“They are just like people,” says Sister Angela of the miniature horses bred on the Franciscan Poor Clare Nuns' farm north of Chappell Hill. "Each one has its own personality.”
By Angela Fox
I’m standing alone in downtown Chappell Hill at twilight, watching the sky deepen to a cobalt blue. There are no sidewalks here, and the wooden planks that form the path in front of me are worn smooth with decades of use. The storefronts and the bank on Main Street date to the mid-1800s, so the Old West feel is for real. Across the street, a lone shopkeeper stocks her shelves as darkness begins to envelop the old buildings.
This time of day, it’s easy to imagine Chappell Hill 150 years ago. The town was laid out in 1847 by trader’s-wife-turned-developer Mary Hargrove Haller, who named it for her grandfather, Robert Wooding Chappell. Situated in the midst of some of the richest farmland in Texas, the town grew rapidly into a bustling trade and distribution center. Cotton was king here until the Civil War and a yellow fever epidemic changed things forever. The town didn’t disappear exactly, but it never again thrived as a commercial center. Instead, it has found its niche as a historic village offering respite from the busy pace of nearby Houston.
The folks who call Chappell Hill home like the historic vibe just fine. Bluebonnet House owner Dale Ramey says his shop's building once housed a grocery and a saloon. Actually, Chappell Hill had 18 saloons at one time, he says. “It was a rockin’ town.”
Revelry is more seasonal now and family-friendly. In spring, the rolling hills turn blue with bluebonnets, and in April, Chappell Hill celebrates the state flower with a festival that attracts thousands. In July, there’s an old-fashioned Independence Day parade; October brings fall foliage and a colorful burst of scarecrow displays; and a home tour in December affords an insider’s peek at some of Chappell Hill’s restored historic homes.
Our first stop is the Monastery Miniature Horse Farm, a place I’ve wanted to visit for years. I learned from the monastery’s Web site that this order of Franciscan Poor Clare nuns fled Castro’s Cuba in 1961 and found refuge in Corpus Christi before moving to Chappell Hill in 1984 to raise miniature horses.
We’re greeted by Sister Angela, abbess and head horse wrangler. Because the horses have been selectively bred from the smallest examples of many different breeds since the 17th Century, these tiny animals come in all colors.
Some are inquisitive; others eye me indifferently or bolt away at my outstretched hand. “They are just like people,” Sister Angela says.” Each one has its own personality.” All of them, though, seem to know and love Sister Angela. The youngest horses trot behind her like devoted puppies, nuzzling and nipping at the folds of her long, brown habit, begging for attention and searching for treats.
After saying goodbye to the little horses, we go in search of vintage roses at the Antique Rose Emporium. Here, owner Mike Shoup gives us an introduction to the world of antique roses—many of them descendants of flowering plants that have been around 200 years or more. Antique roses seem to come in an endless variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and scents. Many have been rescued by “rose rustling,” the practice of cultivating cuttings from roses found along highways and beside abandoned houses. Shoup shows us an example called Highway 290 Pink Buttons, a little shrub rose covered with dime-size pink blooms.
From the April 2009 issue.
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