Wise County, Texas isn’t among the largest in terms of population in the state with under 70,000 people, but it does have a rich history. Sitting outside of the Dallas metro area, Wise County has several cities and towns and has grown considerably over the past few decades. Everyone that moves to Wise County is introduced to its history through several notable landmarks, with these five being the most must-see that Wise County has to offer.
5. Wise County Heritage Museum
When it was first opened, the Wise County Heritage Museum was the home of Decatur Baptist College, which was the oldest junior college in the world. The hall was constructed in 1892 and finalized for $20,000, serving as a prep academy for Baylor University. However, the school moved to Dallas in 1965, leaving the building vacant.
Thankfully, Wise County didn’t take long to turn the building into the Heritage Museum after a quick restoration. Several new additions were made to the Wise County Heritage Museum which includes exhibits like a funeral coach from the 1890s, fossils, a machinery room, and much more. The museum is open to the public and costs just $5 to visit.
4. World’s Largest Bowie Knife
The Bowie knife was introduced in Arkansas in 1830, but Arkansas isn’t home to the largest one in the world. That honor belongs to Wise County, with Bob Hadley coming up with the idea to promote the town of Bowie, Texas, the namesake of the knife itself. The original Bowie knife was 9.5 inches long and a quarter-inch thick, and the large monument is more than 20 feet tall.
There’s an entire storyboard for visitors to look at that shows information about the invention of the knife, as well as the monument. With a length of more than 14 feet and a weight of over 3,000 pounds, the Bowie knife was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the largest Bowie knife in the world after construction in 2016.
3. Texas Tourist Camp
At the intersection of US 287 and US 380, you’ll find a few monuments of the past, with the Texas Tourist Camp and Petrified Wood Gas Station welcoming travelers from near and far. The Tourist Camp was established in the 1920s by E.F. Boydston, and its popularity peaked throughout the post-war era of the United States.
The Texas Tourist Camp was certainly a product of its time, and some of the facilities started to close in the 1960s. Eventually, the Petrified Wood Gas Station followed suit, shutting down the pumps at the end of the 1980s. Just a few years later, the property was purchased and remodeled, making it an attraction for locals and tourists to visit.
2. J.T. Brown Hotel
Chico, Texas is certainly not among the largest towns in Texas or even Wise County. However, it does have one of the most notable landmarks throughout the county in the form of the J.T. Brown Hotel. The hotel is named after the colonel that founded the town in 1876, with the hotel being built just over a decade later.
R. Lee Morris owned the hotel from the early 20th century until 1965, and it has since become a landmark for Wise County. The Brown Hotel started to show its age during the 2000s but was purchased once more and underwent renovations to bring it into the 21st century and introduce a new generation to its rich history.
1. Waggoner’s Mansion
There aren’t too many mansions in Wise County, which makes the Waggoner Mansion stand out so much in Decatur. Also known as El Castile, the WWaggoner Mansion sits on more than 13 acres of land and has 16 rooms in total. It was constructed in 1883 by Daniel Waggoner, who owned a nearby ranch.
Waggoner also owned multiple banks, oil mills, and a coal company, so owning such a large property isn’t a surprise. The home was purchased during World War II by the Luker family and has since become a nationally recognized historic building. It was added to the NRHP in 1974, though the inside is closed to the public.