Hold your hungry horses.
Any trip to Elgin — proclaimed as the Sausage Capital of Texas by the Texas Legislature — likely includes a stop for some good eats, but Elgin, which straddles Bastrop and Travis counties, offers plenty of other things to do before filling up on barbecue. (If your stomach is growling already, keep in mind that more info about sausage and fixings will be served up soon enough.)
From Central Austin, Elgin is about a 30-minute scenic drive. Before arriving in this small city, visitors might hear a train roaring. That could inspire some folks to stop at the Elgin Depot Museum, housed in the former Union Depot, built circa 1903, said Debbie Wahrmund, the museum director who good-naturedly gives tours. The free museum is operated by the Elgin Historical Association.
“That used to be the baggage room,” Wahrmund points out. “This is the old ticket office. It was quite upscale.”
History lovers can wander around and peek back in time.
“There is a story on every wall,” Wahrmund said, such as a 1900 wood wall telephone. “Crank it and the bell rings,” she said.
A photograph shows residents waiting for President McKinley’s train to come; elsewhere tourists can see a uniform from World War I. A model train display is featured along with a tiny version of Elgin.
The museum draws visitors from school kids to train lovers to senior citizens. Whenever a train comes by, she said, “Everyone likes to pause. ... The windows will rattle.”
Sightseers from Elgin, Scotland, have also dropped in, Wahrmund said: “They are delighted that we say (Elgin) correctly,” with a hard G sound. After all, the city is named for Robert Morriss Elgin, whose family came from Elgin in Scotland, according to a museum sign.
After touring the museum, visitors perhaps will opt to meander through the heart of Elgin. Many Elgin buildings are made of brick, showing off why the area has long been known for its brick companies; Elgin has been designated as the “Brick Capital of the Southwest” by the Southwest Brick Institute, said Amy Miller, director of community services for the city of Elgin, which has a population of roughly 10,000. Elgin is also a Texas Main Street City, and the downtown commercial historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, said Miller.
Newcomers might want to stop at the Elgin Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center, where friendly folks hand out information and maps of local sights. Be sure to pick up a self-guided Heritage Walking Tour brochure, which can usher folks around the historic buildings along Main Street and its periphery. There is also an African American Heritage Tour, which includes several older churches in the area. (The guides can also be found at elgintx.com.)
In fact, the Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center building is on the walking tour. It is in a former freight depot built in 1872, said Gena Carter, president of the chamber.
Ambling along the walking tour, visitors will see quaint buildings, such as Elgin City Hall, located in the Nofsinger House. Built with brick from a local kiln, “it features Queen Anne detailing and a distinctive corner tower with a conical roof,” according to a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark outside.
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Visitors can also duck inside the local post office and look up at the lovely “Texas Farm” mural, painted by Julius Woeltz. In soothing colors, it shows workers on farmland, with chickens and more. It was “commissioned as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration’s Federal Arts Project,” according to a sign by the mural. It is one of only 11 such post office murals still existing in Texas.
Elgin also attracts crowds to the annual Hogeye Festival, which runs Oct. 24-26 this year. It celebrates with “community spirit and piggy pride,” a press release said. Festivalgoers should bring a high tolerance for pig puns, too, as they enjoy a Hogalicious Dessert Contest, street dance, Cow Patty Bingo, Pearls Before Swine Art Show, a carnival, a pet parade and other activities.
Also, once a month, folks can enjoy a relaxed evening out at the Sip, Shop and Stroll downtown, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on each second Thursday. Live music plays, and folks enjoy refreshments while browsing among some fanciful stores and other places. They can get that small-town feel from local quirks. A barber pole was made out of an old water heater because “wooden ones kept getting knocked down,” the guide says. It’s a very “clever” idea, Miller said.
At holiday time, two nearby Christmas tree farms offer “choose and cut” trees. That time of year, “You go to the barbecue places and (customers) all have their trees on their cars,” Carter said.
So now to the food! Those with an appetite for Elgin’s famous sausage often have to choose between two restaurants: Southside Market and Barbeque or Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse. Folks in Elgin have had plenty of arguments about which of those places serves up the best fare, Wahrmund said.
“You can’t go wrong,” Miller said.
On a recent weekday, the parking lot was full at the Southside Market on U.S. 290. Inside the large dining hall, lunchtimers lined up to order sausage, brisket, ribs and more as well as sides such as coleslaw, beans, potato salad and mac and cheese.
The menu at Meyer’s features pulled pork, ribs, pork garlic sausage, brisket, beef sausage and more, according to its website; sides include macaroni and cheese, potato salad and cream corn.
For people not in the mood for sausage, other places offer hearty fare. The menu at Lucy’s Kitchen lists such items as enchiladas and chicken-fried steak. The restaurant is also known for its tempting pies; “She has this giant meringue. When she brings out a fresh pie, the whole room grows quiet,” Wahrmund said.
Overall, Elgin’s food is a big lure: “Once people come for the barbecue,” Carter said, “a lot of them stick around.”