If you’ve ever traveled I-45 between Dallas and Houston, chances are you’ve stopped at Buc-ee’s in Madisonville. And if you’re the average traveler on that route, chances are that that’s all you’ve ever seen of Madisonville. I’m not knocking Buc-ee’s – it’s a road trip essential stop in our family – but there’s more to Madisonville than a pit stop, especially if you like exploring the downtowns of small town Texas.
Downtown Madisonville isn’t very big. It doesn’t need to be for a population nearing 5,000. The square and the nearby streets are busy, though, especially at lunchtime, as people head to the local steakouse, the taqueria, or the Mexican restaurants near the small modern-style courthouse. Further down East Main Street towards the interstate, you find a brisk business at the Chinese buffet, the local coffee shop cafe, the family restaurant, or even the chain restaurants like TX Burger.
When I visited Madisonville, I chose to stop in for lunch at the packed Walker’s Cafe on the square. They advertise burgers, sandwiches, salads, and daily lunch specials, and if you can believe it, a cup of coffee for 25 cents. (If you do the math, that’s nearly two weeks’ worth of coffee for the price of one visit to Starbucks.) I nursed a bowl of some good, hot chicken and dumplings while watching a couple of sheriff’s deputies eat lunch and amuse the toddler son of one of their friends. And I listened as the wait staff greeted customers by name, half wishing I was a regular too.
You’ll find antique shops and boutiques around the square as well. Western wear is available, of course, but you’ll also find curio shops and florists and women’s clothing stores too. Just a block off the main square you can find the Madison County Museum, and a block further brings you to the Woodbine Restaurant and Hotel, an elegant establishment built over a hundred years ago. The gorgeous Woodbine B&B isn’t the only place to stay in Madisonville if you visit overnight, but it’s run by the owner, and likely the coziest and most friendly option.
A check of the calendar in the area tells you that spring is the time to visit Madisonville. The rodeo happens in March, and The County Fair starts at the beginning of April. And brand new to town this spring at the Madisonville Municipal Airport is Texas Skydiving Company, offering ‘safe, world-class skydiving experiences’ to its customers. Whether you’re looking to chill, or find a thrill, Madisonville just might fit the bill.
Madisonville may be a small town, but the people are big on welcomes. So the next time you find yourself traveling up or down I-45, try to set aside an hour or so to see more of Madisonville than Buc-ee’s. It just might make you want to explore more of the towns that seem to be overlooked as merely names on passing exit signs.