Before leaving Lampasas, I stopped at the Harry Butts super market to get some comestibles to munch on like juicy grapes and peaches (no potato chips and candy for this wise old bird). I continued north on U.S. 281 with a substantial south wind pushing my gas mileage up into the stratosphere (a mild exaggeration). I couldn’t believe my fortuitous luck, having a tail wind in opposite directions within a span of less than three days! Only in Texas!
Thirty miles later, I passed through the tiny burg of Erant, and 16 miles up the road I pulled into Hamilton (pop. 2,937) and parked at the town square, the centerpiece of which was the county courthouse. Erected in 1886, the original temple of justice was a Second Empire limestone building. Unfortunately, in 1931, the courthouse was bastardized into a Classical Revival structure accentuated with a columned portico in front and center. Needless to say, it was not included in my watercolor portfolio of Texas courthouses (it didn’t even have a clock tower).
I noticed a gentleman sitting on one of the benches that encircled the courthouse, so I sauntered over and sat down next to him, hoping we could strike up a good conversation. His weathered cap was emblazoned with “Gromansky-Kreuger Farms”, a good indication that he was of either German or Polish descent. Well, I wasn’t disappointed, as we talked for almost an hour about how Hamilton came to be, since Bodie mentioned that he was a descendant of several generations of Kreugers who settled and stayed in the area. I asked, “What sort of commerce got Hamilton started?” He replied, “Cotton gins and feed mills, and, of course, the railroad. The depot was a block off the square where the old Cotton Belt split off to Waco and Dublin. There was a time when there was a grocery store at every comer of the square. Competition was really high, back then.” I finally had to excuse myself, and thanked him for a great time.
I continued north on Hwy 281, thinking to myself what a beautiful afternoon it had been talking with a complete stranger as if I had known him for years, under the shade of live oaks with a gentle breeze whistling through the leaves. 37 miles later I was pretty much out of the Hill Country as I came upon the tiny town of Hico (pronounced Heeko) where I hooked a right and headed east on TX 6. After a thirty-minute drive, I stopped in Meridian to call my old classmate from Hillcrest high school, John Bracken, but there was no answer. I was somewhat disappointed since I was looking forward to engaging in some “tree talk” with one of the most respected horticulturists in North Texas. The Village Apartments where I lived were blessed with a countless variety of deciduous trees (sprinkled among the ubiquitous live oaks), so all I wanted was for John to identify some particular species according to my “layman’s” description. Oh well, I could always inquire at The Village landscape office to satisfy my insatiable curiosity.
I passed by the town square, which boasted of being the county seat of Bosque County with a relatively diminutive limestone courthouse (compared with the “giants” in Waxahachie and Decatur) that reflected the county’s small population of 15,125. Built in 1886 in the Romanesque Revival style, the courthouse had obviously been stripped of its most prominent features. To prove my point, back in the early-1990s when I was touring Texas photographing courthouses, I stopped at the town square in Meridian and gazed up at the temple of justice, and realized immediately that there was something terribly missing from the structure.
I ventured inside and came upon a lone county employee, describing to her my “courthouse mission”. I went on to say, “I have a gut feeling that this courthouse originally had more architecture on top than it does now. I’d like to watercolor it in its original state.” She was impressed with my ambitious endeavor, and somehow pulled out of her files a picture of the courthouse dated 1924. She said, “You were right on with your observations. In the mid-1930s, the WPA, for some unexplainable reason, shaved off the peaked comers and obliterated the clock tower. It’s really a shame.” I commented, “I can only ascertain that they were removed because of structural instability. They were probably afraid that a big gust of wind might topple them over.” I acknowledged her “guess you’re right” nod, and then thanked her for the priceless photo.
I was on the final leg of my abbreviated odyssey as I headed northeast on TX 174 with the Hill Country sadly disappearing from view in my outside mirror. I stopped in Cleburne for one final fill up for 8 gallons at $1.40 a gallon. Cleburne was the county seat of Johnson County, but with its uninspiring 1913 Texas Renaissance monolith topped off with an erection of a phallic clock tower, it was definitely not on my aquarellering agenda. I turned onto U.S. 67 with the late afternoon sun and wind behind me, cruising along listening to smooth jazz on 107.5 FM.
I passed by a gigantic cement plant just outside of Midlothian surrounded by hundreds of hopper rail cars filled with sand, gravel, and whatnot with a free-standing masonry sign in front with the inscription “RAIL PORT”. As I neared Dallas, U.S. 67 turned into a quasi-interstate and merged with I-35 where the approaching drive towards downtown afforded a spectacular view of the Dallas skyline as if I were driving across the Brooklyn Bridge to lower Manhattan (slight exaggeration). I pulled in front of Apt. 415, turned off Ol’ Blue, and thanked the Good Lord for a safe and wonderful round trip of 521 miles. Well, as Porky Pig would say, “Yuppidy, yuppidy, that’s all folks.”