Sometimes, a road trip is exactly what one needs. And when that wanderlust strikes, one of my favorite destinations is Marshall, about 20 miles west of the Louisiana border. I can take my time driving Interstate 20 where East Texas towns are linked like beads on a chain.
My first stop in Marshall, headquarters for Panola-Harrison Electric Cooperative, is always at the shops along the tree-shaded corridor of North Washington Avenue. Then it’s on to the Harrison County Courthouse, a butter-yellow brick building featuring Renaissance Revival architecture and eagle statues on its dome. The courthouse, built in 1901, is the centerpiece of Peter Whetstone Square and includes the Harrison County Historical Museum.
If you’re in the mood for a picnic at Marshall City Park, it’s easy to find everything you need in town, from the basket, the plates and the food to the wine and a good book to read.
The Weisman Center, on North Washington Avenue, is housed in an 1896 building that’s said to have served as the second location for Texas’ first department store. The three-story building features antiques, gifts and an art gallery. The Weisman is also home to Central Perks, a coffee bar and sandwich shop.
Across the street is Charley & Bella’s, a home décor, gift and bridal shop with huge windows featuring clever, stylish displays.
The nearby Prospero’s Book Store is named for a character in a Shakespeare play, “The Tempest,” who lost his way by reading too much. Big cozy chairs allow for comfy browsing, and shop staff are especially welcoming with an offer of coffee and a cookie.
At Under the Texas Sun, you’ll find assorted wines, wine-related gift items, gourmet foods and wine splits just begging to go on that picnic.
For more good food, follow the sidewalk to The Blue Frog Grill restaurant, which serves up sandwiches for lunch or more upscale meals at night.
On the Second Saturday of each month, street musicians and artists perform on North Washington Avenue while local farmers sell fresh produce. The square comes alive with music, street vendors, folks visiting, antique cars, food shopping and tasty meals at the downtown restaurants.
Marshall Pottery—which is recognized by the Texas Historical Commission—has been churning out crocks, mugs and pots since 1895. Kentuckian W.F. Rocker started the business because of the easy availability of white clay and water in the area; around 1905, ownership went to Sam Ellis as repayment of a $375.55 loan for a new kiln. It sold in 1997 to Italian-owned Deroma.
Located just outside the business district on Interstate 20, Marshall Pottery has 45,000 square feet of retail space and a 1-acre, outdoor pottery yard. You can watch craftsmen at work as they form and decorate ceramic items. And if you’d like an item personalized, just ask.
The Michelson Museum of Art houses the paintings, drawings and prints of Russian-American artist Leo Michelson and has added a collection of 20th century American art and some West African pieces.
If you’d like to see art in progress, try the Marshall Visual Art Center. The former commercial laundry is now home to sculptors, painters and artisans who also make their creations available for sale.
The Ginocchio Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a few blocks from downtown and includes an assortment of Victorian homes. The Ginocchio Hotel, which no longer houses overnight guests, is now occupied by several businesses. A popular landmark for well over a century, it once welcomed a number of dignitaries, including U.S. presidents.
Stay in the historic district to visit the Texas and Pacific Depot, built in 1912. Park and walk through a tunnel to reach the station of this active depot that serves Amtrak and includes a railway museum, gift shop and an observation deck that overlooks the neighborhood.
And finally, Marshall always ends the year decorated like a gaudy lady with lights lining North Washington Avenue up to and around the grand old courthouse. It and the downtown area are adorned in some 10 million twinkling lights, and festivities include hot chocolate, carriage rides, an outdoor ice skating rink and a lighted parade. Set for November 24 through January 1, the Wonderland of Lights turns even grumpy adults into wide-eyed children.
All the seasons have something great to offer in Marshall. And, though it seems I’ve just returned from this busy town, I’m feeling the need for another road trip coming on.
Marshall Convention and Visitors Bureau, (903) 935-7868,
Jan Adamson is a freelance writer based in Grand Saline.