There are some smaller cities in the United States that have so many fine attractions that they require repeat visits. Charleston, South Carolina, Madison, Wisconsin, and Springfield, Illinois, come to mind. Waco is among them. Ruth and I recently returned there and found 3 sensational new pleasures, the Mayborn Museum, Mammoth National Monument, and the Homestead Craft Village. Ruth & I coupled them with some excellent repeats. I’ve blogged about the 3 new attractions and some of the others.
Mastodons and mammoths once inhabited this area in large numbers. Some bones that are 65,000 years old have been found locally as have the remains of a man who lived 10,000 years ago. As early as 1719 European explorers in the area had contact with the Waco Indians, who lived in distinctive beehive-shaped huts.
By the Civil War, Waco was big enough to send 2,200 volunteers to fight for the Confederacy. After the war the Chisholm Trail and a unique new bridge sparked growth. For a while Waco was known as Six Shooter Junction. It’s no wonder that the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame is here. Thanks to the Brazos River, the area was fertile enough for Waco to become a cotton capital.
A bridge crossing the Brazos became necessary for growth. This surprisingly robust river called “The Arms of God” by the first European Texans, was built by the same New York firm that created the Brooklyn Bridge. Under construction by 1869 it became the longest single span suspension bridge west of the Mississippi when completed. Still used daily, it attracts tourist attention. So do the interestingly lit twin bridges on I-35. In 1953 a truly fierce tornado altered the local landscape, but the tallest building west of the Mississippi survived. Now ALICO, it still exists too. Waco also survived the Branch Davidian siege in the last decade of the 20th century, and is currently dealing with a sexual assault scandal involving Baylor students.
Waco’s attractions are certainly diverse. Ruth and I again enjoyed the Armstrong Browning Library on the Baylor University campus, Cameron Park, and the Dr Pepper Museum, but we still haven’t seen the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, which surely has a tribute to Robert Griffin III. In 2011 this quarterback became the first Baylor footballer to win the Heisman Trophy.
The largest population center between Dallas and Austin with about 130,000 residents, surprisingly sophisticated Waco is much more than a cow town. A drive to the top of the Balcones escarpment makes me unsure that I’m in central Texas as I stare down at the Bosque and Brazos Rivers.