couple of miles west of IH-35 Kuykendall Branch Road dead-ends into
Farm Road 2843 from the left. A mile or so down the main road, at
the top of the next hill, is a double row of trees, parallel to each
other, marching south toward Austin.
A double white metal gate and pick-up tracks run between the row of
trees. This is the old road to Austin.
Standing there now, you are not always out of earshot from the speed
and thunder of IH-35. Only a few people know the otherwise unassuming
trail, now on private property, as the old Austin Road. Temple attorney
and historian Jim Bowmer knows it that way. "This was the road to
Austin in my earliest childhood memory," he says.
Bowmer, 85, remembers a driveway on the other side of the highway
as a bad place in the road. "About where the driveway ends, the Austin
Road made a right-angle turn known as 'Dead Man's Turn' or 'Dead Man's
Corner'. It was not 'Dead Man's Curve' because it wasn't a curve,"
he says. "It is interesting to compare the road with the present IH-35,
which eventually, in the course of one lifetime, has replaced it."
though, you are traveling away from the Interstate, west on FM 2843.
The undulating expanses of former Blackland prairie are behind you
now. You're west of the Balcones Fault, which divides Bell County
roughly down the middle, same as the Interstate does. It's hard not
to notice how much and yet how little this stretch of rolling, rocky,
stream-gashed country has changed since the days when Comanches ruled
here. Even they are relative newcomers; archaeological evidence points
to this area being more or less continually occupied for the last
ten thousand years. The land dips and rolls, dotted with cedar, wildflowers
and cactus. You are likely to see whitetail deer and redtail hawks.
The turkey vultures let you know there are still critters in these
hills, living and dying in an environment still red in tooth and claw.
miles or so west of the Old Austin Road is the Willingham Springs
Baptist Church. The book "Pioneer Buildings of Texas" uses it as an
example of the simplicity of the western pioneers' Protestant churches.
Like this one, the early western Protestant churches generally had
no steeple and little or no ornamentation. Church was not a fancy
affair in this place and that time.
The church was named for the community that evolved after Archibald
Willingham moved his family from Salado
Springs to this area. It was built between 1911 and 1914 on land
donated by Wilson Willingham, Archibald's grandson.
The simple wooden building doubled for several years as a one-room
schoolhouse and centerpiece of the Willingham Springs Common School
District; it eventually consolidated with the Salado school district.
western Bell County falls into the state's Grand Prairie eco-region,
but nature is rarely symmetrical. This part of Bell County resembles
has more in common with the Texas Hill Country than any prairie.
This is ranch country, not farm land. Driving west, you skirt the
boundaries of the county's larger ranches, the Solana Ranch and Tenroc
Ranch. Rock quarries proliferate along this stretch.
The Cedar Valley Church marks about all that's left of the long gone
community of Cedar Valley. Keep going and you will come to Farm Road
487. Make a right and you're on your way into downtown Florence.
The main drag through Florence
is the scenic but dangerous State Highway 195.
Not hard to spot this Post Office
Photo courtesy Jim & Lou Kinsey, April 2005
|You can get back
on FM 487 and go on to the little town of Andice,
where people have been known to complain that Florence people have
been getting uppity ever since the town had a second traffic light
installed a few years back.
If you stay on 195 going east you will come to the highway's terminus
at IH-35. The closer you get to the interstate, the more trucks you
see. Ditto cars, SUVs, pick-up trucks and motorcycles.
When you get to the freeway just north of Georgetown
you are at the spot where toll road State Highway 130 will meet IH-35.
There is dirt and concrete everywhere.
This might be a good spot to reflect back on the beginning of the
trip, to that glimpse of the sun-dappled, tree-lined road to Austin.
Here you're looking at something completely different.