I read original Civil War letters and saw the last known original of a Gen. Robert E. Lee photo that carries his double signature. I stood mere feet from alligators. I strolled the grounds of a glorious green, 100-acre arboretum, inhaling the perfume-sweet smell of gardenias.
And I learned something very important about myself on this tour through Northeast Texas: I do like fruitcake, now that I’ve sampled one from the world-famous Collin Street Bakery.
Our journey starts in Corsicana, home of Navarro County Electric Cooperative, heading northeast on State Highway 31 and then northwest on State Highway 198 for about a 35-mile drive to Gun Barrel City. From there, it’s about 20 miles to Athens, traveling east on State Highway 334 and then southeast on U.S. Highway 175.
Navarro College is home to the Pearce Collections, composed of a Civil War museum and a Western art museum that occupy the Cook Center.
I visually devoured the Pearce Western Art Museum and was especially drawn to a Howard Terpning Native American painting called “Grandfather Speaks.” But the real payoff came in the Pearce Civil War Museum, which boasts more than 15,000 original items.
The collection includes a letter from President Lincoln to his sister and ones written by Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant.
More 1800s history is found at Pioneer Village, a collection of original Navarro County log structures that were disassembled and rebuilt on site.
Now about that fruitcake. I couldn’t leave town without seeing—or tasting—what all the fuss is about at Collin Street Bakery on West Seventh Avenue, in its third location since originally opening in 1896 on Collin Street. The bakery has a second store nearby at Interstate 45 and U.S. 287. I sampled the moist apricot fruitcake and wondered why I’d ever feared this confection.
Corsicana Chamber of Commerce, (903) 874-4731, www.corsicana.org
The Pearce Collections, 1-800-988-5317, www.pearcecollections.us
Collin Street Bakery, 1-800-292-7400, www.collinstreet.com
Gun Barrel City
Nope, there’s no dramatic Western history behind this name. Rather, Gun Barrel City, a growing town of 6,000-plus, gets its name from Gun Barrel Lane, a road that connected Mabank and Seven Points. Gun Barrel Lane, now State Highway 198, merely refers to the straightness of the road, and the town’s motto is “We shoot straight with you.”
Still, Gun Barrel City is such a cool name that a restaurant in Jackson, Wyoming, the Gun Barrel Steak & Game House, took its name from the town.
Gun Barrel City is bordered on the south and west by Cedar Creek Reser-voir and banks its tourism efforts on this lake that measures about 220 miles from point to point.
Gun Barrel City Hall, (903) 887-1087, www.gunbarrelcity.net
Never fished before? That’s all right. They’ll show you how and even furnish the fishing pole and bait at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center operated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Kids and adults fish for trout, catfish, bass and sunfish. It’s catch and release, except for special times of the year.
In addition to a production fish hatchery, the center has glass-enclosed ponds and aquariums that depict life in Texas’ rivers, streams and reservoirs.
Protected by thick glass, you can stand near a pair of alligators sunning themselves beside a pond. But the image that stuck with me is that of 20-pound blue and channel catfish slamming themselves against a chest-high glass wall, their mouths above water and open wide as buckets, as they fought for food flung out by visitors.
I’m also carrying images of scarlet-red, pink, blue, magenta, violet, yellow and orange flowers in my mind after visiting the East Texas Arboretum and Botanical Society. Flowers, trees and shrubs blanket the ample grounds that include two miles of trails.