Over Labor Day weekend, my family and I decided to visit a small town on the outskirts of North Texas – Granbury. The idea came up to head out there as I continued on my journey to see all 254 counties that make up the Lone Star State. However, after seeing everything there is to do there, I concluded that it’s also a great weekend getaway destination that’s not too far from the Metroplex!
Located 38 miles to the southwest of Fort Worth and named after Confederate General Hiram Granbury, this town is home to a population of just under 8000. It is situated off the banks of Lake Granbury, which is part of the Brazos River. Driving there was a breeze – coming from North Dallas, we took Highway 20 and 377 which brought us right into town after about an hour and a half.
Upon arriving, we went straight to the Historic Granbury Town Square. As we pulled in, I was surprised to see how busy it was! In other small towns, the square is usually pretty dead, but this one was packed with people checking out the many quaint shops, bakeries, and other businesses.
Many of these stores sold apparel, while others carried wall decorations and other knick-knack items.
One of the stores that we stepped into, Odd Relics Vintage Shoppe, had antiques of all sorts. Walking down its aisles, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time!
Speaking of stepping back in time, not only do the buildings here look charming, most of them have some sort of historical value. I saw State Historical Markers posted everywhere I looked. That alone is something you rarely see in other small towns!
It wasn’t long until we came upon the Granbury Visitors Center, located steps away from the town square. Open and staffed seven days a week, you can get brochures, maps, and info about local events here. They even have free cookies!
The center of all these town squares is usually the courthouse, and Granbury was no exception, being the county seat of Hood County. There is a Parker, maybe Lampasas County flair to its architectural design, and was quite gorgeous. This building has been here for close to 130 years, having been built in 1890.
When we went, there were a number of booths set up right in front of the courthouse, where you could get everything from some Texas BBQ to homemade jewelry. A mechanical bull ride was even set up. This was all part of Shop, Stroll, & Savor, a one-day event that brought lots of people and vendors out here.
Just as it was starting to get unbearably hot, we headed off for our next and last stop after lunch, the Granbury City Beach. It’s definitely no Corpus Christi or Tampa, however if you want to find a peaceful place with sand and water located inland, this is it.
Unlike another similar beach in Little Elm, Granbury’s isn’t as crowded. The facilities looked to be well-maintained and welcoming for people of all ages. Food and drinks were being sold at a nearby pavilion, and a Hilton Garden Inn was located within walking distance should you want to stay a bit longer. I also saw a fair amount of jet ski and boating activity here, and it just seemed to be a nice place overall to enjoy the beauty of the Brazos.
Although there are a few other things to do in town, such as touring Revolver Brewery and exploring the Hood County Jail Museum, we had to head back home since we planned this as a half day trip. It was nice experiencing the vibrant small-town charm present here, as well as crossing Hood off the list of counties I have yet to see. If you are looking for a relaxing place away from the big city with plenty to do, Granbury is a great choice!
July 4th, my family and I wanted to visit someplace new, yet not stray too far so that we could make it back in time for some fireworks. As I was brainstorming places we could visit, a small town named Stephenville popped up in my mind as a good destination for this trip. Only about 110 miles away from Dallas, there was one noteworthy place right off the bat I knew we could see there – Tarleton State University. Add in that Stephenville was located in a county I have never explored before, and the deal was sealed. We decided to make it happen!
The county seat of Erath County, Stephenville is home to just under 21,000 people. It is more populated than many of its neighboring cities, such as Comanche and Mineral Wells. The city was founded in 1856, and named after settler John Stephen, who donated land for the original townsite. Although initially Stephenville was a successful settlement, Comanche tribe raids, along with the perils of the Civil War caused a decrease in population soon after. Fortunately, the town sprung back to life starting in the late 1800s as an agriculture and livestock hub, and has been thriving since.
Coming from Dallas, we took Interstate 20 to just west of Mineral Wells. There, we connected to U.S. Route 281, which took us straight into town. This portion of 281 consisted of mainly three-lane roads, and traffic flowed at a consistent 60ish miles an hour. It also had plenty of other cars, so if you are one of those folks that prefer to travel on roads that aren’t desolate(like my mom), there is nothing to worry about here. Total travel time? About two hours.
Upon arriving, the first stop was the Erath County Courthouse, located in the center of the town square. Many of the courthouses in Texas have some pretty impressive architecture, and this one was no exception!
The second courthouse to be used by the county, it was built in 1892 and laid out by James Riely Gordon, who is well known for designing other courthouses in the state. On the outside lawn, there were various memorials and landmarks. I found this one to be pretty cool – a cow named “Moo-La”, perched up on a sign, noting Erath County’s involvement in the dairy industry.
There was also a memorial honoring the veterans of the county.
We then walked around the average-sized town square. Stephenville has a pretty traditional downtown layout, with buildings surrounding all four sides of the courthouse. One distinct feature is the remarkable architecture of some of the buildings! There is some notable small-town charm here.
On the edge of downtown was the City Hall. This building just looked bland in comparison with the ones in the town square.
From there, we headed for the place most people equate with Stephenville: Tarleton State University.
Founded in 1899, Tarleton is one of eleven schools in the Texas A&M University System. With a student population of over 12,000, it offers degrees in Agriculture, Business, Engineering, and more. An NCAA Division II school, the Tarleton Texans compete in all 12 varsity sports. Up until my visit to Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, I would always get it confused with Tarleton. Both schools use a purple color scheme, and are associated with at least part of the word “Stephen”.
We drove around campus first to get an idea of where we wanted to explore on foot. Many of the buildings we saw, especially the dorms, were newer than I thought. That came as a surprise, since when I Googled the school in the past, the photos I came across showed the buildings to be pretty dated.
Judging by the color and design of the buildings, there was a striking resemblance to A&M Commerce, my father’s alma mater.
Finally deciding to stop procrastinating our entry into the sweltering heat, we parked our car in one of the side lots and began walking around campus. The first place we came upon was the Trogdon House, home of the university president. From the historical plaque, I was a bit unsure if the head of the school still resided there, but a quick glance in the windows confirmed that someone was indeed living there.
We then swung by the library. This was one of several buildings that definitely wasn’t new. It was closed for the Independence Day holiday, but looked pretty typical inside, with a coffee shop and a lobby area to study or meet up with your group members.
Right next to the library was something that I hadn’t seen before – a public bike repair station! Equipped with an air pump and various tools, I could see this coming in handy and possibly saving the day when something starts going wrong.
More than just seeing the exterior of the buildings, I wanted to go inside one and take a look at the environment a Texan would be in on a day-to-day basis. Being that it was a holiday, I didn’t expect any of the buildings to be open, but nevertheless, the O. A. Grant building was, so we walked right on in.
On the inside, the hallways and decorations were pretty plain and no-nonsense style. There might have been a poster or two, but for the most part, there wasn’t too much to look at.
We checked out a few of the classrooms and lecture halls. Both seemed well-equipped and were pretty clean.
Much like the rest of the building, there wasn’t anything too spectacular about them design-wise. That being said, some of the lecture halls featured a mural on the wall, which I thought was a pretty cool implementation of public art.
Leaving the Grant building, we came across a statue of John Tarleton, the school’s founder, located in a fountain just off to the side. He has his pet duck, Oscar P, right next to him. Interestingly enough, no historical evidence pinpoints Mr. Tarleton ever owning a pet, and thus the actual existence of Oscar is solely a myth. Regardless, traditions such as students calling “Hey, Oscar P!” as a symbol of school spirit have arisen, and can be heard at athletic events and seen on those purple Tarleton t-shirts.
Then there was the Tarleton military memorial. Dedicated to the veterans of the school, it had a unique feature – a permanent granite lectern. It was complete with a glass stand on the back as a place to put speaker notes. Definitely something I haven’t seen elsewhere.
With that, we jumped back in the car and briefly visited one last stop – the Stephenville Clark Regional Airport. A general aviation field with one runway, it is pretty well-known amongst pilots due to its close proximity to Hard Eight BBQ, a supposedly awesome place for some Texas grub. When we drove thru the restaurant parking lot, it was pretty packed, and the lines were fairly long. If you are a meat eater, be sure to check this place out when in town – it’s got to be popular for a reason! (As a vegetarian, I am only limited to the sides.) We skipped eating here since I had already tried this place out in 2014, and didn’t find those mashed potatoes and yams impressive enough to warrant the wait.
Departing the airport, we headed back to Dallas. The traffic was fairly light, and we made good time coming back into the metroplex. For some reason, the journey home on all of these trips always feels quicker than the journey coming out. Although there just isn’t much to see or do in Stephenville, it is a great place for experiencing a bit of cool architecture in the town square, or trying to debunk the myth of Oscar the duck at Tarleton!
This past Saturday, I did a cross-country flight to go see another Texas county. We have been experiencing quite a bit of crazy spring weather over the past few weeks, so it was nice to have a day of good flying conditions. I chose to visit a place that has been on my Texas list for a while now- the city of Brady, located about 80 miles to the east of San Angelo. Brady isn’t just any ole’ city in Texas- it is the city that is closest to the geographical center of the state! With a population of just under 5500 people, “The Heart of Texas” was a destination that I definitely wanted to explore.
After a one and a half hour flight, my buddy Tom and I touched down at the Brady Curtis Field Municipal Airport. Upon securing the airplane, we hopped in the crew car and headed off to town!
The first place we checked out after lunch at Sonic was the McCulloch County Courthouse. Like most small towns, the courthouse was located in the center of the town square. Texas has some of the most interesting and elegant courthouse designs – and this was certainly no exception!
The design was somewhat similar to the Parker County Courthouse in Weatherford, yet had a taste of the one in Lampasas County, in Lampasas. Built in 1899, this was the second courthouse to serve McCulloch County, which encompasses over 1000 square miles. This courthouse was also added to the National Register of Historic Places back in 1977 – a distinction well deserved given the age of the building and the role it played in the history of the county.
On the grounds of the courthouse was a granite marker bringing light to Brady’s claim to fame – it being “The Heart of Texas”. While the actual geographical center of the state is about 20 miles to the northwest, Brady is the closest city to there. Here is where I got my stereotypical tourist photo taken!
After getting done exploring the courthouse, Tom and I walked around the town square. Compared to some of the other small towns I’ve been to, Brady seems to have a slightly bigger downtown area than most.
Although most of the businesses were closed, there was one antique shop that was open. This place, D&J’s Good Ole Days, was actually listed on TripAdvisor when I did my planning for this excursion. I didn’t expect it to be open, but since it was, we waltzed on in to see what they had to offer.
Out of all the small town antique shops I’ve been to, this one is the coolest by far. It spans the length of three storefronts, and is packed to the gills with trinkets and artifacts from mainly the 20th century. To look at all these objects and realize that each and every one of them has a story behind it is nothing short of incredible.
They even had a section for vintage oil bottles..who would have thought that would be a collector’s item? I’m sure the stuff inside was of much better quality than what is sold now. Hell, just the packaging itself looks cool.
I would have hung around this place for a bit longer, but it was about time to start heading back to the airport. Departing downtown, we passed by the city hall. Didn’t get a photo, but it was bigger than I initially thought. Usually the city hall of these small towns are nothing more than a tiny building, but this one was quite sizeable.
Once back at the airport, we realized that there was no self-serve fuel pump to refuel the plane prior to departure, and that the airport attendant had gone home for the day! The door to a big hangar housing a DC-3 airliner was open though, and I tracked down a guy and his pre-teen son working inside who helped me contact someone to come out here.
While waiting, they were gracious enough to let Tom and I climb on board and check the plane out! The DC-3 isn’t just any airliner – it was the plane that revolutionized air travel back in the 1930s. I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to check out such an interesting piece of aviation history.
A twin-engined tailwheel bird, it was capable of carrying anywhere from 21-32 passengers. This particular model was being restored after having sat here on the field for a few years.
The cockpit contained a mixture of both vintage and modern equipment. While there was some newly installed gear, such as the flight instruments and a panel mounted GPS system, there was plenty of the original design intact as well. The half steering wheel shaped yoke is something that isn’t seen anymore, and those thrust levers can only mean DC-3!
Talking with the guy there, he told me how he was working on restoring this plane for the owner. Parts were nicely arranged along the hangar floor, a seemingly endless project to get her flying again. From what I gathered, the light was starting to be seen at the end of the tunnel. The engine work was getting close to being finished, and the propeller was about to be sent off to a shop for an overhaul.
Before long, the fueler had arrived and got us all set for our journey back home. After paying the tab, we departed without having any further delays. Although the flight back was somewhat bumpy thanks to a low-level jet that was moving through Texas, we made it back in just over an hour due to a nice tailwind.
All in all, this was a very successful trip. Sure, there was a delay, but what I have found is that some of the rather memorable things I’ve done have stemmed from a delay of some sort. The things you see and the people you meet while simply lingering around the airport can sometimes be just outright interesting. In many of these small towns, there isn’t too much to do(if anything), but there was definitely quite a bit that was seen on this excursion! On top of that, I now have bragging rights about having visited a place that is super close to the center of the best state in the country!