On a recent road trip through central Texas, I found seven not to be missed sites. Dallas, Denison, Ft. Worth, and Irving all had a multitude of things to do. I found some Presidential history in each city to explore.
Like many people worldwide, I watched the tv show Dallas in the 1980s. Back then everyone wanted to know who shot J.R. A reboot in 2012 brought the Ewings back to TV.
Located in Parker, TX, Southfork Ranch remains exactly as pictured on the show. The six thousand square foot residence was featured in both series.
Originally built in the early 70s by Joe Duncan, a local Dallas builder, the producers approached the family in 1978 about using the site for its new series. The family said yes, with the caveat that they could only film during the summer months. Texas in the summer, that could not have been fun.
For the next 13 years, the series shot exteriors in and around the ranch. The interior filming was all done on a soundstage in Los Angles. The iconic shot of the long drive to the ranch was filmed in Parker. Through the magic of Hollywood, the drive seemed longer than the actual drive.
The show’s reboot in 2012 brought several characters back to Southfork, including J.R. actor Larry Hagman. Unfortunately, Larry was ill with liver cancer and died soon after his last scenes were shot.
Southfork Ranch is a television icon. Our tour guide on the day, Carol, made the tour informative, fun, and engaging. It’s well worth a visit.
Aviation Unmanned Vehicle Museum
This is a one of a kind aviation museum in Caddo Mills, TX. It holds one man’s collection of drones, Lt. Col. Harold “Red” F. Smith. Smith had a unique knowledge of drones as he began working with them in the 1960s. His dream was to bring his amassed collection to the public. The museum opened in November 2021. Smith was killed by a drunk driver in 2017. His son Doug continues to make his dream a reality.
The museum is an impressive collection of drones and hardware that served the military in a unique fashion. Drones were created initially for target practice. Now drones are an integral part of military operations. The museum is not always open so call or email to schedule a visit.
George W. Bush Presidential Library
43’s library’s is located on the campus of Southern Methodist University.
The self-guided tour begins with a short movie in which the President and Mrs. Bush provide an overview of Bush’s service to the county. Your journey continues with exhibits about the Bush years in office. Bush was president during a tumultuous time in our nation’s history.
I am always astonished at the number of documents and mementos that filled the halls of the presidential libraries. The library archives contain more than seventy million pages of documents related to both the presidency and Bush’s term as Governor of Texas.
There is a replica of the Bush Oval Office where you can have your picture taken behind the President’s desk.
The 911 exhibit walks visitors back through that horrible day that changed the world.
The Bush years were a tumultuous eight years, terrorism, the Iraq war, and a recession, and the museum relates the story of the years with a unique insight. It is worth a visit.
Parking is available in front of the museum at a cost of $10.00. To my knowledge, this is the only library that charges for parking.
Denison is just south of the Oklahoma border on I35. It is the birthplace of a president and was the home to two railroad roundhouses. Today as part of the downtown main street is under construction, you can feel the renewed flavor of the community.
Red River Railroad Museum
I met Sam Oswald and volunteer Diane. Diane gave me an in depth tour of the museum. The museum is an intimate look at a company town that was Denison in its heyday. There are many artifacts to see and touch here. You can ring a locomotive’s bell, try your hand at Morse code and learn the history of the Katy railroad.
This is a well curated museum and tells the story of Denison, the Railroad, and its citizens in a down to earth fashion. The volunteers are knowledgeable and interested in their history.
Make sure to see the short film on Crush Texas, a town that existed for one day. It was created so a railroad company could crash two steam locomotives. What a railroad company did for publicity is fascinating, even in the 1900s. It didn’t quite end the way they thought it would. The old railroad depot stands at the end of Main St. It serves as an event venue with a few shops. Outside you will find a sculpture that is a throwback to the days of train travel.
Dwight D. Eisenhower Birthplace
Dwight D. Eisenhower was born in Denison, TX on October 14, 1890. Eisenhower had a storied career as a five-star general, overseer of the World War II Normandy invasion, and a NATO commander and 34th President of the United States.
Although the family moved to Abilene, KS, when Ike was about 18 months old, Denison embraced the birthplace making it a must see location for tourists and locals alike.
Amanda Lanum gave me an immersive look at Eisenhower’s birthplace. The gift house houses a small museum where you can learn all about Ike. A terrific short film provides an overview of Eisenhower’s birth in Denison and his outstanding career.
The home is a look back to the 1890s, Denison’s history, and Eisenhower’s roots. On April 20, 1946, Ike returned to Denison to visit the home that local citizens had restored. Denison was and remains proud of its native son.
The statute of Ike was created by Robert L. Dean, Jr. (USMA, 1953) who was a West Point graduate like Ike. Mr. Dean created similar statues for the Birthplace, the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Normandy Beaches, London headquarters, and West Point.
Unfortunately, the weather was not that pretty on the day I visited. Thanks to my friends at the Birthplace for having a nice picture to share.
Perrin Air Force Base Historical Museum
My final stop in Denison was Perrin Air Force Base Historical Museum located on what was the Perrin Air Force Base. This volunteer run museum pays tribute to the men and women who served. The base closed in 1971. The base was named for Colonel E. Daniel Perrin who was killed in 1941 in a B-26 test flight.
You will find all sorts of military artifacts here. Many people have donated collections of military items to the museum. The museum pays tribute to all the military services throughout years of military conflicts.
The wall of honor serves to honor those who have served in the area. BC Thomas is a pilot who has more hours in the SR71 than any other pilot. Another notable Denison native, Captain Sully Sullenberger, captained the Miracle on the Hudson flight.
Nearby Grayson College previously maintained the Wall of Honor but turned it over to the museum for its maintenance and continuation.
A large art collection donated by a local physician is all signed originals. This is a serious aviation art collection.
This museum is free and accepts donations. It is well worth a visit for a look at military history. Jim Neidich was my guide. He served in the Air Force and is a good storyteller.Fr.
Ft. Worth, Texas
Ft Worth-Kennedy Historic Site Hilton Hotel
The Crystal Ballroom at Texas Hotel in downtown Ft. Worth was the site of JFK’s last speech. Today, the Hilton features the massive Kennedy Suite located on the 15th floor. It is believed that Kennedy most likely stayed in room 850 in 1963.
There are photographs of Kennedy outside the suite and on each floor as you exit the elevator. The memorial features a statue of Kennedy and several informative panels.
Irving Archives and History Museum
This small museum packs a punch of local history with its story of Irving and its growth through the years. There is a traveling exhibit on Segregation in the Military. Outside the museum is a military honor park that pays tribute to those fallen heroes in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm.
This is the house where Lee Harvey Oswald spent the night before he shot President Kennedy in Dallas. His wife, Marina was staying in the Irving suburb with Ruth Paine. It is a look into the time of 1963. The house has been meticulously restored and occupies a unique place in history. Visitors will understand the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination from a different viewpoint.
Las Colinas Mustangs
This beautiful sculpture is the centerpiece of Las Colinas. Robert Glen, a Kenyan sculptor, sculpted the horses. Make sure to see the nearby Mustang Museum. It is open for limited hours.
Texican Court Hotel
This is a lovely boutique hotel in Irving and a throwback to the old motor court motels. Texican Court’s comfortable accommodation is above average. An onsite restaurant and bar make eating decisions easy should you want to stay put. I certainly recommend a stay there.
Across the street is the Toyota Music venue and a host of restaurants help to make your stay even better if you want to enjoy the music scene.
Not far away is a highlight of Irving, the canals. Here you can take a ride in a gondola and enjoy the evening.
Although not in Texas, my next stop was just across the state line, and was on my way home. I made one more stop, Hope, Arkansas.
Clinton Birthplace in Hope, Arkansas
Willian Jefferson Blythe Clinton “Billy” was born in Hope Arkansas on August 19, 1946. His birthplace was the home of his grandparents, Eldridge and Edith Cassidy. Their daughter, Virginia had “Billy” three months after his father died in a car accident.
Virginia met Clinton’s father while in college, and they married in 1943 only two months after meeting. William Sr. was in the service and was sent overseas. Upon his return, he moved his wife to Chicago, where he found work. Housing proved to be difficult to find, and William Sr. sent Virginia home when she discovered she was pregnant. Clinton only resided there for his first four years, but those were formative years for the man and created many lifelong friendships.
His grandfather owned a small store in Hope, and his grandmother was a private-duty nurse. His mother was a nurse anesthetist. He credits his grandmother for teaching him to read and to learn his numbers.
Virginia remarried when Billy was four to Roger Clinton. They ultimately moved to Hot Springs where Roger was from. This is when Billy learned to be the defender of his mother from the abusive Roger. Virginia penned her autobiography which detailed her love of a good time and flamboyant personality. She died in 1994. She and her parents are buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Hope.
The home was sold on the death of Eldridge in 1957 and had many residents over the years. A local group of Hope’s citizens purchased the home and restored it. Clinton visited in 2011 when the National Park Service took over management of the residence. There is one item that belonged to Clinton is a Golden Book, Kitten Surprise.
The Clinton Birthplace is a look at the foundation that was laid for our 42nd President.
Want to learn more about presidential history? See my other posts here.