We've been spending three nights, rather than one or two, at each stop, and find this rhythm to our liking. We have time to sightsee and catch up on our paperwork and don't feel that we're setting up shop quite so often. Since we've taken to bringing in an extra table and chair for our books and computers, setup takes a little longer.
Somehow we were less aware of spring in San Antonio, but there's no denying it further north. We've had every color of wildflower, and lovely spring weather, getting up into the low seventies during the day. We traveled northeast out of Waco, through Tyler, and gradually the countryside changed from central Texas to East Texas, with fewer ranches and more farms, and more pine trees and lakes and creeks and even a swamp or two. You're always on some Texas Trail, it seems, and this was the Texas Lakes Trail, aptly named. We saw more goats, fewer cows, and enjoyed the farm with one each of burro, llama and ostrich sharing a paddock.
The smaller country towns are not lasting; the downtowns are boarding up, the old turn-of-the-century brick banks being replaced by modern drive-through banks and ATMs, the small stores and restaurants barely making it. The larger towns are doing well, though, with people moving in, and plenty of business in stores and courthouses. We guess the young people are leaving the small towns and moving to the larger towns or to the big cities, where they can find jobs and excitement.
Tyler counts as one of the larger towns, and we stopped to walk through the famous Rose Gardens (rose growing is a major Tyler industry). Only a Spyrea - Tyler Rose Garden few of the 48,000 rose bushes were in bloom, but a month from now, watch out!! For the early spring visitors like us, though the garden had some nice displays of azaleas and camellias. We enjoyed the Idea Garden of locally thriving plants, and then walked through the rows of rose bushes. We did not tour the Rose Museum, but the twenty-minute walk gave us a chance to stretch our legs.
Further to the north and east, there were lots of mixed forests, with white splashes of dogwoods and big splotches of lavender-colored wisteria, sometimes surmounting several adjacent trees and telephone poles.
There must still be some ranching going on, because there was a table full of cowmen, dressed in ten-gallon hats, and dirty working boots with spurs, in our lunch place -- the Country Cafe in Gilmer, Texas. We continue to marvel at why horseback is an economical way to raise cattle. We know they drove to lunch in their pickup trucks!
Texarkana lies in both Texas and Arkansas. State Line Blvd is exactly that: the road which divides the two states. After taking a short driving tour through the admittedly not thriving downtown, we toured The Ace Of Clubs House. We weren't expecting much, but we were pleasantly surprised and happy to recommend a visit to you.
According to local legend, the home was built with profits from a poker game. Certainly anybody looking down at the house from above could see that it is built in the shape of an Ace of Clubs -- three octagonal wings and a fourth, rectangular one. The original owner, who designed the building, was a Wisteria - Tyler Rose Garden volatile and exuberant man who never lingered long in any one place. He and his family only lived in the house about two years, in the 1880s. They sold it to Henry Moore, a lawyer and businessman, and three generations of his family occupied the home for ninety years, then donated it to the city as a museum.
The tour begins with a video giving the history of the families, then our guide led us through the many rooms, most of which have been carefully restored by museum staff and local volunteers. Henry Moore III, in his seventies, still carries on the family business and resides in Texarkana, and has advised the staff on how the house was kept. He has supplied his childhood books and toys and some clothing to furnish his childhood bedroom. Other items are either donated to the museum or on loan from the family.
The architecture is quite remarkable. The building consists of three floors and a cupola. The basement is about four feet below ground level, and is surrounded by a dry moat with stairs leading down to basement doors and windows. The first floor, about five feet above ground level, has 14 foot ceilings, and a stunning staircase winds around the central atrium to the second floor, with 16 foot ceilings. The cupola sits atop the atrium, and in the summer the servants had to climb up on ladders from the second floor rooftops to open the cupola windows. Then the rising hot air would pull in a cool draft of underground air from the dry moat into the basement and up through the house.
Texarkana has a mild climate, which is a good thing, for the Ace of Clubs has no fireplaces, and space heaters were used until the Moores remodeled the home and put in steam radiators.
The Moores were one of the wealthiest families in Texarkana, and Mrs Olivia Moore, the wife of Henry II, purchased a number of farms in the surrounding countryside. (In fact, the family now owns the only crawfish farm in Arkansas.) Olivia was widowed early, and turned out to be an excellent businesswoman, who continued to live the high life in Texarkana.
What high life? you might ask, but Olivia liked to shop in Neiman-Marcus for all her clothing, and in New Orleans for the lovely antiques she purchased for the Ace of Clubs. When she died in 1985 and left the home to the city, it included some 500 pairs of shoes in Neiman-Marcus shoe boxes. Apparently none of the women in the family had her shoe size, so they're on display on the second floor. This house would be an interesting place to visit if you were a historian of shoes! The styles range from 1920s to 1980s, and none of them were worn out! There was plenty of additional family clothing to View of octagonal wing see -- rhinestone buckles, alligator leather, polka dot dresses, lace gowns, suede -- you name it.
Our tour guide told us that Neiman-Marcus would send a truck out with possible purchases; Olivia would select what she wanted and the truck would return to Dallas. At other times she and her daughter would travel to Dallas, take a suite at a grand hotel close to the store, and spend three or four days shopping. The Moores entertained frequently and kept a large staff of servants, most of whom were dayworkers, although at some times a cook and a chauffeur lived in a coach house behind the Ace of Clubs. Jay Gould was an important guest a hundred years ago.
The neighborhood has clearly gone down over the decades, but the museum staff has done and is doing an extraordinary job with the premises. First of all, they raised money and restored the house, sending away for the real linoleum flooring in the kitchen (the guide said you can only get linoleum made in Scotland these days) and $80 a roll wallpaper, but a lot of furnishings are original. With all the antiques, it's hard to be an expert on everything. The man who restored and cleaned the two chandeliers believed they were Baccarat. The staff plans to continue to do research on the family and their life and lifestyle, to complement and enhance their understanding ot this most unusual building and its history. Our guide may also be the museum director; she was very interested and challenged by the job of managing this unusual building.
Our second day in Texarkana we visited the Post Office and Federal Courthouse, which straddles the state line, and had our picture taken with one foot in each state. As we were coming out, we spied two TV camerapersons, who followed and photographed a lone man emerging from the courthouse, getting in his car and driving off. This was Dr. Naples, just indicted along with six others in Texarkana for an insurance and Medicare scam billing for podiatric procedures not performed. Check it out on the web if you're interested!
We saw the largest magnolia tree in the State of Arkansas, and took a walk around Spring Lake, talking to families and enjoying the ducks and geese. Then we went to Bryce's Cafeteria for lunch.
Cafeterias are popular in the South Central states -- we used to eat at Piccadilly when we lived in Baton Rouge. They're also filled with overweight customers. Bryce's Cafeteria had some good advertising, featuring these comments: The New Yorker magazine calls Bryce's "One of the best cafeterias in the South"...But maybe the Chicago Tribune said it best: "Bryce's Cafeteria may have better food for the money than any place on earth."
We should have known it was too good to be true. The food was greasy and peppery, and not as good country cooking as we routinely get at Cracker Barrel -- a well-known chain restaurant. But we did have a good healthy lunch the day before at Subway (Bob is partial to the veggie delight meatless sandwich), and we'd recommend Texarkana just to visit the Ace of Clubs.