Texas Day Trip

By Megan Willome

Hats Off to Seguin

Pictured: Photo provided by Geoffrey King

As you drive into Seguin, a billboard from the convention and visitors bureau says, “There’s a story here. Find yours.” Seguin’s story is that it’s a historic town, evolving to meet the needs of people living in the fastest-growing area of Texas, the Interstate 35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio.

This town of 28,000 is about 15 miles off I-35. But why drive through the traffic jam that is Austin when you can take the toll road? If you’re headed to Seguin from Waco, by all means, take it. The speed limit is at least 80 miles per hour — 85 in one stretch — and the road ends on Interstate 10, just a few miles east of Seguin.

When you’re looking at destinations for a day trip, you probably don’t want crowds. That’s Seguin. Its small-town vibe means people know each other and like where they live. Do you want to spend the day tubing down a river without worrying about crazy crowds? You can. Do you want to sip a local brew in the evening and listen to live music? You can do that too.

Seguin seems to have hit the tourist radar this summer, largely because of Son’s Island. This 3 1/2-acre tropical paradise is not new — it’s been open for three years. But this year, in addition to its 40 lakeside cabanas, the property added “glamping” (tent camping with glamour).

Son’s Island offers day and evening cabana rentals. Each private cabana includes electricity, a ceiling fan, a charcoal grill and water access. If you bring little kids, there’s a frog slide and a rope swing. If you bring older kids, there are kayaks and paddleboards for rent. And there’s always fishing and swimming on pristine Lake Placid, all in a shady space with towering pecan trees.

“We’ve been booked to the brim,” said Harrison Wood, manager. “The prices don’t restrict people financially. We’ve had a lot of luck with pricing because you can bring the entire family. The inverse, a wife and husband come and get away for the weekend.”

This private park is just a couple of miles off I-10 at 110 Lee Street. Weekends are booked through the summer, but a few midweek days remain open. Hours will change in the fall, so check the website for updates at lakeplacidisland.com.

In addition to Son’s Island, Seguin attracts visitors seeking a relaxing day on the water because the Guadalupe River runs through it.

“They don’t make more of water,” said Wood, quoting his father. That statement explains why Seguin’s tourist industry is growing — people want to hang out on the water, and they’re looking for a spot that isn’t overrun.

“You have New Braunfels, you have San Marcos, but when you come to Seguin it’s laid-back, family-oriented. It’s very calm,” said Myra Salinas, tourism assistant for the convention and visitors bureau.

Earlier this year Comal Tubes opened Seguin Tubes, at 2006 Stockdale Highway, which rents tubes and accessories for a 1 hour and 10 minute float down the Guadalupe. The shop also offers shuttle service.

For information about kayaking, fishing and boating, check the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, gbra.org, for water conditions and access locations.

In addition to the water, pecan trees define the landscape of Seguin — they are in the parks, in front of the houses and along the lakes. The best thing about pecan trees? Shade. So even on a hot summer day, there’s respite.

“You have to have pecans here in Seguin,” Salinas said.

Seguin produces up to 3 million pounds of pecans annually. The statue that was once hailed — and disputed — as the world’s largest pecan is located in front of the county courthouse. The actual largest pecan is now at the Texas Agricultural Education and Heritage Center, a working farm with 19th century buildings on display at 390 Cordova Road.

But why see just one nut when you can see more than 8,500 nutcrackers at Pape Pecan House and Nutcracker Museum, located at 101 South Highway 123. The owner, Kenneth Pape, has been collecting nutcrackers for 50 years.

“He would travel around the world, buying them, meeting collectors. Now collectors donate to him,” Salinas said.

With such a nutty history, it’s not hard to find pecan products throughout Seguin, like Walnut Springs Pecan Coffee at Court Street Coffee Shop (the town was originally named Walnut Springs) or a Honey Pecan Ale at Seguin Brewing Co., both located downtown.

Downtown Seguin is experiencing a renaissance to accommodate the interest in a central location for dining and shopping. All the trendy spots are located within a few blocks.

“A lot of our shops were not in our downtown area — they moved to our downtown area,” Salinas said.

I ate lunch at Court Street Coffee Shop, located at 111 West Court Street. The diners that day included Texas Lutheran University students studying, businessmen meeting, ladies lunching and tourists looking through the same brochures I was. A sign on the wall was configured like an eye chart to read “Coffee and Friends the Perfect Blends.” There is a stage for live music on Friday nights. One wall offered work for sale by local artists. My cold-brewed coffee and vegan tamale were delicious.

Seguin’s nightlife has been growing, and all the bars are also downtown in the historic district. The Aumont Saloon, at 301 North Austin Street, has a rooftop patio and wine bar. Warehouse, at 108 South Austin Street, hosts an open mic night. And Seguin Brewing Co., at 111 West Gonzales Street, has live music throughout the month.

At night the pecan trees around the downtown square in Seguin Central Park are lit up, as is the Alfred H. Koebig art deco fountain. The colors change depending on the holiday. The park also contains a bronze statue of the town’s namesake, Col. Juan Seguin, a military leader in the fight for Texas independence and a senator in the Republic of Texas. He is honored each year during the annual Pecan Fest Heritage Days, a three-day celebration the last weekend of October, which includes the Hats Off to Juan Seguin parade.

Across the street from the statue is a true gem, the Park Plaza Hotel, at 217 South River Street. The 100-year-old hotel has 30 rooms and once served as a boys’ dormitory for Texas Lutheran University. The structure has been restored and retains the original tile floors and wood banisters around the mezzanine. The concrete walls are white, as are the ceilings, allowing the furniture and art to stand out. The grand ballroom has a balcony, from which many a bride has thrown her bouquet. For fine dining, visit Chop House, the hotel’s renowned restaurant serving lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. There is also a full bar with live music on Saturdays. The rooms are not large, but they are lovingly maintained, as befits a boutique hotel listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

A tip from the front desk supervisor: “Ask for the room with the view.”

Although the Park Plaza Hotel isn’t among them, more than a dozen buildings in Seguin are noted for their limecrete construction. Limecrete used concrete and lime rather than cement. Among Seguin’s 19 examples of limecrete architecture is Sebastopol House, a state historic site located at 704 Zorn Street. This 19th century Greek Revival house is set on 2 1/2 acres in the middle of town and is one of the best-preserved limecrete structures west of the Mississippi River. The house is also the site of the Wilson Pottery Museum. The Wilson Potters were freed slaves who started a pottery business following the Civil War.

More information about the potters and the town’s history is available at the Seguin-Guadalupe County Heritage Museum, located downtown at 114 North River Street. Several other historic buildings are located near downtown at Heritage Village, at the corner of South River and East Live Oak Streets. The village includes Texas’ oldest standing Protestant church, a log cabin built by an Irish immigrant, a Victorian doll house and an adobe building called Los Nogales.

The word “nogales” means walnuts in Spanish. Seguin has nurtured both walnut and pecan trees since its founding in 1838. Many of the walnut trees were cut down and made into homes or home furnishings, especially by German craftsmen who immigrated between the 1850s and 1870s.

The legacy of those trees and the tributary of the Guadalupe River that nourished them endures at Walnut Springs Park. This network of walkways and bridges, at 317 West Court Street, was designed by Robert H.H. Hugman, who later designed the San Antonio River Walk. Pecans became a larger crop in Seguin as the 20th century unfolded.

Today pecan trees are part of how the town defines itself. Myra Salinas said she recently bought a home, and her kids like to pick the pecans that fall from the tree. Then they sell them to Pape’s. She says it’s common to see other local people outside in the fall, picking pecans.

“Every house probably has a pecan tree,” Salinas said.

Those trees have always grown well near the water, as they do on Son’s Island. Harrison Wood recently met one of the property’s original owners, a woman now in her 90s who remembered planting the trees that make the property such a desirable destination.

“She and her sister planted upwards of 250 trees,” he said. “She was in tears, seeing how they’d grown.”

For more information about Seguin, its pecan trees and its many treasures, go to the City of Seguin website, visitseguin.com.