A woman in a long-sleeved teal shirt sits in a black and teal kayak holding a paddle
Paddling the San Marcos River is a big part of life in Martindale for Virginia Parker Condie.

Virginia Parker Condie and her teammates set two records as they paddled to a fourth-place finish in the Texas Water Safari in June 2019. Racing 260 miles in a canoe down the San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers, the foursome became the first all-female team to finish the race in under 40 hours and the first all-female team to finish in the top five overall. Her love of canoeing the San Marcos spurred Condie to move to the riverside town of Martindale in 2013 with her husband, Andrew Condie, also a competitive paddler.

Established as a townsite in 1855 by a Mississippi settler named Nancy Martindale, the town was one of three new communities that contributed to the growth of Caldwell County in the 1850s. By 1860, the county’s free residents doubled to nearly 2,500 while the number of enslaved Black people increased more than 500% to 1,610, according to the Handbook of Texas. By the 1960s, Martindale became a center of hybrid corn and cottonseed production.

Farms still blanket the area, while river sports also boost the local economy. Not only do the Condies and their two children paddle the river year-round, Virginia has made a career of protecting its cypress-lined waterway as executive director of the San Marcos River Foundation. “It’s obvious Martindale is going to grow, and I really hope it happens in a way that protects the integrity of the area and protects the water quality and quantity,” she says. “Without the river, Martindale would be a completely different place.”

Community Lifeblood

“It’s a tiny community, an eclectic community, and it’s very nature-oriented because the river runs through it. The San Marcos River is the lifeblood of Martindale. Despite everyone’s differences, I think we all have the river in common. You don’t realize how noisy the river is—it’s just teeming with life. We can open the back door and hear the river at any time of day, along with the birds and wildlife that depend on it.”

Cotton Days

“Martindale was a big farming community, mainly cotton. At the Highway 80 Feed Barn, which has great fries and great burgers, you can see an old safe where seed was once stored. The Martindale Dam used to power a cotton gin. There’s an old water tower too. It’s a very quaint town, with the river at its heart. It looks like it did 50 years ago.”

Fourth of July Fun

“Martindale has a pretty popular Fourth of July parade, with a ton of antique cars and a great lineup. Hundreds of people line the street for it. They have Model Ts, tractors, firetrucks, and caballero horsemen and women in costume.”

Triathlon Tradition

“They say the Martindale Triathlon, which started in 1978, is the oldest triathlon in Texas. The Texas Canoe and Kayak Racing Association puts it on. It’s a dry tri—a run and then a bike ride, but no swimming; you paddle the last leg. It’s staged from the Shady Grove Campground, where you can also pay to camp overnight. The Spencers [who own the campground] are very ingrained in the paddling community. Jack Spencer makes most of my family’s boats, and they also offer kayak and canoe trips.”

New Attractions

“The biggest excitement over the last few years is that we now have the Martindale River Cafe, which serves deli sandwiches and charcuterie trays and has live Texas music on weekends. Downtown Martindale is quite small, and it’s lined with red brick buildings. The café is in one of those buildings. You can take your food across the street to the picnic tables overlooking the river, and that’s where the live music is. Last year our own grocery store opened. Good Things Grocery sells local produce, like eggs and veggies, and has bulk food and frozen food and housewares. It’s like heaven.”

Protecting the River

“When the former executive director of the San Marcos River Foundation announced she was going to retire, I thought to myself, ‘That would be my dream job.’ Now I’ve got the dream job, and I’m living a dream life in a magical place with my family. While the job entails things like trash cleanups and wastewater treatment permit monitoring to protect water quality, it also means ensuring the proper measures are in place to keep the Edwards Aquifer, which feeds the San Marcos springs and river, flowing.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story did not include context of slave labor being used when referencing Martindale’s history of cotton farming. We sincerely regret the error.

Town Trivia:

Population:
1,272

Number of Stoplights:
2

Year founded:
1855

Nearest City:
San Marcos, 7 miles southeast

Marquee Event:
Martindale Triathlon, Oct. 30

Map it:

Martindale River Cafe, 415 Main St.

From the April 2021 issue
The February 2021 cover of Texas Highways Magazine, The Return of Car Culture


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