From miniature horses to a presidential museum,
Brenham offers diverse delights.
By Fred W. Wright Jr.
Because of its size, Texas is best experienced in chunks. One very alluring area is the town of Brenham in Washington County, about an hour’s drive northwest from Houston.
Above: A replica of Independence Hall where the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence was held.
Below: A miniature horse at the Monastery of St. Clare. Washington County Chamber of Commerce photos
Within a few minutes’ driving distance from downtown Brenham are adventures small and big, from miniature horses to a presidential library. Using Brenham as home base, visitors can find a wide variety of historical, cultural and fun distractions at just about all points of the compass.
Brenham has a variety of motels and bed-and-breakfast inns, including the AAA three Diamond Ant Street Inn located at 107 Commerce St. There are 15 rooms, each furnished with antiques reflecting the century-old hotel. And each room has a diary for guests to record their thoughts about the inn and the area.
A number of restaurants in town offer inexpensive and anticipated Tex-Mex cuisine. The Pleasant Hill Winery (1441 Salem Road) offers tours along with its rare corkscrew collection. In the tasting room, several wines are offered for sampling.
The family-friendly Blue Bell Creameries (1101 Blue Bell Road) has a 45-minute tour that includes a taste of your favorite flavor. Purchase gifts to take home at the Blue Bell Country Store.
A day in Brenham might also include browsing through antique shops full of Texas history and treasures.
Begin your exploration of Washington County by driving northeast about nine miles out of Brenham to the Monastery of St. Clare Miniature Horse Farm. The farm is home to a group of Franciscan Poor Clare nuns and their diminutive charges. The horses stand about 34 inches at maturity and are hard to resist. Tours are offered on Tuesday–Saturday, and the farm is located at 9300 State Highway 105.
Drive 20 miles northeast from Brenham to one of Texas’ most popular state sites. The Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, off state Highway 105, offers not only a glimpse into Texas history but also a chance to experience it. This is where the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico was signed in 1836. The park features a visitor’s center, the Star of the Republic Museum and a replica of Independence Hall where the signing took place.
Also on site is the Barrington Living History Farm. Here, life has changed little since the 1850s. The emphasis is on re-creating an authentic working farm. Depending on the season, visitors can watch as farm chores unfold, from plowing fields to bringing in cotton and corn crops. The sights, sounds and smells are authentic. The oxen are alive and busy. Staff members work the fields dressed as their ancestors did, and they bake fresh pies and breads on an open hearth in full 1850s attire, regardless of the temperature.
Experience more authentic Texas history at Chappell Hill located about 10 miles east of town. This community is filled with National Register historic buildings that also date to the 1850s. Some of the buildings are open by appointment, others–like the museum (9220 Poplar St.) and visitor’s center–have public hours.
Petals and a president
Travel north from Brenham to one of the most unusual gardens in the country. The Antique Rose Emporium, 10,000 FM 50 in Independence, is about 11 miles from town. Not only does this mail-order nursery ship rose bushes all over the world, but the grounds are a sensory tour de force, rich in the aroma of blooms and a rainbow of colors, from roses to native plants. Free tours and speakers will be part of their Fall Festival of Roses Oct. 31–Nov. 2.
Perhaps the most distant venue on this itinerary is the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, about 45 miles north of Brenham in College Station. The privately funded library for the country’s 41st president has just undergone a major renovation. Sit behind a replica of the president’s desk for a great photo opportunity.
There is a replica of the president’s war room during the Gulf War. The renovation has kept in place two of the most popular items from the president’s career–a full-size 1944 TBM Avenger like the one he flew during World War II, and a 12-foot-tall segment of the Berlin Wall.
In November and December, visitors will find that Brenham and the nearby communities know how to ring in the holidays. One popular event is the annual Poinsettia Celebration, Nov. 22–23, at Ellison’s Greenhouses at 2107 E. Stone St. in Brenham. There is live music and more than 80,000 red, pink and white poinsettias on view.
The Downtown Christmas Stroll showcases Brenham’s shops and hospitality, Dec. 5–6, with a holiday parade on Saturday.
Children can bring their teddy bears, dressed in holiday finery, to Chappell Hill on Dec. 13. Meet Mrs. Claus, Santa and Rudolph at the visitor’s center. A Holiday Home Tour will be on the same day.
Fred W. Wright Jr. is a contributor from St. Petersburg, Fla.