HAMILTON, Texas – This article first appeared on Texas Highways. Click here to view the article in its original format.
For the unhurried, US 281 is a popular north-south alternative to Interstate 35. Like pearls on a string, small towns enrich the route with their revitalized main streets, historic courthouses, and local restaurants. So it is with Hamilton—set in the northern Hill Country, equidistant between Fort Worth and Austin—home to Wenzel LoneStar Meat Co. Fans make 200-mile round trips from their big-city homes for owner Kent Wenzel’s smoked pulled pork, featured on Pork Butt Fridays. Wenzel glides from table to table, offering tips for sightseers, along with sample tastes of green-chile bratwurst and sugar cookies. The seat of Hamilton County, Hamilton is rooted in ranching, farming, and hunting. A 2012 restoration of the celebrated limestone courthouse sparked a downtown revitalization, including the expansion of the Hamilton County Historical Museum. Adding to the Western flavor are the New Deal-era mural at the post office, Texas Rangers in Camp, and the nearby Circle T Resort, home to a bustling rodeo arena, steakhouse, and inn.
THE PLACE TO BE
“I moved to Dallas when I graduated from high school. I thought I’d seen enough of Hamilton, but after 10 years, I came back after growing up a bit. You get to know more about your hometown, especially your banker! Seriously, everybody feels like they are family. If your child is doing something wrong, they will tell you—not to be bad, but to be helpful. If you are sick, they help you. I wanted to get the hell out, and now I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. With the coronavirus going on this year, this is the best place you could be.”
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
“When I came back from Dallas, I worked for my father during deer season, 10 to 12 hours a day, processing the deer, making sausage, and so forth. I thought maybe I could do this. But I had an idea about a meat market as well. When I opened my own business, I needed something to bring the customer in the front door. We put out signs that said, ‘Come to Wenzel’s and Bite my Butt’—our Pork Butt Fridays. ‘The Mole,’ I call him, a local businessman, he came to me and said the church women were sure upset with me. I told him they were the same ones who were coming in to get the sandwiches. We have a whole line of Bite My Butt products now.”
“I try to get the best rye—the basic foundation, that’s your bread. We add German-stylesauerkraut and then our corned beef and swiss cheese. New Yorkers say it’s got to be Thousand Island dressing for that. Down here in Texas, it’s our Dusseldorf mustard.”
“We go to Circle T to swim, get in the hot tub—it’s an oasis out there. We went out there when there was a llama show—I would go out there if they had a rabbit show. For the solitude and the therapy you get, it’s quite a place.”
“Hamilton used to be the dove capital of Texas, but now there’s not maize and other food for them so a lot of them have gone elsewhere. We’ve still got places around here that have good deer. They are pretty healthy, depending on rainfall and having something to forage on. We process about 700 deer a season. We don’t bulk process. You bring in your own deer, and you get your deer back.”
“We’ve got one of the best hospitals, I think, in Central Texas. We’ve got a crew of doctors here who are wonderful. Some of them grew up here and came back, like me.”
PECAN CREEK PARK
“We have a wonderful park right across from Wenzel’s that people don’t really know about. It goes from the south end of town to the north end. You can take a sandwich from Wenzel’s or a Storm’s hamburger over there. I would sure like for people to look in on our park, have a picnic out there, and walk the trails.”
Number of stoplights: 12
Year founded: 1858
Nearest city: Waco, 68 miles east
Marquee event: Hamilton County Dove Festival, Sept. 5