The battle for Texas Independence happened nearly 180 years ago, but when you visit Gonzales today, you’d think it was more recent. The battle, which started here in October 1835, was a pivotal event in the shaping of the Texas mystique. And that “Come and Take It” spirit is still alive in Gonzales.
I arrive at lunchtime, and near the Gonzales County Courthouse I discover the Gonzales Food Market. Judging by the line that extends from the counter to the door, the locals appreciate the place. The sweet smell of smoke permeates the place, a business that was once a grocery store and is now more of a barbecue joint.
I order a sausage sandwich on white bread. The meat is spicy but not hot; the soft bread blends well with the creamy yellow mustard; and the sausage skin has the right amount of snap when I bite into it.
After my hearty lunch, I stroll around the downtown area where I see a collection of law offices, insurance companies, antique stores and specialty shops. The place that intrigues me most is Discovery Architectural Antiques. The store occupies several buildings and is home to architectural details harvested from old structures and presented for sale by Suzanne Kittel.
I encounter rows of stained-glass windows. Farther back, I find bins filled with antique doorknobs and hinges carefully curated so that similar pieces can be found together.
In the next room, I find well-aged beams destined to become mantels or architectural elements. Nearby, windows and doors are destined to match a historical remodel.
“My mission has always been to preserve what I could of the past—specifically, old house pieces and parts,” Kittel says. “I have always been intrigued by what might have been in an old house or who has gone through a certain door and touched a specific knob.” She says old houses interest her because she grew up in one. So in 1997, she moved from Austin and opened the store in downtown Gonzales.
Many of her customers seek a specific type of doorknob or other detail to match the features in old homes under renovation, she explains. With customers all over the United States, she admits that it’s this common passion for historical restoration that keeps her engaged.
The historical theme continues at the Gonzales Memorial Museum. The museum, built to commemorate the Texas Centennial in 1936, is small in size but grand in architecture. The building faces a reflect-ing pool, and on the opposite side is an amphitheater. The museum consists of two main rooms separated by a breezeway. One room contains mostly items of local historical significance. The other contains rare documents pertaining to the Texas battle for independence, as well as the cannon illustrated on the “Come and Take It” flag.
The site of the first shot of the Texas Revolution is a few miles outside of town near the community of Cost. Along State Highway 97, a stone marker tells the story of the revolution, but a few miles north on a county road, Texas history enthusiasts can visit the actual spot next to the Guadalupe River.
Before I leave, I head east from town to find the Houston Oak. Even though the oak itself sits on private land, you can see the tree from the county road. Under this tree in March 1836, Sam Houston regrouped with his army of volunteers, mostly men from Gonzales, and marched off to engage the Mexican army in the seminal Battle of San Jacinto that initiated Texas as a nation and still influences the state nearly 200 years later.
I stand silently at the county road and take in the significance of the spot. As I get in my truck to leave, another car stops so those inside can practice the same ritual. In Gonzales, Texas history and small-town culture run deep.
Writer and photographer Russell Graves is a member of South Plains EC.