Day Trips

Capt. Day Trips drops the 411 on Round Top, Texas

Round Top Precinct Courthouse
Round Top Precinct Courthouse (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

Round Top is one of those small towns that you never really get tired of visiting. Maybe it's because it is just so darn cute, or maybe it's because there is so much going on there or because the village has a great restaurant. Probably visiting Round Top is so special because of all of this and more.

For a town with a weekday population of less than 100, Round Top has plenty of historical claims. According to The Handbook of Texas, the Townsend family of Round Top had the distinction of sending more men to the Battle of San Jacinto than any other family. Every Fourth of July, the residents claim that their patriotic parade is the oldest Independence Day celebration west of the Mississippi River.

Most days you wouldn't think that the little settlement of gift shops and bed & breakfasts was ever anything more than a quaint tourist trap. It is a fate more and more roadside villages aspire to as the hardware and grocery stores go the way of full-service gas stations. At least the antique shops keep the property values strong and offer a few jobs for stay-at-home moms and teenagers.

It wasn't always so. In northeastern Fayette County, about 10 miles south of U.S. 290, Round Top was once a bastion of intellectualism among the farms of German and English immigrants. The town was as famous for its artists, poets, musicians, and orators as it was for its agricultural products.

The town might have become known simply for its quaint precinct courthouse if not for Gov. Jim Hogg's daughter. In the early Sixties Ima Hogg bought the old Townsend home seven miles east of Round Top and turned it into a showcase of frontier handicrafts. In 1965, Miss Ima gave the property to the University of Texas to be used as an outdoor museum and study center.

The Winedale Historical Center has become best known for its art and Shakespeare festivals. This summer's schedule of events begins with a mixture of art and music at the Winedale Spring Festival and Texas Crafts Exhibition March 27-28. The Spring Festival of Plays happens on April 30 and May 1 with Eeyore's Birthday Party on Saturday afternoon, May 1.

Begun in 1970 in the hay barn on the farm, Shakespeare at Winedale will present three different plays staged by students on alternating nights between July 17 and Aug. 10. Tickets are $8 per person, and reservations are strongly recommended. For more information on any of the programs at Winedale, call 979/278-3530 or visit www.shakespeare-winedale.org.

A new neighbor moved into the neighborhood east of Round Top on TX 237 in 1976, giving the rural community halfway between Austin and Houston an international reputation. Concert pianist James Dick began building Festival Hill with the acquisition of an old schoolhouse and 6 acres of land. The International Festival-Institute at Round Top is now a showcase of historic buildings and the site of concerts, study, and conferences. The campus is famous for its gardens, rare trees, herbal collections, and unique landscaping.

The spring schedule at Festival Hill includes the Elison Saxophone Quartet on March 20, James Dick's return on April 24, and the International Festival of Chamber Music on June 5. Seminars on growing herbs happen most weekends during the spring, and on March 27 the ninth annual Herbal Forum honors the stinking rose – garlic. Along with lectures and panel discussions on herbs there will be food to sample and a plant sale. For more information on the institute, call 979/249-3129 or visit www.festivalhill.org.

The newest attraction in Round Top draws the biggest crowds. Antique weekends on the first weekend of April and October bring thousands of sellers and buyers to TX 237 around Round Top. Dealers literally line the highway with everything from farm implements to fine china.

But the best reason to visit Round Top at any time is to get a pasta dinner or piece of pie at Royers Round Top Cafe. Bud Royer moved his family to the oldest incorporated town in Texas in 1986, and the dining room hasn't been empty since. The cafe's open Wednesday through Saturday, 11am-9pm, and Sunday, noon-4pm. Call in reservations or to-go orders at 800/624-7437.

665th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Handbook of Texas, Round Top

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