Story by Sarah Naron
PALESTINE — Located not far from downtown Palestine, the portion of the city referred to as Old Town offers several unique dining and shopping opportunities sure to provide something for everyone.
Among the businesses located there is Wells Creek Crossing, which not only offers a variety of antiques, but also provides a place for artisans hailing from throughout the local area to showcase and sell their work.
“Our owner searched far and wide for antiques and interesting things to stock the store with,” said store manager Jerusha Estep. “It’s all one of a kind.”
Estep said that an estimated 30 vendors feature their handmade items in the store.
“One of our artists, Orlando Guillen, makes dogwood ornaments out of recycled auto metal,” she said. “He is extremely talented. We’re the only place that you can get his ornaments; he made them exclusively for us.”
Also present in the shop is the work of Helen Ryan.
“She cuts stained glass and makes wind chimes and ornaments and does beaded light catchers,” Estep explained. “She also features antique jewelry; she finds it all over the place and has very unusual pieces.”
Another artist is a photographer who provides breathtaking pictures of dogwood flowers, while Estep creates tepees for children.
“We have a particular vendor who likes to feature kind of old memorabilia from a very long time ago – little kitchen items and things,” Estep said. “We have an artist who does a lot of metal work; he’ll do custom signs for people and yard art.”
One of the newest vendors, a Houston resident who hopes to retire in Palestine, fashions American flags from wood.
“There’s just gobs of people who do all different kinds of things,” Estep said. “They each have a little spot where people can come and see all the different things.”
Also among the Wells Creek vendors is Kirk Davis, an artist and author.
“He does a lot of beautiful fashion sketches,” Estep said. “His dad was the recipient of the Medal of Honor in WWII. He comes and has book signings and tells the story and has the Medal of Honor on display. Kirk’s mom was sought after by Hollywood; she was this beautiful, young woman. He has a real interesting story. His wife was an opera singer, and she traveled all through Europe.”
Other handmade items available at Wells Creek include bar stools, embroidery, lamps, and walking sticks.
“I’m missing some people, but that’s kind of an overview of the different vendors we have,” Estep said. “There’s so much talent here.”
The store is also an authorized dealer of Rotcho military gear and also devotes a special section of the store to honoring those who have served in the military.
“We have a veterans corner that features local veterans,” Estep explained. “Sometimes, different people who have come through here have lost a family member, and they’ll leave us a picture of them.”
John Harris, who has railroad memorabilia on display in Wells Creek, said the store draws a variety of visitors from near and far.
“We get visitors here from all over the United States and Canada,” he said.
“We’ve gotten some from England,” added Estep. “We have a really extensive guestbook, and that tells all the different states that people come from.”
“We have a couple that come in here that are really unique,” Harris shared. “They go into Mexico to buy things and come back to the States to resell them. She was an avid skier when she was young, and she has skied just about every mountain in the world. She has been everywhere. It’s really just fascinating to listen to her stories.”
In addition to providing space for artists to show off their skills, Harris said that Wells Creek also provides “a gathering for people to come in and discuss where they’ve been, where they’re from, what they’re doing, and share their history and what their knowledge of Palestine is” when dropping by during visits to the city.
“We learn a lot about Palestine history from people coming into Palestine that had ties here at one time or another,” he said. “Back in early 2000, I was told a story by an old lady who lived in between Grapeland and Elkhart. She would ride to town with her uncle and her dad in a wagon to come to Old Town. The father and the uncle would hunt ducks; there was a pond right here in the middle of where Old Town is now. She said they would park up the hill, and she would wait in the buggy while they came down here to hunt ducks. Then, they would come back up and go into Palestine for any shopping they might want to do.”
On one of the trio’s journeys, Harris recounted, a group of boys in what is known today as Reagan Park were throwing around rocks.
“They threw a rock, and it hit the horse,” Harris shared. “The horse jolted, and the father fell out of the buggy and broke his neck and died. From that point, she lived with her aunt and uncle, and she said they would still make trips into Palestine by wagon.”
Harris is a former member of the Texas Top Guns, an Old West reenactment group that once called Old Town home.
“We had a little town built by where Pint & Barrel is now with a bank, a saloon, and a jail,” he recalled. “Then, we moved it across the street and into the Sawmill Hollow and built a stage.”
When revitalization efforts began in Old Town in 2000, Harris said, the town was relocated once again and situated behind the present-day home of Oxbow Bakery.
“We built bridges and walkways around the creek,” he said. “We had a two-story hotel, and the women would dress up and stand on the balcony. It was a really nice area.”
Harris explained that the Top Guns would perform reenactments of gunfights for crowds who ventured to Old Town after taking a ride on the Texas State Railroad.
“The gunfighters were on the train most of the time during that period,” he added. “We were robbing the train for charities. Pleasant Hills Orphanage was one of our major ones; we would gather toys and stuff for Christmas for them. We did the train for five or six years in a row – sometimes daily during the summer.”
As Harris acknowledged, Old Town – which once consisted of nothing more than a pond fed by the remaining creek – possesses a great deal of history.
“There was a famous bladesmith that had his shop right over the creek,” he shared. “Don Hastings was his name. There’s a marker out there talking about him. He was very famous for doing Damascus knives.”
While difficult to imagine today, Harris revealed that the city of Palestine – which had a population of 18,306 as of 2017 – was once larger than Dallas, whose population in 2017 was 1.341 million.
“Palestine had the first street car, and it was sold to Dallas,” Harris reported. “Nobody wanted to pay a nickel to go from Hotel O’Neill to the courthouse, which was just a short walk. So, that’s what happened to our street car.”
The city was also the first to possess gas street lights, earning Spring St. the nickname of The White Way.
In addition, Harris said, Palestine possess the second highest number of historical markers in the state of Texas, second only to Galveston.
“So, there’s a lot of history in Palestine and a lot of history in Old Town,” he said.
For Thursday-Saturday visitors to Old Town looking to satisfy a sweet tooth, Oxbow Bakery is the place to be. Owned and operated by mother-son duo Becky and David Wolfe, the shop offers a variety of flavors sure to please even the pickiest of palates.
“It is outstanding,” said Harris of the bakery, which served as a mule barn during Old Town’s heyday. “People come to Palestine from other countries to get their pies.”
As David explained, Oxbow was opened by Becky in 2009.
“In the 70s, my grandmother had a general store that was named Oxbow General Store, so we just kind of carried over that name,” he shared. “We still have some of her old signs, and a lot of the items in here were hers – stuff like the counters and a lot of the décor and whatnot.”
Becky’s original intent, David said, was to follow in her mother’s footsteps as an antique dealer and use the building as an antique store.
“She decided to sell pies as kind of a way to bring people in and get people to do more shopping,” he said. “She started off doing a couple of pies a day – I think just, like, chocolate meringue and coconut meringue. And then, those just kind of started taking off.”
After roughly one year, David, who was residing in the Hill Country, opted to move to Palestine and pitch in with the business.
“We just slowly added more and more pies,” he said. “Then, it just kind of led to where we are right now.”
Since its humble beginnings of offering one or two pies per day, the bakery has seen substantial growth.
“Right now, we’re doing between 80 and 90 pies a day,” David reported. “Plus, we’re doing a couple of cakes and cheesecakes to sell by the slice. During the holidays, we bake a lot more. I actually don’t even keep count; we’re just making as much as we can possible make around the clock. It is over 100, easily. We’re just open three days a week, but most days, we’re doing about 110 a day.”
The portion of the building that once served as an antique store now serves as an event station.
“We were involved in that flood in 2016, and after that, we decided not to do the antique mall again,” he said. “When we reopened, we decided to rent the room out, and another business had it for a year or so.”
The two businesses shared the building until the renter decided to relocate to a downtown building “probably about a year and a half ago,” David said.
“It was kind of hard having two businesses in one, anyway, so we decided to keep the space,” he said. “We have this great space out back with a park and a grandstand and everything. My background and my wife’s are both in catering and events and hospitality and so forth, so we just thought maybe we’d use this room as an event space and swell it out into the park.”
David went on to share plans to spruce up the outside area of the event station.
“We’re gonna put real nice landscaping and a patio out there with a fire pit and string lights and whatnot,” he said. “Taht way, people can kind of congregate outside, too. The next state will be getting some bathrooms out back.”
The first event hosted in the station was a Sweet Sixteen party, and several more events are on the schedule.
“I have quite a few rehearsal dinners lined up for the next couple months,” David said. “I’ve had social gatherings and baby showers. We’re open for any kind of social event, to be honest with you. We’re having a little wedding coming up in a few months, and a lot of Christmas parties are lined up for next December.”
Currently, the event station has the ability to accommodate up to 75 people, depending on the type of event.
“If somebody’s having a sit-down dinner – like a rehearsal dinner – I can accommodate 60 people,” David explained. “If it’s a social function with people just kind of mingling and gathering and having cocktails and appetizers, it will hold approximately 75.”
The goal, David said, is to eventually transform Oxbow’s current home into solely an event station and relocate the pie shop.
“That’s something we’re really thinking about, because we’ve kind of outgrown our space here, in terms of the pies,” he said. “Hopefully, down the road, we’ll be able to cater in-house at the event station once we make all of our changes.”
Wells Creek Crossing is located at 305 E. Crawford St. For more information, please call 903-724-1220. Business hours are Wednesday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Oxbow Bakery is located at 215 E. Crawford St. Hours of operation are Thursday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, please call 903-723-5100.