The Land of the Lumberjacks

Friday, I decided to use a day off work and do a trip with Mom to East Texas. Having checked out quite a few cities in the region, there was one place that I had not been to: Nacogdoches. Home of Stephen F. Austin State University, this city of just under 34,000 people is one of the busiest population centers of the Deep East Texas region. I had heard about this place numerous times thru former classmates that attended SFA, and upon doing some research, the distance was just right for a same day trip.  This excursion had been moved back- I was initially gonna go two Fridays back, but adverse weather and Dad’s birthday pushed the date out. (Not that I mind, a three day weekend is always welcome anytime!)

Known as “The Oldest Town of Texas”, this city has seen evidence of human settlement as far back as 10,000 years ago. It was a Native American settlement until around the 19th century, when Spain established a mission. In 1772, Spanish officials ordered everyone to move to San Antonio, due to the high cost of maintenance. Eventually, settlers found their way back into Nacogdoches in 1779, and it was officially declared a “pueblo”, or town not too long after. It is known as the first town in Texas. With multiple national forests nearby, Nacogdoches and Deep East Texas are at the heart of the state’s timber industry.

Upon arriving, the first place we checked out is also the place people most often associate with Nacogdoches: Stephen F. Austin State University. Founded in 1921, it is one of 4 state universities in Texas not associated with a university system.

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Starting my journey into the land of the Lumberjacks!

The first place we stepped into was their student center while trying to find a bite to eat. Although the food court was closed, it looked like a great place during the school year to catch a bite between classes, or even to meet up with friends to study!

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Not one restaurant was open here except for one pizza place around the corner. :/

Walking thru the building, we strolled thru the front part of their student center. It looked quite modern and inviting for both prospective and current students alike.

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The front part of the student center.

Seeing that there weren’t any real viable options for lunch, we decided to eat off campus. After coming back, we first went to the Old Stone Fort, located right across from the Student Center. The Old Stone Fort, built in 1936, is an exact replica of a house that served many roles in the history of Nacogdoches. The original house it was modeled after was built in 1788, and was located in present-day downtown until it got demolished in 1902. Since its opening, this replica structure has served as a museum displaying artifacts from the early days of Nacogdoches and Texas.

Upon entering and signing the visitor register, we started our journey into East Texas history. Original artifacts belonging to the owners of the house were displayed, and explanations of how the Stone Fort played into the history of the city were well written. It provided us with a solid introduction into the stories of the early days.

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SFA did a great job of organizing everything into an easy to understand format.

There were two rooms on the first floor. Upon getting done looking at the first room, we could hear a whole group of kids outside about to enter, presumably on a field trip. We elected to check out the second floor and avoid the looming traffic jam.

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A bed used by Nacogdochian Thomas Rusk in the 1800s. Rusk held many roles, including Republic of Texas house representative and US Senator.

The second floor was mainly home to the temporary exhibits that the museum hosts. The one that was presently featured was about everyday carry, and the items that people toted with them on a daily basis. Starting with the early settlers, to a Civil War soldier’s loadout, the artifacts really highlighted how much different of an era we live in now compared to then.

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It was cool seeing what people used on an everyday basis back in the day!
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That .44 caliber revolver was the same model carried by Union troops during the Civil War.

At the end of the everyday carry exhibit was an interactive area. There was a camera and photo printer, and visitors were encouraged to take a picture of what was in their pocket, print it out, and tape it on a board. Interactive exhibits are always a great way to engage the museum-goers, especially the younger folks!

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Upon finishing up upstairs, we went back down and checked out the remaining room. It contained artifacts that were mainly from the early 20th century, such as a Thomas Edison Amberola, which played music from a cylinder shaped “record”. First time I have seen something of this type!

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I’d love to mess with one of these just to hear how the sound quality is.

After leaving the Stone Fort, we checked out some of the buildings that comprise SFA. The first place we went to was the E.L. Miller science building.

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A miniature oil derrick pump located outside the science building.

Upon entering, my first impression was that the building was quite old. However, it seemed well maintained and tidy. Student projects lined the walls.

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Although this building was on the older side, everything seemed up to snuff!

One of the lecture hall doors was open, and I went on in to take a look. There were animal heads along the back wall, a unique decoration that I have not seen before in a usually boring and dull college classroom!

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Some pretty neat animal heads, along with a description beneath each one of them.

Next, it was off to their business school, the Nelson Rusche College of Business. A much newer structure, it seemed to serve as a good environment to learn the fundamentals of the business and enterprise world.

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The entrance to the business school.

Their classrooms were adequately sized, although smaller than that of UT Dallas. All in all, they seemed to be pretty decent considering the high cost of tuition at any of these schools.

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In the middle of the two main classroom hallways on the first floor was a commons area, equipped with sofas and tables. As I recall, almost every table had an electrical outlet, making it a great place to catch up on homework or meet up for a group project.

After leaving the business building, we swung by the library briefly as our last stop. Their library, much like the science building, seemed to be quite dated. Only a few students were seen there, mainly because the semester was over.

Upon leaving SFA, we went to go check out downtown. Their downtown area was quite vibrant compared to many of the other downtowns I’ve been to in the past! A substantial number of businesses were open, and there were quite a few people seen walking around. What was a bit unusual though, was their courthouse. While most county seats have their courthouse in the center of the town square, Nacogdoches County opted to put theirs right off the main thoroughfare on the edge of downtown. Their courthouse was also the least attractive one I have seen to date. There were no real design features, just a Days Inn-like building of tan color.

Driving around downtown, we checked out our last point of interest, which dealt with the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. When Columbia exploded in February of 2003, with seven crew members onboard, the debris was scattered far and wide as it fell back down to Earth. Many chunks of wreckage fell in Nacogdoches, with one piece reportedly being as big as a car hood. The Masons erected a nice little memorial right next to their lodge that brings light to that sad day in history.

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Right behind the memorial is a drive-thru lane for a bank. A few chunks of debris reportedly fell there. I saw somewhere online that there was a silver plate marking the exact spot; however it was nowhere to be seen.

After finishing up downtown, we headed home. This was a very relaxing and enjoyable trip, and it gave me the chance to finally see SFA for myself. As a college town, I would say it’s not bad at all; although, there is definitely less to do here than say, in Waco. Of course, if you are like me, and simply enjoy seeing the different cities and towns that make up our state, then Nacogdoches presents itself as a place that has a rich history and friendly people. This is all while having more trees than you could care to see!

 

 

The Twin Cities of the South

Sunday, the family and I went on a road trip to see what could possibly be one of the more interesting cities in the state – Texarkana, located along the Texas-Arkansas border. This trip had been in the works for a while – being that my mother finally had time to come along after the tax season rush presented this weekend as a great opportunity to do a mini getaway.

Located about 180 miles to the northeast of Dallas, Texarkana has one unique layout. The western half of the city is in the Lone Star State, while the eastern half is in the Natural State. There is Texarkana, TX, and Texarkana, AR, both with their own individual city governments, police departments, and school districts. The Texas portion is part of Bowie County, while the Arkansas portion resides in Miller County. Combined population of both cities is close to 143,500 people.

The drive on Interstate 30 took about three hours. Since it was a Sunday morning, traffic was light. Before we knew it, we had arrived in “The Twin Cities of the South”. Since we had limited time, we dove right in!

The first place we checked out was the U.S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse, on State Line Avenue. Not just any ole’ federal building, this is the only one of its kind to straddle state lines. Built in 1933, the base is made from Texas pink granite while the limestone walls come from Arkansas.

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A pretty grand building!

Although the place wasn’t open today, there was the “Photographer’s Island”, a marker that depicted the state line right in front of the building. It made for a great photo op, and I saw quite a few people taking selfies with one leg in each state.

Upon getting my touristy photo taken, we walked down State Line Avenue, when we accidentally came upon our next point of interest, the abandoned Hotel Grim. Once I saw it in person, I knew that they couldn’t have chosen a better name for the place. It’s as if though someone predicted the condition the building would be in today.

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The abandoned Hotel Grim.

Located on the Texas side of the street, this now grim looking structure was built in 1925. It contains 8 stories, and was quite popular back in the 30s and 40s. According to some quick Google research I did, the hotel featured a restaurant, barber shop, drug store, and even a rooftop garden that could be used for ballroom duty. Now it just stands there, a reminder of a bygone era. The door behind the locked grille happened to be open, and I was able to peek in thru the grille. Although there was graffiti and trash everywhere, I could see the lobby and second floor, and was able to imagine how busy it must have been when it was open.

In spite of me seeing a sign advertising a redevelopment of Grim as luxury apartments, there were no signs that construction had begun or was about to begin. Broken windows dotted the building, and water leaked from open windows as we walked around the structure.

Leaving there, we were all getting a bit hungry, so we decided to stop for lunch. We quickly decided on Joe’s Italian, located right across from the post office on the Arkansas side of the street. Many folks were seen entering, so we figured it would be pretty decent food.

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Delicious food at a reasonable price.

Turned out that decent didn’t do it justice at all! I ordered their fettuccine alfredo, and while it was delicious, the rolls were the best I have indulged in to date anywhere! Before I ate here, my top award went to the breadsticks of Fazoli’s Italian, but Joe’s is even more delicious. They aren’t dry like what is found at Olive Garden, and not too oily, like at Fazoli’s. Ended up getting 4 refills.

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These rolls were hands down the best I’ve had to date!

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After getting stuffed, we drove around the downtown area, and explored the various streets that made up their city center. Judging from all the places I’ve visited, I’d say Texarkana has a pretty decent downtown. The streets are well maintained and there aren’t many up slopes and down slopes, like what was seen in Tyler. Makes the drive that much more pleasant. We saw Union Station, another abandoned hotel, and two jails. If there’s anything that’s missing though, it’s people. There wasn’t anybody to be seen once we left the post office/photographer’s island area.

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The Miller County Courthouse located in the Arkansas part of town.

The next stop was the Texarkana Regional Airport. Usually, this would be the first and last place I would be at if I flew in, but since we did a road trip it was just a normal point of interest. Never landed here(yet), but it just might happen one of these days on a Joe’s Italian lunch run!

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The exterior of the terminal looks straight out of an 80s film.

Having two runways, this airport is serviced by American Eagle with nonstop flights to DFW Airport. Like most small town airports, the terminal was pretty quiet when we walked in, probably because the next flight out didn’t leave until around 6 in the evening. There was just one baggage carousel, and one mini TSA checkpoint.

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Except for a rental car desk open, there wasn’t anything going on. That luggage scale though! #vintage

One thing this place doesn’t have is modern decor. The furniture didn’t seem to be quite in the year 2018, and last I checked Continental Airlines has been out of business for quite a few years!

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Either Continental is still in business(not possible) or someone just let this sign be for quite a few years now(totally possible).

Even the control tower didn’t look too modern. That being said, looks are just one thing. As long as the guys up there are able to do their jobs and have working equipment in a comfortable environment, there isn’t too much that can be asked for.

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If I had more time, I would look into touring the tower! I’m pretty sure the equipment inside is definitely modern, in spite of the exterior look.

After leaving the airport, the final place we checked out was Texarkana College, a two-year community college located on the Texas side of town. This college opened in 1927, and is the alma mater of billionaire Ross Perot. The main purpose of us visiting was to see the Perot Leadership Museum, an exhibit in the library’s common area that talked about the life of Perot and his contributions to the community.

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This exhibit was easy to understand and interesting.

Born in Texarkana, Perot attended college here before heading to the U.S. Naval Academy. When he was about to get discharged from the Navy, he met an employee of IBM and went to work there. He had tons of ideas during his tenure at IBM, many of which got ignored by superiors. Perot took a leap of faith and started his own company, which eventually became one of the most known in the world.

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Ross Perot father’s cotton sales office.

Perot also ran for President of the United States back in the 90s, and the exhibit talked about his campaign, and how as a third party he was able to secure an impressive amount of votes.

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Ross is one accomplished man with that “can-do” attitude!

The exhibit took us about 15 minutes to look over, but it was presented in a way that was informative yet not dry. For someone that didn’t know too much about Ross Perot prior, I was able to gain quite a bit of information about his life and the work that he did.

Since we were already on campus, we also walked around. The buildings of Texarkana College are not modern by any means, but they seem to be pretty well maintained judging by the exterior. We strolled by the health occupations and science buildings, and peeking in they kind of resembled a high school hallway more so than a college. The classrooms were pretty tightly spaced between each other.

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With plenty of green all around campus, the air was pretty fresh for it being located in the city!

Upon getting done there, we headed back to Dallas. Traffic was light so we made it back in less than three hours. This was a pretty fun and cool trip, in part since I hadn’t done a road trip to the Texas-Arkansas border in over ten years. Flew over the city on my way to Memphis last summer, but never landed to explore this one of a kind place. I plan to be back in the East Texas area soon, to check out Nacogdoches and Stephen F. Austin University!

A Day Spent in Tyler

To wrap up Spring Break, I decided to utilize Friday to go see the East Texas city of Tyler, located about 100 miles southeast of Dallas. Having been to the other major city in the area, Longview, I was interested to see what the “Rose Capitol of the World” had to offer.

Upon arriving, the first attraction I went to is also what Tyler is most well-known for: roses. The Tyler Rose Garden and Museum, opened in 1952, is the world’s largest rose garden. Tons of people come each year to see the 38,000+ bushes and enjoy nature. In October of every year, there is the Tyler Rose Festival, an event that draws thousands of people to the area.

The point of entry into the Rose Garden is thru the museum building, a facility that not only displays the history behind the garden but also contains ample space that can be rented for various functions. On a Friday morning, it was pretty quiet inside except for a few people setting up for an event in one of the conference rooms. The friendly receptionist showed me the way to the garden, and pointed out the location of the small gift shop. As I walked out the back door into the garden, my first impression was that this place was pretty well maintained. I could see workers irrigating the plants and taking care of the upkeep.

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The expansiveness of the Rose Garden. In May, it is a sea of red!

The garden is divided up into sections, each with different themes and designers. One of them was the heritage garden. Displaying “antique” flowers and plants that are traditionally grown in Texas homes, it was a joint effort by two garden clubs and the Tyler Parks and Recreation Department.

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A few flowers were in bloom.

Another section I enjoyed was the meditation garden. Not quite sure which organization designed this, but it was nicely done and provided for a place where people can connect with their inner zen. It contained a small pond and a gazebo area nearby for picnics and such.

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On the other side, the idea garden had various plants grown in different environments, with the intent of giving homeowners creativity into what, how, and where they can grow their own stuff. I saw a green roof display that talked about how growing plants on a rooftop can cut back on energy costs. Sounds interesting!

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As much red as I’m gonna see here (at least here and now)

Walking around the garden, the one thing I didn’t see were any roses. :/ Come to find out, I came pretty early in the growing season, as the sea of red doesn’t bloom until late April/early May. Nevertheless, this visit was still a relaxing and enjoyable experience.

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Those roses are still growing.

Before leaving, I looked around the gift shop and picked up a postcard to add to the collection. One thing that I have learned from visiting all these places is that the postcard is an inexpensive yet memorable souvenir, and quite frankly sometimes the best item to buy in a gift shop!

After leaving the Rose Garden, I then went to one of Tyler’s most notable stores: Racquet and Jog. Opened in 1978, it has become pretty well known in the area as an apparel and sporting goods place. They have since expanded to other cities, including Dallas under the name Tyler’s.

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There were a constant stream of customers entering and exiting the store. They stock many of the well-known brands such as Southern Marsh, Patagonia, and Nike. In addition, they also sell their own t-shirts with the company logo, which from my observation seems to be pretty popular with the teenage crowd. The service was excellent, and I ended up snagging one of their signature t-shirts.

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My contribution to the East Texas economy.

Following lunch, it was off to the University of Texas at Tyler. One of eight campuses in the UT system, it was founded in 1971 and has just over 10,000 students attending as undergraduates. Being that it was Spring Break, the campus was pretty much dead.

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I drove around, exploring campus. The buildings had that 1970s style look, but the grounds seemed pretty well maintained. There was a small pond with a dock in the middle, which I thought was pretty nice. As we are in East Texas, plenty of tall trees and vegetation were present.

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4 chairs on the dock..looks like a great place to do a group study session!

Their clock tower reminded me of a similar structure at UT Arlington. In fact, the whole campus had that UTA flavor to it..perhaps they were designed by the same architect?

My next stop was downtown Tyler. Having flown over this area in the past, I knew that it has some buildings dotting its skyline, unlike other towns nearby. I walked around the town square, and checked out the Smith County Courthouse. Smith County is home to over 200,000 people over a span of 950 square miles.

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The Smith County Courthouse.

Their downtown area was pretty well preserved, and had the traditional Texas design of the courthouse being in the middle with shops surrounding it. On the other side of the courthouse were memorials to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars. There also happened to be a miniature playhouse exhibit going on that day, with different buildings being put on display.  Haven’t seen those in quite a while – back home the city of Richardson has them during the Christmas season, but that’s really about it.

One of the more interesting downtown buildings is the Plaza Tower. This 20 story office building was built using a similar design as that of the Willis(formerly Sears) Tower in Chicago, although in reality the height is only that of the Willis’ antennas. I believe it is a multi-tenant building and not a corporate campus for any one company.

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The Willis Tower wannabe.

The last site I checked out before heading home was the Tyler Junior College. Community colleges provide outstanding value, and in my opinion are one of the best places one can attend for the first two years of their undergrad journey. This college is one of the few that I’ve seen that have dorms. Did some research, and found out that it is actually one of the largest community colleges in Texas! The architecture of the buildings don’t look like they belong to a junior college- with Roman pillars on a few of the buildings and a design that reminds me of Ole’ Miss.

In sum, this was a pretty nice trip! This is actually attempt #2 to explore Tyler, as the first time I flew here a maintenance issue forced me to fuel up and turn right back around. A place I didn’t go see due to time constraints: the zoo, which I heard is pretty worth checking out. Good thing it is only about a 10-minute drive from the airport, so that is where I shall go the next time I’m here!

 

A Saturday Afternoon in Athens(Not Athens,Greece)

Two weekends ago, I decided the weather was too good to not go check out another county. I had already been to all of the ones that border the one I live in. Decided on Henderson County, in East Texas. The county seat is the City of Athens, about 75 miles away from Dallas.

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The Henderson County Courthouse in Athens.

For a place with a population just under 13,000 people, Athens is very well designed and has a lot of small town charm! Historic would also be fitting, as this place has been around since 1846, four months after Texas was annexed by the United States. As is the case with many of the smaller towns, the courthouse is situated in the middle of the town square. I really liked the layout of not only the courthouse and the surrounding memorials and monuments, but also the town square in general. There were a few other points of interest I checked out in the “Black Eyed Pea Capital of the World”.

  • Trinity Valley Community College. A typical two-year community college situated within a few minutes of the town square, it appeared to be pretty well kept. Having graduated from a community college myself, these places sure deliver a lot of value!
  • Lake Athens. I didn’t really get to experience Lake Athens up close and personal, as my Apple Maps took me down this narrow back road which ended in a lakehouse community cul-de-sac. I did see a bit of the lake though from there and it looks like a pretty good place to fish or just hang out.
  • Athens Municipal Airport. As a pilot, the airport is always a must see. Compared to the many of the other airports I’ve been to, this one seems a bit on the low side. There is a small FBO(fixed base operator) which services and refuels aircraft, with a small ramp area next to it. Doesn’t seem to be much else going on out there.

All in all, it was a pretty fun little trip. There may not be much to do in the small towns, but if there is one thing I’ve learned from visiting lots of them, it’s that they are all unique in their own right and contain plenty of rich history.