Sunday, January 31, 2016 - by Ann N. Yungmeyer
In the early 1800s, a number of Tennesseans were among the many adventurers from southern states who immigrated to Texas, seeking a fresh start. A familiar slogan arose in some communities where families left a sign over their doorstep reading GTT, meaning, “Gone to Texas.”
I was reminded of Texas history and its ties to Tennessee during my recent visit to the quaint town of Brenham, the seat of Washington County. The popular country music song “T for Texas, T for Tennessee” (originally recorded in 1927 by Jimmie Rodgers) played in my head as stories of Tennesseans were recounted, particularly the roles of Davy Crockett and Sam Houston in Texas’ fight for freedom from Mexico.
Houston moved to Texas after having been governor of Tennessee from 1828 to 1830, and he was a major general in the Texas Army. He then became the first elected president of the new Republic of Texas in 1836.
Crockett had served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before heading to Texas. He played a major role and is believed to have been killed in the dramatic Battle of the Alamo.
As the official birthplace of Texas, Washington County offers many historic attractions including Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site. The state park features a rustic building that is a replica of Independence Hall where on March 2, 1836, the 59 delegates of the pioneer settlements braved the approaching army of Mexican General Santa Anna to sign a declaration of independence.
After the declaration was signed, even as the majority of settlers were fleeing the area, the delegates stayed behind and created a constitution for the new sovereign nation – the Republic of Texas. The short-lived nation lasted 10 years before it became the 28th U.S. state. Its rich history and culture (from 1836–1846) are attractively presented at the Star of the Republic Museum, part of the State Historic Site. Nearby, the Barrington Living History Farm recreates 1850s pioneer life with costumed interpreters and livestock at the home and cotton farm of the last president of the Republic, Dr. Anson Jones.
In addition to learning about history in the Lone Star State, visitors to this part of Texas will find small towns and villages to explore, museums and cultural attractions, wineries and a good dose of cowboy culture.
The historic city of Brenham is a favorite destination with a walkable downtown, local theatre, bed and breakfasts and eclectic restaurants. Brenham offers a “Step into the Past Tour” at the city’s new Visitor Center, highlighting the restored 1920s Simon Theatre, a Heritage Museum, Glissman Drug Store Museum, and antique stonework at a cistern used for firefighting in the 19th century – a Texas Archeological Landmark.
A variety of attractive boutiques invite browsing and shopping in downtown Brenham. Look for genuine cowhide rugs at Ranch Interiors, ladies’ fashion at Fancy That, stained glass windows, ironwork and old louvered doors at Today & Yesterday Antiques. The General Store is fun for all ages, and Bliss Candy Company is a must for truly artisanal confections.
Cotton was king in Texas 100 years ago, and its heritage is portrayed at the Texas Cotton Gin Museum in Burton, the site of the oldest operating cotton gin in America. A National Historic Register site, the museum highlights the tools, equipment and cotton economy from seed to bale with photographs of the Burton Farmers Gin from 1914. Visitors marvel at the mechanical ingenuity that is still in use, as cotton is ginned and baled at the annual Cotton Gin Festival in April.
History buffs won’t want to miss the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in nearby College Station, on the campus of Texas A&M University. With a well-made film on the life and career of George H.W. Bush and interactive exhibits such as the “Situation Room,” the museum is well worth a visit not only for a glimpse into his White House years but a fascinating historical account of the time of his presidency.
If you go: About an hour’s drive from Houston or Austin, Brenham and Washington County make a great weekend jaunt, especially in springtime when Texas bluebonnets (lupine) blanket the open range. Among fields of blue, several Bed and Breakfast accommodations dot the countryside, including Southern Rose Ranch and Lillian Farms. In the heart of Brenham, Ant Street Inn is a charming boutique hotel with distinctive guest rooms filled with Victorian antiques, stained glass and oriental rugs. Restaurant standouts in Brenham include Ninety-Six West, a new urban locale featuring small plates, craft brews and an impressive wine list; Funky Art Café, a fun lunch stop for healthy fare; and Must Be Heaven for homemade pies. Visit www.brenhamtexas.com.
Ann Newell Yungmeyer is a freelance writer in Kingsport, Tn.