It’s possible to stay on Interstate 20 and speed right by Tyler, Longview and Marshall on the route to Shreveport, Louisiana, but you would miss three gems of East Texas that lie just off the freeway along a 70-mile stretch of dense pines and hardwoods. No doubt originally fueled by oil wealth and the lumber and cotton industries, the fine arts museums are especially remarkable. They would make a nice tour by themselves. Be sure to check museum hours. All three towns also have elegant bed-and-breakfasts, historic homes and buildings, and antiques galore.
Traveling east on Interstate 20, take a jog south to Tyler on U.S. Highway 69, returning to the interstate via U.S. Highway 271. Tyler is known as the Rose Capital of the World, and the 14-acre Municipal Rose Garden is a must-see with its vast formal displays of All-America roses. In October, the town goes all out for the annual Texas Rose Festival, where the queen and her attendants, wearing a king’s ransom in beaded finery, reign from imaginative floats. In the rose garden complex is a museum dedicated to the Rose Festival, the gowns and Tyler’s role in the rose industry.
The Tyler Museum of Art has a permanent collection focusing on early and modern Texas artists. On an equally genteel note, one can view antebellum furniture at the Goodman Museum.
Children will enjoy several of Tyler’s other museums, including Harrold’s Model Train Museum, the Discovery Science Place, the Historic Aviation Memorial Museum and Brookshire’s World of Wildlife Museum & Country Store, which has a replica of a 1926 grocery store. And don’t forget the Caldwell Zoo. Phew. There’s more. But we must get on to Longview, which brushes I-20 on its southern edge.
Convention and Visitors Bureau: 1-800-235-5712, www.visittyler.com
Texas Rose Festival and Museum: (903) 597-3130, www.texasrosefestival.com/museum/garden.htm
Perhaps the best time to visit Longview is in July during the Great Texas Balloon Race, the state’s largest sanctioned balloon event. These magnificent inflatables are wonderful to watch on a sunny day, but even better on Friday and Saturday evenings during Balloon Glow. As the sun sets, the operators tie down their beauties and let visitors come up close to see how the balloons are fired up and inflated.
Any time of year is good for viewing historic homes and buildings downtown. And don’t forget the Gregg County Historical Museum. Also downtown is the Longview Museum of Fine Arts, which has six permanent collections.
Convention and Visitors Bureau: (903) 753-3281, www.longviewtx.com
The Great Texas Balloon Race: (903) 753-3281, www.gtbr.net
Back on I-20, proceed to Marshall, which is also just north of the freeway. Marshall is best known for its venerable pottery works, Marshall Pottery, founded in 1895. Today, it still produces wheel-thrown utilitarian gray stoneware, the only company in Texas to do so. One can be transfixed watching the artisans carefully shaping pots and bowls at their wheels. They use the same local white clay the Caddo Indians worked with. In addition to its distinctive stoneware, the pottery company puts most of its efforts these days in mass-produced earthenware flower pots, which go for a song.
The Christmas season is a good time to go to Marshall for the Wonderland of Lights when more than 125,000 lights embellish the historic courthouse, and businesses and neighborhoods also get into the act.
And then there’s the lovely Michelson Museum of Art, established in 1985 to care for the life work of Russian-American artist Leo Michelson (1887-1978). The museum has more than 1,000 paintings, drawings and prints donated by Michelson’s wife. They made their circuitous way to Marshall via Wendy Reves, a Marshall-born high-fashion model who married Winston Churchill’s publisher and made Michelson’s acquaintance—along with all the other great names of her period on the continent. The museum has two rare candid portraits of Churchill, the only ones he sat for.
Across the street from the historic courthouse, OS2 Restaurant & Pub is a great place for a fine meal. If you’re in the mood for soul food, try P&J at 506 E. Travis St.
Convention and Visitors Bureau: (903) 935-7868, ext. 12, http://visitmarshalltexas.org
Marshall Pottery: (903) 938-9201, www.marshallpotterystore.com
Kaye Northcott is editor of Texas Co-op Power.