Most people in Texas, especially those older than 50, can tell you one thing about La Grange. The town is famous for being home to the Chicken Ranch. Now if you’re not familiar with the Chicken Ranch, well it was a somewhat infamous place where ladies entertained men both young and old. Although the activities where illegal, the Chicken Ranch was tolerated and stayed open from 1905 to 1973. A movie, somewhat factual, was made with Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds. You can read more about the Chicken Ranch here.
The Chicken Ranch is long gone but La Grange is still a great place to visit with several historical buildings and a State Park on the outskirts of town. The first residents began settling in the area around 1830 and the town was established in 1837. With a current population of around 5,000, La Grange is a great little town to spend the day exploring.
The old Fayette County Jail has been turned into a visitor’s bureau and has some exhibits on display including one of the original jail cells and some of the artifacts that were discovered during the remodeling efforts. The infamous duo of Bonnie and Clyde were guests of the jail at one time along with other nefarious criminals of the day.
The Fayette County Courthouse is an example of Romanesque architecture. Completed in 1891, the three story courthouse is still in use today. As long as court is not in session you are free to venture into the court room and look around.
The old courthouse has an open courtyard in the middle of the building and you can see examples of craftsmanship from a bygone era throughout the building.
The old railroad depot has been turned into a museum and there are old buildings and homes throughout the town. One such home is the Faison Home constructed in the mid-19th century, home to one of the earliest families to settle in the area. The Faison family lived in the home for 90 years and today you can visit and see some of the original furnishings.
Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Park is located just outside town. On a bluff overlooking the Colorado River the park is the location of two historic sites.
In 1842 the war for Texas independence was raging against Mexico and Texan forces battled at Salado Creek in an attempt to repel Mexican forces that had just captured the Alamo. A group of 54 men, mostly from Fayette County, marched toward the battle to join in but were attacked by 500 Mexican soldiers resulting in 36 men being killed with 3 escaping and 15 being captured. The captured men were marched over 1,000 miles to a prison near Veracruz Mexico.
In the winter of 1842, 300 Texans, known as the Meir Expedition, set out to avenge what had become regarded as the “Dawson Massacre”, in a border town on the Rio Grande River a fierce battle ensued. Despite heavy Mexican losses 250 Texans were captured and marched toward Mexico City. An escape took place and 181 men attempted to make it back to safety but within weeks 176 of them surrendered due to the harsh desert conditions.
Outraged, Mexican President Santa Anna ordered the execution of the men. Diplomatic efforts by the United States and Great Britain resulted in Santa Anna coming up with a compromise. Known as the Black Bean incident, the men drew beans from a pot containing 159 white beans and 17 black beans. The men drawing the black beans were executed.
In 1848 on the 6th anniversary of the Battle of Salado Creek, remains of the Texas militia volunteers were reburied at Monument Hill. In 1933 a granite tomb was placed around the old tomb and in 1936 a 48-foot monument was erected.
Also located at the park is the old Kreische home and remains of the Kreische Brewery.
In 1849 Heinrich Kreische purchased 172 acres on the bluff, including the Dawson/Meir tomb.
In 1860 Kreische began building a brewery in a ravine below his home. During the Civil War, “Kreische’s Bluff Beer” was being commercially produced and by 1879 was the third largest brewery in the State. The brewery remained in operation until Kreische died in 1882 and the brewery finally closed in 1884.
Today the park is open to visitors and trails will take you through the park to the tomb, the Kreische home and there is a trail down the ravine to view the remains of the old brewery.
La Grange, like many small towns in Texas, is a great place for a day trip or weekend getaway. Full of historical sites to visit the area also has a nearby winery, great restaurants, antique shops and a year round farmer’s market.