Palestine, Athens and Corsicana
Since the leaves in our neighborhood had finally begun to turn yellow, we thought we might have a chance at seeing some fall colors by driving north to Palestine, Athens and Corsicana. The route took us north on I-45, then northeast on 69, by way of Buffalo. When you’re used to the completely flat landscape of the Houston area, it doesn’t take much of an undulation in the landscape before you begin to appreciate the effects of a change in scenery!
A couple of hours after leaving home we arrived at Davey Dogwood Park in Palestine. The park lies north of town and is not particularly well marked. Entering from 256 it seems like you’ve just driven up someone’s driveway, but as you continue, the park entrance appears ahead. Without any signs to indicate where, or if, there is a parking area, we chose to park just off the road. Only later did we realize that there is a large picnic and parking area in the center of the park. The road that weaves through the 254 acre park is quite narrow, really not much more than a walking path, but it is intended for cars, which walkers should be aware of. We were there on a Saturday and only came across a group of runners, a woman on a bike and a couple of people out for a walk. Some of the trees were turning yellow, there were even some that were red, but it wasn’t quite the autumn spectacle we had hoped for. That certainly didn’t stop us from enjoying this wonderfully peaceful park though.
Before driving north to Athens, we thought we might walk through downtown Palestine. It’s a very small town that sits at the bottom of a hill and is bordered by railroad tracks just south of Main Street. The town was founded in 1846 and was created to serve as the seat of Anderson County. When the railroad arrived a few years later, the population began to grow. Had we had more time, I would have liked to visit The Museum for East Texas Culture. Small museums can be very interesting because of the narrow focus. There is clearly an interest in attracting visitors to the town, with small shops and places to stop for a meal, but we decided instead to continue on to Athens.
The most direct route between Palestine and Athens is State Highway 19, which is part of the Texas Forest Trail Region. Again, we began searching the landscape for some fall foliage. Intermittent comments about the appearance of a slightly yellowing tree don’t quite qualify when you’re searching for the spectacular, but the rolling landscape provided plenty of scenic views.
Had we thought ahead a little, it might have been a good idea to pack a lunch. Since we didn’t, we wondered how me might locate a cafe where we could order a light lunch. Our back seat passenger soon provided a suggestion, based on a picture found on Pinterest. We didn’t have to go far out of our way, so the suggestion was quickly approved and soon after we pulled up to Callaways Coffee and Bistro. It turned out to be a little brick house, with seating areas outside. We ordered some sandwiches which were very basic but satisfying and soon continued on our way.
The layout of downtown Athens is similar to that seen in many other small Texas towns. The court house sits in the center of the square with small businesses circling it. Instead of stopping, we continued on to the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. The Center has a number of outdoor ponds and an area next to the lake where visitors can enjoy some fishing. Inside you’ll find a lot of information, some nice aquariums and a gift shop. The price of admission is $5.50 for adults and a little less for seniors and children.
After heading back to Athens, we drove to Corsicana on State Highway 31. Corsicana is a bigger town than Palestine and Athens, but the story of its origin is very similar to those of the other two. All three towns began life through the need of a county seat, all three saw population growth with the arrival of the railroad and all three continued to grow following the discovery of oil. Unfortunately, all three also experienced a decline during the 20th century.
On our way home we started a conversation about how easy it would be to lose these old towns, and how important it is that we don't. It seems so essential that an effort be made to reinvigorate them. In the case of Corsicana, which lies just west of I-45 and an hour south of Dallas, it was designed with wide streets, perfect for a more modern city center, and there is plenty of space for parking along the side streets.
When we arrived home I started researching and found that there actually is a concerted effort under way in Texas and across the country to revitalize historic towns. 30 years ago the Main Street program was initiated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I was very happy to see Corsicana on the list of Texas Main Streets.
In closing, we didn't actually end up seeing very many fall colors but we did arrive home with a much better understanding of East Texas and in the end, that's what traveling is all about.