Saturday, June 25, 2011


Red River County is old.  Prior to settlers moving west to Texas, Caddo Indians passed often over the gentle hills and even stayed a while in villages.  The Spaniards didn’t pay much attention but early settlers crossed the Red River on their way to all that free land in Texas.  Five signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence represented the Red River District at the Washington on the Brazos conference.  William Becknell (1788-1856), father of the Santa Fe Trail and first to take a wagon trail across the country’s interior, is buried west of town in the middle of a pasture. Over 200 cemeteries are listed on the Historic Texas Cemetery website.  It is no surprise then to find that much of what Clarksville and Red River County has to offer the traveler is history.  There are some nice restaurants interspersed.

1.  First Presbyterian Church, Clarksville, is the oldest, continuously operating Protestant church in Texas.  Considering how many protestant churches there are in Texas, that’s quite an honor.  The church is well maintained and has the side Corley Family Chapel with stain glass windows made by the Jacoby glass company.   Check with Jim Clark 903.427.2266 to gain entry. 106 S. Pecan Street

2.  The Red River County Courthouse.  What I can say?  This beautiful structure is as close to the Italian Renaissance as you’ll find in these parts.  Built in 1884 from yellow stone cut from a quarry 45 miles away, it was beautiful for its time and beautiful now.  Thanks to a renovation in 2003, the courthouse shines.  Inside, the hallways creak with original wood and that winding staircase leads you to one of the most authentic, historical district courtrooms in Texas.  And just down the street is the museum at the Old Jail  built in 1887 which provides a glimpse into penal conditions of the 1800s.  Courthouse - open 9:00 to 5 -  Monday to Thursday.  Contact Jim Clark to see Old Jail.

3.  Coleman’s BBQ is not on the main drag.  You’ll find it by the pick-ups parked outside at noon. Begun in 1972 by the Coleman Family, it’s been serving great Texas Bar-B-Q to locals of all colors and classes.  But the inside secret is they also make wonderful tamales which my family has enjoyed on Christmas Eve for years.  604 North Donoho Street. 903-427-3131

4. Built in 1833, three years before Texas Independence, the DeMorse House is the oldest building in this old town.  It is a two room log cabin and housed Colonel Charles DeMorse, the father of Texas journalism.  Writers of Texas history in the 1800s refer often to the Clarksville Standard, which DeMorse founded as the Northern Standard in 1842. It was one of Texas' most influential newspapers.   A drive-by tour is all that is available at this time.  Located at 115 East Comanche Street.

5.  Even the country club is old here.  The Clarksville Country Club was built in 1920 and hosts a beautiful nine hole golf course.  There are no reviews of this golf course on the PGA web site but Northeast Texans consider it a hidden gem.  Green fees vary from $26 to $39 and the course is open to the public. Four miles north of Clarksville on Highway 37

6.  Wildcat Creek Quail Hunting Lodge.  Opened just two years ago, this lodge is attracting much attention.  Whether you want to hunt quail, pheasant, deer or turkey,  or simply enjoy a generous four course, fixed price evening meal, the staff is eager to serve you.  Chef David will visit at your table and even describe the thrill of getting a turkey with a seven inch beard.  You don’t have to be a hunter to enjoy the drive in the country, the high quality meal, or the chef.Wildcat Creek Quail Hunting Lodge

7.  Lennox House  The Lennox family were the  Rothschilds of Clarksville and Red River County, having extensive land and bank holdings.  The three siblings of Bagby, David, and Martha Lennox lived in the same house for most of their lives.  At their death, the home was given to the Red River Historical Society.  It is beautifully restored and used for special events.  Jim Clark can arrange a tour. 601 West Broadway.

8.  Located on the recently renovated downtown square, the Italian Bistro is a welcome food option in these parts.  The menu is authentic and the price reasonable.  You’ll also meet many locals if you dine here.  The owners, Alek and Aurora Lleshi, are friendly and available and will make any accommodations possible.  Drop in after shopping the great antique stores on the square. 106 North Walnut Street.

9.   If you enjoy nature, north of town is the Martha Lennox Memorial Nature Trail, located on a pristine old-growth forest and donated to The Nature Conservancy by the Lennox family. The Trail is a mile and a half loop that takes you under trees and over logs and from low, wetlands to highlands.   You don’t have to be able to recognize a Lady Slipper Orchid or a white oak to enjoy the woods.   Local Master Naturalists have provided markers naming various plants and trees.  For visual learners,  there’s even a picture of the identified plant. Call John Nichols for a tour - 903.427.5279. Lennox Woods

10. Trees. I mean it.  Red River County has seven state champion trees on the Big Tree Registry maintained by the Texas Forestry Service, all on the Sulphur River.  These include the Mimosa (silk) tree, the Nutmeg Hickory, and the Eastern Redbud.   While I can’t give you directions to these particular trees, the countryside of Red River County is a hidden gem. Try driving north of Detroit on FM 410 and 195 or wander around FM 909, 44 or 1487, in the south of the county. The ranches are massive and the trees large.  It’s well worth an outing.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Jill Gila Rosenfield - Israeli Guide Extraordinaire

I had heard jokes about the number of guides in Israel as in “everyone in Jerusalem is a tour guide”.   There are reputed to be over 10,000 licensed guides in Israel. That same percentage for the United States would equal about 350,000 guides!  I didn’t appreciate the “licensed” part of the title until meeting our guide, Gila Rosenfield.

Gila was recommended  by a mutual friend  which is how most clients come to her - by referrals.  She is, actually, a typical guide who was raised in a Zionist family outside Israel (Zimbabwe), came there in her 20s to work on a kibbutz, and stayed.  After six months, she moved to Jerusalem to teach.  As she noted, “socialism sounds better as an idea than in practice.”    When a friend encouraged her to be a tour guide, Gila applied and was accepted into the Ministry of Tourism’s School of Tourism.

This is a two year program that is anything but easy. A psychological exam is given before admitting a student.  And then the courses are intense.  Here is a description of the required subjects: “These are quite intensive and difficult studies including: prehistory, ancient and middle ages, the modern State of Israel and the region, and all nations that lived there in the past. ... Israel tour guides need to be versed in basic archeology, geology, climate, flora and fauna, ornithology, architecture, zoology, etc. In the school, Israel tour guides study the legal system of the past and present. Hundreds of study days in the field accompany the course work ... as well as exams.” Jewish, Christian, and Muslim guides are all required to be licensed.

Gila took the courses while still teaching kindergarten.  After being certified, she used her school sabbatical to try her hand at guiding.  Not only could she make more money, but Gila thrived on sharing her immense knowledge with foreign visitors.  Fifteen years later, we benefitted from her studies and enthusiasm.

 Each morning, Gila arrived with her satchel full of study aids for that day’s sites.  She was sensitive to the fact that she was Jewish and we were Christians.  On the first day, we followed the Stations of the Cross.  Gila was careful about describing what could actually be proved and what required the Jerusalem phrases “it is believed” and “if you believe it, it is true.”  Since Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all share the Old Testament, Gila could also easily point out Old Testament sites and help us with the history of the First and Second Temples.  We passed through the Muslim, Christian, and Armenians quarters that day.

On the second day, we moved into the Jewish quarter and delved more deeply into archeology - a very political subject.  Gila stays up with the latest news through an online magazine and newsletter called Biblical Archeology Review (  She was well aware of the great archeological divide between the skepticism of the secular Tel Aviv Archeologist, Israel Finkelstein, and others who are convinced they have found proof of David’s palace in recent discoveries.  Intense excavation under the Jewish Quarter after the destruction from the 1967 War has revealed many details of life two thousand years ago.

Current day digs continue in the City of David area just outside the Old City walls.  We were reminded of the fairness of our guide as we exited the excavation area.  Two young women, one Jewish and the other Arab, were handing out pamphlets warning “What your tour guide is not telling you”.  Much of that site’s excavation was happening under Palestinian homes whose residents were fearful of cave-ins but who couldn’t afford to sell.   Fortunately, Gila had already educated us on that issue and she made sure the protestors knew that.

As with any good guide, we were able to ask Gila anything about modern day Israel and she answered honestly.  There were parts of life in Israel that frustrated her such as the stronghold that the conservative Haredim families have on the government and its dole and the lack of compensation for Palestinian families after the ‘67 war.   Yet, she would be nowhere else.  She talked proudly of “when we united Jerusalem” and of how life goes on in Israel despite the pressure surrounding it.

At the end of our last day with her, Gila took us to the literal center of Jerusalem, a second floor walkway that had been built over the old Roman Cardo street. She pointed out the Arab quarter with flat roofs and TV dishes, the slanted, tiled roofs of the Christian quarter that were modeled after European homes, the small hidden Armenian quarter, and the Jewish quarter dominated by its beautiful new synagogue.  As we rested, the call to prayer began in stereo sound around us from many minarets.  Gila then read about Jerusalem in Psalm 87 as translated by our mutual friend, Lynn Bauman.  “ You see, it is a homeland, a sacred birthing place, for all people across the world.  And there God’s presence dwells, and draws them in, and makes them all her own.  So each soul leaves that place a singer and a dancer, saying ‘All my fresh, creative springs flow out of you, my Mother.”  Thanks to Gila, we left Jerusalem better informed, sympathetic and a singer and a dancer.

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