Living the History of Texas

By Courtney Drake-McDonough

Vast stretches of sky meet sprawling expanses of land in Texas. In Brenham, 70 miles west of Houston, it’s not unusual to drive miles with lines of split rail fencing speeding by, framing undulating, impossibly green pastures dotted with livestock. It’s also the place to get lively history lessons, smell fragrant heritage roses and sample top notch ice cream. Whether travelling with children or without, there’s something for everyone.

Where to stay for a real Texas experience:

Claim some space to call your own in one of nine historic houses at Texas Ranch Life learning what it’s like to really live on a ranch. Fish, ride horses, help with a cattle drive, shoot skeet, throw tomahawks or just relax with pastures of horses and longhorn cattle in view. Because the guest houses have full kitchens, you can rustle up your own grub or partake of BBQ or a steak dinner provided by the Ranch.

For a taste of Texas elegance, charm and luxury, close to shopping and dining in historic downtown Brenham, the Ant Street Inn has just 15 very spacious rooms off of a central hallway with parlour seating that invites visiting with your fellow guests. Unique antiques, soaking tubs and gorgeous colors make each room distinct. Fortify for the day ahead with a delicious breakfast in the hotel’s own Brenham Grill.

Where to breathe deeply:

Literally stop and smell the roses and discover some inner peace (and a few gardening tips) at the Antique Rose Emporium. Give yourself plenty of time to stroll the expansive gardens, discovering arbors, cottages and charming seating areas. The art of gardening as a whole is the focus of the Emporium although special attention is given to antique rose varieties, some hundreds of years old that might not have the perfect beauty of more modern varieties but are heady with beautiful fragrances that haven’t been bred out.

Which road to take? They’re both charming and lush at the Antique Rose Emporium. Photo by Courtney Drake-McDonough

Chappel Hill Lavender Farm Come May-June or August-October when the lavender is in bloom, grab a basket and pruners and trim yourself a bouquet of lavender among purple fields on this sprawling property. Stop in the charming shop to glory in lavender products, most made on-site, like lavender sachets to slip under your pillow, lotions, soaps and teas.

Where to see how it’s done:

Behind-the-scenes tours are always interesting. Getting generous samples of ice cream at the end make the experience all the better. Whether Blue Bell Creameries ice cream is available in your neck of the woods yet or not, seeing room after room of shiny tubes, conveyer belts and vessels being expertly worked by staffers is impressive. Learn about the multi-generational family’s business philosophy, creative process and the finished product in the tasting room at the end of the tour. It’s hard work figuring out your favorite flavor, but somebody’s got to do it.

Where to be inspired by music:

Experience live music, primarily classical but also other styles, in the beautifully-designed Round Top Festival Institute. During warm weather, stroll the acres of grounds and picnic before performances. There are performances year-round but summertime focuses on concerts by Institute students-in-residence who compete to be part of the highly-acclaimed program founded by renowned pianist James Dick.

Where to make history come to life:

Walk the dirt roads history-makers walked, be regaled with stories of conflict and urgency to declare Texas’ independence from Mexico with battles looming at Washington On the Brazos State Historic Park.

Although it’s a replica, you can feel the history of what happened in Independence Hall at Washington On the Brazos State Historic Park. Photo by Courtney Drake-McDonough

Further your education at the Star of the Republic Museum (literally star-shaped) on Park property before getting a glimpse of what life was like at the Barrington Living History Farm with guides and interpreters running the home and working the land as it was done 150 years ago. Visitors are encouraged to participate in daily activities to gain a better understanding of life back then.

Through good times and bad, Barrington Living History Farm still stands. Photo by Courtney Drake-McDonough

Regardless of your party affiliation, the presidential libraries are interesting places to visit. The George Bush Presidential Library, honoring “41’s” life and presidency is no exception, especially because it touches on father/son presidencies. The replica of the Oval Office is the big draw, letting visitors place themselves in the hot seat, taking pretty presidential-looking selfies.

Stop into Must Be Heaven for a filling meal or just for a filling piece of pie, like their popular “Sawdust” pie, actually made with coconut and pecan. Photo by Courtney Drake-McDonough

Where to get your grub on:

Walking up to the door of R Place, you wouldn’t be too surprised to find great BBQ inside this general-store-themed restaurant, open only on the weekends. But you would be surprised to find elegant dining happening on Saturday nights. Locals know that whatever owner Randy Rogers cooks up for that night’s multi-course, prix fixe dinner will be delicious.

Feel like you’re being let in on a great secret when eating at Nathan’s BBQ located at the back of a convenience store owned by Nathan. Folks in-the-know, know it’s there and also know to head around back for the official entrance to partake of authentic, pit-smoke ribs, brisket, pork and chicken, served with sauces and sides from old family-recipes.

The “Sawdust Pie” at Must Be Heaven is one of those things people talk about for years, saying “I remember this one time when I was down in Texas and I had this pie…” As if to ensure you don’t forget about having a slice of “Sawdust,” or any of their other pies, the display case is the first thing you see before ordering any of the other, downhome meals. Wear your eating pants for this one and then walk it off downtown, where there are cute shops and plenty of friendly folks to talk to.

Let Brenham County, Texas stretch out before you, offering good food, good stories, good people and good times.

The wall says it all. Brenham is a proud place, with good reason. Photo by Courtney Drake-McDonough

Courtney Drake-McDonough is a Colorado-based writer, editor and photographer who writes about restaurants, theater and travel for

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