February 11, 2007

Postcards From Texas: East Texas, Hwy 59

I promised another postcard from our Texas trip, so here it is. Shhhh! Just don't tell anyone I'm really not in Texas anymore. I was yesterday, however... and I jotted down a little note here and there along our scenic drive up Highway 59 to share with you when I got back to Arkansas. On the surface, the stretch of highway between Houston and Texarkana seems like one huge expanse of pine forest. It is hard to tell when one state ends and the other begins. Without a "Welcome to Arkansas" freeway sign, the only indication that you've crossed out of Texas is the lack of billboard road signs (something Texas should imitate). Texarkana, the border town of the northeast, is busy building up and seems to be adding new retail stores and restaurants every few months (there are quite a few good restaurants there and a Starbucks for those who have trouble staying awake at the wheel). Most of the smaller towns along 59, however, remain unchanged by time. I thought I would bring you a few highlights of my Highway 59 road trip and share some interesting facts about Texas' little known (and under-appreciated) eastern freeway.

I was surprised to see something new on the drive this trip... that I had never seen before. Somewhere near the tiny town of Leggett was an old house with painted fake flames protruding from the windows. I nearly ran out of my lane trying to get a good look at it when I drove by, and promised myself to look it up on the internet when I got home. [What would we do without the internet?!] Anyway... here's what I found out about the eye-catching sculpture/building:

Motorists traveling along U.S. Highway 59 in Polk County are often startled to see what appears to be flames pouring from the windows of old sawmill house.

The flames are actually enameled canvas, but there's nothing make-believe about the house, which once stood at New Willard, a sawmill ghost town a few miles away. "The Burning House" is an eye-popping piece of artwork conceived by artists Clint and Emily Sloan Alexander, both with deep roots in East Texas. Clint grew up in Leggett and Emily is a native of Diboll.

...Pooling their artistry--Clint is a painter and Emily produces sculptures--the Alexanders wanted to develop a form of art that said something about East Texas, particularly about the hundreds of vanished sawmill towns.
One traveler who stopped to examine the artwork observed that "it evokes images of a sawmill town that might have gone up in flames," which was the case in more than a few lumber towns.

I am a sucker for roadside attractions. It makes the driving so much more interesting to see quaint little shops, cozy hole-in-the-wall restaurants with flickering neon signs, antique stores brimming with rusting memories of the "good 'ol days", and strange sculptures or creative art to spark interesting conversation. A few of the neat things along 59 that I thought I would share are below (going South to North, since that's how I was traveling!):

  • Leggett: The Burning House (art/sculpture), mentioned above

  • Moscow: Tiny post office (now falling apart), see photo below

  • Burke: Awesome praying cowboy metal sculpture on the East side of the highway

  • Lufkin: Oil Derrick Reindeer (Christmas time only), parking lot of the Lufkin mall

  • Redland: Rusted old Redland Drive Thru Theater

  • Tenaha: Whistle Stop (cute restaurant I plan to eat at next time I pass by)

  • Marshall: Clean and well-decorated McDonalds, Jalapeno Tree (good Mexican food), and a pottery man sculpture (N. of town)

  • Linden-Kildare: Cute little shack on the East side of the road with road signs all over it

I seem to remember seeing an army Tank somewhere along the way, too... and an awesome panorama painting on the side of someone's barn of a cowboy and cowgirl at sunset (not sure if that was Highway 6, but I certainly didn't see it on this last drive). After a while, the long highway trips seem to blend together and after you see an attraction a few times, you tend to not gawk quite so much the next time you pass it. Pretty soon, you aren't sure which highway it was on... as is the case with the mystery cowboy barn.


There are so many interesting things along the Texas roadways. If you happen to be passing through and get a nice photo of any of these items I've mentioned, please forward me a copy on my email and I'll post it here on the blog! One day when I'm not in a hurry, I will try and detour long enough to get some pictures of all these interesting attractions. Until then, enjoy your driving and be sure to share some "postcards" of cool places you love on your blogs! If you do a write-up on an interesting roadside attraction or favorite town, please send me an email. I love reading about and seeing such things. We are a pretty nomadic family and have always been on the go. Although it is hard to get my husband to stop on these trips, I usually will hit the breaks at least once on each long drive to snap a photo or two. I hope you do, too! Nature has her ways of erasing roadside attractions little-by-little. A few of the things that have always captured my attention on different highways in Texas are barely there any more... peeling paint, crumbling brick, rusting metals and blowing winds have begun to make them disappear. My advice: Take your pictures while you can! Stop at those little diners along the way to keep them in business for future generations of roadside travelers!
If you plan to take a trip through East Texas, I would highly suggest reading a few of the articles by Bob Bowman at Texasscapes.com. He's got a handle on the piney-woods and has a lot of great info to share. Some things I learned while researching this post were:

1. The National Scientific Balloon Facility's launching site is five miles west of Palestine, TX on 287.

2. There are civil war ghost towns (Plenitude and Mound Prairie) on Farm Road 321 and 155.

3. The town of Elkhart, TX was named after a friendly Indian who helped early settlers.

4. In 1860, Marshall was the 4th largest Texas city.

5. The Confederate governor of Missouri moved his state's capitol to Marshall, TX after being run out of town by Union troops.

6. There's a cotton gin still in operation in Jonesville, TX that dates back to the 1840's.

7. The hamburger was invented in Athens, TX in the 1880's by Fletcher Davis.

8. The Edom Arts Festival is one of the most popular rural events in East Texas.

9. Around 3,000 Union civil war prisoners were housed near Rusk, TX and there is still a confederate gun factory site on U.S. 84 west of town.

10. The Texas State Railroad was built with prison labor to furnish fuel for the prison smelter and operates today for scenic tours on vintage steam-trains.

11. The East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore tells the story of the Oil Boom in Texas after oil was discovered in Rusk County... and oil derricks there are decorated with lights and topped with stars in December.

12. You can see "all the way to Louisiana" from 'Love's Lookout' beside Highway 69 (north of Jacksonville) on a clear day.

You can also get some fabulous color brochures about interesting sites and Texas history at the Texas Historical Commission website. If you are a real trip planner and don't mind loading your mailbox down with the HUGE Texas travel brochure packet from Travel Texas, I would highly recommend it. Even if you are just a homeschool mama wanting to teach about other states... this is one free state brochure you do NOT want to miss. People say that EVERYTHING is bigger in Texas... I don't know about everything, but I can guarantee that our travel brochure is a whopper. They also have a bunch of great links on that site (including panoramic photos of the different regions of the state).

Yeehaw, y'all.
East Texas Burning House article clip by Bob BowmanEast Texas Burning House photo by Exquisitely Bored in Nacogdoches

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Sheri said...

Apparently I really am an idiot, because I thought it was a "Giant chicken" as in a "Texas grows 'em big" type of a statement.

(Note to self: Don't blog until second cup of coffee shoos away the brain fog)

PandaMom said...

I have lived in Texas all of my 36 years and you just taught me quite a bit of trivia, my dear....thanks! ; )

justjuls said...

This is awesome!
Thank you so much.
I live right off of Hwy 69 - but have travelled Hwy 59 north and south quite a few times. I have SEEN the oil derrick reindeer at the Lufkin Mall - but it took the kids and I the entire holiday season to finally figure out what it was - we knew it was a reindeer - but hey - they don't have those oil thingys in WV!
I appreciate the info - there is so much to see.

Erin said...

Love the flaming house!
It actually made me miss driving around Texas. And I never even saw the thing. :)

Dreama said...

Isn't Texas a wonderful place??? I am always surprised at some of the things around here!
Thanks for the information!

Sprittibee said...

Sheri: hmmmm?

Panda-Mom: I have lived in TX most of my life, too... but there's just so much to learn, that I suspect there will never be a time when there won't be some new surprise!

Jewls: Thanks for the sweet comments! Glad to know that I've given you a few things to do in your area! East Texas is really pretty depending on what part you are in. I think Marshall is really a nice little town. I have friends that live in Longview and we used to frequently visit there. Killgore is also really a neat place... and Gladewater (so many antique stores!)... etc. Some of those backwoods scenic drives are wonderful.

Erin: You can drive on down and visit any time, now, ya'hear?!

Dreama: You are asking ME if Texas is a wonderful place?!? I'll have to tell you that I'm mighty PARTIAL to my Lone Star Dandy. ;) I collect postcards of the US drawn from a Texan's perspective. One of my maps has Texas touching the Canadian border and all the other states are teeny tiny and squished up. It says, "Texas and it's Colonies". Ha! Too funny.

To be fair, though... it has been nice living out of state for a change. The forests of Arkansas are very pretty. I think Washington State is probably the prettiest place in this country... even though I wouldn't move there because I love Texas so. Seeing the rest of the country is recommended... even if you do end up wanting to go home to Texas!

mike said...

if you like roadside, you should check out
www.roadsidefans.com and join the email group! Great place to find out about roadside places!.



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