Most of the people in Texas – in fact, a vast majority – live near one of the major interstates: I-10, I-35, or I-45. In all my life, I’ve never lived more than a few miles from an interstate myself. I-10 was the quickest way to get to San Antonio, or to go back home to Beaumont. I-45 or I-35 was a trip to Dallas. Those were the places I was always in a hurry to get to.
It was bluebonnets and Bellville that changed the way I travel. We’d never been able to get a good bluebonnet picture with our youngest, and one year we set out, determined to find a good patch even if it took all day. We didn’t know where to begin, so we just headed out towards Hill Country. That led us to Bellville, where a quick pass through town captivated us. It was an accidental find, a happy discovery on the way to somewhere else. We were determined to go back to visit, and now it’s a regular destination for us.
Sitting about halfway between Brenham and Sealy on Highway 36, Bellville is the seat of Austin county, and it’s where the coastal prairies and plains begin to give way to the gentle hills that introduce you to the hill country, for which central Texas is so famous. Every way into town is lined with farms and ranches, every few miles dotted with cattle. This is an agriculture community, one that grew as the railroad arrived and carried people and goods into and out of town. The rail may play less of a part now in the life of the town, as the highways see more traffic, but Bellville boasts of its rural character in every corner.
The down-home nature of the town is reflected in the local restaurants around town. Newman’s Bakery features huge cases of pastries, cookies, and other baked goods that rival any supermarket’s offerings. Bellville Meat Market carries not only fresh cuts of meat (which were probably grazing in the field the day before) but also a collection of spices and canned specialties such as pickles and salsa. The Hill burger joint serves great burgers, baskets, and sandwiches without the pricey menu. The Farm to Market Produce Company offers locally-grown produce, but also employs a cook who stocks the refrigerated cases with homemade takeout foods. Visitors to Bellville can also dine on Mexican food, Barbecue, or even visit the recently re-named Trump Cafe on the square, and sample a loaded Trumpburger.
Local shops are the main attraction in Bellville. From the outdoor sporting goods store, to clothing and boot outlets, to saddle repair; the home-owned small businesses ring the downtown square, as well as the highways into town. Other shops house stationers, antiques, and leather goods. And standing in the middle of it all, anchored in a roundabout, is the modern-styled architecture of the Austin County Courthouse.
Just off the square sits the Austin County Jail Museum, a beautiful building much more in line with traditional small town county courthouse architecture. The county operates tours of the museum on Saturdays, and the Bellville Historical Society offers Tour Guide brochures to help visitors navigate around the town. There are a good number of adorable little churches to find while exploring the town, and historic homes and buildings to discover as well.
Lodging options are limited in Bellville; the downtown hotel and a couple of close B&Bs are affordable and worth considering, but saving Bellville for a day trip and staying in nearby Brenham might be a more workable option. Brenham actually makes a good base of operations for visiting several small towns in the hill country. Bellville should definitely be on that must-see list.