Linda Anderson and Howie Richey at Heritage Haus

Linda Anderson and Howie Richey at Heritage Haus

After a busy holiday season from All Hallow’s Eve on, which consisted of many walking tours, drives, and celebrations, this year’s end found us exploring an area 60 miles due east of Austin. My wife, Linda, had discovered Carmine on an arts retreat last March and wished me to enjoy it, too. The journey opened possibilities for a new tour offering.

We headed east on US 290 around noon on December 30, a cool, clear, and calm Tuesday. This was our first road trip together in her new blue Hyundai, nicknamed Twinka. At Paige, we veered northeast on TX 21 (oldest thoroughfare in the state), turning east for a lunch stop at Dime Box. This off-main-road hamlet is famed as the launch point of FDR’s March of Dimes campaign in the 1940s. A Texas-sized dime peeks from inside a translucent Plexiglas cube.

Brother, Can You Spare A . . . or Stand By Your Span

Brother, Can You Spare A . . . or Stand By Your Span

Other than the rusting truss and SPJST Hall, this tiny town’s lack of public rest rooms seemed unwelcoming to visitors.

Continuing eastward along Lake Somerville’s edge, I was gratified to see the soils and rocks change color from reds and oranges to white and brown. The lost pines finally faded away in favor of more live oaks. Rolling, low hills offered great panoramas of this green countryside.

Cotton Up to This

Cotton Up to This

Next stop was Burton, home of the nation’s only operating original-equipment cotton gin. Here also are century-old storefronts and accommodations on a rise of land above Indian Creek. Scenic Road 309, along the venerable La Bahia route, would have taken us to Independence, but perhaps later. In fact, 309 is along the Texas Independence Trail. By now, thanks to place names, we realized this area’s prominent German influence.

Haus It Going?

Haus It Going?

Another seven minutes brought us to Carmine, our overnight destination. About halfway between Houston and Austin, this 230-person place boasts 11 antique stores, a basketball museum, and three bed and breakfast establishments. Our reservations were at Heritage Haus, a 94-year-old two-story cottage run by the much younger Deb Taylor and Matt Hager. After we unloaded, our hosts escorted us across the street to their “art bodega,” a former grocery store that serves as their project and workshop space. Deb makes assemblages to sell, while Matt collects and preserves old audio equipment and recordings (sound familiar?).

Sights and Sounds

Sights and Sounds

Dusk was fast approaching when Linda and I drove south to La Grange for our evening meal at a bistro suggested by D&M. We found the place just off the courthouse square, but it was closed. Instead, we crossed the Colorado to dine at La Marina, an archetypal Texas roadside grill. I ate fish, Linda a relleno. Back at the bodega, we shared cheesecake and a bottle of Hill Country wine with our innkeepers and talked art and audio long into the night.

Matt's Collections

Matt’s Collections

Quilt Room and Sitting

Quilt Room and Sitting

December 31: The splendid breakfast after bed consisted of Deb’s fruitcake muffins, yam frittata, coffee, blue-cranberry juice, grits, whole-wheat toast, and fruit yogurt. With many promises to stay in touch and reluctant good-byes, Linda and I set out to further explore the vicinity.

Like Waters Seeking Sea

Like Waters Seeking Sea

Texas 237 took us south again to the International Festival Institute at Round Top. Part of The University of Texas, this sprawling compound features restored Victorian mansions, Roman-style ruins, fountains, chapel, and folk architecture situated around an enormous music performance space.

Festival Hall interior

Festival Hall interior

This whole property brims with concerts throughout the year as well as weddings, seminars, conferences, retreats, classes, and special events. The spacious grounds are immaculately kept, with each bend in the path leading to unexpected discoveries, such as pavilions, olive trees, spewing green men, and stacked-stone bridges.

Missed Messages

Missed Messages

Onward with a back-roads trip to a functioning iron bridge, this over Cummins Creek, the main local stream. Apparently, locals leave wishes here on papers stuck into the structure. We found none, but Linda wrote good words on a rolled-up slip.

Fayetteville Precinct Courthouse

Fayetteville Precinct Courthouse

Over and across Rek Hill, Fayetteville remains proud of its Czech heritage. A cute precinct courthouse sits in the middle of the town square, flanked by several taverns and guest houses. My friend John Troesser operates one of the best online Texas travel magazines from this fine town.

Lewis Stagecoach Inn

Lewis Stagecoach Inn, front and rear

Winedale brings Shakespeare to East Central Texas. Also UT-owned, this former village presents plays and performances during the warm months. Historic buildings include the dogrun-style Lewis House and the Menke Mansion. The scenes and acts happen in the timber-reinforced barn.

Think Globe, Act Bard

Think Globe, Act Bard

A few bends in the lane later, we once again found ourselves in Round Top, which becomes an antique capital twice a year, spring and fall. Here’s another precinct courthouse plus many historic homes, churches, and pubs. Everywhere are signs of old furniture shops, flea markets, and exhibitions that draw thousands in April and October. Many businesses, including the Heritage Haus, gear their whole fiscal survival around these biannual events.

After another quick look around Burton, we set our faces steadfastly towards the Capital City, where New Year’s Eve revels awaited us. With the info and experience gleaned from this fascinating foray, it won’t be long until we go back. Check the Texpert Tours website soon for new excursion called “Shakespeare and Gin.”

Happy 2009!

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