A Patchwork of Small Towns in Central Texas

The state of Texas is dotted with plenty of small towns which were settled in the 1800’s and had their heyday in the early 1900’s. Many of the best are county seats with picturesque courthouse squares. Some fight the march of time and decay very well by keeping themselves updated with restaurants and stores, and their buildings occupied and up to code. They look very much like something plucked out of the Midwest. Three of these towns, located southeast of Austin, are Bastrop, LaGrange, and Burton.

Our RV was settled in just outside of Bastrop at South Shore Lake Bastrop in one of the most perfect sites we’ve ever had. We waited in vain for an armadillo to come waddling up the little trail in front of us. We’ve just discovered this little string of parks that are run by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA).

Our daughter Katie and her boyfriend Larnell came down from Austin to see us one Saturday while we were here. Katie is both a kid at heart and also loves dinosaurs, so we went along with her suggestion to visit The Dinosaur Park near Bastrop. It’s definitely kid-oriented, but the dinosaurs on the woodsy nature trail are very interesting. There are plenty of them in a realistic setting among the trees. They are painted with different skin textures and color variations and the descriptions contained the most up-to-date information. I wasn’t ready to be impressed, but I was.

This is a Stegoceras, which lived right here in Texas and the Southwest. It was a 4 foot high, 8 foot long herbivore which lived during the late Cretaceous period – 70 million years ago.

Katie and Larnell obviously enjoyed their walk here although the day was hot. Having them around certainly makes for some different entertainment. There was a stop at Buc-ees, Texas’s mega convenience store. I can’t blame them for this stop, though. We hadn’t yet made our Texas Buc-ees stop, so there was shopping to do. Buc-ee himself was wandering around.

We headed from there to the Bastrop Beer Company in downtown Bastrop. Cal and I had a delicious “Outcast Blackberry” mead from Saint Michael’s Mead. We were not able to find it anywhere when we tried to purchase it later, though. We even went to one of their breweries in Hye, Texas with no luck.

Bastrop has an interesting history. Its namesake, Felipe Enrique Neri, Baron of Bastrop, was actually a Dutch commoner wanted for embezzlement in his native country. He assisted in obtaining land grants and served as Austin’s land commissioner. Thanks to his work, Stephen Austin located about 100 families here and Bastrop’s name has stood the test of time.

Cal and I walked the streets of Bastrop another day and found a fireplace made of books in the bookstore. I really hope that they don’t ever light that fireplace.

I window-shopped down the sides of the one main street. In case you’re interested, there are no antique stores in Bastrop. The woman in the history museum wasn’t sure why.

On another day, we headed for the town of La Grange. Nearby are the Kreisch Brewery and Monument Hill State Historic Sites, one a part of the other.

Monument Hill is both a burial place and a memorial to men who died in two events: the Dawson Massacre of 1842 and the Meir Expedition of the same year. These events were part of the Texas fight for independence from Mexico.

The crypt for the Dawson Massacre soldiers is in the bottom right corner of this picture.

The site sits at the top of a bluff above the Colorado River. The view from here is beautiful.

A German immigrant named Heinrich Kreische settled on the land that the monument is on back in 1849. Being a stonemason, he decided to build a lovely home for his family.

My own heritage is German, so I was delighted to see a springerle cookie mold and “cookies” on the table in the kitchen.

The family smoke house still stands and the aroma in there was heavenly. The park rangers smoke meat about every two months in it. They have German heritage festivals here and everyone gets to sample the smoked sausages.

I guess a guy from Germany needs some decent beer. Being a stonemason, Kreische probably also needed a new project after the house was built. He utilized spring water on his property to build one of the first commercial breweries in Texas. People could come and have a pint, eat delicious food that the Kreische women served and look out over the countryside.

Sadly, today the brewery is but a ruin. Kreische had a work-related accident and died, and the brewery fell into disrepair.

There was an upper floor to the brewery that was made of wood which has not survived. I was very impressed with Heinrich’s stone craftsmanship. Check out the archway below!

We moved on to a quick lunch in LaGrange and then we separated for awhile. Visiting the Texas Quilt Museum certainly wasn’t on Cal’s agenda. I am not a quilter but I greatly admire the work of those who do.

Although this building is now a quilt museum, it was a furniture store in its day. Funeral caskets were sold on the top floor. The view below was from a postcard; I couldn’t get this excellent view any other way than purchasing one, since there was no entry to the upper level. The quilts in this view are different from the ones I actually saw.

The museum has changing exhibits and I was pleasantly surprised to see red work embroidered quilts on display. It was more interesting to me than the more commonly seen pieced quilts because I do embroidery work. I spent a great deal of time here just admiring them.

Red embroidery floss was the first commercially available colorfast dye color sold in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. Embroidery purely in red waned after additional colors became available. Some of these quilts were antique and some were more recently made from antique patterns. I almost talked myself into purchasing some of these embroidery patterns on sale in their shop, but I really already have too many other projects in my stash.

LaGrange is one of those cute little courthouse towns and for the most part the stores lining the square were occupied. That is always good to see. They had a row of antique stores and I texted with Cal before losing myself in them; he was happily occupied checking out the old courthouse building. He enjoyed sitting in their little indoor courtyard. Prior to this he had purchased three varieties of cookies in the bakery across the street.

Inside the courthouse in LaGrange, Texas

We visited Burton, Texas on our way back from visiting my brother in Dickinson. Burton was the tiniest town in this collection of towns. It was a small German farming community in its day. We stopped here to see the Texas Cotton Gin Museum, which has the oldest cotton gin in America still in operation. The gin here has stood since 1914. We trailed behind a high school group on their tour already underway.

A gin is simply a machine that separates cotton seeds from fibers. This gin has a 16-ton Bessemer Type IV diesel oil internal combustion engine (got all that?? ), fondly known as “Lady B”. It can still gin and bale cotton. Once a year they have a Cotton Gin Festival, and that is when they fire it up.

The engine powers the gin, which then separates the fiber from the seeds. This is shown below.

Cal is showing you the size of a bale of ginned cotton. One bale can produce 300 pairs of jeans, or 200 bed sheets. It weighs approximately 500 pounds.

This gin was the lifeblood of the community in its day, mostly the first half of the 1900’s. Eventually cotton was no longer profitable here, and the local farmers stopped growing it.

Between the gin and the museum building, they grow a little field of cotton. It was too soon for planting time. There was an interesting video to watch in the building, and a few artifacts to see. The folks at this place are proud of their gin and love visitors.

After seeing the gin, we stepped into one store since we’d heard they had lunch. It wasn’t much, so we didn’t stay. We were told that if it hadn’t been for the cotton gin, the town would have folded up and died. In my opinion, their other gem is an excellent Mexican restaurant just around and behind the gin. It is called Los Patrones. It seemed like maybe it had been rehabbed from an old garage, or maybe not. Both the food and the atmosphere were great.

Our next stop in our RV travels from South Shore Lake Bastrop was Austin. I’ve posted about Austin when we were there two years ago, but there are always new things to see and do. Like the last stay, we were there for the entire month of April and it is my favorite month to visit!

Next time – exploring Austin’s creative side