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ATHENS

Where the hamburger was invented

Excerpted from
"The East Texas Sunday Drive Book"
by Bob Bowman

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Here's a Sunday Drive that will clear up the origin of the hamburger, carry you through a countryside that is half-East Texas and half-Central Texas, and enable you to visit several communties with interesting histories. For good measure, we've thrown in a couple of excellent Mexican food restaurants.

Start your tour in Athens, home of the hamburger and the world-famous black-eyed festival.

The hamburger had its beginning on Athens' interesting courthouse square in the l880s when Fletcher Davis, who owned a downtown cafe, invented the sandwich. The delicacy was so popular that in l904 a group of Athens businessmen raised enough money to send the inventor to the St. Louis World's Fair, where the hamburger was introduced to the world.

For many years, the growing, processing, canning and eating of black-eyed peas was a major part of life in Athens--so much so that Athens became the black-eyed pea capitol of the world, eventually spawing an annual jamboree each July.

Athens, the seat of Henderson County, was founded in l850, four years after Texas was annexed as a state by the U.S. The county was named for J. Pickney Henderson, the first governor of Texas, and Athens was named for the Grecian capital by the step-daugher of one of the town's founders in the hope that it could become the cultural center of Henderson County.

There are a number of things to see in Athens, including:

  • The B&B Cafe, established in the l930s and named for owners Walter and Clyde Barrow. Clyde's girlfriend, Bonnie, often accompanied him to the backdoor for a meal while the sheriff, Jess Sweeten, ate in the front.
  • A wealth of interesting old homes along East Tyler Street, one of the town's earliest streets. Architectural designs here range from Victorian to Colonial to Old English. The homes date back to the early 1800s.
  • The Henderson County Historical Museum, housed in the l896 Faulk-Gauntt Building. the second floor of the museum is a recreation of a turn-of-the-century law office, parlor, bedroom, bath, kitchen, and schoolroom. The museum is open to the public and is located on Prairieville Street.
  • The Henderson County Courthouse, which dominates the town square.
  • The Old Fiddlers Reunion, held each year in May. The festival dates back to the l930s when the Bethel Comunity, near Athens, held a fiddlers contest to climax a farmer's study course. The event was moved to Athens in l933 and is now held on the courthouse square.

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From Athens, continue your Sunday Drive by heading in a southeasterly direction on U.S. 175, and stop at the settlement of New York ...

From New York, continue on 175 to the community of LaRue. The settlement was founded in l853 when George W. Stephens built a log cabin near the present day. The village began to develop when the New Orleans Railroad designated it as a railroad station and named it for Joe T. LaRue of Athens, who was helpful in building the railroad.

From LaRue, turn north on Farm Road 607 through the scenic countryside and continue to Brownsboro, which was settled in l849 by John (Red) Brown, who operated a toll bridge across Kickapoo Creek on the road to Jordan's Saline and Tyler. Norwegian immigration between l849 and l857 brought new families into the community, and the town began to grow after building a railroad depot, a cotton gin and sawmill.

At Brownsboro, take Farm Road 314 to Edom, a small village known for its arts and crafts exhibitors. The Edom Arts Festival each year is one of the most popular rural events in East Texas. A number of artists and craftsmen from Dallas have settled in the community in recent years and produce many unusual products for metropolitian markets.

Turn west at Edom on Farm Road 2339 until you come to its intersection with Farm Road 1861, and take l861 until it intersects with Farm Road 316 near the Purtis Creek State Park. ( website: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/purtis/purtis.htm ) Continuing on 316, go to Eustace, a town settled in l874 and named for W.T. Eustace, who helped make the town a railroad stop.

From Eustace, turn north on U.S. 175 to Mabank. This town, founded about l846 as a stop on the Texas and New Orleans Railroad, was named for two early settlers, Dodge Mason and Tom Eubanks.

At Mabank, take Texas 198, which will carry you south through several communities on the eastern side of Cedar Creek Reservoir, including Gun Barrel City, Payne Springs and Caney City. Cedar Creek lake was filled in l964 as a water reservoir for Tarrant County, and has about 328 miles of shoreline. In l988, the Rand McNally Retirement Places rated the lake as 14th in the nation for retirement purposes.

Follow 198 and you'll end up in Malakoff, which dates from l850 when Dr. John Collins applied for a post office and named it for a Russian town that was prominent during the Crimean War. Silver suppposedly was mined along Wild Cat Creek as early as l830, but most of the town's later day propserity has come from lignite, brick clay deposits, and other resources.

At Malkoff, you should pick up Farm Road 3441, which heads south to the Cross Roads settlement. Here, take Farm Road 59 and you'll end up in Athens again.


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October 2000
Excerpt by permission of author Mr. Bob Bowman.
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