Texas’ 266,807 square miles of land are chock-full of famous landmarks, from The Alamo in San Antonio to the Texas Capitol in Austin. But for travelers who are looking for something a little less predictable, Texas Profile looks at four offbeat attractions, and the stories behind them, that are sure to grab your attention.
Buckhorn Saloon & Museum
In the Buckhorn Saloon’s 120-year history, owners have collected horns, trophy mounts, rattlesnake rattlers, antlers and other oddities from hunters and cowboys throughout the country. In its early days, Albert Friedrich, founder of the San Antonio saloon, accepted deer antlers and other items as compensation for a shot of whisky or a beer. Through the years the Buckhorn had several owners, but the granddaughter of Albert Friedrich, Mary Friedrich Rogers, acquired the collection in 1998 to prevent it from being auctioned off piece by piece. Her son, Happy Rogers, the present owner, is committed to maintaining the collection.
Today, the two-story, 34,000-square-foot Buckhorn Saloon and Museum has more than 1,200 trophy mounts representing more than 520 species of animals. Its aquatic area is home to more than 200 fish, including a tuna weighing in at more than 600 pounds and a record-holding 1,056-pound black marlin. Lots of birds abound, too, as well as a 78-point whitetail buck, a longhorn steer with an 8-foot horn span, and a full-size gorilla.
In 1898, Teddy Roosevelt frequented the Buckhorn Saloon to recruit Roughriders at the bar, and years later Pancho Villa planned the Mexican Revolution there, according to spokesperson Bevin Henges. “This is all a part of history,” she says, pointing out a 4,000-antler chandelier and a chair made for Roosevelt out of 62 pairs of buffalo horns. “Horned or antlered furniture was once a sign of suc cess and frontier prowess.”
Howard Joyce, one of 250,000 visitors last year, enjoys the vintage saddles and the Hall of Texas History Wax Museum, originally part of the 1968 World’s Fair in San Antonio. “There’s several museums in one here,” says Joyce, of Belton, Texas. “And what other museum do you know of where you can walk up to a century-old bar and order a beer?”
Call (210) 247-4000 or visit www.buckhornmuseum.com to learn more.
Stonehenge II (Editor's Update: In 2010, the Tableau was moved to the grounds of the Hill Country Arts Foundation in Ingram.)
Outside of Hunt, on 22 acres of private land, sits Stonehenge II, a replica of England’s ancient Stonehenge.
Stonehenge II, at 90 percent the width and 60 percent the height of the original, was built by retiree Al Shepperd and his neighbor, contractor Doug Hill. It was erected as an amusing art project that began when Hill gave Shepperd a limestone slab leftover from a construction project. Shepperd stood the rock up monolith-style in the middle of his field, and its size and shape reminded him of Stonehenge.
Gripped by what his neighbors called “Stonehenge fever,” Shepperd hired Hill to build the 13-foot-tall arches, which actually are hollow, plaster arches, reinforced with posts, steel rods and metal mesh.
Despite naysayers, who considered the replica a silly idea, Shepperd’s Stonehenge II was completed in 1990, after a year of hard labor on weekends. Easily seen from Farm Road 1340, Stonehenge II is flanked by two 13-foot Easter Island statues, which were added a year after Stonehenge II was completed.
Shepperd died in 1994 and today his nephew, Alfred Shepperd of San Antonio, owns the property. “I keep the grounds and the house exactly the way Al had it,” says Alfred, who visits the property once a month. “It’s a shrine to him and all that was important to him.
“Viewing is still free,” Alfred adds. “The only change I’ve made is filling the replicas with concrete so they can’t be moved. I think my uncle would be pleased.”
Directions: Hunt is 70 miles northwest of San Antonio. Take Interstate 10 to Kerrville Exit 506 and travel west on Highway 39 to Farm Road 1340.
Millie Seaton Collection of Dolls (San Marcos)
Millie Seaton, 78, didn’t own a doll until she was 36. But after receiving an antique China-head doll as a gift in 1965, she couldn’t stop collecting—China dolls, cloth dolls, wooden dolls, plastic dolls, paper dolls and plush dolls. She bought them at flea markets and doll shows, and brought them home from travels around the world.
Today, more than 9,000 dolls are housed at her former residence, a three-story Victorian home in San Marcos. “You might say I became addicted,” says Seaton, who now lives in Austin. “Even though I had wall-to-wall dolls and an overflow in the garage apartment, that wasn’t enough.”
Indeed, Seaton has utilized every square foot of the house, placing the dolls in unique settings with baby carriages, school desks and miniature furniture. Hundreds of Barbies reside in the house, as do the Cabbage Patch Kids, Shirley Temples, GI Joes and Raggedy Anns (the largest is 6 feet tall). The oldest doll, a wood figure displayed alongside its elaborate costume, dates to the 1600s. The most expensive is a china-faced doll that Seaton purchased in France for $6,500.
Seaton’s family, especially her 15 grandchildren, has always loved the collection. “The house in San Marcos is still functional and we have visiting family stay there all the time,” says curator Nicki Seaton, Millie’s former daughter-in-law. “The children grow up knowing not to touch, and no doll has ever been harmed.”
Seaton is often asked to point out her favorite doll. “I love them all,” she answers. “You can say my favorite is the one I’m holding at the time.”
Call (512) 396-1944 to schedule a free tour.
Forbidden Gardens (Editor's Update: Attraction closed in February 2011)
Since 1996, the Forbidden Gardens Ancient Chinese History and Cultural Museum, on 40 acres in Katy, has offered the public a chance to visit China without leaving the Lone Star State. Guided tours allow visitors to view a one-twentieth scale model of the famous 15th-century Forbidden City in Beijing, the seat of the Imperial government for almost 500 years, earning its “forbidden” name because the general populace was not allowed inside the gates.
The Forbidden City replica boasts hundreds of palace buildings, and 6,000 one-third scale soldiers, part of Emperor Qin’s terra-cotta army in the third century B.C. “Qin, who ruled with military might, believed the terra-cotta soldiers would protect him in the afterlife,” curator Marian Schmidt says. “They’re my favorite part of the exhibit.”
The entire attraction took three years and $20 million to construct and was created by Seattle millionaire Ira P.H. Poon to educate Americans about ancient Chinese history and culture.
A real estate developer, Poon chose Katy for the attraction because it was near Houston, which has the second largest population of Asians in the United States, has a mild climate, and is near the heavily traveled Interstate 10.
Retired teacher Ona Boland of San Antonio, a visitor to the attraction who once lived in Thailand, was so delighted with the exhibits that she took home tickets ($10 for adults, $5 for kids) for a return visit with her family.
“I’ve only read about the Forbidden City,” Boland says, “but my husband saw it and told me great things about it before he died. This was a great experience and reminded me of the Asian culture that we both loved so much.”
Schmidt says that she enjoys seeing the surprised faces of the visitors, now 50,000 a year. “People read about us online and think they know what to expect, then they get here and say, ‘I had no idea how big and awesome this is.’”
Visit www.forbidden-gardens.com or call (281) 347-8096 for more information.