In east Texas there is a little town that most people would drive through and never think to stop. Those people are missing out. The town of Henderson, TX is full of history, heroics, and tragedy. The town is older than the state of Texas and was officially formed in 1843. The town is actually named for the first governor of Texas James Pinckney Henderson. In 1860 the town caught fire and every building was burned except for the one brick building, the Flanagan Brick Building, which spurred the construction the brick buildings you see today in downtown. The fire was said to be the work of a union supporter who paid a local woman to start the fire. Visit the historic downtown to read the rest of the story and the town’s role in the Civil War. Another fire in 1878 and in 1905 and the discovery of oil in 1930 has given this town character. Here are the the top 5 things to do in Henderson, Texas.
The Depot Museum
The Depot Museum should be your first stop to get a good background on the town. As you enter you see the main exhibits for the museum. These exhibits tell the history of the town all the way back to the Native Americans that settled in the area. After touring these exhibits, you get to my favorite part of the museum which is the actual historic buildings collected from around the area. You will see a log cabin, saw mill, the actual train depot, and several other historic buildings including an operational syrup mill and a Victorian outhouse. The exhibits date from 1841 – 2000 painting a life-size picture of the history of the area. The museum is part of two special events each year: The Heritage Folkart Day and the Heritage Syrup Festival.
The Heritage Syrup Festival
The Heritage Syrup Festival is always the second Saturday in November and is the only folk life festival in East Texas. It is based on the local tradition of making sugarcane syrup using mule power. The syrup mill at The Depot Museum is where you will experience the actual tradition; however, the festival extends to the 10 blocks of the Historic Downtown District with a hayride shuttle to get you from place to place. Although the festival has the normal musical entertainment and vendors, it also has craftsmen and folk artist to display the history of the the area. Thousands of people visit every year so you will want to park around The Depot Museum area and come early. Events start at 9:00 AM and the festival wraps up around 5:00 PM. It is worth getting up early for.
Historic Downtown Walking Tour
The first thing your need to do is get the map/brochure. You can pick one up in a few locations around town but the link above will allow you to print it from home. I actually got mine from my uncle who now lives in town. It is a self-guided tour so you need the map to identify the landmarks. Next you need to know that Main Street runs not only north and south but also east and west. The intersection is the main part of the Historic Downtown called Heritage Square. You will find an historical marker telling about the history and giving you a perspective of where most of the buildings are. Several of the buildings are on the National Register and have been restored to keep as much history as possible after the fires. Pictures in the brochure help you visualize what the town looked like in the past. You will want to look for key characteristics in each building that tells you of the building’s history such as the lodge symbol in the Masonic Lodge Building and the Chevrolet symbols in the Chamberlin Chevrolet Building. There are new businesses in the buildings now, but each holds evidence of its history preserved by the community.
Howard Dickinson House
The Howard Dickinson House was the first brick home built in Henderson in 1855. The Howards were brick masons and contractors. They used the grounds for a brick yard as well as their home in the late 1800’s. The Howards also built many of the buildings downtown and were well-known in the area for their craft. The house can only be toured by appointment so you will want to call ahead to see the inside.
Henderson Civic Theatre
The Henderson Civic Theatre was once an opera house. It was built in 1885 by J.T. Turner and used as an opera house until 1918 when the building was purchased by E.M. Dotson and J.E. Norvell who used it as a general mercantile business. In 1988 the building was restored back to its original intent. Now the theater hosts performances and promotes dramatic arts in all forms. It hosts 5 productions throughout the year along with special performances. Most recently a projector and screen have been added to expand its capabilities. Although the theater has been renovated, the history of the building has been preserved and can still be felt. There is a production during the Heritage Syrup Festival so a visit in November can help check off all of the “must sees” on your list.
I had never really paid attention to Henderson, TX even though I passed by it several times and had family there until I visited for the first time last year. I was so excited to learn about all of the history and see the historic buildings preserved in this town. The restaurants are great as well. I plan to visit more often in the future and look forward to learning more about this wonderful town.