produced and photographed by NAN COULTER text by DR. AL ROBERTS
Of all the dusty, dreamy towns in Texas, this one has a strange grip on the Dallas intelligentsia. Below, 13 hot spots in Albany (and why we think it tops the charts in places to visit).
Much of what to see and enjoy lies along Main Street or is visible from it. A good place to start is the handsomely restored depot of the Texas Central Railroad, now housing the CHAMBER OF COMMERCE. You will likely encounter Diana Nail, president of the chamber and a fountain of information about Albany and the famous Fort Griffin Fandangle, a historic musical drama held annually the last two weekends in June. (The boxcar next door contains the costumes and props.)
Next, visit the old SHACKELFORD COUNTY COURTHOUSE, a proud French Second Empire–style building in continuous use since 1884, meticulously restored in 2001 as part of the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. It contains many of its original furnishings, such as the swiveling jury chairs.
From the courthouse, it’s a short stroll to THE OLD JAIL ART CENTER. The 1880s stone jail contains the entry and two small upstairs rooms for current exhibits. The graceful modern halls and rooms contain quality works by Henri Fantin-Latour, Gustave Caillebotte, Amedeo Modigliani and others, and, in the small Reilly Nail Gallery, fine pieces from his private collection: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, John Marin, Arthur Dove and more. Don’t miss the Sallie Reynolds Matthews Room and its collection of her personal things verifying the rugged frontier life. Another hall shows a fine David Bates painting.
Just up the street from the courthouse, find the AZTEC THEATER, an art deco–period stucco building restored in 1927 and 1980, seating 250 in comfortably cushioned chairs, most of which bear plaques with the names of supporters who own their chairs when they attend the theatricals performed by the active local ensemble. There is a fine Randy Bacon painting in the foyer.
Hungry yet? Good thing you brought your appetite. For starters, look in at the PRAIRIE STAR, a convenience store, filling station and popular deli and grill, for taking out or eating in. The ebullient proprietor, Treca Peacock, typifies the energetic, friendly qualities you’ll find everywhere in Albany. Her cheeseburgers are famous, and her baking is renowned. The display counters contain dozens of delectable things not on your diet.
Also add to your list THE BEEHIVE RESTAURANT AND SALOON, run with verve by small, neat Ali Esfandiary, arrived from Iran some 30 years ago. It offers excellent steaks, chops, burgers and, for special occasions, his famous lamb and Iranian specialties. I found the chicken-fried steak and fries as good as the best in Dallas. The smaller of the two saloon rooms contains the marble-topped bar from the original Beehive bar in Old Fort Griffin town. Both saloons feature walls covered with signed dollar bills from visitors from all over the world.
We had a very different kind of lunch at BISCUIT, where you can enjoy simple but sophisticated lunches Wednesdays through Saturdays, along with art and architecture. Jim Stuart, who does the meals, and Randy Bacon, the artist, are recovering advertising executives whose highly refined tastes are apparent in the striking compound they designed for themselves along with Aledo, architect Richard Wintersole.
Save an hour to visit the shops along Main Street.The BLANTON-CALDWELL TRADING CO. has a room each for kitchen wares, a women’s store and the main attraction, a fine selection of hunting gear and outdoor cooking equipment. Nearby find the Bartlett & Branch 1929 Soda Fountain, Vintage Vanilla. (Yes, you can get a cherry Coke there.) Sanders Drug Store is there, too.
Fellow gearheads, take note. Next door to the Blanton-Caldwell is the FLYING A’S CLASSIC CAR CLUB MUSEUM. Members of the club restore and display vintage autos in rotation, featuring prime eye candy such as a rare ’57 Chevy Nomad and a ’57 Bel Air coupe.
The town offers limited accommodations for overnight stays. There are several bed-and-breakfasts (BED IN BISCUIT offers one room, with a queen-sized bed and a bath reminiscent of a spa) and two motels. An alternative is the RIDGE MOTEL in Breckenridge, 30 miles back on the highway to Dallas. Some of the famous ranches, notably the NAIL RANCH and STASNEY’S COOK RANCH, provide comfortable lodging and good food for guests who come for the guided big-game hunts — trophy elk and whitetail deer — fishing and wildlife tours. They cater to corporate groups, but Stasney’s welcomes smaller groups and families. As accommodations, it offers faithful but modernized replicas of officers’ quarters from old frontier forts: Concho, Griffin and Richardson. —A.R.