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Hit the Road

The Life of Bryan

Historic downtown contrasts nearby College Station

Century-old buildings set against a backdrop of period-style streetscapes differentiates Bryan’s historic district from neighboring College Station.

“I often describe downtown Bryan as the community’s living room. It’s a place where friends gather and visitors relax,” said Sandy Farris, executive director of the Downtown Bryan Association.

The city of just under 80,000 developed as a center of commerce when the Houston & Central Texas Railroad reached the community in the 1860s. Texas A&M University opened in 1876 south of Bryan. The area around the train depot west of the campus was named College Station and became a city in its own right.

Arriving just past noon, I walked along South Main Street. There are no high-rise or modern buildings. Just past the renowned LaSalle Hotel, completed in 1928, I came to Proudest Monkey, a busy little restaurant featuring tacos and burgers. I went inside and sat at a high-top table.

I ordered the Pulled Hammy Taco with pulled pork, cabbage slaw, grilled onions, cotija cheese and barbecue sauce. The friendly service and upbeat atmosphere made for a welcome bonus.

I continued along Main Street and found Southern Grace. Restored furnishings sparkled with pearl and rhinestone jewelry. Scarves and home accessories along with Texas A&M souvenirs filled every nook.

Farther along North Main Street, I entered Bird’s Nest Gifts & Antiques. I marveled at clever displays of country-inspired accessories and decorative accents fashioned in a creative labyrinth.

I continued on, slowing to admire window displays. On West 26th Street, I stopped at Brazos Glassworks. As I looked at intricately made jewelry and decorative plaques, co-owner Debbie Jasek told me everything in the store is designed and made by artists in the United States and Canada. “We also make a lot of the items in the shop and offer art classes,” she said.

My wandering continued to Corner of Time Antiques & Collectible Mall on North Bryan Avenue before I headed back to Main Street and stopped at the Chocolate Gallery with its baked goods and fine chocolate.

Just a minute’s walk away, at Catalena Hatters, hundreds of cowboy hats lined one wall. I watched as Scott Catalena shaped and sized a cowboy hat. Using steam, he expertly refined the hat before embedding a crease down the center.

Even though I was enjoying my leisurely exploration, I also wanted to see the three museums beyond the historic downtown.

I first headed for The Children’s Museum of the Brazos Valley to see what it offers little explorers. I found a variety of activities, including digging for dinosaur bones, shopping for groceries, exploring a spaceship and reporting for the fictional Brazos News.

Next I drove to Brazos Valley African American Museum, where I met curator Wayne Sadberry. “We have an oral history of Bryan and College Station residents,” he said as he started an oral-history video. I listened as African-American men and women described their lives, church, family and work in the mid-1900s.

The museum honors Texas politicians, authors and artists. It also fosters support for the community, said Velma Spivey, the director. The museum hosts community events and ongoing projects such as collecting school supplies for area children in need.

At the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History, I found interpretations of prehistoric life in mineral samples, dinosaur bones and ice age fossils. Displays on cotton harvests, cattle drives and frontier weaponry represent more recent Republic of Texas and early Brazos County history.

The Discovery Room features living displays of the natural world, starting with an inside view of a beehive. Other displays present turtles, fish, tarantulas and scorpions for close-up (and safe) viewing.

I felt welcome in Bryan and enjoyed the laid-back, comfortable feeling of the city. I’m sure I’ll be back to this “community’s living room.”

Marilyn Jones lives in Henderson and writes about travel.