skip to content
The decision to first go through downtown proved to be an excellent choice. It was absolutely charming. The scenery was delightful. I knew Victoria had a lot of history, but wow! The charm of the old, colorful storefronts and plazas drew me in. Lunch at the Rosebud Fountain & Grill was a trip back in time. There aren’t many places where you can dine in a 1940s-era soda fountain. After a burger and milkshake, my car led me to street signs with arrows pointing out a historic home tour. I couldn’t resist.
The houses on the tour transported me back to plantation days. These old mansions, many of which are Texas Historic Landmarks, have stupendous columns, porches and balconies, giant weeping willows, towering elm, oak and pecan trees and quaint gazebos. Many have been expertly restored—some complete with modern conveniences—and a few have been left to the mercy of time. These old, romantic homes look like any horror flick’s dream house: beautifully aged and timeworn, hinting of a once-thriving and light-filled existence and now left to a dark, mysterious and empty fate.
The tour led me to Riverside Park on the northeast side of town, a gorgeous tree-filled, 562-acre area skirted by the Guadalupe River. One of 12 parks within the city’s limits, Riverside hosts 27 holes of public golf, a rose garden, an exercise trail, a duck pond, a disc golf course and The Texas Zoo.
The Texas Zoo, established in 1976, is still growing, and the collection includes animals indigenous to Texas and exotic wildlife. In 1984, the Texas Legislature proclaimed it the National Zoo of Texas. I saw spider monkeys, prairie dogs, macaws, Roseate Spoonbills, alligators, coatis, lemurs, goats and foxes. My stomach dropped to the soles of my feet and I trembled when one of the tigers, who I was later told by one of the zoologists does not like crowds, charged what suddenly seemed to be a flimsy fence and let out a mighty roar.
I was lucky enough to be in town on one of the Victoria Market Days, a once-a-month event that falls on the third Saturdays of October through December and March through May. I perused jewelry, crafts, wood and ironwork, candles and food from local and nearby vendors.
Wanting to know more about the history of the area, I made my way to the Museum of the Coastal Bend on the Victoria College campus. Closed on Mondays, the museum’s mission is to enhance the appreciation and enjoyment of the region’s heritage. As part of the La Salle Odyssey Project, it is one of seven Gulf Coast museums that help tell the story of the French explorer’s travels in Texas.
The museum also presents the story of the first French settlement in Texas, Fort St. Louis, and is the repository for artifacts from an archaeological dig recently completed at the fort’s site.
The Early Peoples of the Texas Coastal Bend exhibit details the Buckeye Knoll, a cemetery dating back to 5300 to 4200 B.C. that was unearthed in 2000 when improvements to the Victoria Barge Canal were being made. The cemetery reveals a relatively sophisticated and populous Early Archaic culture. It is believed that at least 200 people were interred there, making it one of only three known large mortuary sites in North America that date back 7,000 to 8,000 years.
The museum’s special exhibit for 2009 was Wings Over Victoria, and I learned about Aloe Army Air Field and Foster Army Air Field, advanced flying schools opened near Victoria during World War II. The schools’ military personnel were so well accepted into this cattle town that Life magazine published a story on the community’s good relations. In fact, many of the military gents married local girls and remained in Victoria to raise their families.
The exhibit, which featured World War II uniforms and gear, including some Nazi memorabilia, is now gone. But be sure to check out the museum’s special 2010 exhibit: Victoria, Where Texas History Began. Scheduled to be up through January 29, 2011, it tells the story of Victoria through artifacts, historical photographs, documents and maps.
Ashley Clary is field editor of Texas Co-op Power.