Okay, so last time I had us driving off to the town of Wimberley, which is just a bit South and a little ways West of Austin. I had finished up by saying that it got its start as a farm community, serving the needs of the local ranchers (and outside of town, btw, this is still very much a ranching area. Once beyond of Wimberley’s city limits, you’re way more likely to see cows than people).
But I also said that in the twentieth century, Wimberlely experienced the kind of problems that many smaller communities face these days. To wit, it no longer had an economic purpose. Trucks, trains, and, yes, even planes make it easy for local people to bypass the smaller downtowns and just go to whatever bigger city is near. Meaning little towns wither on the vine.
About the photos: First, Martha having a cup of coffee in Wimberley on our 2021 visit. It was a lovely day and we were able to be outside.
It is a classic problem in what’s called “human geography” or “economic geography,” and you can see it at work in every region of the United States and the world. I also think it is incredibly important and explains a great deal about the bitterness and polarization of American politics at the moment. And, I think we ought to be spending a lot more thinking about the problems involved and coming up with some decent solutions...
But, that’s probably a story for another time. If I got started on it now, we’d be here all day. Maybe all month.
Anyway... Wimberley escaped the grimmer aspects of all this for two reasons. First, it was close enough to Austin that it could be a bedroom village for the city. Again, this is the fate of our own Georgetown and pretty much every other town that’s in driving distance of the capital.
But, second, Wimberley had a another advantage. From its very beginnings, it attracted visitors and tourists. There were multiple and compelling reasons for that. For instance, the climate had a certain charm. Wimberley is hot and humid in the summer, but comfortable is a relative measure. For people coming from, say, Houston or Austin, the little town seems cool and breezy.
Then, too, the scenery is dramatic and rather beautiful. Wimberley is in what’s called the Hill Country of Texas. This is one of the major geographical divisions of the state. Unlike the Northwest, which falls in the Great Plains, or the Southeast, which more closely resembles Louisiana, the Hill Country is, well, hilly. To quote Wikipedia, it is an area of “tall rugged hills of limestone or granite.”(1) And Wimberley is one of the places where the hills are at their highest and most picturesque.
Second, to give you an idea of area around Wimberley, here’s a snap from outside our hotel room (again, in 2021). You can see that this, indeed, is hill country. Don’t know who the huge house belongs to.
Also, there is good swimming here. The limestone of the area lends itself to caves and swimming holes full of cool, clear water. And that was important back in the days when artificial swimming pools were not common, and a trip to the Gulf Coast might take two or three days. So, people came here and had a nice cold dip.
One of the most famous of the region’s bathing spots is Jacob’s Well, which is actually a submerged cave and spring.(2) It is now on park land, and until recently, you could still swim there. Unfortunately, when I last checked, Jacob’s Well is closed to swimming due to dry conditions in the state. However, another popular and ancient body of water, Blue Hole, is still open and available to swimmers who make reservations. (3)
Then, too, the climate and the scenery and the swimming and all the rest of it made Wimberley a bit of a health spa in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I’ve read that while the town was never an actual medical retreat like Baden-Baden, still, people have been coming here for quite a while to cure whatever ailed them, whether that was respiratory illness or just the stress of everyday living. And, oddly enough, that’s a tradition that still continues. Do a search for “spa” and “Wimberley, Texas,” and you’ll turn up quite a few establishments...some quite fancy indeed.
Finally, as time has gone on, through the twentieth century, and now into the twenty-first, Wimberley has gained another attraction--to wit, shopping. The heart of the town, Wimberley Square, is one vast collection of stores and galleries, offering everything from inexpensive souvenirs to (rather pricy) objets d’art. I suppose, indeed, that shopping is now the town’s real raison d'être (as opposed to its raisin de bran). But, really, that’s okay. That’s fine. Shopping...that is, the exchange of goods and services...is what towns are for. That’s been true since Sumeria, or before.
These factors kept Wimberley alive and kicking, while all over Texas...all over America...similar communities died lingering deaths.
But, there was one more thing. Wimberley had one, last secret weapon.
That, however, is for next time.
More to come.
Finally, just to give things a little motion, here’s an animation of a picture I took on the same 2021 trip. Here, though, the clouds are in motion and a storm’s a building!
1. See “Texas Hill Country,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_Hill_Country
2. For more information on Jacob’s Well, see its official site here: https://hayscountytx.com/departments/hays-county-parks-recreation/jacobs-well-natural-area/#about. There is also a pleasant article in Southern Living that mentions it as well. See “ The Best Things To Do In Wimberley, Texas” by Amanda Ogle, here: https://www.southernliving.com/wimberly-tx-6830021
3. For more information on Blue Hole, see the Wimberley Parks and Recreation Site here: https://www.cityofwimberley.com/202/Blue-Hole-Regional-Park
Copyright©2023 Michael Jay Tucker
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