Chet and I are writing an epic Hill Country travel book to help y’all have your own awesome adventures through Texas. Get excited guys, because we have some awesome spots in this book that we can’t wait to share with y’all!
Along with writing about places we’ve already been on the show, I’ve been visiting towns Chet hasn’t explored yet to do research (which sounds super lame but basically means I’ve been eating awesome foods and perusing museums to make sure you’ll love them too!) I know…it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!
I recently traveled to Belton to check things out. If you’re like me, you’ve only ever traveled through this town in search of a rest stop to escape the construction chaos on I-35, but as I explored, I was shocked to find that Belton, itself, is a destination. There is a TON of history in this town that I didn’t even know about!
My first stop in town was Cochran, Blair & Potts, a department store that was built in 1869, making it the oldest department store in Texas. It sits right off Belton’s bustling town square and is actually a still-functioning store today!
On the first floor you can buy college memorabilia, clothing and shoes, but the really cool part is upstairs, where you’ll find a museum spaced out over the entire top floor showcasing the store’s history. The exhibits feature tons of artifacts like supplies used by the store’s office, newspaper articles commemorating store celebrations and anniversaries, and even fancy Wedding China (that cost a whopping $80 when the store first opened!)
My next stop was lunch. Behind town square is this historic cotton gin from 1928 that’s now an eatery right on Nolan Creek.
The huge shaded patio of The Gin overlooks the sunny creek and the cute children splashing around in the gently rolling waters. There’s really no better view to accompany a chicken salad sandwich and mountain of crisp handmade chips (which I may or may not have completely devoured…)
After lunch, I must have circled the Square four times in my car, staring at the Bell County Courthouse. I know people were looking at me strange and cars were trying to dodge my 20-mile-per-hour driving, but I just couldn’t get enough of this stunning building which looms over the surrounding shops like some kind of a Hill Country Castle. It was built in 1884 with the best white limestone the Belton residents could find around the area and is one year older than the Texas Capitol.
Next, I was supposed to be on my way to a museum, but signs directing traffic towards the Belton Dam somehow lead me across town to one of the most magical spots in Texas. I’m the kind of girl who dreams of driving along the beach on the Pacific Coast Highway in Califorina, but PCH can step aside — there is no feeling more exhilarating than cruising along the Belton Dam with your windows down and music blasting, as you’re almost 200 feet in the air with nothing but Belton Lake and the Leon River on either side of you!
With wind-swept hair and the delight of accidentally stumbling upon my new favorite spot, I finally resumed my scheduled activities — after driving back and forth across the dam a few more times, of course!
Back in town, I visited the Bell County Museum which was chalk-full of interesting exhibits about the history of the county, including the Chisholm Trail’s path through town and the characters that lived in Bell County. I learned about Bell County resident – and first female governor – “Ma” Ferguson, who played a large role in defeating the KKK in Texas in the 1920s. There was even an exhibit about the archaeology Gault Site in nearby Florence, TX, where 1.4 million artifacts have been uncovered, changing what we know about the first people who lived in Texas over 13,000 years ago.
However, possibly the MOST IMPORTANT thing I discovered was that this museum has the largest collection of mustache cups. The collection had a total of 250 cups and even included left-handed ones (which is quite important to me as a fellow lefty!) These cups with bands across the top ensured that the men of Belton had moisture-free mustaches. The museum’s collection ranges from classy tea cups to manly coffee mugs.
My time in Belton was a pleasant surprise. When I first started out I wasn’t sure what I’d find, but I certainly wasn’t expecting my trip to turn into a full-on history lesson. Yet, after a day full of windows-down cruising and museum-exhibit perusing, that’s exactly what I found! From scenic spots to priceless stories, when you trip to Belton, there’s no telling what you’ll stumble upon.