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FM 2843

by Clay Coppedge
A 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."

Today, 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.

Five 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.

Technically, 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.
Andice, Texas post office

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.
Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" - January 1, 2006 column

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