Sometimes when you're in the midst of this crazy commotion we call life, all you want to do is step back in time when things were a little less hectic. Maybe a quiet stroll along the sidewalks nestled in front of historic buildings, actually shopping in quaint little stores or staring in through the windows from the street, dodging your reflection for a better view.
Residents peek in to say hello to the local downtown pharmacist, who still uses the same building built so long ago, and ask how his family is doing. People are genuine like that in Henderson and if they aren't there to pick up a prescription, they'll stop in and gossip. Or, they'll buzz in while on their way to the coffee shop to pick up a cup of brew or to the hardware store to pick up some necessary supplies, perhaps some nails needed to finish up that project waiting at home. Wherever they're going, they make sure to take the time to make it known that others are in their thoughts.
Henderson, Texas provides a small town, friendly atmosphere for anyone looking for something humble with a picturesque downtown square, the most in any area of East Texas, with many buildings pre-dating the Civil War.
Henderson (population 13,712) was named after James Pickney Henderson, the first governor of Texas, and is located in Rusk County. It is considered a major crossroads in Northeast Texas, with major highways passing though the business district of town. This includes four Main Streets (north, south, east, and west), all intersecting around the town square. It can get kind of confusing when you're trying to find the actual street you need, but with patience, comes reward.
Along with the Rusk County Court House, you'll find antiques, eateries, specialty coffee houses, and even a library.
A fire swept through town in 1860, burning forty-three buildings, including two hotels. Rumor has it that a union man from up north, who didn't approve of the secession, hired a woman to burn Henderson to the ground. During the woman's testimony, a mob gathered on the streets, finally pulling the man from the court house and threw a rope around his neck. Then they tied it to a saddle on a horse, which then proceeded to drag the man around the public square until his death. After the dragging, they hung him from a tree and shot him full of holes. Needless to say, I guess people should heed the state motto: "Don't Mess With Texas."
Since the time of the fire, Henderson restored the buildings to their original glory, ignoring any feelings or suggestions of modernizing. To me, that's the way it should be.
After strolling around, we decided to go to the Depot Museum, which was only a few blocks from town, where the old 1901 Missouri-Pacific Railway Depot greets its' visitors. The five-acre museum contains historic, preserved structures that tell a tale of Rusk County's earliest residents.
Below is the Mattie Trammell Schoolhouse, built in 1892, where Mattie taught young men and women the rudiments of etiquette until 1910. I wonder why they don't teach etiquette classes anymore? I believe today's adolescents would definitely benefit from such an education.
In 1841, Thomas Walling, a veteran of the Cordova Rebellion and Indian Wars, and his wife Nancy, erected this one-room log cabin. This was typical of the many pioneer farm homes in the area.
Prominent businessman and Civic Leader, John Arnold moved his family to the area in 1908. Besides the two-story home in which they lived (razed in 1966), he also built several structures on his property, including this outhouse, which was larger than most standard outhouses of its day. The outhouse was preserved to illustrate part of the lifestyle of 19th and early 20th-Century Texans. Indeed, everything is bigger in Texas!
Two potties in one outhouse! Count 'em! Also, I wonder if that was an old Sears and Roebuck catalog? Those were usually used for toilet paper back in the day.
Below are some pictures from the General Store.
Ye Olde Print Shop where the local newspaper was printed:
Need to see the doctor? Look no further than a small house containing one room, which housed the doctor's office (desk), medical cabinet, and exam table.
Below are pictures of the Cotton Gin, where the cotton was processed after being harvested and converted into bales before being shipped off.
Eli Whitney was one smart feller with this invention, and even though this gin is obviously a tad more modern than the original, it's still quite intricate in its' design. It's amazing to think about how much cotton we actually use and to see how it's processed will leave an indelible impression.
Here is the local Blacksmith and Broom Maker:
Afterwards, we decided to have a bit of lunch and there's no place better in Henderson than the well-known Hazel's Country Cookin' Restaurant. The outside of the place is humble and when you walk in, you realize that it's humble as well, but you don't go there for the looks. You go there for the food, where Hazel hollers out, "Friiiiiieeeed Greeeeeeeeeen Tommmmmmatoes!" when they're hot and ready.
A typical Texas staple is the chicken fried steak and mashed taters with cream gravy. Veggies include your choice of black-eyed peas, corn fritters, summer (yellow) squash, and fried okra. Oh, yeah, and fried green tomatoes. How could I forget? Homemade dinner rolls are also piping hot, glossed with melted butter. You wind up wanting to lick your fingers instead of using a napkin, but I bet Mattie Trammell and her etiquette teachings would frown upon such nonsense.
It's impossible not to feel as if you're at home because it's not uncommon for Hazel to grab herself a plate, fill it up, and sit with a few diners, striking up a conversation as if she's known you all your life.
Let me tell y'all that this was some of the best food I've ever eaten in a restaurant. The only thing better would be if your mother or grandmother made it themselves. I left there with a full belly and a warm smile on my face. The corn fritters were to die for and I had dreams of them that night!
Henderson is definitely worth it and a great day-trip for the whole family to enjoy. The people are welcoming and friendly. Like Hazel, they'll act as if they've known you all your lives and are sincere when they ask, "How y'all doin'?" In all honesty, they really want to know because they care. They don't call it southern hospitality for nothing and this town wrote the book.
I can't wait to go back!
Next week: New London, Texas, the town that exploded into the hearts of people worldwide.
As a side note, the week of August 12th, I'll be including towns in New England. Fortunately, I found all of the photographs I took while I lived there.