Like many travel writers, I am staying close to home this year. Fortunately for me, many of the communities in East Texas have a lot of reasons to visit; many offering excellent museums and fun shopping.
Case in point — Gladewater.
I start my tour at the Gladewater Museum located in a 1939 Art Deco building used over the years for many community functions including a library and county offices.
Two friendly docents welcome me and offer an introduction to the city.
Founded in 1873 by the Texas and Pacific Railway Company, residents from other small communities moved to Gladewater when the railroad announced that the only mail stop in the area would be here.
The population grew slowly during the 19th century with lumber and farming the two main industries. In 1908 the town had ten stores, a bank, two blacksmith shops, two hotels, a cotton gin, a sawmill, and a planing mill where seasoned boards from the sawmill were turned into finished lumber.
The community continued to grow slowly until 1931 when the first Gladewater oil well blew in. Oil production led to a population increase during the 1930s from about 500 to more than 8,000.
Large photographs show before and after the oil boom. The “after” picture shows oil derricks on the horizon, more central city buildings and more houses.
The next room offers exhibits honoring the men and women who served in the armed forces from World War I to current conflicts. Uniforms, medals and photographs line two walls. Other displays in this room pay tribute to past businesses including the local newspaper and mill.
The music room showcases some of the artists who performed here before they got big including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jim Reeves. Everything from posters and records to newspaper clippings and photos fill this room along with a piano and a life size cutout of Elvis.
The next room is arranged like a turn-of-the-last-century house with a kitchen, parlor and bedroom outfitted with antique furnishing and period art and memorabilia.
Displays in the last room help locals and guests remember local schools and additional businesses.
From the museum I walk along West Pacific Avenue stopping at St. Clair Antique Emporium. Gladewater is known as the “Antique Capital of East Texas.” Dozens of antique shops line its streets. In this antique store there is a vast collection of glassware, furniture, vintage toys, Christmas ornaments and all other manner of what was in times gone by.
From here I turn toward the center of the city walking along Main Street. In addition to antique stores there are several gift and clothing shops. I stop at KDs Southern Roots and peruse the women’s clothing and unique gift items.
Most of downtown streets are lined with building from a century ago and the oil boom making it a visual of what I saw in the museum photos.
Although my visit is brief, I know I will be back to shop and to enjoy this tiny city including its many parks and nearby lake.
If you go:
Gladewater is a friendly city of just over 6,400. It is located north of Interstate 20, just follow Route 135 North to Route 271 East. Route 271 turns into Main Street. The museum is located at 116 West Pacific Street.