Nuts about Seguin
It’s the home of limecrete and the world’s biggest pecan.
Admittedly, I’m no T.R. Fehrenbach or Walter Prescott Webb, but I think I know a little something about Texas history.
After all, I was educated in the fourth and seventh grade Texas public school history curriculum, majored in history in college, worked as a docent in a historic house and chaperoned annual school field trips. It’s not often that I find a bit of the past that feels new to me.
But there it was, on the banks of the Guadalupe River in Seguin.
We’re treading carefully through the tall grass at Seguin’s Riverside Cemetery, keeping an eye out for snakes. Below us, Walnut Branch empties into the Guadalupe; we hear children’s laughter rising from the playground at the bottom of the bluff in Max Starcke Park. It’s the kind of cemetery where family plots are topped with elaborate headstones and statuary rests on plinths. The dates here are old, some inscriptions heartbreaking. Nineteenth-century frontier Texas was not kind to the young.
In the southeast corner I find what I’ve been looking for — an eroding stonework wall next to an inscribed headstone. The headstone is one of many peppered throughout the cemetery marking the graves of Seguin’s original founders, veterans of the Texas Revolution. The wall is a remnant of concrete aggregate or “limecrete,” a building material that gave rise to Seguin’s moniker “Mother of Concrete Cities” due to the largest concentration of concrete buildings in the United States at the time.
What surprised me is that these two defining Seguin moments — the historic creation of a brand-new town on the Texas frontier and the futuristic use of materials common to 20th-century construction — happened within the same decade.
Robert Gray, our guide at Sebastopol House Historic Site, was the first to point this out during our tour of the Greek Revival home. Built of limecrete between 1854 and 1856, the building is one of a handful of such existing structures in Seguin, and one of the few still open to the public. We’ve come rather late in the day, but Gray, rigged out in authentic 19th-century garb, explains the process of creating the 141/2-inch-thick walls and shows us plans for an upcoming exhibit.
Sebastopol’s continued existence is a testimony not just to its construction, but to the dedicated work of a Depression-era New Deal program that minutely recorded every aspect of the then-80-year-old building. Twentieth-century preservationists used those plans for restoration in the 1980s. (The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department transferred ownership of the site to the City of Seguin in 2011.)
The site also houses the collection of the Wilson Pottery Foundation, an organization created by the descendants of Hyrum Wilson, a former slave and noted local potter. Hyrum learned the potter’s trade under minister and slaveholder John Wilson, who founded Guadalupe Pottery outside of Seguin in 1857. After emancipation, Hyrum and other former slaves took the surname Wilson and opened H. Wilson and Company (considered the first Black-owned business in Texas), producing what were then commonly used household vessels. Notable for their manufacturer imprint, horseshoe handles and salt glaze, Wilson pots are highly collectible today and can go for thousands of dollars at auction.
We first heard of Wilson at the Heritage Museum in the Downtown Historic District. Housed in a former Red and White Grocery, the museum boasts original wooden floors, open masonry walls, stamped tin ceilings and an enormous freight elevator operated by a series of ropes, pulleys and oversized gears. The history of Guadalupe County and Seguin is housed in multiple display cases and curated exhibits that line the walls downstairs.
Debbie Taylor, who tells us everyone calls her Smokey, leads us from case to case. Smokey is a Seguin native and former schoolteacher who volunteers at the museum.
The second floor is dominated by Leon Studio. The museum moved the entirety of Leon and Nelda Kubala’s studio — once the premier portrait studio in town — when the couple retired, and hauled it upstairs using the freight elevator.
“Oh, everyone had their pictures done there,” Smokey says. “Graduation and engagement, weddings and baby photos. Leon’s was where we all went.”
As we leave, Smokey points out a mid-20th-century pharmaceutical display from Parker’s Pharmacy.
“One of the oldest pharmacies in Texas and they’re descended from Quanah Parker,” she says, gesturing to a related exhibit.
We stroll farther down River Street and get a good look at Central Park, the Guadalupe County Courthouse and downtown Seguin, where all is vibrant and thriving. Children rush through the gazebo and toss coins into the fountain. County workers swarm the elegant art deco courthouse. We wait our turn to take obligatory pictures of the giant pecan outside and watch as a crowd lines up outside of Burnt Bean Company. The smell of its award-winning barbeque is tempting, but the line is daunting, so we head instead to The Powerplant for a bite of lunch.
The Powerplant was once a working municipal power plant, and it overlooks Saffold Dam, which powered the cotton gin. By the 1890s, it provided water and electric utilities to the city. Today, the industrial space has been reimagined as a family- (and dog-) friendly restaurant and bar, with an expansive deck overlooking the Guadalupe and a menu of comfort food favorites. We choose chips and queso to start and devour burgers and fries while we enjoy the breeze from the river.
The next day, we head out bright and early to the Farmer’s Market. Hosted in the Big Red Barn of the Texas Agricultural Education and Heritage Center (next to the Pecan Museum of Texas), vendors sell everything from original artwork to sides of frozen beef to handmade soaps — and, of course, pecans.
You see, Seguin is the Pecan Capital of Texas. The courthouse’s giant pecan held the title of world’s largest from 1962 to 1982, when a town in Missouri created a bigger one. Seguin took back the title in 2011 with the “World’s Largest Pecan” outside the Big Red Barn.
There’s even a song about big pecans, the charmingly goofy The Big Pecan by hometown fiddler Bryan Duckworth.
“Let’s go see the Big Pecan. It weighs a ton. It’s lots of fun.
Let’s go see the Big Pecan, the big nut in Seguin.”
At the Big Red Barn, we pick up several jams and preserves, a fragrant salt scrub and the obligatory Texas nuts. The annual Pecan Festival is typically held each October — when there’s no pandemic, that is.
Armed with goodies to bring home, we head out to Max Starcke Park. I recognize a youth baseball field where my two sons, for the first and only time, played on the same team one summer several years ago. The park stretches across both sides of a major roadway, nested in a curve of the Guadalupe.
We move away from the play areas to the relatively quieter side. Here a scenic roadway hugs the river on one side, while on the other golfers play through on glistening greens. My husband occasionally plays here with his brother and recommends the beautiful views and reasonable fees.
Small picnic areas and resting spots dot the water’s edge. Some are simply banks sloping down to the water where families picnic and skip stones across the river. Other spots have more elaborate concrete structures. Small signs explain that these were built through a New Deal program, the Works Progress Administration.
We make a final stop in town before we head out. When the 33 Texian veterans of the Gonzales Rangers first divvied up lots in August 1838 they named their new town Walnut Springs. The name lasted only six months before being changed to Seguin to honor Juan Seguin — whose burial site is near Max Starcke Park against a shaded hillside. Walnut Springs, though, still exists as a pocket park nestled between the county tax office and the city library.
The park was designed by Robert Hugman (mastermind of San Antonio’s Riverwalk) to incorporate numerous small springs that fed the Walnut Branch and the large native tress that lined its banks. The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed dams, waterfalls, walkways, bridges and stone walls in the 1930s. Revitalized in the early 2000s, the park is a lovely natural respite in the heart of downtown. Bridges and walkways again cross the creek, spring sites are clearly delineated, and statuary and stonework highlight the natural beauty of the area. We sit in the shade and watch the turtles and fish. A small group of boys cast lines into the creek.
Following the path past several lovely historic homes, we cross the street to the Seguin Public Library. Large, airy ceilings and bright colors make the building vibrant and inviting, while floor-to-ceiling glass brings the outdoors inside. Balconies with comfortable seating look out over Walnut Branch, giving the illusion of reading in a treehouse.
On the way out, I spot a reading room with glass doors. Inside shelves are full of books, folders, papers and binders. The room houses an extensive local history collection, a fitting sight to end our visit to such a historic town.
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