State Rep. Travis Clardy, a Nacogdoches resident, proudly touts the community’s newest downtown restoration project, the stunning Fredonia Hotel as an example of its historic vibrancy. The 1955 mid-century modern masterpiece offers travelers a home base in the Main Street district within walking distance of increasingly expanding destinations like restaurants, coffee shops, and bars.
“I think we’re going to see an emergence of history-based travel around here—this is the most beautiful and historic part of the state,” Clardy says. “We’re preaching the gospel of Nacogdoches and East Texas, but I’m just a minor prophet.”
Nacogdoches Main Street’s Amy Mehaffey notes the Fredonia’s recent re-opening has been a catalyst for several new businesses to open in the historic downtown area. Additionally, existing businesses have extended their hours to accommodate guests and locals who stroll the streets after dinner.
“We’re starting to see the footprint of downtown expand, which is wonderful. It used to be defined as just the areas with red brick streets, but now businesses and services are moving beyond those traditional borders,” Mehaffey says.
Not historic but drawing a large number of heritage travelers is the Fredonia Brewery, just a block north of downtown. Founders Vince Beard and Paul Murray are Nacogdoches natives who opened the 15-barrel brewhouse in March 2017. Their shared love of beer and local history is evident in the traditionally constructed pine taproom and the beers, including Pine Cove Porter and Nine Flags Amber Ale. Even the brewery’s name and tagline reference the local Fredonia Republic of 1826–27: “Brewed with the independent spirit that created Texas.”
“We love our hometown and all the great stories about its important role in Texas history,” Murray says. “It’s really cool to think that Sam Houston and Davey Crockett once walked where our taproom now stands.”
Beyond downtown, visitors are drawn to heritage attractions like the 1830 Sterne-Hoya House, the oldest home in Nacogdoches remaining on its original site. The home was built for Adolphus Sterne, a prominent leader of the Texas Revolution, and hosted many high-profile guests, including Houston, who was baptized into the Catholic faith here as an adult.
A couple miles away on the eastern edge of Stephen F. Austin University’s campus is the lush Ruby Mize Azalea Garden. Eight acres of lofty loblolly pines encompass a pleasant 1.25-mile walking trail featuring 50 benches, dozens of planting beds, and hundreds of floral varieties. A popular spot on the 25-mile Nacogdoches Azalea Trail, the garden also includes whimsical artwork—from metal sculptures to floral canopies.
After exploring Nacogdoches, venture further into the Texas Forest Trail Region to learn more about its namesake piney woods. One of the best ways to experience this intersection of history and timber is at the Aldridge Sawmill ruins in Angelina National Forest, roughly 50 miles southeast of Nacogdoches.
Like other regional lumber towns, Aldridge was once abuzz with activity, with hundreds of homes, several churches and schools, a commissary, and saloons. During its brief heyday (roughly 1905–20), Aldridge produced nearly 100,000 board feet of yellow pine lumber daily. Aldridge’s only remnants are the enormous and stark concrete walls of former mill facilities, now offering an eerie juxtaposition to the surrounding natural beauty of this enchanting forest. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Aldridge is a surreal and compelling destination, with trees growing in and alongside graffiti-covered walls that are slowly being reclaimed by a forest they once helped decimate.
To continue learning about sawmills and the lumber industry, head to Diboll’s History Center, an impressive 12,000-square-foot facility featuring remarkable cypress and pine woodwork.
Drawing the most attention is a 68-ton Baldwin 10-wheel locomotive built in 1920. Visitors of all ages will feel an intrinsic thrill while pulling the engine’s steam-whistle rope and hearing the resulting full-throated sonic blast. The History Center also contains an extensive archive and research facility with more than a million photos and more than 2,000 cubic feet of manuscripts and records.
“What sets us apart is that we’re not as interested in what was on the walls of a historic building—we want to focus on what was in the desk drawers,” says Museum Director Jonathan Gerland.
East Texas’ natural resources are also on display just up the road at Lufkin’s Texas Forestry Museum. According to Museum Director Kendall Gay, the facility traces its origins to the century-old Texas Forestry Association; it now offers dozens of exhibits and hundreds of artifacts dedicated to the region’s lumber industry. Highlights include vintage sawmill equipment, a historic Forest Service truck, and an outdoor exhibit including a 100-foot-tall fire lookout tower from 1936.
Just a couple miles away is historic downtown Lufkin, one of the longest-serving participants in the THC’s Texas Main Street Program. Heritage travelers are drawn to downtown’s mix of restaurants, civic buildings, and antiques stores. A walking tour reveals the city’s distinctive history—maps are available at Lufkin City Hall. Highlights include the 1925 Pines Theater, the first Brookshire Brothers grocery store, and colorful local artwork at Cotton Square Park.