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Perched on either side of Interstate 30 are two cities in one: Texarkana, Texas, founded in 1873, and Texarkana, Arkansas, incorporated seven years later. Originally, Texarkana provided the link between the Texas and Pacific Railway Company from Dallas and the Cairo and Fulton Railroad from Arkansas, so the city became a crossroads. Today, the railroad terminal sits empty, but Texarkana still serves as a crossroads on I-30. For those who stop, the breather can become an adventure.
State Line Avenue, exit 223A, is where the fun begins. One side of the street is Texas; the other, Arkansas. Headed toward downtown, visitors travel in Texas to where a large, gray, limestone building—the U.S. Post Office and Federal Building—looms in the middle of the street. The base of the building is pink Texas granite, and the walls are Arkansas limestone. This is the only federal building situated in two states—accordingly, the U.S. Postal Service simply refers to the two cities as Texarkana, USA. On a designated photo spot in front of the building, visitors stand with one foot in Texas and one in Arkansas.
Across the street, a new business in a revived setting—Merfeld’s Bread Co.—offers bagels and sandwiches to be enjoyed in historic surroundings. The refurbished tin ceiling, original hand-laid mosaic tile flooring and rediscovered transom windows are survivors of the building’s 110 years.
A few blocks away sits the Draughon-Moore Ace of Clubs House, shaped like a card deck’s club. James Draughon reportedly built the Italianate-Victorian house in 1885 after the club “aced” his winning poker hand. The house has 22 sides, three groups of octagonal rooms and a dry moat.
Three generations of the Moore family and two generations of the Draughon family occupied the house. Each room has been restored to reflect the decade during which one of the families lived there. Original colors, wallpaper and carpet patterns have been reproduced, and many of the furnishings belonged to occupants. In 1985, the last occupant of the house, Olivia Smith Moore, deeded the property, including her 500 pairs of shoes, to the Texarkana Museums System. Visitors need several hours to adequately explore this unique structure.
Sharing an alley with the house is St. James’ Church (established in 1876), where Olivia Smith married Henry Moore Jr., a staunch Presbyterian, in 1920. The mahogany beams of the Episcopal church support an impressive cathedral ceiling. Sun streaming through the stained-glass windows fills the worship area with beautiful colors.
Within blocks of the Ace of Clubs House are the Museum of Regional History and the Discovery Place Children’s Museum. Visitors can see relics from local Caddo Indian mounds at the regional museum and learn about local personalities such as musician and native son Scott Joplin, the “Father of Ragtime.” The 1879 sandy brick building, Texarkana’s oldest, was built as the Hake’s Bank, and visitors can still see a Hall’s safe that dates to the 1890s. Discovery Place is a hands-on history, costume and science museum for youngsters of all ages. A favorite exhibit is the one-of-a-kind 12-foot sound wall where music can be created by only a touch of the hand.
Exploring requires energy, energy requires food, and Texarkana has exceptional eateries. TLC Burgers & Fries and Zapata’s Bar and Grill are downtown while Bryce’s Cafeteria sits next to I-30. TLC’s rough-cut cedar walls are covered with posters and signs, which tell the ongoing story of Texarkana. The atmosphere is informal; the food is, too. Burgers and fries, dubbed the “Best in Arkansas,” are the house specialty.
Zapata’s offers authentic Mexican cuisine, beer and music with menu choices (ooh those spinach enchiladas!) suitable for any appetite. Zapata’s occupies the Miller County Bank and Trust building, built in 1925. Award-winning Bryce’s Cafeteria, recognized as the “Best in the Southwest,” has been operated by the same family for 78 years. The parade of salads yields to meringues and crisp cobblers; steaming vegetables precede meats—roasted, fried, baked or broiled—followed by rolls and muffins … everything created in-house. Years ago, when Bryce’s office safe was stolen, the anxiety was not for the money lost but the recipes. As local lore goes, the story has a happy ending: The recipes were returned after thieves couldn’t open the safe.
Texarkana fun and food require more than one visit.
Texarkana Museums System, (903) 793-4831, www.texarkanamuseums.org
Texarkana Chamber of Commerce, (903) 792-7191, www.texarkana.org
Jane Bouterse is a writer based in Texarkana and a member of Bowie-Cass Electric Cooperative.