Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Granbury, Texas Memorial Day

It was the weekend of our 42nd wedding anniversary (also Memorial Day weekend) and I wanted do do something close by but fun. Granbury came up only because I got online about a month before to secure accommodations for that busy weekend and Granbury had an opening in what appeared to be a cool little bungalow which caught my attention named the California Cottage.

The pictures looked promising and it was available for the whole weekend so I jumped on it. Although it had a nice Internet site, I quickly learned it was not your usual slick “one-click” reservation system. It turned out to be a good old call up reservation. I had a very pleasant phone conversation with 89 year old (yes…she qualified her lack of tech savvy by telling me her age) Veriena Braune. She hooked me up and couldn't have been more helpful. She even emailed me a schedule of events for Granbury for that weekend.

So we made our way to Granbury and found our little California Cottage as advertised. A neat little two bedroom home with a full kitchen. Ok…Dianna was a little behind the power curve with a lack of Internet access, but that didn't stop her Facebook updates using the 4G. The interior was themed with art and photos of our former home state which really made it homey. Well, that and the homemade brownies and banana nut bread they left us on the kitchen table. Ok…..you closed the deal!

After a quick lunch at Fuzzys Tacos, we made our way to our first important stop, Barking Rocks Winery. Yes, the name intrigued us as well, so we made tracks to 119 Allen Court. Entering we were immediately met by Cellar the winery dog who welcomed us to the tasting bar. Sissy and Larry Tiberius met us and quickly got to the business of tasting their wines. Though they grow some grapes, they, like many in the industry blend grapes from other vineyards to make their stuff. They assured us they only used Texas grapes except their Tempranillo which comes from Chile.

The question came up as to the name of their winery, Barking Rocks. Sissy explained it was a well thought out intellectual process requiring deep thought and a prodigious amount of wine consumption by a group of friends. The ranch brand was |-|<. Initial deliberations came up with 1-1 less-than. Clearly clouded by the wine squeezings, it was a non-starter. So they finally settled on the idea that the ‘H’ resembled an animal (yes, the wine talking again) and the less-than sign was the mouth “barking”. Again, recalling how this deep consensus came about explains it all. But here we are anyway.

With only one white wine, Rousanne, and the rest were reds, Malbec, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese . The white was slightly sweet but a little dry for us but good. The reds were pleasant but dry, not our bag. Luckily they had a great Dessert wine named Dock which was good enough to buy. We were able to complete our tasting and dog petting in time for the first bus load of tourists to show up and overwhelm the place. Thanks Sissy, Larry, Shane and dog Cellar.

Dianna decided to nap prior to dinner and our Haunted Ghost tour so I struck out for the town square and some history hunting. First and foremost was the Hood County Courthouse. It constitutes the County seat for Hood County named for Confederate Lt. General John Bell Hood. The town was named after one of his subordinates, Brigadier General Hiram Bronson Granbury. The land for the town of Granbury was donated by Thomas Lambert and J. F. and J. Nutt (yeah weird) adjacent to the meandering Brazos River. The Courthouse is the fifth Courthouse built there in 1890 (the others burned down) built in the second empire style of Brazos Limestone with a wonderful clock tower clawing its way up to the sky.

The other was the old Hood County Jail. Built in 1885, also of Brazos Limestone, it replaced the original one-room log cabin jail which was substandard for holding desperadoes and that sticky point of being unsuitable for holding female prisoners. So the city council specified the new jail had to have three requirements. It had to house the Sheriff and his family, had to have separate accommodations for female prisoners and, oh yeah, you had to be able to execute someone by hanging. Pete and Karen were my tour guides as they reflected on the bad old days.

So the first floor of the two floor block wall jail had the sheriff’s residence and the second floor had  a soaring 22 foot ceiling to accommodate a hanging scaffold which was never completed. The female cell was rather spacious but originally did not have a toilet but had running water.

As a matter of fact, the jail was the first building in Granbury to have indoor plumbing back in 1885. The men's side had a giant steel cage which housed the men. It was positioned in the center of the room with a walk around path for the Deputies to monitor the prisoners. The high ceiling was covered in corrugated metal sheets with no windows and little ventilation. It must have been a breadbox in Summer. It wasn't much of a departure from Central Jail in San Diego.

When Dianna was ready we tried Farinas for dinner. Great Italian menu with really great service. I had my standard Lasagne and Dianna had the Chicken Pasta Alfredo. My Lasagne was excellent in that Farinas only use Italian Sausage for their meat. Good decision on their part.

Dianna was a little disappointed with her Alfredo. Seems we missed the fact they use mushrooms in their sauce. Not a favorite with Dianna and I might add the mushrooms did overwhelm the taste of the Alfredo. Couldn't even taste the Alfredo cream. The Sangria we washed it down with helped salve the wounds.

Now the desserts were amazing. I had the New York Cheese cake crusted in Heath Bar with a drizzle of Caramel. Dianna had the Tiramisu. Big ‘old Lady Fingers sandwiched in a delightful mousse thoroughly covered with cocoa powder. Both excellent.

Filled to the gills, we made our way back to our cottage until Ghost Tour time. At 9 p.m. sharp we made our way to a much subdued Town Square with the monolithic Courthouse standing guard in the 100% humidity while the sidewalks got rolled up. Thankfully the City allows you to walk around the Square with your adult beverage to slay your thirst.

In front of the Nutt House Hotel, we met Brandi, our tour guide with  Granbury Ghosts and Legends Tours. Brandi is a bit of a nationally recognized spirit chaser and lecturer. Brandi began by speaking about Granbury and its place in Hood County history and politics. She brought up Mary Lou Watkins, a direct descendant of the Nutt family and a major force in Granbury’s revitalization making Granbury the successful township it is today.

It should be pointed out that, though we have yet to encounter any paranormal activity on these tours, the upside is the tour guides tend to have a pretty good grasp of local history which helps me learn about the regions we visit. Brandi was no exception.

She referred us to the Acton Cemetery south of town where many famous Hood County residence were buried including Elizabeth Crockett,wife of Davy. Sometime in the 1850s (Davy died at the Alamo in 1836), Elizabeth settled her family in Hood County and when she passed, was laid to rest in the Acton Cemetery. Brandi said the grave site was impressive and worth seeing. Every year the Crockett descendants still hold a reunion in Granbury. She said the courthouse clock in its tower was rather unique. It is only one of two working hand wound Seth Thomas clocks left in the world. The other is Big Ben in London, England. Who knew?

We moved off to the Hood County Jail I had visited earlier. Brandi said there were a couple of spirits wandering the building. She said one was a Native American man named “Joe” who had occupied this area prior to white settlers moved in. Joe is harmless as are the woman and children who make the first floor their home.

As we walked by the Square Gas Station (now a restaurant), Brandi told the story of how, back in the thirties, when it was a real gas station, Bonnie and Clyde came through town. They stopped there to get gas and decided to get some food and sat on the Courthouse lawn to eat. They were soon recognized and before the Sheriff could be called, they hopped back into their car and quickly drove out of town.

Brandi said that during the late 1800s there were about seven saloons in the square and the town was the place to be when the cowboys came to town. Where the Nuttshell Café and Bakery is today, was a saloon. It has a colorful history, including a legend that John Wilkes Booth resided in the upstairs B&B and tended bar in the saloon next door. 

The owner was a woman named Dolly who often wore a red dress while working. Long after the saloon changed hands Dolly would often appear to size up the operation and could be seen checking on customers to see if they were being taken care of.

When the Nutshell Café opened, a woman artist was hired to do a mural celebrating the buildings history. The artist included an image of Dolly in the mural. One night the artist was finishing up and when she tried to collect her brushes for cleaning, they were gone. After looking around, she gave up and left. The next day, she discovered her brushes stuck deep in one of the planters on the sidewalk.

Brandi said there was a lot of controversy over the death of John Wilkes Booth after the Lincoln assassination. There is a version where Booth is not killed in the burning barn but how he escaped and made his way to Granbury under the name John St. Helens. St. Helens became a well-known bartender at a saloon where the current St. Helens Bar is on the Square today next to the Granbury Opera House. People who knew him described him as a well read man who occasionally acted and often quoted Shakespeare. He taught drama to the school kids. Although he worked at a bar, he was never seen to drink in excess but always got drunk on the anniversary of Lincolns Assassination.

Things came to a head when St. Helens became gravely ill and believing he was on his death bed confided in several friends that he was actually John Wilkes Booth. Problem was, he recovered and realizing the gravity of his disclosure, suddenly left town never to be seen again.

Another famous desperado, Jesse James may have made Granbury home in his later years. The story goes that Jesse wasn’t killed but another gang member had been killed in his stead. In his later years, he mentioned to several people that he always wanted to spend his final days in the place he met “the love of his life”. A young woman he met in Granbury back in the day. It was a time before fingerprints and DNA but the Sheriff was suspicious and kept an eye on him. At the time of his death, the Sheriff at the time, attended the postmortem and wrote that he had seen evidence of 32 gunshot wounds and a rope burn around his neck.

Interestingly, he was buried at Acton Cemetery in a grave listing him as J. Frank Dalton. His headstone in the Granbury section of the Acton Cemetery, formerly a plain headstone inscribed with the Dalton name, was later replaced by a nicer headstone with the James name. It's inscribed, "CSA - Jesse Woodson James. Sept. 5, 1847-Aug. 15, 1951. Supposedly killed in 1882." The grave stone was apparently paid for by James Family descendants. A small Confederate flag is etched above the inscription. Meanwhile, the grave of the "real" Jesse James back in Kearney, Missouri, is supposedly occupied by a man named Charlie Bigelow, who was killed so Jesse could begin an new life.

We arrived back at Farinas which used to be owned by a man named Estes. Back then it was a merchantile selling all kinds of staples. It has changed hands several times and before Farinas moved in, it was a dress shop. There employees often ran into a gentleman wandering the store and the voices of children singing somewhere on the second floor where no one was supposed to be.
There are tales of a faceless little girl who wanders among the shops in the 100 block of Houston St. on the west side of the Square. An apparently precouscious young girl who would turn on all the toy hanging monkeys in what is now the Brazos Moon Boutique when the clerk was trying to close.

There is another story of some mischief at a glamor photography shop. When it opened, they found a camera had been moved to a chair with a blue dress laying over across the chair. When the film had been processed, their was an image of a woman dressed in the blue dress with a blurred face seated in a chair. That brought us to the end of our tour of historic and spooky Granbury.

The next day, on Brandi’s recommendation, we set out for Acton Cemetery. As advertised, Acton is a large, well kept cemetery just on the outskirts of Granbury City Limits. Still in use today, it chronicles the lives of many of Hood County's residents.

There, prominently affixed by an American and Texas Flag was the grave site of Elizabeth Patton Crockett. It is very ornate and has been designated an historic site in Texas. The grave site is actually a protected and maintained State Park  and is officially the smallest State Park in Texas.

Being the Memorial Day Weekend, like all cemeteries which contain war veterans, we saw flags displayed on various grave sites including Confederate flags alongside Civil War veterans. The cemetery goes back to the first burial in 1855 so there are veteran grave sites from all the wars since. (P.S. Please don't send any Facebook hate-email over my observations. It's important to distinguish the difference in racist-politics and pure history. I’m just a professional observer and report what I see.)

One of the more poignant grave sites were the site with the decedent’s dog “Buford” watching over his master.

From there we made our way back to Granbury and came upon an awesome Memorial Day remembrance. Hundreds of American Flags flapping in the Texas wind flying in a field adjacent to the highway.

Each flag had been lovingly placed by a friend, community group or family member in remembrance of a particular veteran. It is run by the Greater Granbury Military Officers of America since 2012 as a way of showing respect for service members and vets. Yes Dana, it is an Aeromotor windmill in the photo…I checked.

Later in the day, we returned to the Square to walk among the booths plying their wares like bag balm, tie-dyed shirts, spinning yard art, purses for concealed carry. Here is an Andrews Sisters Tribute group entertaining the troops and…..most important of all…..Funnel Cake!

That whispy  powdered sugar tossed about like snow flurries over that deep fried five-miles-of-bad-road sculpted dough. The pleasure of each bite followed by a dusting of white death all over your clothes. Worth the effort every time.

The following morning, on our way out of town, we ran across a Granbury breakfast icon, Cari's on Hwy 377. There we were intrigued by a shameless selection of breakfast staples and some not-so standard fare. And I loved that everybody got a different coffee cup. Like the mismatch you have at home. Dianna had the Little Granbury, one piece of everything. Our server Mimi served up one egg, one piece of sausage, bacon and one pancake. I had to try the Cherry cheese pancakes. With a layer of cream between each of four (count 'em four) pancakes and a big blob of cherries and whipped cream....well, this thing should have had two hashes through the Heart Association heart if the owners had allowed them in to do so. It was awesome.

Cari's Thought for the Day

Thus we finished up our stay in bucolic Granbury. Now that we have found a great place to stay, we may make more trips here to relax.

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