Day Trips

Fayetteville, Texas, pop. 500.

Small town traditions
Small town traditions
Photo By Gerald E. McLeod

Fayetteville may not have a corner on the cute small-town market, but it has a lot of cute corners for a small town. Five miles off the beaten path of TX 71, almost exactly halfway between Austin and Houston, the village has largely been overlooked by time.

That is not to say that the once prosperous farming community isn't still alive and well. "Come Friday and Saturday night the town is full," says Shirley Chovanec. She and her husband Jerry own the local general store. Folks drive from as far away as Houston and Austin to enjoy a good home-cooked meal, she says.

Both of the town's restaurants are on the town square and offer a basic meat-and-potatoes kind of menu with a local accent. Orsak's Cafe is probably the more famous of the two. They offer a "world famous burger," juicy steaks, and several seafood dishes. Come hungry because the portions far outweigh the prices.

Also expect a little local color with your food, like pickle slices on your iceberg lettuce salad. The atmosphere is classic small-town eatery. Historical photos line the walls lit with neon beer lights. The cafe opens daily 8am-10pm with breakfast served until 11am.

Next door at Keiler's Restaurant and Lodge, the menu isn't a whole lot different than at Orsak's Cafe. On weekend nights there is usually enough business for both. Keiler's only opens Wednesday through Saturday nights. The Lodge's 15 rooms rent for $50 (each) or less and many offer a view of the historic city square. For rental information, call 979/378-2578.

Bob McCown, who owns the Fayette House B&B, says there is lots to do in Fayetteville. "Tour the antique shops, visit friends or family, fish at Lake Fayette, or do absolutely nothing," he says. The owner of two Houston-area bike shops, of course McCown's favorite pastime in Fayetteville is riding bicycles. The gentle rolling hills of the country roads are perfect for long rides, he says, but, "not much traffic is really the key, though."

The Fayette House is a 112-year-old, two-story, six-room house that sleeps up to eight. The parlor is equipped with a wood-burning Ben Franklin stove and a TV and VCR. For information, call 713/777-5333 or 713/941-1473. The McCowns plan to open a second B&B on the edge of town that will offer more of a country atmosphere.

A local historian and president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, Louis J. Polansky can often be found at the Fayetteville Area Heritage Museum that opens every Saturday morning. In a former furniture store, the museum tells the story of the English, German, and Czech families who settled the fertile land. Polansky's family came from Moravia in 1856.

Fayetteville has never had more than 500 residents since it was established in 1831. It had a variety of names until Philip Shaver named it after his hometown in North Carolina. One of the more colorful names was Lickskillet. Polansky says the town earned that name because the numerous town festivals occasionally ran out of food. Latecomers were told to "lick the skillet." The town now relives the olden days with the Lickskillet Festival held the third weekend of October.

For more than 50 years the Boca Family Band and the Fayetteville Brass Band made their headquarters at the Boca Confectionary on the town square. Polansky says that the Boca family was given the choice of joining the musicians union in order to keep recording records or playing the local dance halls that didn't hire union musicians. They chose the German dance halls.

Once a combination of medical center, soda fountain, and dance hall, the confectionary still opens on weekends selling beer and sodas. The walls are lined with photos of the Boca family, and a band plays every other weekend.

Another enterprise that has seen its fortunes greatly changed is the Chovanec General Store. At one time the majority of the block from the Boca's Confectionary to the corner was part of the Chovanec retail empire. Shirley and Jerry Chovanec continue the tradition of selling groceries and hardware in the corner building. "We have people come in who just want to see what a grocery store used to look like," Shirley says. The store opens 7am-6pm Monday-Friday, 7am-4pm Saturday and 9am-11am on Sunday. "Sundays we sell a lot of Gatorade and plumbing supplies," she says. Evidently the pipes in town tend to break on Saturday night and, being halfway between Austin and Houston, the bicyclists stock up for the day's ride.

Of all of the wonderful aspects of Fayetteville, probably the most picturesque is the precinct courthouse in the center of the town square. Built in 1880, the wood-frame, two-story building is about the size of a large two-car garage. Surrounded by a lawn and towering pecan trees, the courthouse adds an anchor to the business district that gives the town its identity.

Originally the building was built as a justice of the peace court with a jail added to the second floor. Polansky says with a laugh that the precinct courthouses are unique to Fayette County because of the large German and Czech population that likes to drink a lot of beer. For those who had a little too much on a Saturday night, having a local jail meant they wouldn't have to be transported all the way back to La Grange. The building also served as a city hall and civic meeting place. It is still used occasionally by local agencies.

In the 1940s the local Do Your Duty Ladies' Club bought a four-faced clock for the top of the building. Ripley's Believe It Or Not declared that Fayetteville was the smallest town in the U.S. with a town clock.

Good food and a scenic small town make Fayetteville a delightful destination. For information on events and accommodations, call 888/ 5-SKILLET.

Coming up ...

Celebration of Whooping Cranes & Other Birds in Port Aransas features exhibits, workshops, and boat tours, Feb. 25-27. 800/45-COAST.

FotoFest 2000 in Houston salutes artists in galleries around town. At the Art Car Museum, eight new exhibits will be added to the collection of unique autos, Mar. 3. 713/861-5526 or http://www.artcarmuseum.com.

Read more in the Day Trips Archive.
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