Enjoy the artwork, hometown feel and shopping in Bastrop County
By Laura Castro
Residents here have a standard warning for visitors: You’re going to fall in love with Smithville. The picturesque community of more than 4,000 along the Colorado River in Bastrop County, off State Highway 71 about 40 miles southeast of Austin, abounds with smalltown charm, historic buildings, museums, antique railcars, and oak tree-lined streets and parks. There are popular restaurants, eclectic shops and stylish art galleries scattered along or near historic downtown Main Street. Hollywood chose the town as the backdrop for the hit movie “Hope Floats” with Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr., which was released 25 years ago. That paved the way for Smithville to appear in at least 100 other movies, TV shows, commercials and music videos. Independence Park commemorates the town’s first house and store built in 1827 along the river by settler Dr. Thomas J. Gazley. Decades later, 17 families moved from the riverside to be near the tracks of the Bastrop and Taylor Railway, which started service there in 1887. The train line was extended to Houston and then merged with the Missouri, Kansas & Texas (MK&T or “Katy”) railroad in 1891. That spurred employment and growth that made Smithville Bastrop County’s largest city for over 50 years. A legendary coin toss between two prominent businessmen — Murray Burleson and William Smith — determined the town’s name.
WHAT TO DO
Self-guided tours of the city’s historic commercial and residential districts start at James H. Long Railroad Park and Museum, the 100 block of First Street. Pick up self-guided tour brochures at the Chamber of Commerce and visitor center (in the same building) on weekdays, or grab them from any of three informational kiosks on Main Street. One brochure features a walking guide to 26 historical buildings downtown and, on the flipside, a driving guide to 32 historic homes and churches. Another is a tour map of movie sites around town. You can also find a guide o the historic downtown at explorebastropcounty.com (search for Smithville Historical Downtown Walking Tour) and the movie tour map at smithvilletx.org/tours.
Learn more of the city’s history at Smithville Heritage House & Museum, 602 Main St., open 10 a.m.-noon Tuesday; call 512-629-2197 to schedule a tour.
Smithville is a state-designated cultural district with a vibrant arts scene. Outdoor murals, mosaics and sculptures are all around, many reflecting the city’s railroad history. A swallowtail sculpture near Railroad Park’s Gazebo is dedicated to workers killed in a 1911 locomotive explosion; a bust of town founder Gazley sits in Independence Park, 506 NW Loop 230; and Smitty, a 20-foot-tall replica of the former world’s largest gingerbread man (baked here in 2006) stands next to the chamber.
Several art galleries feature paintings, sculptures, pottery, handmade furniture, mosaics and collages by local and regional artists. Community theater and live music also thrive.
Annual festivals include the Airing of the Quilts & Tour of Homes the second Saturday in November, the Festival of Lights & Lighted Parade the first Saturday in December, and the Smithville Jamboree in April.
Eleven area public parks include Buescher State Park, just north of town, with six miles of hiking/biking trails, a 30-acre lake and campsites; Vernon Richards Riverbend Park on the Colorado River, with camping, fishing, disc golf and more; and Railroad Park, where the Smithville Farmers Market happens every Sunday near the gazebo. Other parks include Veterans Memorial Park-Splash Pad, 311 NW Second St.; MLK Park, 208 Miller St.; and Power Plaza Skate Park, 350 NW First St.
GRAB A BITE
Your Mom’s, 109 NW Second St. Cajun and comfort food, plus a popular chicken-fried steak. 6-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, noon-3 p.m. Sunday. Just a few steps away is Hope Floats Ice Cream & Bakery. Noon-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, noon-3 p.m. Sunday.
Other dining options ranked high on Tripadvisor.com include:
Comfort Cafe, 111 NW First St. Popular for weekend brunch, cash only (pay what you can), the restaurant supports SerenityStar recovery program. 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday-Sunday.
Honey’s, 109 NE Second St. Wood-fi ed pizza, craft beers. 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday and Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
The Front Room Wine Bar, 116 Main St. Drinks and dining in a quiet, cozy pub. 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday, noon- 10 p.m. Saturday.
Olde World Bakery & Cafe, 112 Main St. Breakfast and lunch. 8 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.
Fat Cat Lounge and Cafe, 301 Main St. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday- Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday.
STOP TO SHOP
Tour galleries and shop for local artists’ paintings, pottery, furniture and more: Mosaic Art & Home, 218 Main St.; Lost Pines Artisans Alliance Gallery on Main, 206 Main St.; Main Gallery Smithville, 200 Main St.; and Lumberyard Studio, 223 NE First St.
Popular boutiques, gift shops and antique stores include:
Consuela, 110 NW Second St. Popular, one-of-a-kind handbags and totes. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.
Texas Trails Antiques and Marketplace, 213 Main St. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Bella’s Cottage Antiques, 119 Main St. same hours as Texas Trails, except closed Tuesday.
Sources: City of Smithville (ci.smithville.tx.us/for-visitors), Smithville Cultural District (smithvilleculturaldistrict.com), Explore Bastrop County, (explorebastropcounty.com), Smithville Area Chamber of Commerce (smithvilletx.org), Visit Smithville (visitsmithville.org), Buescher State Park (tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/buescher)
This is part of a series featuring towns in the Bluebonnet region.