exc-5579178de4b02f0501e2292e

ECLECTIC HIGHWAY.

A funky afternoon in East Texas is time well spent.


Treasures Abound on the Eclectic Highway (State Highways 175 and 31 between Mabank and Chandler). You can buy this vintage Schwinn bike at Backroom Antiques in Chandler, Texas. Photo credit: M'Lissa Howen
Treasures Abound on the Eclectic Highway (State Highways 175 and 31 between Mabank and Chandler). You can buy this vintage Schwinn bike at Backroom Antiques in Chandler, Texas. Photo credit: M’Lissa Howen

State Highway 175 runs roughly parallel to Interstate 20 east of Dallas.   Close to the big city, the road is only lightly traveled (Dallasites who wonder what the traffic reporters’ mentions of the “C.F. Hawn Freeway” refer to can stop wondering-this is it).  For the big city crew, the road seems to exist for the sole purpose of getting them to their lake houses on Cedar Creek Lake. It may be a surprise to some, but highly civilized life exists to the east of the lake.  Killing time one day, the Empty Nesters explored the main artery between Cedar Creek and Tyler.  You should too.

The route was a straight shot, starting with SH 175 in Mabank, continuing east through Eustace and on to Athens; in Athens taking SH 31 east through Murchison, Brownsboro and Chandler. Chandler is a bedroom community of Tyler.  Tyler is a big enough city to warrant exploration in its own post sometime in the future. There is only 42 miles between Mabank and Chandler, so it is an easy round trip from the lake if one is there for the weekend.  From Dallas, the round-trip excursion is closer to 180 miles, assuming a return on I-20.

A side note about starting in Dallas, which includes travel on SH 175 through Kaufman and Kemp. These towns should be attractive to footloose Empty Nesters.  Unfortunately, Kaufman may lay claim to the ugliest town square for any county seat in Texas; its courthouse is almost an eyesore.  We did have an awesome burger at Paradise Burgers on Washington.  Paradise’s rave YELP reviews confirmed that we had stumbled on a new contender in the Texas Burger Wars.  Besides Paradise and the beautiful First Presbyterian Church on Mulberry, Kaufman was a bust.  Kemp is no better; the residential section has some quaint architecture and is well kept.  A small downtown strip exists but it can only be described as “vacant.”


Elsie's is the pride of the Mabank square and well worth investigating. Photo Credit: M'Lissa Howen.
Elsie’s is the pride of the Mabank square and well worth investigating. Photo Credit: M’Lissa Howen.

Back to the meat of the trip.  Mabank sits minutes from Cedar Creek Lake, which should provide plenty of quasi-tourists with disposable income.  The downtown seems on the verge of taking advantage of its opportunity but it is not quite there yet. Elsie May on Market leads the way.  If vintage shopping is your addiction, Elsie May will kick start your trip.  The Gift Garden complements Elsie’s with a variety of more traditional collectibles. Between the two stores, a failure to find something quirky and interesting is a failure of effort.


Sue's Roost in Eustace. Photo credit: M'Lissa Howen
Sue’s Roost in Eustace. Photo credit: M’Lissa Howen

Eustace is the next stop and there is only one reason to stop there but it is a very good reason–Sue’s Roost Cafe.  Another of Texas Monthly’s top small-town diners, Sue’s is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday. Whether you trek over from the lake or pause on a shopping trip, the stop will be well worth your time.

Next up is Athens, where you will want to spend some time.  Athens has a beautiful downtown square. Some hold that Fletcher Davis invented the hamburger in that very square.  Today the star of the downtown square has to be Winnie’s & Tulula’s, a vintage clothing and furniture store that sells items equally at home in an East Texas lake house or a SoHo loft. Transplant this store to the Knox/Travis area in Dallas and you would pay double. As a bonus, if you skipped eating at Sue’s you can take advantage of The Sweet Pea Bistro, housed at Winnie’s. The square has several other antiques stores and malls as well as the Vault boutique, all well worth exploring.

If the credit cards max out, you can spend time, and take some great pictures at the East Texas Arboretum or the Texas Freshwater Fishery.  Either location can entertain for an hour or a day.  Be careful though; after a visit, there will be no more excuses for dying plants or empty ice coolers following a fishing outing.

From Athens, head east on SH 31 to find three special antique stores right off the highway: The Wagon Wheel in Murchinson, the Rusty Nail in Brownsboro and Backroom Antiques in Chandler.  Each had its specialties but they are all well organized and home to considerable amounts of Texana; which is honey to the bee for the Nesters. Again, prices are reasonable and deals can be made.  Backroom Antiques provides one special bonus. Let’s say  the husband(s) tag along but grow weary of trinkets. It could happen. The boys’ reward can be the classic cars for sale in the backroom of Backroom antiques.  On our trip we saw a couple of real beauties.


A beautifully restored symbol of Texas ranch life. Photo credit: M'Lissa Howen.
A beautifully restored symbol of Texas ranch life. Photo credit: M’Lissa Howen.


Studebakers are cooler now than they ever were then. Photo credit: M'Lissa Howen.
Studebakers are cooler now than they ever were then. Photo credit: M’Lissa Howen.

Chandler was the end of the road for us on this day.  Before leaving, we hit the farmers’ market for some fresh vegetables and stopped by the town’s museum housed in the home of former U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough. Both are well worth the time.

The summary:  Eat at Sue’s. Do not miss Winnie’s & Tulula’s in Athens. Bring cash for dealing. Get on the road, Nesters!


The Chandler Farmers' Market on a slow day. Photo Credit: M'Lissa Howen.
The Chandler Farmers’ Market on a slow day. Photo Credit: M’Lissa Howen.

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