A testament to the entrepreneurship and drive of the early 20th century settlers, Old Town Spring's houses, shops and cafes exude old world charm with their covered verandahs and porches, colourful clapboard render and engaging owners.
Lovingly preserved by the Spring Preservation League, the town, located 25 miles north of Houston, is proud of its history, which began in 1840 when an influx of German immigrants landed at the port of Galveston and migrated inland, settling in the Spring area. The railroad came to town thirty years later and the town of Spring was created, its name reputedly reflecting the season when the work on the railway was finally completed.
A building boom in 1902, driven largely by local entrepreneur R.L Robinson, led to the development of Main Street and many of the 150 houses and shops that still stand today. Prohibition and then the Great Depression in 1929 saw Spring's prosperity decline, business picking up again in the 1950s. Restoration of the town's buildings on and around Main Street started in 1979. The Wunsche Bros. Café and Saloon, belonging originally to one of Spring's original settlers, the Wunsche family, was recognised as a Texas State Historical Structure in 1984 and entered into the National Register of Historic Places.
As you walk along the handful of streets that make up Old Town Spring in Texas' 90% humidity, the sound of critters mingling with music drifting out of the Loose Caboose restaurant and the occasional honk of a passing train, it is easy to imagine how the town felt a hundred years ago when it was a bustling commercial centre.
The Spring Historical Museum, housed in the former courthouse building, gives an insight into the lives of the first European settlers with photos, early 20th century household objects and furniture and narratives about prominent figures of the time. The display that caught my attention told the story of Verna ('Boots') Lee Hightower (1930 – 1970), an African American cowgirl, who was renowned as one of the local rodeo's most competitive horseback riders. Her family were the first African Americans listed as 'trainers' and 'owners of livestock' in Houston's Livestock Show and Rodeo. Verna's particular speciality was 'barrel racing' where the competitor rides around pre-set barrels in a cloverleaf pattern as fast as possible.
Old Town Spring's enterprises include antique shops, galleries, gift shops, hairdressers and eating establishments, among many others, some of which have wonderfully quirky names. These include 'Puffabelly's Restaurant', 'Aunt Tipsey's Treasure Trove', 'The Skinny Pig', and 'Crazy Mama's Celestial Emporium' with its 'custom blended pheromone perfume bar'.
I spent time in Chloe's, a gift shop selling great smelling candles that look like small logs and include varieties such as spicy pumpkin pudding, caramel flan and ginger and fig. I had a chat with the proprietor of the German Gift House whose ancestors came from England and Germany. She suggested I take a look next door in the Texas Store where products include 'Asskickin' fire roasted green chilli and tequila' salsa and an armadillo wine bottle holder!
There are plenty of cafes in Old Town Spring. I elected to have lunch in Ellen's where I chose the trio salad with tuna, seafood and chicken, accompanied by some iced peach tea, which together came to about $14.
You could easily spend all morning or afternoon at Old Town Spring, perusing the shops and museum and taking time out in one of the cafes or restaurants. Six annual festivals are held in the town including the Texas Music and Crawfish Festival in April/May and the Autumn Art and Texas Wine Festival in October.