Sunday Drive will find you in the pine-clad hills of Cherokee
County and the town of Rusk,
which is one of those places where you wish you had spent your youth.
Its tree-lined streets, busy courthouse square, and stately turn-of-the-century
buildings are the stuff Mark Twain wrote about.
To start your
Sunday Drive, first spend some time in Rusk,
which was named for Thomas J. Rusk, a Texas revolutionary war hero
whose name has been borrowed by the Thomas J. Rusk Hotel, located
on the town square. It's a good place to start a walking tour of
| Thomas J. Rusk
Hotel on the town square
Martin, December 2005
Your tour should
include the Rusk Post Office, where you'll find a mural
painted by Bernard Beruch Zakheim, an immigrant from Poland
who studied under Diego Rivera. Zakheim's mural was painted in l939
as part of a federal program to provide work for qualified artists
and to embellish federal buildings.
Your tour should
also include the J.W. Summers home, built in l884 and one of Rusk's
most attractive old homes; the Perkins home, with its distinctive
gabled wood carving featuring a star and rising sun; and the Confederate
soldier on the courthouse square, which is unique because it faces
south instead of north as most Confederate statues do.
has a history of involvement in the Civil War and you'll find a
number of interesting historical sites around the city, including
a Confederate gun factory site on U.S. 84 west of the city and a
Union prisoner-of-war compound two miles south of the city on FM
241, where some 3,000 Union prisoners were housed. The town was
also a Confederate manufacturing center, producing wagons, saddles,
harness, guns, plows, skillets and other items.
Before you leave
the downtown area, be sure to walk the Rusk
Footbridge, which is believed to be the longest in the nation--some
546 feet long. During its early years, before streets connected
a residential area with the downtown business district, the bridge
served as a means to cross a small valley when the creek flooded.
The bridge was built by Howard Barnes, an engineer who also designed
the nearby ghost town of New
what's left of New
Birmingham a few miles south of downtown Rusk on U.S. 69.
A large granite monument stands in front of the Texas Highway Department
on the east side of the highway and, less than a mile south, look
for a small walking trail on the west side of the highway. The trail
weaves its way around an old iron furnace site.
was one of several which propped up the New
Birmingham economy in the l890s when the town was being heralded
as one of the most promising cities in Texas. However, the economic
panic of l893, coupled with an explosion at one of the furnaces,
killed the town.
Back in Rusk,
one of the state's smallest bank buildings, the old Bonner Bank,
stands near the New Southern Hotel on U.S. 59 The bank was operated
as Cherokee County's
first bank between l884 and l892 by F.W. Bonner.
is also the home of the Texas
State Railroad, which is the subject of a special Sunday
Drive elsewhere in this book, and the site of Jim
Hogg Historic Site. Located just off U.S. 84 east of Rusk,
the park pays tribute to the
first native-born governor of Texas. Hogg
was one of two Texas governors born in Rusk; the other was Thomas
The 177-acre Hogg
park, originally the home of the governor, was once called "Mountain
Home" and rests on a mountain about 200 feet above the rest of Rusk.
Even on the hottest days, park visitors will find a soothing breeze
in the park. A replica of Hogg's
old home is used as a museum.
Campbell's birthplace is four miles northeast of Rusk
on FM 768, off U.S. 69, but only a state historical marker is left
on the spot. In Rusk,
you'll also find the Rusk State Hospital, which was built originally
as a state prison in l877-79. Some of the prison's old buildings
still stand on the grounds.
Rusk, take Farm
Road 752, which will carry you south through the gently rolling
hills of Cherokee
County toward Alto.
Hulen Wilcox's syrup mill is located just off the farm road, but
he only operates the mill during the late fall when his cane crop
is ready. When the mill is working, Hulen usually puts a sign on
the side of FM 752.
Follow 752 into Alto.
There are several theories about the origin of the town's name.
An early pioneer is supposed to have suggested the name because
he felt that Alto was the Latin word for high. Another story says
the name was chosen because Alto is the Spanish word for stop.
There are several sites near Alto
worth side trips.
A few miles east on Texas
Highway 21, you'll find a miniature park and gravesite of Helena
Kimble Dill Nelson, mother of the first child believed to have been
born to Anglo-Americans in Texas. Five miles northeast of Alto on
the Rusk-Linwood Road is Forest Hill (see update),
the one-time plantation home of Captain James Berryman and his wife,
Dill Berryman, that historic first child.
When you return to Alto
from the two side trips, start in a southwesterly direction on Texas
Highway 21 and travel about six miles to the Caddo
Mounds State Historic Site.
Here you'll find evidence of Indians who lived in East
Texas thousands of years ago. The early Caddos lived on the
site around 800 A.D. The alluvial prairie near the Neches
River had ideal qualities for the establishment of a village
and ceremonial center, good sandy loam soil for agricultural, abundant
natural food resources in the forest, and a permanent water source
in the nearby river. The historical site includes an excellent museum
and interpretation center, a replica of a Caddo structure, and ceremonial
After leaving the Caddo
site, return to Texas
21 and start back toward Alto,
but a few miles up the road, take a left turn by a junkyard (which
is a good place to browse for offbeat items and antiques) and Thomas
Chapel church. You'll be on a blacktop country road which will take
you past scenic farmhomes, spring-fed creeks and open pastures.
The country lane is especially scenic during the spring and fall.
Follow the road until you reach its intersection with Texas 294,
take a left and start westward.
Just before you reach the Neches
River, turn north on Texas 23 by a roadside park. Not far from
the roadside park is the Arthur Temple Sr. Research Center, an area
maintained by the Texas Forest Service. The Center sits on land
once occupied by Fastrill,
a ghost town operated by Southern Pine Lumber Company as a logging
camp in the l940s.
Texas 23 will take you through another stretch of rolling hills,
past the communities of Holcomb's
Store and Beulah,
and back into Rusk.
We recommend a couple of good eating-places on this Sunday Drive.
Dot's Cafe, a black-owned cafe on Martin Luther King Street in Rusk,
serves some of the best soulfood in East
Texas, but Dorothy Jackson only serves luncheon meals. Ask Dorothy
for a sampling of her special hot relish--a recipe she keeps closely
guarded. Also in Rusk,
the dining room of the Thomas J. Rusk Hotel serves several excellent
dishes, including good steaks, a nice Cornish hen, and an excellent
If you like to cook your own meals, we recommend the Foot Bridge
Garden Cookbook, which was organized and published by the Cherokee
County Heritage Association. The cookbook contains recipes for such
dishes as Pepper Jelly, Baked Black Eyed Peas, Cracklin' Bread and
Old Fashioned Biscuits. Many of the recipes date back to the l800s.
For a copy, write Foot Bridge Garden Cookbook, PO Box 590, Rusk,
Excerpt by permission of author Mr.
Subject: Forest Hill, Alto,
I traveled this past weekend to Forest Hill near Alto,
TX and was disappointed to find the home with a no trespassing
sign on the house as well as an alarm system with no one around and
no phone number. The home is privately owned. Your magazine stated
that the home is open to the public the second and third weekends
in October. I did take some pictures of the outside of the home although
the gate on the property said posted. Important for others to know.
The Berryman cemetery is owned by the Berryman family is to the right
of the home and difficult to see from the house and impossible to
see from the road. In 2004, a historical marker was placed in this
cemetery. Thanks. - Amanda Guttieri, October 21, 2010