Tucked away in North Texas, southwest of Wichita Falls and past endless fields and countless mesquite trees, Archer City appears at first glance to be little more than a place to stop on the way to someplace else. But don’t be deceived. Stay a spell, and discover the historic and literary riches in this enduring community of roughly 1,900.
Archer City’s bread and butter is deeply rooted in the oil and ranching industries, but the abundance of wild game in the area draws hunters from around the state. And the legacy of the town’s most notable son, author Larry McMurtry, attracts history buffs and lovers of literature alike.
Coming into town on State Highways 79 or 25, you can’t miss the solitary red stoplight on Main Street, constantly blinking at a steady pace that seems to mark the passage of time. Keeping that same tempo, head for the square and McMurtry’s four warehouses-turned-bookstore, Booked Up, which houses around 400,000 secondhand and rare books. McMurtry’s admiration of the written word in all genres has made Archer City a must-see destination for book collectors and enthusiasts.
A stone’s throw to your west, you’ll find Lonesome Dove Inn, a homey retreat for fans of all things Texas. In 1998, owner Mary Slack Webb and her sister, Ceil Slack Cleveland, bought the building that formerly housed a 12-patient Archer County hospital and turned it into a bed-and-breakfast, with six rooms in the main house and three rooms in a neighboring expansion.
As her lifelong friend and regular guest, McMurtry gave Webb permission to name the inn after his most famous, Pulitzer Prize-winning work. She took it a step further, naming rooms after his books, such as Terms of Endearment, Cadillac Jack and Desert Rose. The Cadillac Jack room doubles as the Angela Kinsey room. Kinsey, formerly of Archer City, plays Angela Martin-Lipton on the popular TV show “The Office.” Before Webb bought the building, it belonged to Kinsey’s parents as their home, and as a teenager, she lived in the room that now bears her name.
Nearby, the Spur Hotel, owned by rancher Abby Abernathy, offers yet another inviting getaway. With Abernathy’s mantra of “down the road from ordinary,” the 12 rooms are draped in Texas-chic décor and offer a range of styles and sizes.
No stay is complete without a little Texas-sized comfort food, which The Iron Trail Steak House offers via hearty cowboy cooking: steaks, mashed potatoes and chicken-fried steaks, to name a few. The restaurant is only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, and reservations are recommended.
Head east on Main Street, and you’ll land right in front of a pale-blue marquee announcing the Royal Theater, a renovated, historical snapshot of Archer City’s past. The theater was a focal point in McMurtry’s semi-autobiographical book-turned-famous-film “The Last Picture Show” and its sequel, “Texasville.”
Archer County Judge Gary Beesinger was a senior in high school when “The Last Picture Show” was filmed and had a small role in a scene playing basketball with Jeff Bridges’ and Timothy Bottoms’ characters. He remembers a time when friends were not allowed to read the controversial book or watch the film because of its stark depiction of small-town life.
The theater building—which housed a local movie theater before a fire gutted the interior in 1965—was vacant and in shambles by the 1990s when Abernathy, Beesinger and a group of other volunteers set out to revamp the beloved landmark. It reopened in 2000 as a performing arts center, and each year, the theater hosts an array of plays and concerts, as well as a variety show modeled after Nashville’s famed “Grand Ole Opry” called “Texasville Opry.”
For outsiders, many quaint, captivating attractions draw them into town. But for locals, it’s just the place they call home.
Freelance writer Kate Hull lives in Austin.