I’m taking part in the A-Z April Blog Challenge.
Join me every day (except Sundays) throughout April for the next letter in the alphabet! Something different on each Letter of the alphabet!
Palestine, the county seat of Anderson County, is at the intersection of U.S. highways 79 and 287, at the center of the county, some 108 miles southeast of Dallas and 150 miles north of Houston.
It was the early home of Daniel Parker and was named after the Parker’s former home of Palestine, Illinois. When the Texas legislature established Anderson County in 1846, no community existed at the stipulated center of the county, so Palestine was established. A post office opened at the site the next year, and a contract was drawn up for the construction of the first courthouse, which was built on the crest of a low hill.
In 1856 a brick courthouse was built, and a few years later four acres was donated for the establishment of the Palestine Female Institute. Soon, small business concerns were clustered around the square; in 1866 twelve dry-goods businesses were in operation. Commerce was served by paddle-wheel steamers that during periods of high water plied the Trinity River to Magnolia, the port for Palestine.
Arrival of the International-Great Northern Railroad in 1872 led to the demise of local river shipping, as the railroad opened year-round travel to the east, to Houston, and to Laredo. The road also changed the face of the town, since the line bypassed the courthouse hill and built its shops, switching yards, and offices on level ground nearly a mile to the west.
A horse-drawn streetcar line was built to connect the courthouse and railroad station, but that proved to be uneconomical, and the single car was sold to the budding city of Dallas. By 1896 a new depot had been constructed. Large quantities of cotton, lumber, cottonseed oil, and fruit were shipped from Palestine. During the 1880’s and 1890’s stores, saloons, and lodging houses rapidly formed a new business district by the tracks.
Favorite Places to Visit in Palestine
Palestine is the end of route for the Texas State Railroad, now a state park, which operates steam excursion trains between Palestine and Rusk.
The Texas state prison system established the railroad in 1881. Inmates built the line, which was used to transport hardwood which was used as fuel for the furnaces at the prison-operated iron smelter at the Rusk Penitentiary. The furnace supplied the State of Texas with iron products, including the columns and dome structure for the capitol building in Austin.
The original construction was a narrow gauge line but was later built in standard gauge in order to join into the main line.
In 1906 prison crews extended the rail line to Maydelle and in 1909 reached their final destination of Palestine. Once the train line was completed into Palestine the line was easily accessible to the main lines and commerce in and around the area flourished.
Today, it is a popular tourist attraction year round.
Another tourist attraction is Eilenberger’s Bakery, established in 1898, which ships cakes throughout the world. Eilenberger’s is the oldest bakery in Texas. Eilenberger, a German immigrant, began his East Texas business endeavor in 1898 after leaving his native homeland of Leipzig, Germany in 1881. Eilenberger left Germany with two things; family memories from his native land and a treasured recipe for fruitcake. The Eilenberger family set sail for America when Eilenberger was just a boy of four years old. Seventeen years later, after working in Ft. Worth and Galveston bakeries Eilenberger founded what is now the world famous bakery in Palestine. The bakery was originally named American Home Bakery. The original establishment burned in 1915, however, Eilenberger was determined to continue operating his bakery at a temporary site until he rebuilt three years later, at the current location. The determined Eilenberger delivered bread by horse-drawn wagons until 1920. The bakery eventually evolved into a wholesale operation. By the 1930’s and 1940’s, Eilenberger’s wholesale operation had expanded and was operating with a fleet of 15 to 20 delivery trucks. In order to keep the more than 100-year-old bakery thriving and to support Eilenberger’s strategic marketing efforts, the bakery has moved into the future by continuously maintaining an updated website. Eilenberger’s also distributes as many as 300,000 catalogs each year, and advertises in newspapers and magazines around the country. It is just as popular today as it was when it began over 100 years ago.
Historic Victorian Homes are fun to explore in the area. Many of the homes have been restored and are open to public to visit.
Palestine’s downtown, like most small Main Street Texas Cities, was the center of commercial and retail activity for almost a century. Starting in the 1950’s a number of our buildings were “slip covered” hiding the turn of the century architecture, and many businesses relocated to the loop leaving Main Street vacant and deteriorating.
Engeling Wildlife Management Area is in the northern part of the county. Lake Palestine, a reservoir of 25,500 surface acres on the Neches River, provides water. The area is open to the public for hunting, hiking, camping and animal observation.
Palestine is a favorite of the locals and visitors alike. People come for the train ride on the steam engine, fruitcake, dogwood festival and the gingerbread /Victorian houses.
Stop by tomorrow to see what town is up for a visit!