Small Town Getaway

By Kevin Tankersley

Granbury: Where Texas history lives

We may be a couple of months past Halloween, but if you’re looking for a scare, a trip to Granbury should be on your to-do list.

The Granbury Ghosts and Legends Tour takes off every Friday and Saturday night at 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. Guests will hear stories of several local ghosts as well as the tales of the outlaw Jesse James and John Wilkes Booth, both of whom, Granbury lore says, chose to spend time in the community long after the history books say they died.

Most sources say that James was killed in St. Joseph, Missouri, by Robert Ford, whom James had hired as a bodyguard, on April 3, 1882. James was then buried in Kearney, Missouri. Granbury, however, sees it a little differently. The city’s website is pretty clear: “Jesse James is Buried in Granbury.” It alleges another member of the James gang was shot and killed in Missouri, allowing James to go free. They say he eventually settled in Granbury, fell in love with a young lady and lived out his last days there with his grandson, dying at the age of 104. There’s even a headstone for James in the historical Granbury Cemetery.

As far as John Wilkes Booth, those pesky history books say he was killed at Garrett’s farm in Virginia shortly after the assassination of President Lincoln. However, legend has it that some of Lincoln’s cabinet members helped Booth escape. Some people believe Booth eventually ended up in Granbury, where he worked as a bartender under the name John St. Helen.

Rumor has it that the Nutt House Hotel, located on the city’s charming downtown square, is haunted as well. Mary Lou Watkins helped restore the historic hotel when she returned to Granbury in 1967 after a career as a model, hat maker and author. She was a descendent of the three Nutt brothers, who initially built the Texas limestone building in 1893. The hotel officially opened in 1910. The ghost of Mary Lou adjusts curtains or wanders the halls of the hotel at night, the story goes.

Across the square from the Nutt House Hotel is the Granbury Opera House, which was built in 1886 but did not host any performances until 1891. In the early days of the opera house, it employed a bartender who himself was not a drinker. However, he made an exception every April 14, when he would “drink himself into oblivion,” the city’s website says. The bartender: John St. Helen. Abraham Lincoln was killed on April 14, 1865.

Granbury Opera House is home to the Granbury Theatre Company. The only remaining show in the season is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which runs through December 23. Season tickets are now on sale for the 2015 season, which includes performances such as “The Odd Couple,” “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “Mary Poppins” and four others.

Granbury’s downtown square was the first of its kind in Texas to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The square surrounds the Hood County Courthouse, an 1891 structure designed by noted courthouse architect Wesley Clark Dodson of Waco. He designed a total of 12 Texas courthouses, including the one in McLennan County.

If you’re in town the weekend of December 12 and 13, come to the town square for Granbury Living Christmas Cards, a collaboration between the City of Granbury, Hood County and Lakeside Baptist Church. The giant Christmas cards, designed by nationally renowned artist James R. Spurlock, are accompanied by music, drama, dance and multimedia presentations. Each card has a theme — a Cowboy Christmas, a Winter Wonderland, the Nativity and more. The cards will be up all weekend, with daytime activities between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and the cards will come to life from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Granbury Square is bound by Bridge, Crockett, Houston and Pearl streets and dozens of offices, restaurants, galleries and shops, including a gift boutique called St. Helen’s (operated by the descendants of the famous bartender, perhaps?).

Leaving downtown, head west on Pearl Street for a couple of miles and you’ll find the Brazos Drive-In Theatre, one of only 16 drive-ins still operating in Texas (down from about 400 in the late 1950s). The Brazos has been open since 1952 and generally operates from March through November, although it sometimes opens earlier in the year and sometimes closes a bit later. It’s only open on Friday and Saturday nights, showing a double feature both nights. Admission is $20 a carload, $10 for a single. The Brazos Drive-In is at 1800 West Pearl Street.

One of Granbury’s most popular destinations is City Beach Park on Lake Granbury. Yes, it’s an actual beach in the middle of Texas. The white sand of City Beach Park was imported from South Padre Island. There are splash areas for little ones as well as thatched-roof pavilions for rent. Admission to the beach park, located at 116 West Bridge Street, is free.

Just across the street from the Nutt House Hotel is the Hood County Jail and Museum. The jail was built in 1885 and was in operation until 1978. The jail was, as its website says, “state of the art” for its time since it had plumbing on both floors. The second floor of the jail contained the gallows, the single cell — “for women and the insane” — and two other cells for male inmates, while the first floor served as offices and living quarters for a jail official. The museum is open from 1-4 p.m., Friday-Sunday. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children.

For those in the mood for adult beverages, Granbury has several offerings.

Barking Rocks Vineyard and Winery at 1919 Allen Court offers wine tastings from 12-5 p.m. each Friday and Saturday (and also by appointment on Sunday). The winery is in a rock cattle barn that was built in 1968 and produces several varieties of wine, including merlot, zinfandel, rosé and port.

Pemberton Cellars, located at 3500 Lipan Highway, is open from 1-8 p.m. on Saturdays and 1-6 p.m. on Sundays, while Bluff Dale Vineyards, about 15 miles from Granbury at 5222 County Road 148 in Bluff Dale, is open from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every other day except Tuesday, when it is closed.
D’Vine Wine of Texas, at 107 East Bridge Street, on the square in Granbury, offers oenophiles a chance to blend their own wine. Customers can choose a type of wine, add the yeast and additional ingredients and allow their creation to ferment at D’Vine for six to eight weeks. After that, they make another trip to bottle, cork and label their creations.

Every Saturday, Revolver Brewing offers brewery tours, tastings and live music in a family-friendly atmosphere, complete with “a water table and a couple of rock piles for the kids” (it says so right on the website). For $10, visitors receive a logo pint glass, tastings of four beers if they arrive before 2 p.m. and a tour. After 2 p.m., it’s only two beers. The brewery, at 5650 Matlock Road, is open from 12-3 p.m. on Saturdays. The tour takes place at 1:30 p.m.

While Granbury has numerous dining options, one of the most popular is Babe’s Chicken Dinner House, at 114 West Pearl Street, less than a block from the square. Diners at Babe’s can choose from fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, fried chicken tenders, fried catfish and smoked chicken. The meals are served family style, with side dishes including mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, corn, salad and biscuits.

Granbury is on Highway 377 about 87 miles northwest of Waco. The Convention and Visitors Bureau website is www.granburytx.com.

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