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Denton is just the right size for a weekend visit, offering something for everyone. On one hand, with a population of 109,500, it has a small-town atmosphere with a vibrant courthouse square. On the other hand, Denton has not one but two renowned state universities, the University of North Texas (UNT) and Texas Woman’s University (TWU).
The town is 35 miles north of Dallas and Fort Worth.
Thanks in part to UNT’s strong music program (Norah Jones and four members of the Brave Combo world-music quintet studied here), Denton is a hub for a variety of live music. UNT had the first jazz studies degree in the nation, and the program is always top ranked. Contact the Convention and Visitor Bureau for a schedule of concerts in the historic courthouse square. Dozens of locations lure visitors and college students to indoor performances downtown and in a nearby warehouse district.
Several restaurants beckon the hungry. I try The Chestnut Tree Garden Tea Room (107 W. Hickory St.) and the impressive Hannah’s Off The Square (111 W. Mulberry). There is simply no room left over to indulge in a soda or sundae at Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream & Soda Fountain (two locations, 117 W. Hickory St. and 2900 Wind River Lane).
The square provides a variety of shopping, including several dress and accessory stores, some catering to the college crowd and others to classic tastes. Someone rents both display windows at the Downtown Mini Malls I and II on Locust Street to hawk an armory of medieval replicas. Swords, maces (war clubs), trident spears and crossbows crowd the front windows. A clerk said there is great demand for the merchandise when the Scarborough Renaissance Festival is in residence near Waxahachie, south of the Metroplex.
Moving down Locust Street and crossing at Oak Street, one finds another scroungers’ paradise: Recycled Books Records CDs encompasses 17,000 square feet in a three-story purple building, and it’s open from 9 to 9 every day. This could be a vacation in itself!
TWU is ideal for a stroll and a couple of museum exhibits. Start at the Little Chapel-in-the-Woods, a tall, graceful nondenominational chapel. Famed architects O’Neil Ford and Arch Swank designed the building that was painstakingly constructed by college students and Civilian Conservation Corps and National Youth Administration laborers. The chapel, which is the most popular site for small weddings in the area, is decorated with stained-glass windows dedicated to such themes as literature, music and dance.
It doesn’t take long to walk across the beautifully landscaped campus to the Administration Conference Tower, where one can view 17 gowns donated by Texas’ first ladies (the ones on display vary). In between the chapel and administration building, the Mary Evelyn Blagg-Huey Library has a treasure trove of collections relating to women. My favorite is the 15,000-title cookbook collection. I also could stay all day being thankful I don’t have to follow the rigid rules in old etiquette books.
So many options and so many things left undone. I haven’t gotten to cool off at the 17-acre Water Works Park, which is open all summer, or walk around The University of North Texas campus. It would take at least another half day to do the North Texas Horse Country Driving Tour. It’s best to take the $35 Saturday motor-coach tour on which ranches open their gates to show visitors some of the finest horseflesh in the world. The next one is scheduled for March 6.
It’s time to settle in for a last night of luxury at The Wildwood Inn, a modern, two-story boutique hotel with hints of European grand style (www.denton-wildwoodinn.com). Before dinner, I cool off in a nicely landscaped pool area adjacent to draped pillars standing in wait for a couple holding a wedding party here.
This is the night to splurge on a fine meal (served by reservation only Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights). I quickly learn I could have gotten by on an appetizer alone. A friend and I split crabmeat in a bed of avocado and delicate greens and a heaping pile of grilled quail with pineapple. Not stopping there, of course, we also have salads and split a huge rib-eye with caramelized onions, over silky mashed potatoes and asparagus.
Once again, no room for dessert.
Convention and Visitor Bureau, (940) 382-7895, www.discoverdenton.com
Kaye Northcott is the former editor of Texas Co-op Power magazine.