Hit the Road
An Environmental Legacy
Experience an authentic native landscape in Goldthwaite’s Legacy Plaza

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    Legacy Plaza’s botanical garden replicates ancient Mills County terrain.
    Taylor Montgomery | TEC
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    Web Extra: Native Americans in Mills County used stones like these to grind seeds and nuts.
    Taylor Montgomery | TEC
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    Web Extra: Burned rock middens were used by natives to cook food. They were made from rock and dirt. This full-scale replica shows what one might have looked like inside.
    Taylor Montgomery | TEC
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    Web Extra: Information plaques sit under the shade of a native-inspired pavilion made of wood and brush.
    Taylor Montgomery | TEC
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    Web Extra: A wikiup is a domed dwelling made of brush and wooden branches. Designers created this one on a flat hilltop overlooking the rest of the gardens.
    Taylor Montgomery | TEC

Up until about 600 years ago, the early residents in what is now Mills County gathered seeds and ground them on stone surfaces, established camps, chipped projectile points from flint and cooked food in earthen ovens. Much of the land remains relatively undisturbed, and many ancient relics lay untouched until modern times. A few artifacts ended up in local collections. Now, some of these items are on display in Legacy Plaza.

Filling a city block near the center of Goldthwaite on U.S. Highway 183, the plaza contains a welcome center and a botanical garden, including a play area, educational displays and an event pavilion.

Legacy Plaza’s landscape designer, Tab Ledbetter, set out to replicate a portion of the Colorado River (which flows within about 10 miles of Goldthwaite) as it would have looked to early residents who hunted and gathered in the region.

“An authentic native landscape occupied by early inhabitants would have included natural sources of food, water and shelter commonly found here,” Ledbetter says. “So I created a stream flowing through a small canyon, lined with native plants such as pecan trees, dogwood, Texas redbud, agarita, sideoats grama, upland switchgrass and buffalo grass.” Implementing Ledbetter’s plan required 27 truckloads of rock.

The garden incorporates several authentic bedrock mortars, bowl-shaped depressions in rocks created by the repeated grinding of nuts and grains. “Any items used here had already been removed from their natural locations,” stresses Jan Fischer, Legacy Plaza executive director. “So as to not disrupt the integrity of surviving prehistoric sites, we only brought things here that had already been moved from their original site.”

Eventually, the Legacy Plaza block will include a two-story Native American cultural center, designed in consultation with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma. Along with the existing pavilion, the center will provide space for conservation and ecotourism programs, such as classes on rainwater harvesting and native plants.

Mills County, named for Republic of Texas Judge John T. Mills, was carved from parts of Brown, Comanche, Hamilton and Lampasas counties in 1887.

San Antonio architect Henry T. Phelps designed the county’s red-brick, Beaux Arts-style courthouse, built in 1913. The Texas Historical Commission funded a renovation that was completed in 2011.

Across the street from the courthouse, the Mills County Artisan Guild Gift Shop offers photographs, paintings, stained glass, jewelry, quilts, pottery and fabrics made by more than 30 Texas artisans.

For an edible souvenir of Mills County and Goldthwaite, consider pecans from Pecans.com, a shop just a few blocks from Legacy Plaza. Pecans.com sells fresh, shelled pecans as well as candies, fudge and pies. Samples are almost always available.

About 20 miles from town, you’ll find one of the few drivable suspension bridges in Texas. Called Regency Bridge or the Swinging Bridge, this single-lane structure is suspended from cables that cross the Colorado River at a height of 325 feet.

First built in the 1920s, demolished by a flood in 1936 and rebuilt mostly by hand in 1939, the bridge was refurbished in 2014. There is space on its south side to park and walk out onto the span. This view provides a learning opportunity: To compare the contemporary appearance of the Colorado River with the historic version recreated at Legacy Plaza. On its way to the bridge turn-off, scenic County Road 574 curves over picturesque hills and winds past rambling ranches with fancy gates. An ideal way to see an out-of-the-way piece of Texas.

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Read more about Melissa Gaskill’s work at melissagaskill.blogspot.com.