Waxahachie and Ellis County, Texas holds a unique position on the Texas map, being just south of Dallas (Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas) and Tarrant counties. The hustle and bustle of the neighboring big cities of Dallas and Fort Worth falls away and a slower pace of life takes over as Ellis County appears in the windshield.
Not only does Ellis County have beautiful farmland, rolling hills and lots of trees, the county is home to some really nice folks with interesting stories to tell amid an area rich with historic details.
Ellis County, an ideal place to live, is also a very unique place to visit. Many come for a day or a week and find themselves wanting to stay after experiencing everything Ellis County has to offer.
Driving around Ellis County it's evident that the area is steeped in history. Towns like Waxahachie, Maypearl, Ovilla, Palmer, Red Oak, Reagor Springs, Forreston, Italy, Midlothian, Venus, Ennis, and Milford once were at the center of the cotton boom of the late 1800's. Large landowners made millions of dollars during this time. Entrepeneurs came to the larger communities, setting up trades catering to these wealthy farmers. They, in turn, became wealthy. It was a heady time for Ellis County. When "cotton was king" the Waxahachie/Midlothian/Ennis area had a higher population than Dallas and Tarrant Counties.
When the bottom fell out of the cotton market in 1930, the millionaires moved away and Ellis County fell into a deep sleep. For many years not much went on in the county and no development happened. As it turns out, this was a blessing in disguise. While other more prosperous areas were experiencing development and the old was torn down to make way for the new, nothing was happening in Ellis County. People such as the late Ruth Burton, noted artist and historian, realized the most valuable asset, other than the people, was the many historic structures in and around Waxahachie. The first Gingerbread Trail Tour of Homes became a reality in 1969 and the rest, as they say, is history.
The first weekend of June each year thousands make their way to Waxahachie to tour historic homes and shop the antique and gift stores downtown. It is not uncommon to be in line to enter a house and chitchat with someone from Sweden or elsewhere in the world. The city realized they could be a destination for tourists interested in historic architecture, antiques, and great restaurants, and a revitalization took hold in the county.
To insure that this history would not be lost, Waxahachie asked the National Historic Register to analyze the city to determine just what was here and advise how to keep the historic aspects of the city alive as a destination attracting historic tourists. As a result, there are seven designated overlapping historic areas in the city of Waxahachie. At the center of these historic areas is the Ellis County Courthouse, built in 1897 by architect J. Reily Gordon, in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.
The county courthouse, while being one of many built by Gordon in Texas, has some architectural aspects that are unique to the building. After being featured on the cover of a large book published in the 1970's about the courthouses of Texas, the Ellis County courthouse has become famous worldwide. An extensive restoration was undertaken and completed in 2002 which returned the interior to its former glory.
The courthouse anchors the downtown square surrounded by several blocks of historic buildings housing antique and gift stores, great restaurants and a variety of things to see and do. Known by many as the home of the Texas Country Reporter Festival hosted by Bob Phillips in the fall, the downtown area is also home to the historic Texas Theatre. The Texas is an old-time movie theatre turned into an intimate music venue for everything from county and western to bebop revues.
The Rogers Hotel, built in 1912 and remodeled as a premier hotel in 2003, has now become an office building housing many varied businesses. The lobby floor houses a great barber shop, a country and western radio coffee shop, the After Hours Improv Comedy Theater, and a small cafe. It is worth going inside to see the beautiful lobby. Downstairs is the Bonnie and Clyde Speakeasy, a classy bar with numerous activities through the week. There have been many reports of hauntings in the old hotel over the years. It begs the question - if there are no longer overnight guests in the hotel to pester, is there any reason for the ghosts to remain there? The Chaska House on Main Street is the town's only bed and breakfast inn. On the outskirts of Waxahachie along the highways are several modern hotels and motels.
The picturesque landscape and historic structures in Ellis County have shown up in many of our best-loved movies. So much so that the area is an important part of the Texas Movie Trail. Such movies as "Places in the Heart", which earned Sally Field an academy award, was filmed here with the Rogers Hotel lobby being used as the bank lobby in the movie. Another classic is "Tender Mercies" which starred Robert Duvall. The stark beauty of the flat fields in the southern part of the county were shown to best advantage in that movie. One of the most famous to be filmed in the area was the 1967 version of "Bonnie and Clyde", starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. And who could forget Geraldine Page's performance in "Trip to Bountiful", filmed in the county in 1985, for which she earned an academy award.
There you have it; at least 101 reasons to visit Ellis County. As so many have found out, once you visit, you will come back again and again. Who knows, maybe the next visit will be the one to convince you to put down roots here too.
"I love Waxahachie and I know you will too"
Joe Jenkins - Semi-Retired Waxahachie Major