By Janet Pope,
Why Waco? you may ask. For the Dr Pepper Museum, the Cameron Zoo, the historic houses, and more and more...
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Why Waco? you may ask. Why not, everyone else did. When I told family and friends that I was going to Texas they inevitably asked, "Why Waco?"

I had endured the curious questions about where the Branch Davidians tragedy took place; and then they'd reiterate, "Why Waco?"

I had two reasons for my excitement and anticipation. First of all, we were sent a fantastic video about Waco by Lori Jarvis from the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau. The video gave glimpses of Waco's sights and sounds set to music. It was an exciting, catchy and professional presentation, which had my husband literally humming the Waco tune for days. I thought if this much time and effort was put into making this exciting video, then the people there must be proud of their town and anxious to show it off. Secondly, as a travel writer I have discovered that our greatest trips were not to the obvious big name cities and tourist attractions but to the smaller venues. Each town we visited had not only its own charm and flavor, but also its own sites to boast and share.

On our first day in Waco we ate lunch across the street from our hotel... the Hilton Waco. There is a great shopping/dining complex within walking distance in a converted "turn of the century' factory building, called the RiverSquare Center.

On the top floor is an eclectic collection of smaller boutique specialty shops all sharing a huge space. Downstairs were five diverse restaurants. We wanted to experience Texan food so we tried Ninfas, a Tex-Mex restaurant. The atmosphere was lively as the place was filled with families as well as business clientele. I tried the spinach enchilada, which was delicious, but too much to finish as it came complete with traditional rice and beans.

Historic Suspension Bridge

After lunch our escort Lori Jarvis treated us to a driving tour of the city. We passed the Historic Suspension Bridge, which was built in 1870 and was an early model for the Brooklyn Bridge design, just seeing it made me feel at home. Lori was not only friendly and welcoming but also extremely informative. She told us about the tornado that hit this town in 1953, causing extensive damage to the town itself as well as a great loss of life. Miraculously, the Alico Building built in the late 1800's was still standing after so many smaller buildings were demolished. The Alico building was, at the time, the first skyscraper west of the Mississippi.

For the past 50 years, this town has obviously struggled to not only rebuild but to successfully grow into its own thriving identity.

As we drove past the beautiful Spanish style homes we learned all about Waco and its history. We spent the rest of this first evening relaxing in our hotel, as we prepared for a full day of exploring.

Day 1

Armstrong Browning Library

Our first full day in Waco began with a tour of the Armstrong Browning Library. It was built in 1951 by the head of the English Department at Baylor University, Dr. Armstrong. He had a passionate love for the poet Robert Browning and had acquired a vast collection of both mementos and literature. He decided to begin an undertaking that would eventually house his collection. Besides housing the largest collection of Robert Browning's personal possessions, it is also the largest collection of secular stained glass in the world. The whole library is simply breathtaking, with much of its design being modeled after a Venetian theme. Each room was stunning but the most elaborate room was the Foyer of Meditation with its gold inlaid cathedral ceilings. This room was designed to give the students at Baylor University a place to contemplate. It is a treasure to have on campus and within the town.

Next, we were off to the Homestead Heritage that is run by the Homestead Ministries. This is an 800 family Christian Community that believes in teaching a Christian way of living within craftwork. The parents learn a craft such as woodworking, farming or herb gardening that they in turn pass on to their children. The work is done in a simple, honest fashion in tune with an appreciation of it being a spiritual gift. It is the parent's responsibility to pass this attitude on to the children. We met Stan, a carpenter, who proudly took us on a small tour of this 500-acre working farm community including its state of the art woodworking shop. Stan introduced us to Jennie who enthralled us with a pottery demonstration. This hard working community also runs a gift shop and a restaurant on premises, where everything is naturally homemade. For lunch I had the soup of the day, "Velvety Chicken" which was creamy and delicious. I also tried the hot roast beef and cheddar hero, again a good choice. Their baked goods looked delicious but lunch was too filling, so I ordered a slice of irresistible apple strudel to go.

Before we went to our last stop of the day we toured some more of Waco with Lori Jarvis. We drove through Cameron Park and headed to a panoramic spot overlooking the river and the city. From this great view it was a short drive back to the Historic Suspension Bridge for a close-up view, where we took a walk across the wood planked walkway. Lori told us about the cattle drive over the suspension bridge at the town's recent anniversary. This re-enactment simulated the movement across the Chisholm Trail in the late 1800s. As we heard the empty thud of our footsteps traversing across the wooden planks, I couldn't help but think of the thunderous sound 40 head of cattle must have made. The history of this unique bridge suddenly came to life.

Dr. Pepper Museum

Next we were off to the Dr Pepper Museum. Dr Pepper is the oldest major soft drink, having been formulated in 1885 by Doc Alderton, a pharmacist. Everyone at the time called it a "Waco". This museum was an original bottling plant and now serves as a not-for-profit showcase highlighting memorabilia, ads and machinery from the history of Dr Pepper.

Our guide Jennie was friendly and informative and ended our tour in an old fashioned drug store where you could purchase a "Dr Pepper" float, soda or sundae. And what museum would not be complete without a gift shop. Well this one had not only the mandatory Dr Pepper tee shirts and sweatshirts, but Dr Pepper jellybeans and cookbooks too! We left the museum humming, "I'm a Pepper, You're a Pepper, he's a Pepper, she's a Pepper, wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too!"

After going back to our hotel to quickly change and freshen up, we ate dinner at "Diamond Backs - a Texan Bistro" which was another restaurant in the RiverSquare Center. I decided to try a traditional Texas steak and baked potato. The steak was grilled to a perfect medium rare. Even though we waited quite a while for our meal, it was worth the wait. The manager was concerned about our delay and offered us a complimentary dessert. Donald and I shared a huge peach cobbler that was such a large portion that even Donald couldn't finish it.

The restaurants encourage lingering and the conversation is lively. All of the restaurants in the RiverSquare Center seemed quite filled even though it was midweek. Our peach cobbler ended up being the perfect ending to a busy day in Waco, Texas.

Read part 2 ~~ Read part 3


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