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Fayette Co
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Washington County and
One Overlooked Place South of La Grange

by John Troesser
field of wildflowers

Bluebonnet and
Indian paintbrushes

Photo courtesy TXDoT

Our trip this time is an easy day trip from Houston or Austin and a good overnight trip from San Antonio or Dallas. We would recommend all points of departure to consider this an overnight trip since there is so much to see and do, but if you are traveling with pets, in-laws or children, do what you have to (within reason).

Washington County is a mandatory stop on the Grand Tour of Texas because of its historical significance. The abundant spring wildflowers are icing on the cake. Highways 290 and 71 offer a display of flowers even the driver can view without distraction and the winding roads between Brenham and La Grange provide hills and curves (sometimes at the same time) that will postpone, but not eliminate the dreaded "Are we there yet?" Churches appear out of nowhere and it seems every cow has a barn of it's own. Southern Fayette County is the home of the Painted Churches.

Brenham, Burton, Chappell Hill, Independence and Washington (on the Brazos or otherwise) are all under the umbrella of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. www.brenhamtexas.org. Their brochure is impressive and anticipates your every need. They are even gracious enough to include some places and events on their maps that are outside Washington County. Area maps can be downloaded from their website.

La Bahia scenic highway pastural scene

A pastural scene on La Bahia Road
TE photo
Click on towns for photos, history and attractions:

  • BRENHAM - Don't confuse the highway businesses with the real town. Historical downtown has Washington County Museum as well as lots of shops and places to rest/eat. Abundant trees line large lawns and gardens throughout the residential neighborhoods.

  • BURTON - Tranquil town with restored depot and nationally recognized working cotton gin.

  • CHAPPELL HILL - Historical Museum. Town is fine example of what active preservationists can accomplish. Scenic Masonic Cemetery contains graves of Wm. Travis' family. Twenty-five structures with Historic medallions.

  • INDEPENDENCE - Ruins of Old Baylor, Gravesite of Mrs. Sam Houston, Texas Baptist Historical Center.

  • WASHINGTON-ON-THE-BRAZOS STATE HISTORICAL PARK and STAR OF THE REPUBLIC MUSEUM - Research Library, Restored home of Anson Jones, last President of the Republic of Texas, nature trails, gift shop, and picnic area all in a tranquil setting.

    This is definitely on the Grand Tour of Revolutionary Sites in Texas. It has recently undergone an extensive expansion, and the parking has been expanded as well. 

    Contact them at 409-878-2461.

    Wesley Brethren Church - A painted church. On the National Register of Historic Places. On FM 2502 and FM 332. 8 miles SW of Brenham

  • MONASTERY OF ST. CLARE - The nuns of St. Clare couldn't sing or fly, so they came up with the idea of raising miniature horses to make ends meet. TE's Local Personalities visits with the latest and most petite addition to the family. Primadonna has one mother and lots of sisters.


  • MONUMENT HILL STATE HISTORIC SITE - (Fayette County) Try to include this in your itinerary. Scenic overlook offers great view of La Grange and the Colorado River. Ruins of the Kreische Brewery and the restored Kreische house. Two miles south of La Grange on Hwy 77.

  • LA BAHIA SCENIC HIGHWAY (FM 390)-- Connects Burton with Independence and on to Hwy 150 which takes you to Washington-on-the-Brazos.

    First highway in the State to be declared "scenic" by the Legislature. This road which once ran from Goliad (La Bahia) to Nacogdoches is noted for its cattle and horse ranches along the way.

  • Book Hotel Here
    Brenham Hotels | Giddings Hotels | La Grange Hotels
    Belted Gallloways
    Belted Galloways on LaBahia Trail
    TE Photo
    On the south side of La Bahia Trail, close to Gay Hill you may see some cattle with white belts around them. These are Belted Galloways and can trace their lineage back to Scotland via Canada. If they aren't, then they're Dutch Belted Cows, which are interesting in that they were saved from extinction by P. T. Barnum. Perhaps he was thinking of his expanding herd when he said, "There's a sucker born every minute". After Barnum struck his circus tent for the last time, selected members of that tribe were chosen to reintroduce the herd to Holland. But if they are Galloways, they can be bred for Dairy or Meat. They grow a woolly coat for winter that they shed in the summer. Mothers are noted for being very protective of their calves. 

    The above information was from "A Field Guide to Cows". Click here for a review of this indispensable and humorous guide to identifying our laid back landscape accents. 
    While we are on the subject of book reviews, a more scholarly and somber book is SOLDIERS OF MISFORTUNE by Sam W. Haynes. This is an excellent explanatory companion for a visit to Monument Hill, detailing the trials and tribulations of the Dawson and Sommervelle/Mier Expeditions in 1842. You think you've got problems! Available in the Gift Shop / Museum at Monument Hill State Historic Site.
    Worthy of Note

    Be advised that the Creamery in Brenham is only open for tours on weekdays, but their product is available and touted throughout the area.

    Close to La Grange you'll find the Jersey Barnyard which is a perfect stop for city kids.  They can tour a working dairy, milk a cow and see "Belle", the singing cow from the Bluebell commercials. Bluebell ice cream is available and seems to taste even better in the Barnyard setting. Just think! It's already been through one digestive system and you're sending it through another. Good food is available throughout the area.

    For newcomers to the Austin and Houston area, we hope this trip will introduce them to the year round diversions close to home. 

    Getting There from Houston - via Hwy 290

    Thanks to the completion of Hwy 290, one can now cross Waller County in about 8 minutes. Chappell Hill is approx. 60 miles from Houston and is your first stop if you want the most direct route to Washington County.

    The alternative to Hwy 290 would be to take I-10 west to San Felipe. The Stephen F. Austin State Park is here and would complement the later visit to Washington-on-the Brazos if your trip leans toward the historic. This park contains replica buildings and an impressive statue of Austin. Burned by Santa Anna, the town was restored after San Jacinto. Unfortunately no direct road connects this park with Washington-on-the Brazos. That’s the bad news.

    The good news if you want to visit both, is that you get to drive through Bellville.

    Get back on I-10 and you'll be in Sealy before you can say "posturepedic". From Sealy take Hwy 36 to Bellville and spend some time there. 

    Continue west on 36 and it's a smooth short drive to Brenham.

    Getting There from Austin

    Head out of town on Highway 290. Stop in Elgin for breakfast at the City Café downtown. Continue East to Giddings where one block south of the Hwy 77-290 intersection you'll find one of Architect J. Riely Gordon's Courthouse jewels. The Post Office two blocks East on 290 has a good example of a "WPA" mural. This one is entitled: Cowboys Receiving Mail.

    From Giddings you'll pass Ledbetter and Carmine - two small towns with antique stores, mostly open on weekends. Carmine has a beautiful little park and playground if you want a picnic spot off the highway. A little further is the Washington County Line. The next town you'll see will be Burton

    Book Hotel Here
    Brenham Hotels
    Giddings Hotels
    La Grange Hotels

    Copyright John Troesser
    First published Spring 1999

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