It’s only about 40 miles, but oh, the places you’ll go—and the vast historical ground you’ll cover—when you make a day trip from Brenham to Round Top and La Grange. In truth, you’ll probably want to dawdle a day or two in each of these heritage-rich burgs to immerse yourself in the culture that has sprung from some of Texas’ deepest roots. To wander this route is to better understand where we came from, the price some paid to give us this home, and how this legacy is celebrated today.
On this route, you’ll depart Brenham on U.S. Hwy. 290 West and drive 15 miles to the Texas Hwy. 237 exit; follow 237 about 7 miles to Round Top. Upon leaving Round Top, continue south on 237 until you pick up Texas Hwy. 159 South, which will carry you right into La Grange.
Just 14 miles north of this sweet old town is Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, the best place to launch a journey into our legendary past. Deep in the cotton-rich Brazos Valley, the town of Washington served as the temporary capital of the Republic of Texas, and it’s where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed and the republic’s constitution drafted, both in 1836. I like to wander around the park’s Star of the Republic Museum time and again to read the stories of the republic’s creators and Texas’ journey to statehood.
Also on the outskirts of Brenham is the state’s answer to the nation’s sweet tooth, the Blue Bell Creamery. Home of the world’s best ice cream, it’s a delightful place to get a glimpse of how 20 million gallons are produced each year and to taste the freshest version of the frozen gold. In town, I while away an entire afternoon popping into the boutiques and antique stores stashed away in the vintage downtown buildings. At night, I’m pampered beyond reason at the lovely Ant Street Inn, with its exquisite interior renovations and spectacular breakfast the next morning.
Washington County Chamber of Commerce, 314 S. Austin St., Brenham; (979) 836-3695
Blue Bell Creameries, 1101 South Blue Bell Road, Brenham; 1-800-327-8135
Ant Street Inn, 107 W. Commerce St., Brenham; 1-800-481-1951
The moment I wheel onto the square of this minute village—population 81 and holding—I’m reminded that time can, in fact, stand still. I park and roam around Henkel Square and the adjacent Bybee Square, two collections of restored buildings from the hamlet’s earliest days. Whereas Henkel gives me a look at life a century and a half ago, Bybee houses all sorts of fabulous art galleries and gift shops in period houses. In fall and spring, antique hunters descend on town by the thousands for one of the biggest fairs in the south.
The pace is much more civilized during the classical music weekends at Festival Hill, an internationally renowned arts institute evoking European scenes. For another Central Texas history lesson, the Winedale Historical Center has a visitor’s center, a complex of restored historic structures, and a log barn converted for theatrical performances.
Round Top Chamber of Commerce, 102 E. Mill St., Round Top; 1-888-368-4783
Festival Hill, (979) 249-3129
Winedale Historical Center, (979) 278-3530
Some of the most beautiful historic buildings in the state are here in the Fayette County seat, headquarters of Fayette Electric Cooperative. I start with the magnificent Fayette County Jail, built in 1883, and continue with the remarkable 1891 county courthouse, which starred with John Travolta in the movie Michael. Also on the square is the Hermes Drug Store, the state’s oldest still in business, built in 1856. I like stopping in one of the many shops selling kolaches, that favorite among Czech pastries, before heading just south of town on scenic U.S. Hwy. 77 to the breathtaking Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites. From the brewery, I hike to the dramatic monument that tells a tragic story of Fayette County soldiers. Well before sunset, I’m apt to continue on 77 to Schulenburg to see the dear little painted churches with exquisite detailed artwork by craftsmen who came from the old countries a century ago.
La Grange Area Chamber of Commerce, 171 S. Main St., 1-800-524-7264
June Naylor wrote Texas: Off the Beaten Path.