath the wooden floors are sub-floors of cement.  In 1936, it was the largest steel structure single-family home in the United States.

WEEKEND FOUR

The final weekend of the Back Thru Time History Celebration, June 24 and 25, will take you to Kenedy, Floresville, La Vernia and Helena in Karnes and Wilson counties.  In Kenedy, you’ll want to stop by the Second Street Gallery for art classes in clay, watercolors and everything in between.  Costume jewelry and original artwork will also be for sale.

The Wilson County Jail House Museum, located in Floresville, was built in 1887, and you’ll easily find it near the courthouse square. Stop by the La Vernia Heritage Museum open only on Saturday, June 24, to enjoy the tours featuring historic displays of Wilson County.  The museum is housed in the old, red brick firehouse building.

The story of the ghost town of Helena was told in an episode of the old television series “Death Valley Days”.   In case you missed that episode… it was the day after Christmas 1884 and Emmett Butler, son of wealthy landowner Colonel William G. Butler, was shot and killed in a Helena saloon.  Because no one could or would identify the shooter, Colonel Butler vowed to “kill the town that killed his son”.  Soon thereafter, the colonel granted the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad right-of-way through his ranch, thereby bypassing Helena and literally turning it into a ghost town.

Tours of the Karnes County Museum Complex, including the home of John Ruckman, founder and first postmaster of Helena, will be available both Saturday and Sunday.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

I certainly hope you are as excited about this opportunity to have fun while learning about the history and heritage of South Texas as I am.  Maybe we’ll run into each other somewhere along the way.

The entire four-weekend route covers approximately 200 miles and almost 300 years of Texas history.  Brochures and maps of the city-by-city Back Thru History Celebration trail are available at tour area Chambers of Commerce.

For more information about this amazing opportunity to see history come alive, including a listing of all the towns, sites, time schedules and entry fees, if applicable, contact The South Texas Back Thru Time Historical Association president Elizabeth Villines at 361 375-2558 or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or you can contact Judy Turner, Director of the Taft Blackland Museum at 361 528-2206 or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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