Monday, July 27, 2015

Touring the Backroads

Back during the monsoon season in May, Cousin Glynda alerted me to a historical tour that was going to take place via bus in parts of Bastrop, Williamson and Lee Counties.  She knew that my maternal grandparents had lived in that area during my childhood and, given my family history bent, thought I might be interested in tagging along.  It turned out that the tour was to be based on a book by Charlene Hanson Jordan, a book I had owned for quite some time, entitled "Stuck in the Mud at Post Oak Island".  Mrs. Jordan would be our tour host.  While my ancestors were not involved in the settlement of this particular area, I am interested in all things related to Bastrop County history and it involved an area that I was somewhat familiar with, so I signed on. 

Alas, the week preceding the scheduled tour, the area received non-stop rain and it was decided that it would not be particularly wise to aim a large tour bus down potentially washed out and/or muddied out country roadways, so the tour was rescheduled to July when it could be almost 100% sure that dry conditions would prevail.

I had almost forgotten about the whole thing during the course of the Colorado trip and the early July work crush, but when the fog cleared and I was finally getting a bit of free time to take care of personal business, I glanced down the calendar a few weeks and realized that I had a date to tour some backroads.  Yesterday I headed a bit north of Elgin to finally take advantage of the opportunity to see some parts of Bastrop County I had no idea existed.

The book that inspired the tour.
Post Oak Island refers not to a portion of the County that is surrounded by water, but rather an area part prairie, part sandy land that at one time was home to an isolated grove of post oak trees.   A good percentage of the settlers drawn to the area had Scandinavian roots and many of the community names reflect this.

We began our tour at the Yegua Creek Evangelical Church, which sits in the area once known as Type.  This is not the original location of the Church.  It came later to build next to the Type Cemetery and it now oversees the maintenance of the historic cemetery where many of the original settlers are buried.  The church sits out in the country amid fields and old homesteads and roads that twist and turn until you can get so turned around you have no idea where you are.  (I can attest to this because I looked up the route to take out to the church, but decided to let the GPS take me home.  I didn't pay much attention to the fact that I wasn't retracing my route in until I had been directed this way and that and the next thing I knew I was surrounded by brown corn stalks on every side with no idea which way was out.  Thankfully the GPS may have been taking a circuitous route back to the highway, but it did get me there.  Eventually.)

Yegua Creek Evangelical Free Church

Type Cemetery, adjacent to the church
Cousin Glynda and her son Daniel (who was our driver for the day) work for the travel company that was providing the bus, so I had a bit of an inside track on this outing.  Otherwise I might never have heard about it.  It turned out to have been publicized more in the Elgin area (I guess I'm not as well plugged in over there as I thought) and I was pleasantly surprised that a few folks with whom I have other historical connections turned up to share the afternoon.  We departed on our 5 hour tour in air-conditioned comfort, with plush seating and on board restroom facilities, during the hottest part of the afternoon.  But inside the heat was not an issue and outside it wasn't raining, which was a big plus over the original plans.

Our chariot, driven by Cousin Daniel Melton
The route we took was a series of overlapping circles out along narrow, but mostly paved, roadways through the area where Bastrop, Williamson and Lee Counties join.  We headed first to Pleasant Grove, which is a very familiar area to me since I have kinfolks living out that way and since I've visited the cemetery there many times.  The biggest surprise to me on this portion of the trip was how quickly I realized where I was, even though I was approaching it from an entirely new direction.  To get to the house where my Grandparents Hodge lived when I was young, we would drive out Pleasant Grove Road until it ended and then take what was then a series of gravel roads out to the middle of nowhere and I would quickly get a bit turned around and have no idea where I was or how to get to the farm.  Later when I began to drive, I finally learned my way out there but was never really comfortable with any detour off that learned route.

But, as we approached the Pleasant Grove Road from the opposite direction I know, I was suddenly aware of exactly how I would proceed to go out to the old farm place.  It's taken me most of my life, but I guess I finally know my way around out there.

After stopping briefly at the cemetery for a short talk on the history of Pleasant Grove by one of my mother's old schoolmates, we were back on the road and beginning to circle back to our point of beginning.  We saw points where old school houses and old churches and old stores once sat and where once thriving farms have been replaced by exotic game ranches.  (I think we saw at least three exotic game ranches.)

One of our stops was to see a unique house that a young couple has built into the side of a hill.  We were allowed to go inside and take a look, and all of us were impressed with how nice and roomy a house it was, although from the outside you would never guess how deep into the hill it extends.  Solar panels are mounted on the hill above the house and we were all interested in the little unit you can see in the picture below just above and behind the gentlemen in the driveway.  That little outhouse looking building provides the means to heat the house.  I didn't get all the technical details, but I did hear that part of the source involved a wood burning option.  I had two thoughts upon leaving the interior - (1) that it would be an ideal place to sit out a tornado threat and (2) I would go crazy in a house that has no windows except for a few on the front side.

Entrance to a house built into the side of Catfish Hill.
A lot of the places we visited were now empty fields, with the occasional old cistern remaining behind to indicate where the school or other building once sat, but a few buildings remain.  We saw an old settler's cabin that had been moved from a few miles away to sit beside the Lawrence Chapel and Cemetery.

A dog-trot cabin that was originally the home of Adam and Sarah (Miller) Lawrence.

Lawrence Chapel, with an unusual curved front
We meandered around to Beaukiss, which I've heard of all my life and don't think I've ever actually seen until now.  We stopped briefly at an old Masonic Lodge, home of the Post Oak Island Lodge #181, which is still active.

Post Oak Island Masonic Lodge
After leaving Beaukiss, we made our way to Lawhon Springs, another one of those places I've heard of all my life and never visited.  Historian Audrey Rother took over the microphone there to give us a bit of history on that area where her family lived.  We saw the old school house and the location of the springs which gave the place its name.  From there we drove to Down Home Ranch where most of our party got out for a presentation by the founder.  Glynda, Daniel and I have been to Down Home Ranch many times, so we opted to stay on board the bus and have a nice catch-up visit.  I heard some pretty good tales involving road trips that Glynda's family took years ago with her mother and aunt (my great-aunts Ruby and Ora).  All I can say is that any activity involving those two ladies (and their sister, my Grandmother Ivy) generally included some hilarious stunts.  This time I heard about the time they all went on a paddleboat ride on the Mississippi River and Glynda having warned all her youngsters to stay out of the dirty river when the boat docked, only to look out and see Aunt Ora paddling around in the water.  Those old ladies were always a hoot and you never knew what to expect from them, except that you would sure have a good story to tell afterwards.

Back on the road, we ended the tour in Siloam where the Yegua Creek Farms is located.  This operation is a pecan orchard and commercial kitchen and they were waiting for us with Bar-B-Q and fixings and we all were more than ready to take on some vittles at that stage.  Again, I had no idea this place existed, but if you are wandering around the backroads around Elgin, this would be a good stop to make.  I just wish I had had the opportunity to pry the cucumber salad recipe out of the folks.  I don't like cucumber salads, but I loved that one.

After our meal, we headed back to the church, tired but happy with our afternoon's activities.  I grabbed the opportunity to purchase a couple of books by a local author, then headed home under the questionable directions of the GPS lady.  I missed a couple of photo ops that I had spotted on the way out to the church that morning, so I may have to go back at some point, but at least I got the opportunity to grab a few photos at a tiny crossroads next to fields of mature milo (which I always called maize, but I learned during the tour is really milo - live and learn).  I love seeing these fields of red in the early and late sun.  Pictures really do not do it justice.


Looking out over a field of milo.
I really didn't think there was a whole lot I was going to learn when I headed out yesterday morning.  After all I've lived in Bastrop County for 40 plus years, was born in Elgin and carried all around that area by my grandparents and parents when I was little, and have been a family historian studying the various spots in the area where family lived for decades - but I have to say it was time well spent and I will probably have to retrace the tour route on my own when the weather gets a bit cooler.

The other memory I will keep of this day is the experience of traveling those narrow little roads in such a huge bus.  Traffic on those back roads is fairly sparse, but it was comical to look down the road and see a pickup round the bend headed toward us and see them pause - consider - and cautiously approach us, hugging the far side of the road as close to the edge as possible.  I was thoroughly impressed by my cousin's ability to maneuver that bus, backing down one lane drives when there was no turnaround and swinging out so wide to make a turn over a culvert that you would be sure we were going to land in the ditch, only to swing into the turn with inches to spare.

Being a historian may sound dull, but dull is in the eye of the beholder.  I had a heckuva good time yesterday.


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