By Elizabeth Hey
Courtesy Tyler CVB
Texas’ small towns are a delightful repository of restored homes and plantations, old-fashioned museums and gardens, providing groups with lesser-known gems and down-home Texas charm.
Monte Verdi Cotton Plantation
Monte Verdi Cotton Plantation sits high on a hill overlooking four counties and what once was the 10,721-acre plantation of Julien Sidney Devereux. Completed in 1856 and a working plantation through the Civil War and into the early 20th century, Monte Verde received a Texas Historical Medallion in 1964.
“It’s beautifully restored and completely furnished with 19th-century furnishings and all original trim and wood,” said Joe Koch, the plantation’s owner. “There are not many of these types of homes left in East Texas, but we actually live in the home and give tours by appointment.”
An 1844 log cabin was relocated to the site of the original plantation kitchen and received a Texas Historical Medallion in 1967. Known as the Birdwell House, it remains an excellent example of “saddle bag” architecture with a central porch running through its middle.
Mayborn Museum Complex
Central Texas’ natural science and cultural history is showcased at Waco’s Mayborn Museum Complex on Baylor University’s campus. Walk-in dioramas include a Limestone Cave, Texas Forest and Waco Mammoth Experience where a clear floor reveals casts of Columbian mammoth bones, displayed as they were unearthed at the Waco Mammoth Site.
The exhibit “Waco at the Crossroads of Texas” features a 28-foot-long Pliosaur model, a Waco Indian grass hut, a Norwegian rock house, a Comanche tepee and an early log cabin.
The Strecker Museum, housed in various campus buildings, was Texas’ oldest continuously operating natural history museum until it closed in 2003 for its move to the complex.
Strecker’s Cabinets of Curiosities displays unusual objects in Victorian-style cabinets in the style of early natural-history museums. Many artifacts were donated by Baptist missionaries who served around the world; they include an Iron Age jug, a 19-foot humpback whale skull and a Philippine Venus’ flower basket, a type of sponge that is a traditional Asian wedding gift.
Sixteen Discovery Rooms occupy two floors, with hands-on activities for youngsters and adults. The museum’s newly renovated Governor Bill and Vera Daniel Historic Village will reopen in 2012.
W.H. Stark House
Recognized as an authentic Victorian showplace, the W.H. Stark House stands as the only surviving structure of a tree-shaded former residential neighborhood.
Built in 1894 and occupied until 1936, the 14,000-square-foot home contains the Stark family’s original furnishings and impressive collections. After the couple’s death, the house sat vacant until 1971, when a 10-year restoration project began.
“Everything that belonged to the Stark family is still in place,” said Pasty Herrington, director of the W.H. Stark House. “It’s like they just stepped out for the afternoon.”
The couple accumulated many 18th- and 19th-century decorative works, as well as artistic pieces from their travels around the globe. The collection includes a one-of-a-kind sterling silver tea service, a rare Napoleon death mask and an extensive assemblage of American brilliant cut glass.
Municipal Rose Garden
The Tyler Municipal Rose Garden is a must-see when visiting America’s Rose Capital. Fourteen acres, more than 38,000 bushes and at least 500 rose varieties, from lovely tree roses to flowers smaller than a dime, qualify it as the country’s largest rose garden.
“From the latter part of April into May and again in mid-October, the garden is at peak,” said Susan Travis, assistant vice president of tourism servicing at the Tyler Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a sight to behold with the rainbow of colors and variety.”
Growers at the garden, one of the nation’s 24 All American Rose Selection test gardens, develop new varieties there that are evaluated over a two-year period. In one corner, the Heritage Rose and Sensory Garden highlights more than 50 varieties of antique and heritage roses, along with many perennials that bloom all summer.
In addition to roses, the Vance Burks Memorial Camellia Garden showcases dozens of large camellias, and in early summer, hundreds of daylilies bloom. The Hosta Variety Trail displays hostas, which thrive in the hot and humid Texas climate.
The history of the Texas Rose Festival and rose industry is chronicled in the Tyler Rose Museum. “Attic of Memories” features memorabilia donated from private local collections and gives visitors a glimpse of what life was like in Smith County during the past 100 years. Rose aficionados won’t want to miss the gift shop with its rose-themed offerings.