There’s no there, there, Gertrude Stein once said of her hometown, long after she left it. Returning to Houston gives me a similar feeling.
The neighborhoods remain where they have always been. The trees may be larger, the streets more potholed or newly iced with asphalt. But so much is missing. People we knew. Homes we knew.
Especially disorienting are thoroughfares we once traveled every day, now transformed by the disappearance of strip centers, the upheavals of new multi-story apartment buildings. We didn’t even know that nearby convenience store was a landmark until it disappeared.
Sometimes the only assurance we’ve not been transported to a completely different city comes from the street signs, a familiar intersection of names, if nothing else.
It’s then that I am especially grateful to return to Fayette and Washington Counties.
We still have a here, here. Our historical societies and museums show we even cherish it, to a degree, against the ravages of homogenizing progress.
I live quite close to one such place: Winedale, the complex of buildings and collections left to the University of Texas by philanthropist Miss Ima Hogg back in the 1960’s.
An influx of energy, attention and money is returning this celebration of our area’s culture to the place it once enjoyed in our community.
The Friends of Winedale, a nonprofit group of volunteers and donors, has spearheaded the effort in cooperation with UT’s Briscoe Center of American History, which provides the scholarly expertise, oversight and continuity required.
FOW’s fundraising events over the past four years, together with an exceedingly generous donation from an interested individual, combined to contribute around $600,000 to the repair and rehabilitation of the historic buildings and grounds.
The University has responded with an expanded staff, including a site manager with expertise in historic preservation and an enthusiastic educational and docent coordinator with many ideas for the coming year.
Several are already underway.
“Lunch and Learn” brings fascinating talks of local interest to the Meadows Center at Winedale the third Tuesday of every month, from noon to 1PM, free. Attendees bring their own lunch, and Winedale provides refreshments and dessert.
The Visitor Center is currently hosting “The Music of Winedale,” showcasing artifacts from the collection, including the 19th century flute belonging to Rudolph Melchior, whose interior painted decoration first caught Miss Hogg’s attention.
On June 1, Winedale hosted “Kids Fish!” with Brenham’s High School Anglers providing guidance for the young fishermen.
Of course, this summer means Shakespeare at Winedale, the world famous University of Texas program that brings Shakespeare’s plays to life in a 19th century barn.
Do you like to make music unplugged? On August 31, performers will celebrate International Music on the Front Porch Day. To sign up, call the office at 979-278-3530. Come listen from 10 to noon that day, at Hazel’s Lone Oak Cottage. Free. Winedale will supply refreshments.
Free tours of the buildings will begin on the second Saturday, September through December, on a rotating basis.
Rehabilitation of the two log cabins is expected to be complete by December, joining the other freshly refurbished historic buildings in time for Christmas at Winedale. The proposed widening of Winedale Road (FM 2714) should be complete by then, as well.
If you’re interested in learning about the history and culture of our area, call Tricia Blakistone at the office to volunteer. A new class begins on Thursday, September 5 at 9:30 a.m. Be a docent, or volunteer in another capacity. All are welcome!
At this point you may be asking why this collection of old buildings and artifacts matters.
I think of it as a reality check. For us and for our children riveted to screens.
Wherever our people originated, they knew houses like these, built before electricity. They carried water from wells. They did their wash on washboards, grew corn and beans and sweet potatoes, raised poultry. And they made by hand the beauty they needed in their homes. They carved it, painted it.
And, amazingly, it survives them. Some of it does, anyway.
“The Winedale Story,” a permanent exhibit in Hazel’s Lone Oak Cottage, is open to the public Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sundays, noon to 4. It’s free. Come see for yourself what it’s all about.
Winedale Historical Complex, 3738 FM 2714, Round Top. 979-278-3530. Babette Fraser Hale serves on the FOW board.