Submitted by Justin Minsker on
As Texans continue to seek creative ways to explore our state safely, the Texas Historical Commission is offering ideas for some great destinations for a picnic while learning about our state’s history. Grab a picnic basket and go off the beaten path to explore these scenic spots across the state with unique stories.
Austin – Mount Bonnell
Rising 775 feet above sea level, this limestone hilltop with spectacular views was named for George W. Bonnell, who came to fight for Texas independence in 1836. In 1839, Bonnell moved to Austin, where he published the Texas Sentinel. A member of the Texan-Santa Fe expedition, Bonnell was captured but released in time to join the Mier expedition in 1842. Mount Bonnell was a site of picnics and outings as early as the 1850s. Legend has it that an excursion here in the 1850s inspired the popular song "Wait for the Wagon and We'll All Take a Ride."
Bellville – Bellville Turnverein Pavilion
Members of the Bellville Turnverein, a traditional German athletic club, built an opera house in 1889 which became the center of the town's social activity. One of several polygonal social halls built in Austin County, this 12-sided structure required extra-long lumber, which was shipped directly from the mills. The city of Bellville purchased the property and pavilion in 1937 and sponsored a competition among Texas A&M University students to redesign the park. The winning design, along with a grant from the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA), enabled the city to build new facilities and update the pavilion. Now a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, it continues to serve as a focal point for many community gatherings.
Brenham – Fireman’s Park
The Brenham Volunteer Fire Department sponsored the first Maifest in 1881, and purchased the property now known as Fireman’s Park in 1884. The park features ballfields, an outdoor kitchen, volleyball courts, and several picnic areas. In 1935, the WPA constructed the building that houses a working, antique carousel that dates to about 1900. Maifest has a tradition of supporting the community. In 1948, funds were raised to build Brenham’s public swimming pool, and today festival profits help fund a variety of local youth programs. This Recorded Texas Historic Landmark is a popular destination for community gatherings.
Claude – Hamblen Drive Roadside Park Picnic Area
This scenic park is named for Will H. Hamblen, who in the 1890s pioneered a crude road into Palo Duro Canyon along old Native American trails. This cut 120 miles off settlers' trips to the courthouse in Claude but was steep and dangerous. In 1928, a graded road was built. By decision of the commissioners court, the road was dedicated in 1930 as Hamblen Drive. Today, travelers can stop by the roadside park for great views of Palo Duro Canyon.
Coppell – Grapevine Springs Park
The Grapevine Springs, which flow into the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, have attracted visitors for more than 2,000 years. In 1843, Republic of Texas President Sam Houston camped here during treaty negotiations with Native Americans. In 1936, Dallas County accepted the donation of Sam Houston's campsite as parkland, and the federal WPA built rock walls, picnic facilities, footbridges, and other features.
Crosbyton – Silver Falls Park
Four miles east of Crosbyton on US 82, mesas and mesquites form a rugged backdrop for historical markers that tell dramatic stories about nearby Blanco Canyon. Formed by the White River, it was a battleground in the early 1870s pitting Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie against renegade Comanches. Once the Native Americans were forced from the area, Texas Rangers set up Camp Roberts in 1879 to maintain law and order. The Two Buckle Ranch soon built headquarters at Silver Falls on the White River. One of the state’s finest roadside parks now sprawls along US 82 at the falls where stonework remains from Depression projects of the 1930s.
Denison – Loy Park
In 1930, Grayson County officials became aware of a growing need for a public recreation facility for the area's approximately 65,500 residents. Three years later, the federal government agreed to create a small lake on land provided by the county. In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed the dam and built a recreational park. By 1934, the CCC men had created a recreation center with a lake, roadway, 13 culvert bridges, baseball diamond, and partially completed tower of native stone. Initially called Grayson County Park, the facility was renamed Judge Jake L. Loy State Park in 1934. Under the supervision of the county commissioners court, the facility created by the CCC continues to be enjoyed by area citizens.
Dickens – Dickens County Springs Park
Situated at the head of a ravine on the eastern edge of the Texas Plains Trail Region, the ancient springs have been a favored habitat since the earliest human occupation in this region. Many nomadic tribes used the site, leaving an abundance of archeological evidence. The city park created here became known as Dickens Springs. Generations of Dickens citizens and tourists, attracted by the rugged and colorful scenery and the unique collection of plants, have visited this site for picnics and social gatherings. In the 21st century, Dickens Springs continues to provide water and beauty to the area for modern visitors as it did for the nomadic peoples of the past.
El Paso – Chamizal National Memorial
A unit of the National Park Service, the Chamizal National Memorial commemorates the 1963 Chamizal treaty that ended a century-old boundary dispute between the U.S. and Mexico caused by a change in the course of the Rio Grande. The memorial includes a museum, theater, and art galleries, and hosts many festivals and special events throughout the year (Source: National Park Service).
Gainesville – Moffett Park
The owner of 90 acres in this vicinity, Missouri native Ned Moffett, Sr. permitted use of his property along Elm Creek for celebrations by local African American citizens. In 1943, the City of Gainesville bought the land from his heirs to form Moffett Park. The first large social event in the new park was the 1944 Juneteenth celebration. Recreational facilities eventually included playground equipment and a pool. Following integration of nearby Leonard Park in the mid-1960s, the site declined in use, but it remains an important reminder of the city's past.
Houston – Hidalgo Park Quiosco
This unique structure was commissioned by the Mexican American community of Magnolia Park under the leadership of local physician A.G. Gonzales. It was dedicated at the opening of Hidalgo Park on September 16, 1934, the anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain. Created in the style of faux bois (false wood) or trabajo rústico (rustic work), the 25 x 25-foot quiosco (kiosk or gazebo) is constructed of an iron frame covered entirely with hand-molded textured concrete, giving it the appearance of having been built from raw and processed tree products. The gazebo-like quiosco continues to serve the Magnolia Park community as a venue for Mexican American community events, entertainment, and celebrations.
Independence – Old Baylor Park at Windmill Hill
Under a charter issued in 1845 by the Republic of Texas, Baylor University was established in Independence and operated there until its relocation to Waco in 1886. The columns in Old Baylor Park in Independence mark the location where Baylor University, the oldest institution of higher learning in Texas and the largest Baptist university in the world, opened its doors in 1846. Today, only the columns of the main building and the ruins of the stone kitchen remain of the Baylor Female College Campus. The site is owned and maintained by the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Jacksonville – Love’s Lookout
On this nine-mile-long ridge in Jacksonville, two historic lookout points command a view of 30 to 35 miles. The pass became known as McKee's Gap in 1846, after Thomas McKee led a group of Presbyterians here from Tennessee and began the town of Larissa. Around the turn of the century, John Wesley Love bought this land and developed a 600-acre peach orchard. Known as Love's Lookout, the scenic point was used for outings by area residents. After Love's death, his family gave 22.22 acres, including the lookout site, to the state for a park. The City of Jacksonville bought 25 adjoining acres and developed both tracts as a WPA project.
Lampasas – Hancock Springs Park
Pioneer settlers began establishing homes near Lampasas Springs and Sulphur Creek in the 1850s. During the middle of the 19th century, stories of the mineral springs and their curative powers began attracting tourists to Lampasas, which was sometimes called the “Saratoga of the South,” in reference to the famed New York spa community. In 1882, land at this site was sold from the John and George Hancock family to George L. Porter of Harris County, who transferred the property to the Lampasas Springs Company. The company built a bathhouse, and a mule-drawn streetcar connected the bathhouse with the passenger depot on the other side of town. In 1936, the city purchased the land and used the springs to supply water to the community. The turquoise waters of the pool, now part of a city park, demonstrate Lampasas’ history as a tourist destination.
McAllen – Archer Park
This one-block-square tract of land was deeded to the city of McAllen for use as a public park in 1917, six years after the town was incorporated. The donor, Mayor Oliver Percy Archer, was a prominent local businessman and civic leader. The site was officially named for him in 1933. From 1936 to 1949, the McAllen Public Library was housed in the basement area of the bandstand. Now the site of many community activities and celebrations, Archer Park serves as a reminder of the early days of McAllen.
New Braunfels – Landa Park
Joseph Landa purchased the land that now encompasses this park in 1859. The Comal Springs, the largest group of springs in the American Southwest, are the focus of the park. Landa used the Comal River to power gristmills, cotton and wool factories, an ice plant, and a brewery. During the Civil War, a saltpeter processing plant was also located on the site. Joseph's son Harry Landa opened Landa's Park as a tourist destination in 1898, when the International and Great Northern Railroad built a spur to the site. By 1900, both the I&GN and the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (Katy) railroads ran weekend excursion trains to the park, where visitors enjoyed picnics, dancing, and steamboat excursions on Landa Lake. Throughout the years the park has grown in acreage, and many improvements have been made. In the 1930s, WPA employees built concession stands, restrooms, parking areas, and retaining walls. Later improvements have included a miniature golf course, playgrounds, and nature trails. Wurstfest, an annual November celebration of food and music, has been held in the park since the early 1960s. Today, Landa Park continues to serve the public as a leisure destination both for the citizens of New Braunfels and for area travelers.
San Antonio – Brackenridge Park
San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park, located near the city’s center, is the result of a gift from philanthropist and San Antonian George Washington Brackenridge. Throughout the park (and in other San Antonio locations), look for whimsical and utilitarian objects such as benches, bridges, and the entryway to the Japanese Tea Garden constructed from concrete in the faux bois method by artist Dionicio Rodríguez. Brackenridge Park is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a State Antiquities Landmark.
Sheffield – Fort Lancaster Scenic Overlook
Spanning 82 acres in the Pecos River valley, Fort Lancaster State Historic Site (one of the Texas Historical Commission’s 32 State Historic Sites) commemorates the vestiges of one of several posts established in the 1850s. These posts played an important role in westward expansion by providing escorts for mail carriers, wagon trains, and settlers on the San Antonio–El Paso Road en route to California. Today, visitors wander through ruins, imagining the once-impressive establishment of over 30 permanent buildings—including a blacksmith shop, hospital, sutler’s store, and bakery—and enjoy the sights, sounds, and wildlife of West Texas.
Stonewall – Gillespie County Safety Rest Area
Fourteen miles west of Johnson City, the Gillespie County Safety Rest Area is the entryway to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Stonewall. Inside the park, a drive along the Pedernales River takes visitors past LBJ’s reconstructed birthplace, his grandparents’ farmhouse, the Junction School where he learned to read, and the family cemetery where he and his wife Lady Bird are buried. The focal point of the Stonewall site is the LBJ Ranch. An 1890s-era stone cottage forms the nucleus of the ranch’s main house, which LBJ expanded into a showplace.
Waco – Cameron Park
In 1910, the family of William Cameron donated land and funds to honor the prominent lumber businessman and civic leader who died in 1899. The original 125-acre public park included the popular Proctor Springs area on the west bank of the Brazos River. About 15,000 people, more than half of Waco’s population, attended the dedication. The beautiful bluff known as Lovers’ Leap provides grand vistas of the Brazos and Bosque river valleys. After a long period of decline, efforts to revitalize the park began in 1985 for the park’s 75th anniversary. Improvements have included the opening of Cameron Park Zoo and an expanded hiking and biking trail system.
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