Be sure to set aside a full day (or maybe even two) for this 95-mile trip from Decatur to Wichita Falls. There are plenty of museums and monuments that you will surely want to see, plus places where you might want to stay for the night. From Decatur, home of Wise Electric Cooperative, take U.S. Highway 380 and State Highway 114 west to U.S. Highway 281 and then follow it northwest to Windthorst (pronounced WIND-HORST). Stay on U.S. Highway 281 north to Wichita Falls.
Judging by all the new buildings springing up, you can see why this place is one of the state’s fastest-growing cities. Experts have called the Wise County Courthouse, a pink granite structure built in 1896, “architecturally perfect.” Interiors include Vermont marble, original woodwork and beautiful iron staircases. Tours can be arranged on weekdays.
Across the street, book a room at Abbercromby Penthouse Suites, a quaint Victorian-era bed and breakfast. Ask for the City Slicker suite, which sports floor-to-ceiling western decor. In the morning, go to the Classic Antique Revival shop downstairs for your hearty breakfast. Try some java from the Decatur Coffee Company, which also operates out of the same shop.
Other shops in the square are worth visiting, as is the Wise County Heritage Museum. Tucked in the building that once housed the state’s first junior college, Northwest Texas Baptist College, see the area’s pioneers as well as an entire room devoted to the Texas Lost Battalion: men of the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, 36th Division (Texas National Guard) who were Japanese prisoners of war for more than three years without the government even knowing—until World War II ended.
Wise County Courthouse, (940) 627-5743, www.decaturtx.org/history.html#courthouse
Abbercromby Penthouse Suites, (940) 627-7005
Wise County Heritage Museum, (940) 627-5586, www.wisehistory.com
There are more than dairy farms in this little town of 474 people once famed as the Dairy Capital of North Texas. Just off U.S. Highway 281 is a treasure of Texas history. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, originally erected in 1893 with the present structure built in 1925, is tucked away in a corner by the Windthorst schools. Before you walk up the steps to the redbrick building, take a moment to pause in the separate half-dome grotto, which houses a statue of the Virgin Mary cradling the infant Jesus. Green stalactites hang above, and rows of candles flicker in the breeze. The grotto is made of sunstone and holds bits of glass and shiny rocks that glitter in the sunlight. Hanging inside the granite-floored dome is a framed needlepoint of stars containing 56 blue and eight silver—the number of World War II veterans from the town who sent part of their military pay home to build the grotto.
Pause to light a candle and then make the short trek up to the church itself, admiring the well-manicured garden along the way. Once inside, bask in the glow of the magnificent stained glass windows and gaze upon the high, uniquely vaulted ceilings.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church, (940) 423-6687, www.stmary-stboniface.org
Stay the course, and it will take you directly to this culture-filled city situated between the South Plains and the Piney Woods. Downtown, you’ll find the world’s smallest skyscraper that stands only 40 feet tall. According to local legend, an oil man/promoter drew up the plans to lure investors, not telling them it was scaled in inches instead of feet. He raked in $200,000 in that misrepresentation. Access to the skyscraper is through an antique shop called the Antique Wood.
Also downtown are plenty of museums to check out. Go to the Kemp Center for the Arts, the center of the art community for the Wichita Falls area. Originally built in 1917, the center features an outdoor sculpture garden and frequent arts performances.
If it’s a hot day, cool off at the Waterfall. Completed in 1986, this 54-foot manmade falls replaced the original falls that washed away long ago. Stand in the mist for a while and then enjoy the miles of landscaped and lighted all-weather walking trails. The trails lead to the 170-acre Lucy Park, which has pavilions and the Lucy Land playground.