A tall Romanesque courthouse stands center with trees around it

The Victoria County Courthouse was built in 1982. Photo by Michael Amador

As I walk around the 1892 Victoria County Courthouse, the first stop on the Bicentennial 2024 Old Victoria Trolley Tour, I feel a presence and permanence of the past. There’s the gorgeous blue Muldoon sandstone trimmed with limestone on the facade, a reproduction of an 1838 County of Victoria map that hangs on the first floor, multihued sheet tile blossoming at my feet, and black-and-white portraits displayed of significant figures like former mayor Jesse Obadiah Wheeler. Little surprises, like a hidden plexiglass floor cutout in the county judge’s office suite that shows the original foundation, delight and astound throughout this three-story Romanesque revival building.

After one and half hours, it’s time to depart. I, along with 21 other attendees, step on to a bright white trolley, and off we go to learn more about this Southeast Texas city of over 60,000 people about 90 miles from Matagorda Bay.

Husband-and-wife founders Martin De León and Patricia de la Garza De León established Victoria in 1824 as a colony of 41 families in the First Mexican Republic, and this trolley tour is one of the many activities people can partake in to celebrate the town’s landmark anniversary. It’s not every year a town celebrates such a birthday, and Victoria is making the most out of the milestone with a yearlong celebration (a full list of events can be found here).

Once a month until the end of the year, the lucky few who manage to secure a ticket for the trolley tour get to visit and learn about a selection of historic sites and landmarks in Old Victoria. Outside of the once-a-year Historic Homes Tour fundraising event, it’s the first guided tour the town offers to the general public, which probably explains why almost all the trolley tours are already sold-out. Tickets for December are still available, while preceding months are booked or waitlisted.

Fossati’s Delicatessen is the oldest deli in Texas. Photo by Michael Amador

Locals are no doubt privy to familiar tourist destinations like Fossati’s Delicatessen, the oldest deli in Texas, and St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the very first church in town, but even those who have lived here their whole lives might be surprised to learn that Victoria was once home to a significant German population and that the legendary crime duo Bonnie and Clyde once stole a Ford V8 at the corner of Glass Street and Stayton Avenue. You’ll learn a great number of facts and stories like this during the educational and eye-opening ride.

“I think of it this way: You can look at a historic building and get some sense of it and admire it, but the history of the individuals involved with these places would get lost unless they were brought up and talked about,” says Jeff Wright, executive director of Victoria Preservation Inc. and director of the Victoria County Heritage Department. “That’s the excitement of being able to do something like this: one way or another, you’re going to learn something new.”

Normally, if you want to tour the town and learn about its history, most locals would recommend the self-guided and substantial Old Victoria Driving Tour, which features 86 significant stops around town. But on the trolley, attendees get to sit back and let someone else do the work.

The guide, usually Wright, gives an oral history about various historic structures and the influential personalities who founded them, including the John Donaldson House, a commanding stone home that looks like it was transported straight from Scotland, and the steamboat gothic-style Abraham Levytansky House, an austere, Adams Family-esque two-story home that’s currently being restored.

A stop at the Phillips-Sale House along the way has guests impressed to learn that Sam Houston once gave a speech on the white two-story home’s balcony during his 1857 governor campaign to a less-than-adoring, luke-warm crowd. There’s even the modest, unadorned Jacob Lazor house, which was owned by a Polish immigrant shoemaker who was unintentionally separated from his family all of World War I after immigrating before the start of war. His family later joined him in Victoria after the conflict was over. These architectural wonders, among others, are highlighted on the tour, which ends with a group lunch at the PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant & Bar.

PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant & Bar overlooks the Guadalupe River. Photo by Will van Overbeek

Perhaps most impressive is the fact that the response to the monthly trolley tours has been so profound that the city is working on keeping them going. “Most of the people who have signed up for this are residents, and the rate at which we sold out these dates just blew my mind,” says Joel Novosad, director of Discover Victoria, Texas, the city of Victoria’s Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I’d like to see [the tours] continue after the bicentennial year is over and maybe even tour other places like the historic churches. We’re figuring it out.”

Though not featured on the tour, there’s another worthwhile Victoria destination worth seeing that was just unveiled to the public. In April, the town debuted a monument that honors Victoria’s founders in the De Leon Plaza, and it’s the first statue memorial of its kind in the city, though there are namesake historical markers and sites around town.

The new DeLeon Memorial Statue honors the town’s founders. Photo by David Van Vranken

The new De Leon Memorial Statue—honors the husband and wife for their contribution to Victoria. Created by revered Laredo artist Armando Hinojosa and cast by the Bulverde-based Stevens Art Foundry, the bronze monument is of an impressive, enterprising pair—Martin fit in a coat and top hat with knee-high boots and Patricia in time-appropriate flowy dress and bonnet.

Even if you’re a history buff, it’s pieces like this and ones you’ll discover along the way on Bicentennial 2024 Old Victoria Trolley Tour that inform you just how much more there is to uncover about this must-visit Texas town.

“Two hundred years is a pretty big milestone, but I think the main reason people are getting excited is because it gives them a reason to celebrate this town,” Wright says. “On the day to day we glance over things, and while I wish it was an everyday thing that people celebrated, it means a lot to see so many people get excited about this town.”

Looking for other delicious and fun spots to enjoy in Victoria during a stay? Check out The Green Cow Creamy, which features some of the best ice cream in Texas; the lively and margarita-renowned El Paso Tacos and Tequila; and the kid-friendly Texas Zoo located in the beautiful Riverside Park. Order the Daisy’s Plate from Victoria’s Cafe on your way out of town.

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