Texas Travel

City Spotlight: Athens

By Peter Simek 12.10.18

A small town of some 12,000-odd residents, Athens is not the most auspicious place to carve out a place in culinary history. Nevertheless, the sleepy East Texas town boasts not one but two claims to fame.

The first is a story that has embroiled Athens in the somewhat controversial history of the hamburger. As the tale goes, a potter by the name of Fletcher Davis began grilling ground beef patties and serving them in sandwich buns in some latter decade of the 19th century. When Davis took his creation to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, the hamburger craze swept the nation.

Well, that’s one story. Certain details surrounding Athens’ claim as the home of the hamburger have kept the town from laying sole claim to the title of burger birthplace, but what can’t be denied is Athens’ status as the Black-Eyed Pea Capital of the World. That honor dates to around 1909, with the town’s role in popularizing the modest legume, once dismissed as livestock feed, when an Athens businessman set off a thriving trade with several canning facilities opening in the town.

And that’s not all that’s legendary about the town.

Photography by Natalie Goff

Sunken Athens

The story of the lost city of Atlantis may have originated in that other Athens, but East Texas’ Athens is a surprising hot spot for underwater adventurers. The Athens Scuba Park is one of Texas’ best dive sites. Located on the grounds of an old brick factory, the 35-foot-deep, 8-acre-wide spring-fed clay pit attracts scuba divers from around the country, who explore wrecks of buses, airplanes, and boats. If you’ve never tried scuba diving, Athens is a great place to learn.

Pro tip: Once you’re done working up an appetite, swing by Benson’s Eats & Treats, an Athens mainstay that, while it may not have served the first hamburger, has been serving up pretty good burgers since 1949.

Photography by Natalie Goff

Flora and Fauna (and Waters) of East Texas

This East Texas beauty is a perfect launching pad for exploring the outdoors. Start your adventure at the East Texas Arboretum & Botanical Society, which maintains 100 acres of dense East Texas forest, full of flowers, foliage, and wildlife, as well as a 115-foot suspension bridge over a spring-fed stream.

Cool off: There are several area lakes — including Lake Athens, Caney Lake, and Cedar Creek Lake — where visitors enjoy boating, swimming, fishing, camping, and hiking.

Anglers Paradise

Athens is one of the best fishing spots in East Texas thanks, in part, to the presence of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. The state facility includes a hatchery, laboratory, aquarium, and educational facility. Interactive tours are fascinating for anyone interested in how Texas Parks and Wildlife manages the aquatic populations in the state’s lakes, rivers, and streams.

Fun fact: The Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame honors Texans and Texas organizations that have made major contributions to freshwater fishing in Texas.

Feeling inspired? Check out more of our Texas travel guides.

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