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Brenham and Washington-on-the-B

March 28, 2012

Our hunting excursion to find a vehicle to tow behind the motorhome provided us with a beautiful day of driving through the south central Texas countryside.  On Saturday, our route first took us east to Hwy 59, then we headed around Houston on Beltway 8, and took Hwy 290 north to Brenham, and back, an all day drive.  Of course, I forgot the camera.  We saw so many interesting sights that we decided to make the same trek again on Sunday, this time with the camera.

Church near Magnolia, Texas

On Sunday, we went northwest out of The Woodlands on Farm-to-Market Road 1488, planning to tie back into Hwy 290 somewhere around Prairie View.  That route took us through Magnolia, Texas.

We were getting pretty hungry, and had just about decided people in Magnolia didn’t eat out on Sunday morning, and then we found the Magnolia Diner.  And we knew where everybody was.

The Magnolia Diner is in a little strip center, but the ambience was friendly, small town cafe.  You can see the owners like red.  And we don’t know who all those beautiful street rods and customs belonged to, but the wall at the entrance, by the cash register, was covered with some of the most beautiful cars I’ve ever seen.

The crowd was mixed, with some families, a lot of couples of various ages, and a bunch of folks who presumably belonged to a goodly number of motorcycles parked out front.

The  food was good, and there was lots of it. We both had the Spanish Omelette, and neither of us could finish it.

The service was so friendly and good that it was one step short of “What can I get for ya, Hon?”

   And… they weren’t afraid to play the Cutesy Card by having a big plastic magnolia blossom attached to the top of the pen you use to sign your credit card receipt.

We headed out of Magnolia on 1488 again, passing through horse farms, pastureland and lots of pine forest.

And bluebonnets.  It’s bluebonnet season in Texas, and they’re starting to really bloom.  The further west one goes, over into the Hill Country (yes, in Texas, Hill Country is capitalized), one finds entire hillsides covered with blue, interspersed with the red of the Indian paint brush.  As we got onto Hwy 290, we began to see that other phenomenon related to bluebonnet season:

The bluebonnet photo op.  One finds cars parked on the shoulder of the highway, and the fields filled with people taking photographs of their families, their grandchildren, themselves, all posed sitting surrounded by a blanket of blue flowers.  One of the best known painters of bluebonnets was probably Julian Onderdonk, a San Antonio native who studied under William Merritt Chase, then returned to eventually become known as the “father of Texas painting”.

Independence Hall, Washington-On-The-Brazos, Texas

Coming out of Chappell Hill, we saw a sign for Washington-On-The-Brazos State Park, and hung a right off the highway onto 105.  We meandered through the countryside until we came to Washington, Texas, an unincorporated area along the Brazos River in Washington County. It was founded when Texas was still a part of Mexico.  It’s often presumed to be named for Washington, DC, but a sign at the park indicates it was named for a man named Washington who settled in the area.  It only became known as Washington-On-The-Brazos after the American Civil War.  Referred to as “The Birthplace of Texas”, the settlement was the site of the Convention of 1836 and the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico.

Time, political correctness, and a changing population have slowly dimmed the importance of sites like these.  But for my generation, Washington-on-the-Brazos, San Jacinto, and the Alamo were – and still are – reminders of our Texas heritage and sources of great pride.

Downtown Brehham, on 290 Business Route

Downtown Brenham is pretty typical small town Texas.  This building caught my attention, and so far, I haven’t been able to identify what it was originally intended as.  It has a church feel to it, but doesn’t appear to be used that way today.  Just outside of town is the Blue Bell Creamery, home of the best ice cream anywhere.  They lost a few points with us though, when we discovered that even their little ice cream shop wasn’t open on Sunday.  There were several other carloads of people in the parking lot looking pretty disappointed as well.  We got over it by stopping at the Dairy Queen instead, and ordering a couple of some kind of wonderfully obscene chocolate, peanut butter and ice cream concoctions.  We’re pretty flexible that way.

Winkelmann, Texas

Either I had forgotten about it, or had never noticed it before, but Winkelmann was a delightful surprise.  This collection of old houses and stores, laid out in what could be imagined as an early Texas town, got my artistic juices flowing.  It was the brainchild of Brenham antiques dealer and developer Ray Winkelmann.  Winkelmann was a bit of a controversial figure, and apparently still is, because of his personal lifestyle.  I really don’t care about that.  I am always fascinated when someone puts together an old town like this.  This is not a false-front movie set.  These are real old houses and stores that have been relocated from somewhere else.  The sad part is that after several changes in ownership, the place has been neglected and is deteriorating.

This day trip, like the one to Galveston a couple of weeks ago, are practice runs for us… learning to slow down and reminding ourselves that there is no hurry.  This is the whole point of the adventure.  In the past, we would have flown by places like Winkelmann and said, “Oh man, what a neat old place that was.” and kept going, because we were on a schedule to get somewhere.  Instead, we are trying to learn that the schedule is flexible now.  We’re learning how much fun it is to say “Let’s go see what that is…”  And, along the way, I’m collecting a great library of reference photos for future drawings and paintings.

Back Roads and Brushes.  This is going to be cool.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. William R Moore permalink
    March 28, 2012 7:30 pm

    Ralph,
    That’s what I’m talking about. Good stuff. Looking forward to more of these side trips from the mother ship. “Downtown Brehham, on 290 Business Route”, who drove and who took the picture of the jeep? What was the jeep experience?

    • March 28, 2012 11:19 pm

      William, the jeep in the photo was total coincidence. I didn’t even notice it until I was selecting the photo for the blog. We took this drive in the Trailblazer instead of the jeep. We bought the jeep as-is, and the rear view mirror on the windshield needs to be reinstalled. Nell isn’t comfortable driving it without that mirror. I’m fine with the side mirrors, but I’m the one who shoots all the photos when we’re driving, so we just went in the Trailblazer.

  2. marianne dale permalink
    April 1, 2012 7:38 pm

    Nell Come back and get me…….I am so glad that finally one of us have escape from…….you know . I will be following your adventures.. Some day soon I too hope that I can make the great escape… Still thinking of Tyler.. but have to take care of unfinished business in Houston first… Keep in touch.. May God Bless you both and ENJOY!!!!!!!!!

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