Texas Travel

City Spotlight: Albany

By Peter Simek 4.9.18

Like so many of the little towns on the edge of West Texas along the Brazos River, once the frontlines of the country’s steady westward march, Albany has been shaped by frontier life, the birth of the cattle industry, the arrival of the railroad, and, finally, the discovery of oil. What makes a visit to the tiny town exciting today is that history still simmers beneath the surface of town life, while Albany has also grown to embrace some contemporary cultural style.

Art on the Prairie

The arts have always been important in Albany life. The town organized a concert band during its earliest days; and in 1883, two years after the railroad arrived, the town opened an opera hall. Today, that cultural legacy lives on in the town’s two main attractions: the Fort Griffin Fandangle and the Old Jail Art Center.

The Fort Griffin Fandangle is Texas’ oldest outdoor musical. Every year, during the last two weekends of June, the entire town participates in a massive musical production that tells the story of the settling of the Texas frontier. Featuring hundreds of residents, horses, and wagons, the Fort Griffin Fandangle carries on a tradition of storytelling unique to Texas’ sense of identity and historical origins.

The Old Jail Art Center houses the art collections of its two founders: Reilly Nail, a Princeton graduate, author, former television producer, and nephew of the author of the Fandangle, and his cousin, artist Bill Bomar. The two men decided to turn the town’s old jail building into a museum in 1980. Today, the Old Jail Art Center is one of Texas’ cultural treasures.

Its permanent collection includes works by Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Aristide Maillol, John Marin, and Henry Moore, as well as works of pre-Columbian art, ancient Chinese sculpture, and 19th- and 20th-century painting and sculpture. The museum also features a rotating program of contemporary art installations featuring some of the best artists living in Texas today.

Living History

Visitors to Albany can also tour the town’s collection of historic sites. The Fort Griffin State Historic Site preserves the ruins of the fort that once protected early settlers on the southern plains and today is home to the official state of Texas longhorn herd.

In the town center, the 1883 Shackelford County Courthouse, with its clock and bell, hearkens back to the enthusiasm of Albany’s earliest days. The restored 1927 Aztec Theater still hosts theater and musical performances.

The fortunes of oil that lay hidden under Albany’s ranches have turned its contemporary citizens into more than just art connoisseurs. A number of local classic car collectors have pooled their collections and placed them on display at the Hometown Classics’ Albany Car Museum, which also features memorabilia and ephemera hearkening back to the mid-20th century transition of Albany from a quiet ranching community to a petroleum producer.

Local Charm

Albany’s chief attraction lies in its small-town rural charm. During your stay, chat with locals at the Beehive Saloon, named the best country steakhouse in Texas, and relax at the Foreman’s Cottage Bed & Breakfast on the Musselman Ranch, where the quiet peacefulness of the prairie’s scrubby mesquite and avian life can transport you back in time.

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