by Catherine Parker
A skip away from both San Antonio and Austin, Lockhart draws visitors from the region with a mix of vintage truck charm with a splash of western swing swagger. In a state bulging with small town destinations, Lockhart looks like a movie set though lives a novel. Missing are the kitschy souvenir shops, instead find a delightful of music shops next to vintage boutiques next to leather workrooms.
As the county seat, the historic courthouse shines like a jewel set in its square. The true hub, the streets surrounding the square offer both amble parking and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks. Most visitors walk from shopping to dining to attractions under the shade cast by awnings. While exploring Lockhart, take in the historic buildings, like the firehouse or the Dr. Eugene Clark Library.
The Heart of Caldwell County
Back in the early 1800s, a settlement grew along the shores of Plum Creek, giving it it’s first name. Later it was renamed after Byrd Lockhart—the assistant surveyor of Green DeWitt, one of the empresarios that settled Texas.
According the Texas Historical Commission, on August 11, 1840, members of the Comanche clashed with settlers near Lockhart in the Battle of Plum Creek. The summer of 1840 was punctuated by skirmishes along the Guadalupe River Valley including the Council House Fight in San Antonio and Linnville Raid near Victoria. Both sides suffered causalities as Texas was settled and the Battle of Plum Creek was the last time settlers and Comanche fought in the area.
Cattle and Texas go back hundreds of years and the Spanish bought their Andalusian breed to the new world that lead to the modern day icon, the Texas Longhorn. Before cattle ranchers, the San Antonio missionaries breed cattle for use and sale.
As Texas fought and settled throughout the 1800s, cattle roamed and bred freely, outnumbering the residents in the 1860s. The land around the Hill Country proved hard to farm though cattle could graze.
Texas was cattle rich though road poor, especially when it came to railroad lines. Ranchers naturally wanted top dollar, and beef fetched higher prices back east that lacked open range. At the time, no railroads served the Texas cattle country.
Taking their heritage from the vaqueros, cowboys drove distinctive and hearty Texas Longhorns to the nearest railroad headed back east in Abilene, Kansas. Through several trails originated in Texas, the Chisholm Trail remains etched into popular culture. From 1867 to 1880, cattle and the cowboys skirted settlements from deep in central Texas near Lockhart through Fort Worth and further north into Kansas.
Lockhart celebrates this history with a festival and rodeo every June with The Chisholm Trail Roundup.
Caldwell County Courthouse and Square
Anchoring the town square, the courthouse was built in 1894, replacing an undersized building. It was designed by Henry E.M. Guidon, a partner with San Antonio’s Alfred Giles. The firm was known for Texas county courthouses.
Designed in the Second Empire style, the three-story building features a mansard roof and is constructed of red sandstone and limestone. The center of the structure is anchored with a clock tower featuring a four-sided Seth Thomas clock and a bell.
Each street flanking the Caldwell County square features restored Victorian commercial buildings. The downtown district attracts visitors from architecture students to strolling day trippers with its graceful buildings and unique locally owned shopping.
Located at 110 S. Main Street find lots of free parking around the square.
Southwest Clock Museum
After restoring the clock in the tower of the Caldwell County Courthouse, clock restorer Gene Galbraith and fellow clock restorers set to work on opening a museum dedicated to clocks. On the ground floor of the historic Brock Building overlooking the courthouse, the Southwest Clock Museum is one of a handful of museums dedicated to clocks and watches.
Located at 109 E. San Antonio St. Open Saturdays only from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free to enter though donations are accepted.
Caldwell County Museum
Originally built in 1908 and 1909 as the county jail, this building seems regal to the modern eye. A rare example of the Norman version of the popular Romanesque architectural style, the five-story building includes a notched parapet roof detail, similar to a castle.
The building is constructed of brick and included nine cells. Retired from jail use in 1982, it became a museum dedicated to local Caldwell County history.
Located at 314 E. Market St. Open for tours Saturday and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for kids.
Dr. Eugene Clark Library
A local doctor left money to a town he loved for a library and books on his deathbed. Finished in 1900, it is a striking example of a Classical Revival Greek Cross building. Finished in red brick with a limestone trim, head inside for an equally impressive interior.
The central room features a pressed tin ceiling along with a spiral staircase. The woodwork and perimeter shelves are original to the library as well. The centerpiece is the stained glass window.
Located at 217 S. Main St. Open Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday from 8:30 a.m to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free to enter.
Opening its doors in 1920, the Baker Theatre showed the silent film, In Old Kentucky, starring Anita Stewart on opening night. Over the years, the theatre underwent several remodels and then closed its doors in 1984. It underwent a final renovation when a stage was added for live productions.
Located at 216 S. Main St. It’s the home of Lockhart’s Community Theatre with several productions a year.
Lockhart State Park
Southwest of the city, Lockhart State Park is just over 250 acres and Clear Fork Creek runs through its boundaries. As a favorite recreation spot, find a swimming pool, a golf course along with hiking though its forest and along the creek.
After securing the land, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) moved in to develop the area. During the Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt to put young men to work across the country, and especially Texas, clearing land and building infrastructure in the parks.
The CCC Company 3803 arrived in 1935 and built dams along the creek. Other projects included a recreation hall and residence. Additionally it built a water tower along with a swimming pool, replaced in 1974.
The Works Progress Administration Program built the golf course in 1938 and it’s still in use today. Nearby Bastrop State Park also had a golf course but has let it go.
Located at 2012 State Park Rd. Open daily. Day-use adult admission is $3, and 12 and under are free. Golf is an additional fee.
Where to Stay in Lockhart
Take a respite at the Ellison House, a bed and breakfast that blends vintage charm with a modern esthetic. Each of the named en suite rooms—like the Mama Too or the Agnes Estrella, showcases the farmhouse’s original woodwork with natural light pouring in from vintage windows. The furnishings nod at the mid-century with sleek lines and pops of muted color.
The first floor common areas include a turntable with a curated vinyl collection along with a piano and games. Take an afternoon siesta in one of the balcony’s hammocks overlooking the front garden. Then settle in for a cocktail at the backyard firepit.
For guests desiring a secluded enclave, The Christopher Suite offers a private entrance along with a kitchenette and sitting area. The whole property can be reserved along with an additional sleeping space, The Shed.
Located at 434 Blanco Street, just blocks from the town square. Rates from $135.