About midway through the Brazos River’s 850-mile southwesterly trip from the Texas South Plains to the Gulf of Mexico, the river’s central section flirts with some of the state’s history-haunted hamlets. Fate didn’t ignore these towns, surrounded today by gently rolling farmland, and neither should you. Each has a story or two to tell; study them on a simple, 85-mile route from Waco to Bryan on Texas Highway 6, pausing along the way in Marlin and Calvert.
Consider that Waco was once a wild and woolly place nicknamed Six Shooter Junction, thanks to its Chisholm Trail cattle-drive days, and you’ll appreciate the irony that it’s home now to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. The oldest law-enforcement agency in the state is immortalized in exhibits pertaining to investigations, equipment and heroes since its founding in 1837, including one on Bonnie and Clyde featuring, among other things, weapons the fugitive pair had possessed. Football, the king of pastimes in Texas, plays a big part at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, which honors former Dallas Cowboys Coach Tom Landry, of course, as well as boxer George Foreman, basketball star Sheryl Swoopes and almost 300 other Texas greats. My favorite place in town is the soda fountain inside the Dr Pepper Museum, where I sip a handmade Dr Pepper float after touring the old bottling company where Texas’ most famous elixir was once made with artesian spring water.
Waco Tourist Information Center, exit 335B on Interstate 35; 1-800-922-6386 or (254) 750-8696
Dr Pepper Museum, 300 S. Fifth St., Waco; (254) 757-1025
Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, 100 Texas Ranger Trail, Waco; (254) 750-8631
Texas Sports Hall of Fame, 1108 S. University Parks Dr., Waco; (254) 756-1633
Drive about 25 miles from Waco to the seat of Falls County, which came to some fame in the early 1890s when hot mineral waters were discovered during the search for an artesian well. For half a century, Marlin enjoyed prosperity as a health center as folks traveled to town for a multitude of hot-water therapies. Although the Bethesda Bathhouse, Majestic Bathhouse and Imperial Hotel no longer bring such pilgrims to Marlin, you can still see vestiges of the heyday’s grandness. Restored and open again, the Palace Theatre functions today as a venue for fashion shows, concerts, recitals, films and plays.
Palace Theatre, 133 Heritage Row, Marlin; (254) 803-2507
Marlin Chamber of Commerce, 245 Coleman St., Marlin; (254) 803-3301
Another 30 miles along Texas 6, Calvert’s downtown looks as though not a moment has passed in at least 75 years. Right on Main Street, you can pick up a handmade pastry at Zamykal Kolaches, a small bakery where owner Jody Price makes some 18-20 dozen kolaches daily from the recipe her Czech grandmother left behind. Grab a few to munch on while you take a driving tour of the town’s historic district; be sure to see the Calvert Inn, a magnificent 1906 home made of native cypress and featuring double-gallery porches. Operating now as a lovely bed-and-breakfast, its interior is decorated with crystal chandeliers and eight fireplaces. Private bedrooms bear every sort of luxury. Book a stay and be spoiled by chocolate-chip pancakes or eggs Sardou in the morning.
Calvert Chamber of Commerce, 300 S. Main St., Calvert; (979) 364-2559
Just 30 more miles down Texas 6, the wonderful row of beautifully restored buildings comprising downtown Bryan is one of the better-kept secrets in the state. Shops include those selling a wonderful variety of goods, just as a proper downtown should. There’s a children’s museum, as well as the Carnegie Center of Brazos Valley History, the latter inside the 1903 Carnegie Library. I’m crazy about the La Salle Hotel, a 1928 inn that’s been recently and lovingly renovated and reopened. Next door, Doe’s Eat Place serves one of the best T-bone steaks I’ve tasted; be sure to order yours with a side of fried sweet potatoes.