State Lines: Graham, Texas – Fort Worth Magazine
America’s largest courthouse plaza isn’t in New York or Los Angeles, but in a small town 90 minutes northwest of Fort Worth: Graham, Texas. With a circumference of about a mile, this 50-acre plaza winds past colorful murals, 19th-century architecture, and shops with owners behind the ledgers. Church bells ring religious songs at noon; a line of Hells Angels joins the chorus as they rumble through the red brick streets. A solitary arch of the 1884 courthouse (all that remains) anchors the record plaza, which also surrounds the Young County Courthouse, Graham Town Hall and the Old Post Office-turned-museum and gallery of art. Why so big? The wide streets were designed to accommodate the U-turns of horse-drawn wagons, which proliferated after the discovery of oil here in 1917.
But Young County was on the map long before that — and before Fort Worth, according to the 1882 book, Complete Geography, posted nearby at Fort Belknap. Its map of the United States shows only six locations in Texas: Houston, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, Fort Chadbourne and Fort Belknap. Fort Worth (and that other city, Dallas) are conspicuously absent. Established in 1851 to protect frontier settlers from Comanche and Kiowa raids, Fort Belknap anchored a dusty line of outposts that stretched from the Red River to the Rio Grande.
Visiting the small collection of solid stone buildings (13 miles northwest of Graham) still feels a bit like a trip to the Texas border. Grasshoppers hop across the quiet, shady enclave as a gentle breeze glides through the branches of the oak trees above. The restored and rebuilt barracks, powder magazine, and corn house date back to when Texas as we know it was taking shape. Cannons rest next to the intendancy store, now transformed into a museum of frontier necessities: construction tools, shotguns and Bibles. Ancient mammoth tusks and thousands of arrowheads remind us that we are only the last to cross this landscape of red earth and prairie. Adventures further down the road reveal quirky attractions like a giant fishing bobber, giant wheelbarrow, and giant chicken coop art — plus ghost towns like Gooseneck and Bullock, all just whispering in the wind.
Back to Graham, there’s talk of last night’s high school football game on the air at Downhome Bakehouse, where everyone seems to know each other. Walker-wielding seniors sit next to toddlers wearing soccer cleats and teenagers saying “Yes, ma’am” to their mothers. Intergenerational socializing continues at the Saturday morning farmer’s market, where a dozen vendors gathered to sell sweet lemon squash, homemade jellies and freshly slaughtered meats, with signs such as “Eat more lamb – 10 000 coyotes can’t be wrong.” !” The 4-H club features big-eyed rabbits and shiny horses as cows roam in a nearby pasture.
The cattle created Graham’s other claim to fame: it was the start of the legendary Goodnight-Loving Trail, which was started in 1866, a year before Fort Belknap officially closed. The frontier had shifted, but the era of large herds had only just begun. Ultimately stretching over 2,000 rugged miles from Texas to Wyoming, the Goodnight-Loving Trail was immortalized in the hit novel and TV series. lone dove — and in a playful sculpture near the old post office downtown. A cowboy crouches beside a metal campfire, his saddle momentarily forgotten behind him, as he watches the pot on the flames and waits for a hot cup of ‘brown gargle’ or ‘belly bath‘ dehorned” (translation: coffee). The Cowboy Trail heads north – but in Graham all roads lead to the great town square, where secret bits of history mingle with friendly greetings and the spirit of the frontier of Texas sings on the wings of grasshoppers.
Down Home Bakehouse offers artisanal espresso drinks, tasty breakfast sandwiches and homemade baked goods still hot from the oven. Stop by the old-school drive-in, KN Root Beer, for a chilled cup of its molasses-based brew or head to Brothers Smokehouse for inventive specialties and warm cinnamon-butter rolls. Local favorites also include rustic-chic Neri’s and 526 Pizza Studio for creative pies (both found on the plaza). For fine dining, the Wildcatter Ranch steakhouse/social center is known for its expertly cooked rib eye and chicken fried sirloin steak.
Hilltop Home is the place to go for high-end homewares, including locally made Design Undone candles in scents like Sea Salt + Jasmine or Amber + Tobacco. Here & Now is the go-to fashion boutique for fun, youthful looks, and grandparents looking to spoil their grandkids with cute outfits should drop by Krazy Kow. Antique dealers can hunt through “Geegaws, Whatnots and Whatsits” and Crazy Cora’s Emporium, housed in the surprisingly spacious 1878 Young County Jail.
Browse contemporary works and changing exhibits at the Old Post Office Museum & Art Center, which also houses artifacts and photographs from the area’s storied past. Climb the fire hydrant “mountain” in the middle of town for a different perspective, or watch a movie at the restored 1920 National Theater (with old-fashioned loveseats). The Food Truck Championship of Texas brings together 50 competitors each June, and for outdoor enthusiasts, the towering cliffs of Possum Kingdom Lake are just 22 miles away.
Perched on a windy ridge about 10 minutes outside of town, Wildcatter Ranch & Resort offers western luxury with stunning views of the Brazos River Valley and themed activities like hikes, archery and longhorn meals. A little further is La Casa Tierra, a four-bedroom ranch house that sleeps 10 people. You’ll also find a handful of stylish digs on Airbnb and Vrbo, plus an above-average Holiday Inn Express & Suites that was renovated in November 2021.
How to get there:
For the most direct route, head west out of Fort Worth and follow I-30 W or I-20 W to US-180 W to Mineral Wells, where you turn right onto TX-337 W. In 21 miles, TX-337 becomes TX-16 N. Continue on this road for 15 miles to reach the famous Graham Town Square.