Bastrop is just one of several travel-worthy destinations in the Lost Pines district. Just 13 miles east of Bastrop you’ll come to Smithville.
The house at the corner of Northeast Eighth and Olive is familiar to anyone who has seen Hope Floats, the film which launched Smithville’s reputation as a great place to make movies. In recent years, everything from arthouse films to The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn and directed by Terrence Mallick, have been filmed in town, and the locals have stories aplenty about moviemaking. (The tree in the Tree of Life house on Burleson, for instance, was trucked in from five miles away, in an intricate, complicated operation.)
Pocket’s Grille, a favorite local restaurant, serves as an unofficial museum to Smithville-filmed movies, with posters, scripts, and memorabilia displayed on the walls.
Smithville’s town mascot, Smitty, is a remnant of unusual civic pride from the 2006 Festival of Lights celebration. The year before, one of the event organizers proposed Smithville create the world’s largest gingerbread cookie. After researching how to bake such a cookie outdoors, creating a giant cookie tin, and gathering the materials required, Smithville was ready to make a run at its Guinness World Record. Success came in the form of a 20-foot-tall, 1308.5 pound cookie (shown) made from 750 pounds of flour, 49 gallons of molasses and 72 dozen eggs — separated into whites and yolks.
Though an IKEA store in Oslo, Norway, surpassed Smithville’s effort three years later, Smithville still claims the American record, and the cookie tin — painted and perpetually smiling — now watches over the town.
Smithville, once the biggest stop on the railroad between Houston and Austin. It’s still a railroad town, but instead of the “Katy” (the MKT, or Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad), Union Pacific now owns the yard. There’s a railroad museum, railroad parks, an annual Katy railroad reunion, and the Ann Powell Express, a three-car “train” that runs through town during events and festivals. Like Bastrop, Smithville is also on the Colorado River and has its own charming downtown, too.
Food and wine lovers around Texas know that the Hill Country’s growing a reputation for wine production. For spirits, though, Smithville boasts one of the most promising new players in Bone Spirits. The downtown Smithville distillery launched its first few offerings — Smiths Vodka, Fitch’s Goat Corn Whiskey, and Fitch’s Goat Moonshine (a white whiskey with a smokiness reminiscent of tequila) — earlier this year, and its Moody June gin, made with locally sourced organic juniper and other secret herbs and spices, is set to launch this fall. The spirits are available for purchase at Bastrop- and Austin-area Spec’s and Twin Liquors stores.
Tom Tierney is one of Smithville’s best-known residents – primarily for work he did a world away, while an illustrator in New York. Tierney now oversees his Main Street store, Tom-Kat Paper Dolls and Shangri-La Emporium, featuring the paper doll books Tierney is best known for.
The paper doll project initially started as a Christmas gift for his mother in the mid-'70s; the reception it got from friends led to Tierney creating a book of paper dolls featuring 1930s movie stars, which was then reviewed in The New York Times, leading to encounters with Hollywood elites and fashion icons and books featuring Presidential families, notable African-American entertainers, and the Dalai Lama.
Downtown Smithville has its share of antiques, from Full Moon’s collectible coins and stamps to Main Street Village for an ever changing buffet of the old and the new. Smithville also boasts some great artisan shops. Mosaic features artists who repurpose things like ironing boards, truck grills and old sewing machines to make creative furniture items and wood artisan and furniture maker Sam Blasco’s Samantics shop has extraordinary furniture made with exotic woods.
Also, while you’re shopping on Main Street, don’t miss Patricia Wolf Designs, where the nationally-known brand of couture Western wear operates its online store and base of operations in a converted grocery store — you can see workers sewing away on the newest designer collections through the windows.
One stop among Lost Pines locations will transport you back in time — way back in time, to Sherwood Forest in the year 1190. Sherwood Forest Faire is in McDade, between Elgin and Paige just off Highway 290. But according to its website, it’s a little piece of England transported to the Lost Pines, governed by the Sheriff de Greasby, who is worse than his predecessor, the Sheriff of Nottingham. It’s also home to Robin Hood and his band of “outlaws” looking to right wrongs (and to perform as part of the annual festival’s Sherwood Players).
The cast of characters at Central Texas’ premier Renaissance Faire (which runs annually in the spring) includes lords and ladies, craftsfolk, knights, barbarians, wizards, fools, faeries, elves, goblins, trolls, and a motley crew of marooned seafarers. For good measure, William Shakespeare has found his way to the festival as well — 400 years before his own time! The grounds host other events throughout the year, including a summer camp for kids, and an annual Celtic Music Festival, which will take place this year the weekend of Sept. 22-23.
Moving on up the road through Bastrop County, don’t miss Elgin, the sausage capital of Texas. While there, you must stop at the Southside Market, an institution in Elgin dating back to 1882. Line up for “barbecue now” to enjoy Elgin Hot Sausage, brisket, ribs, pork, turkey, chicken and even mutton, or “barbecue later” by taking home choice cuts and packaged sausage to grill yourself.