The richness of Texas’ European influence is confirmed by the state’s long list of towns named for European cities. There are tiny towns like Edinburgh, Moscow and Newcastle. There are close-to-home towns like Athens and Dublin. And there are even a few long-forgotten ghost towns like the old Swedish settlement of Stockholm in South Texas and the once-thriving river port town of Belgrade. But there’s more to these little towns than just their European names and a photo opportunity beside that sign that reads something like “Welcome to London.”
A journey through Texas’ European-named towns is really a lesson in the state’s lesser-known history. Take, for example, the town of Geneva. Here, in the oldest continuously occupied town in East Texas, Antonio Gil Ibarvo sheltered refugees at his ranch, El Lobanillo, when the Spanish forced residents to evacuate in 1773. And founded by Dutch settlers at the end of the 19th century, the town of Nederland (the Dutch name for the Netherlands) is packed with historical sites like the Dutch Windmill Museum and the La Maison Acadienne.
Such a journey also offers an afternoon of charming festivals and one-of-a-kind attractions. In the rolling hills of Northeastern Texas, the little town of Naples kicks off the popular Naples Watermelon Festival every July with a parade, a lively street dance and a PRCA rodeo. A few miles west, a 65-foot Eiffel Tower crowned with a cowboy hat can only mean you’re in Paris, Texas. Visitors here can see the Lamar County Historical Museum, near the restored Union Station Railroad Depot, and tour the High Victorian Italianate-style Sam Bell Maxey House. And then there is the agricultural community of London, out in the Hill Country, where one of the oldest dance halls in the state resides. For nearly a century, Saturday nights at the London Dance Hall have featured legendary musicians and good ol’ fashioned fun.
Meanwhile, many of these European-named towns offer little more than a leisurely stroll through historic downtown squares and a much-needed slice of small-town life that bears little resemblance to its European namesake. The town of Italy is a small North Texas cotton town that calls itself the “Biggest Little Town in Texas,” while south of Houston, the town of Liverpool barely tops 500 residents. Still, visitors to Italy can escape the hustle and bustle of the Metroplex, and Liverpool tourists can see the nearby museums and wineries before checking in at the quaint Cottages at Windsong Hollow Ranch.
Texas’ German roots run deep, especially in the Hill Country. When German immigrants settled the area in the mid-1800s, they left a big impression. Visitors to Fredericksburg will enjoy everything from the Marketplatz and Vereins Kirche Museum downtown to the German cuisine at Otto’s Bistro and a Bavarian beer at Altstadt Brewery. And then there is Wurstfest in nearby New Braunfels. This 10-day fall festival celebrates German culture with Alpine and Bavarian-style food, music and entertainment. Year-round, there’s Bavarian-style cooking at Alpine Haus and Lebkuchen cookies at Naegelin’s Bakery — the oldest bakery in Texas.
The Central Texas town of Holland, dubbed “The Friendly Community,” is home of the Holland Corn Festival. Take part in the corn-eating contest, the corn seed-spitting contest, the chicken flying contest, the horseshoe tournament and the corn cob throw. But don’t miss the crowning of the Corn Fest Queen. In 1876, not far from Holland, a group of Swedish immigrants established the New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church in the town of New Sweden. Today the 104-foot, copper spire of what’s become the most photographed church in Texas can be seen for miles as it towers over vast stretches of Texas farmland. And it’s no surprise that the Central Texas town of Florence is home to great wine. Visit the 600-acre Vineyard at Florence for one of the town’s biggest wine festivals like the Boutique Wine Festival or the United Estates of Texas Wine Festival.
Closer to home, the Piney Woods town of Athens is known as the “Official Home of the Hamburger” and was once the world’s largest producer of black-eyed peas. Come during the Uncle Fletch Davis Hamburger Festival, sip a peatini (a martini that replaces olives with marinated black-eyed peas) and catch some Texas music at the Old Fiddlers Reunion. And once home to the Dublin Dr. Pepper Bottling Company, Dublin, Texas, is now the home of Dublin Bottling Works. Located in the state’s oldest soda bottling plant, this tiny bottling plant still serves a wide selection of sodas made with pure cane sugar.
So, while Texas certainly maintains a rich history of European influence that helps make it great, these small towns with notable names are still just as Texan as the rest. Leave your passports at home and set out on a European road trip across the Lone Star State. You’re sure to see some very special places along the way.