When I was a girl, my family took a lot of trips—long and short—and the memory of a town with wonderful houses was always a standout. So recently, when I felt the need for a road trip, I decided to revisit Waxahachie and see if it was what I remembered.
Well, it wasn’t exactly, but what I found was a wonderful real-life course in architecture. Waxahachie, about 30 miles south of Dallas, is proud of its history and shows it off to visitors.
Its hub is an attractive town square featuring the Ellis County Courthouse, a massive red sandstone landmark. The courthouse was designed by architect J. Riely Gordon, who incorporated the Richardsonian Romanesque style created by architect H.H. Richardson. The building once sported Gordon’s patented cooling system in which the clock tower, open at the top, and double-hung windows helped provide “air conditioning.”
Gordon also was known for working ornamental faces into his architecture. The carvings on the Ellis County building are the stuff of a fun and popular fable that goes something like this: The Italian stonemason hired to create the faces made them beautiful while his relationship with a landlady’s daughter was going well—and the faces’ expressions turned grotesque as the relationship soured.
The downtown square also offers an assortment of shops and restaurants that make for outstanding browsing. The Dove’s Nest is worth a good long study, filled with trendy, “shabby chic” items, rugs and antiques. The shop also includes a restaurant of the same name, serving sandwiches, salads, soups and more hearty fare.
Old Town Village Antiques & Uniques is housed in an old JCPenney building and has three floors of antiques. Just down the street is the Rogers Hotel. Built around 1912, the hotel is full of stories of hauntings and supposedly once hosted Bonnie and Clyde. It has a few guest rooms but now mainly houses offices and the After Hours Improv Theater, including a comedy show and a murder-mystery dinner theater.
For serious Texas-style dining, try the College Street Restaurant and Pub, noted for the mouth-watering Joe’s Famous French Burger; and Oma’s Jiffy Burger, a self-described hole-in-the-wall burger house that has become a city tradition.
Just a few blocks from downtown is the Rogers Street Bridge, manufactured by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company in Ohio and shipped by rail to Waxahachie. Assembled on site, it has become an important part of the town’s hiking and biking trails.
Items of historical importance are collected in one of the town’s charming older buildings on the square. The Ellis County Museum has a wide assortment of artifacts—old signs, a collection of fans, dolls, stereopticons and more—something for just about everyone.
I may have most enjoyed Waxahachie’s self-guided historical trail, which is marked by signs to help you find your way past some of the most impressive and varied architectural renovations around. There are stylish Victorian “Painted Lady” homes and prairie-style and old Southern shotgun houses—named supposedly because you could fire a shotgun from the front door and the shot would sail out the backdoor without touching anything in the house.
The historical trail begins in Getzendaner Park, 33 acres of beauty along Waxahachie Creek with large, mature trees overhanging areas for walking, biking and picnicking. The park is also home to the city’s Chautauqua Auditorium, a facility in the circus-tent shape and style typical of other Chautauqua buildings. The windows’ wooden shutters are thrown open when the building is in use. The Chautauqua movement began at Lake Chautauqua, New York, in 1874 as a summer retreat for the training of Sunday school teachers. By 1880, the Chautauqua platform had become a national forum for open discussion of public issues, international relations, literature and science.
Each spring, Waxahachie hosts the Scarborough Renaissance Festival. For summer enjoyment, there’s the annual Gingerbread Trail Historic Home Tour and Arts and Crafts Show and fun and excitement at two nearby attractions: Lake Waxahachie and the Texas Motorplex, which offers professional drag-racing events.
In the fall, you can get scared silly at the SCREAMS Halloween Theme Park. And the holiday season features a Candlelight Christmas Home Tour and Bethlehem Revisited, a life-size reconstruction of the biblical village spread over almost an entire city block. Evening performances include village shops, residents and livestock.
My childhood memories of Waxahachie may not have been spot-on, but now I’ve made a whole new assortment of memories.
Jan Adamson is a freelance writer based in Grand Saline.