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FULL SPECIAL: European Tour of Texas

Destination Texas

Texas is big. Very big. So, it’s safe to say that there is plenty to explore. This travel story focused on towns and cities that have European names.

The entire European Tour of Texas featured in this special covered more than 1,600 miles. If you’re in the mood for an epic road trip, you can follow this guide and even add on to it.

On this trip, our Senora Scott started in San Angelo and took off bright and early.

Florence, New Sweden, Holland, Moscow

The first stop: Florence, population, 1,136. It’s a lush, quiet, quaint, go out and say hi to your neighbor type of town. A great place to stop is their veteran’s memorial. It was established in 1991 and honors local veterans who died while serving, dating back to the Spanish American and Civil War. There are also some new businesses opening soon and a winery in the area.

The second stop on this tour was New Sweden. This “Unincorporated Community” is home to what some call “the most photographed church in Texas.” When you see it, it’s no surprise why it’s earned that title. Reverend J.O. Cavallin and Swedish immigrants built their first church in 1879, a few years after the congregation arrived in the area. That first church was built where the cemetery is now. Rich in history itself, it has markers dating back to 1876. The new church building (the one that can be seen today) was constructed in 1922 on land donated by a resident. The church pays homage to its roots in every way…Even the services were held in the Swedish language until 1923. It’s a beautiful site and it’s surrounded by lots and lots and lots of corn.

You’ll see this crop on both sides of the road all the way to the third stop: Holland. It’s known as “the friendly community” and is the home of the Holland corn festival. The annual festival celebrates the yellow crop that leads to green for this community.

Now it’s time to head to Russia. The more well-known Russia actually spans both Europe and Asia. Moscow, Russia, which is on the European side, is one of the largest cities in the world. Moscow, Texas however is quite the opposite, however William P. Hobby, a famous businessman, politician, newspaper editor and publisher, and member of the first board of regents for Texas Tech was born here. He’s well known for many accomplishments throughout his political career including the lone star state’s involvement in WWI and the progression of the women’s suffrage movement.

After a brief stop in Moscow, the next leg of the tour, and one of the main stops along the way, was Nederland.

Nederland

This city’s founding members have both Dutch and Cajun influence, and the residents today celebrate both. Here, you’ll find Helen Tunnell. She’s a long-time Nederland resident and volunteer who runs both the Windmill Museum and the House of Acadia or, the Cajun House, in Tex Ritter Park. There’s a lot to see, and learn, in both of these museums. Tunnell has been at it for several years now and knows the history of the city like the back of her hand however, she’s always eager to learn something new. For Tunnell, the museum’s unique collections bring the city’s diverse history to life.

“Things that we don’t even read in the books or the encyclopedias but their way of life,” Tunnell said of the relics on display in these museums. Her favorite part of volunteering is meeting people who come from the Netherlands to visit…which happens quite often. She says she learns something new from them each time.

In the Windmill Museum, there are several great Nederland natives who are featured; like the 1952 Olympic gold medalist Buddy Davis. And while he wasn’t born in Nederland, the late country music star Tex Ritter made it his home as quickly as he could. His son, the late John Ritter from Three’s Company is also featured in the museum.

But, there’s a lot more to explore throughout the museum. Visitors can see how Dutch wooden shoes are made step by step, and even buy a pair to take home with them. If your style is more modern-day, you can stop at the boutiques that line the downtown square. Then check out the local veteran’s memorial. It’s all within walking distance from Tex Ritter Park.

From Nederland, it was time to head to Geneva. This tiny dot on the Lone Star State’s map is surrounded by the piney woods landscape and is extremely close to the Sabine National Forest. There are more than 50 historical markers and hidden history treasures that you can find scattered throughout the area. 

Geneva and Lobanillo Swales

One hidden stop is actually hidden by the pine trees. This site is not highly publicized but is recognized as a historical trail. This trail is part of “El Camino Real.” These paths were utilized between 1680 and 1845 and are now referred to as Lobanillo swales. A swale, by definition, is a low and hollow place that’s often marshy. While this site and its informational signage is on private land, visitors can stop, read the history of the area, and even walk along the same path as some of the earliest settlers.

Naples and Paris

The small town of Naples was originally called Beldon and like many other cities around it, it was founded when the railroad made its way through the area. Through the late 1800s and early 1900s, Naples saw some ups and downs in its population and economy but it remained strong and now you can find several unique restaurants and a winery here.

In Paris, Texas, there is history around every corner. This city’s history shaped their mindset of resilience and never quitting despite what hardships they may face. 

In 1916 there was a fire that destroyed the majority of the town but, the  residents didn’t let it break them. 

“The person who was in charge of the chamber at that time came out with a sign that said, smile, we’re gonna come back…and they did,” Bobby Walters who was born and raised in Paris and now volunteers at the Chamber of Commerce said.

Though this fire that lasted for hours on end and killed 3 was devastating, what happened after the fire is a testament to this city’s resilience. Little did they know at the time, the rebuilding process would draw in all kinds of recognition and visitors to Paris decades even a century later.

“The architecture is quite unique and we’re on the registry as one of the city’s that have the most buildings built in a time period,” Becky Semple, Tourism Director at the Paris Chamber of Commerce said.

Even their cash crop, cotton, would play a role in the city’s restoration.

There’s one feature in the middle of the downtown square that demands attention. This fountain was a gift from a businessman J.J. Culbertson who was, living in high cotton, as the expression goes. Culbertson and his wife loved to travel and fell in love with the “extras” they saw in Europe, like fountains. So he decided to give this Italian marble fountain, that took 3 years to construct, to the city to commemorate its rebirth.

And speaking of commemorations, in 2016 Paris had a ceremony to mark the 100 year anniversary of the fire. During the fire, a woman gave birth but was separated from her child during the chaos. Both she and the baby were given medical treatment at different locations and later reunited. On that day in 2016, there was an extra special visitor in attendance.

“The grandchild of that baby was at the ceremony,” Semple said.

But of course there’s much more to see than just the architecture. The fountain attracts visitors from all over but, the star of the show is the Eiffel Tower…compete with a cowboy hat. 

The Eiffel tower was originally made of wood, but this Texas wind knocked it down shortly after. That’s when a locally owned business stepped up. The metal, the welding, the installation, all done by volunteers and free of charge. Then someone said, “I like it but it needs a cowboy hat.”

And so the hat was put on top, you guessed it built by another volunteer. It’s even got a feather made out of brass. That feather was built by a local veterinarian. The tower now complete attracts visitors from all over the world…and yes that includes Paris, France.

Right beside the tower is a veterans memorial that is boasted to be one of the best in the world. Visitors have told citizens time and time again that this memorial is the best they’ve ever seen. This memorial honors veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice, those who fought and were able to come back home, and military members who are currently serving. In their words, this memorial was created to honor all.

Athens

There is so much to see and just as much to learn in Athens. The East Texas Arboretum is essentially a nature preserve sprawled out over several miles. It is actually run by a group of volunteers and is a nonprofit. Their goal is to teach people about nature and show them how cool nature can be. With each visit they hope people take away a sense of calm and a simple message. 

“Freedom… I mean it’s nature, it’s flowers, it’s trees, it’s real grass. You know, it’s real nature out here and I just don’t know how to explain it any better than that,” Dru Haynes, representative for the East Texas Arboretum said.

Kiddos can learn fun facts about nature, animals, and insects all along the children’s pavilion and kids area, which features interactive displays and fun things to crawl and climb on themselves.

For adults, amidst the flowers and fountains is the Wofford House. This 1850s home is set up as museum with windows that you can peek into, getting a glimpse of how people lived in that era.

But the main thing that draws in hundreds of visitors a year is just nature. There are several walking trails including a 3/4 mile trail that is wheelchair accessible.

Just a few miles down the road is a place where you can reel in more knowledge about you guessed it…fish. 

“The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center is one of five freshwater hatcheries that we have here in Texas run by the Texas wildlife department but we are unique in that we have a visitors center with aquarium and we actually have casting ponds where you can come and fish and we have a wetland trail and aquariums inside for you to explore along with our working hatchery,” Kate Juenger, Event Coordinator for the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center said.

For about 5 dollars you can do lots of exploring in this center and if you want to fish they have all the equipment you need that you can access and use for free. There are also diving shows each day a tram you can ride around the grounds and learn more about the hatching process along with tons of other interactive displays. 

Italy and Dublin

From Athens it was time to head back to West Texas. On the way you can go through Italy. It’s known as the “biggest little town in Texas.”

Our final stop is Dublin, known for its sweet drinks, welcoming attitude and kilts. 

“I’ve actually had this store for over 20 years, it started in Austin and we opened the brick and mortar store in 1999. I decided to move to a small town, one day I sat down and googled small tourist towns in Texas and Dublin came up on a top 20 list and I though Dublin, a Celtic store, this could work came up the next week, saw it, found a place and moved in right away,” Lanora Davidson, owner of Things Celtic said.

Davidson is of Scottish decent though her family has lived in Texas for over 100 years. She says she gets visitors from all over the nation and even across the pond. She also stated she never gets tired of seeing their reactions.

As the first sentence of this article states: Texas is big. If you have more ideas for this tour or where we should go next, let us know! Have you been to these places yourself? Let us know! Connect with us on social media or contact us by phone or email!

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