You don’t have to look very hard to see this town’s roots. Railroad tracks laid down in the 1870s by the Texas and Pacific Railway Co. run right through downtown, and the pumping unit from the first gusher drilled near town during the 1930s oil boom sits beside the rails, a derrick towering above it.
Today, locals and visitors come downtown to shop, eat, soak in the historic atmosphere, and listen to live music.
Take a stroll down the sidewalks, look into the old storefronts, and gaze upward at the vintage streetlights in the state-designated “Antique Capital of East Texas.”
“The stores have everything from furniture to gadgets to technology. We have stores that sell the old-time candies. We have an awesome bookstore, a wonderful Christmas store [and] the ice cream store,” said Elaine Roddy, chairwoman of the Gladewater Main Street board.
Restaurants include Guadalupe's Mexican Restaurant, the Sugar Shack (with “wonderful pies and sandwiches. They’ll sell you a whole pie.”) and the Central Station, a new venue with craft beers, brick-oven-baked pizza and live music (country, folk, pop, and adult contemporary) on the weekends.
“When you stop at (U.S. Highway) 80 and look down the hill, the main street is inviting. Just come down the street and see what we have,” said Roddy, who's also president of the board of downtown's Gladewater Museum, run by volunteers. “We’ve stood the test of time.”
The Main Street program is crucial because it keeps downtown revitalization and development plans on track.
“Main Street is that spark, the one that has the ideas. We work very closely with the business owners,” Roddy said. That is the primary job of new Main Street Manager Christina Stanger, who started in February.
The program is administered through Gladewater city government and offers grants to store owners for painting facades and creating or updating signs. It has helped build a pavilion downtown and improve the area around the derrick.
Gladewater City Manager Ricky Tow said, “Our Main Street program works with the businesses owners to enhance their structures, to draw more visitors downtown. It’s a building block.”
“Historic downtowns inform collective community memory,” said Robert Johnson, Gladewater’s executive director of economic development and a Main Street board member.
“People want to interact with historical destinations, historical buildings. The revenue generated from the wonderful shops and places to eat is important in keeping the community vibrant,” he said.
Recently, a Main Street grant was used to paint and add awnings to the Masonic Lodge downtown, Roddy said. In the future, she’d like to light the oil derrick, a project that has been on the books for a while.
Stephanie Chance has owned Decorate Ornate for almost 18 years and is also on the Main Street board. Her husband, Allen, is an electrician and donated his time to install the downtown streetlights.
“If you drive through at nighttime now, it’s beautiful with our vintage lampposts,” she said.
Because of Gladewater’s designation as an “antique capital,” “people come from everywhere looking for that one special piece.”
Decorate Ornate has antique doors from Europe “that have gone in all over East Texas. I work with lots of builders in Dallas, Austin, and all over Louisiana. I offer anything that you could think of for your home,” Chance said.
But downtown is more than just stores. Important annual festivals include the East Texas Gusher Days (coming up April 21-22), the Roundup Rodeo in June, the Arts and Crafts Festival in September and the annual Holiday Open House of stores downtown, which draws hundreds of people from Dallas, Shreveport, Tyler and Longview.
There’s also the Gladewater Opry located in the historic Cozy Theater, which is “packed out every Friday and Saturday night,” she said.