Thursday, March 15, 2012

Visiting the Varner-Hogg Plantation, West Columbia, TX

Kitchens are my favorite rooms to see when visiting historic homes. Our tour guide at the Varner-Hogg Plantation in West Columbia saved the best for last when he took us into the large kitchen, leading us on by asking us to guess what the oldest thing in the room was. Not the cook stove, not the cast iron pots. No, it was the kneading table shown above, exact date of origin unknown, but easily well before 1776, this low table doubles its usefulness with a trough below designed as a place to put the dough while it was rising, something I found most ingenious.

I've always liked round convex mirrors (often associated with the Federal period of architecture), but now I know some of the reasoning behind their design. Their rounded-out surface reflects three times the candlelight that would have been the only lighting in the days before electricity.

Seen in the painting above, Ima Hogg (1882 - 1975) was the beloved doyenne of decorative arts in the Houston area. Her father, James ("Big Jim") Hogg (1851 - 1906) was the 20th Governor of the state of Texas and bought the plantation in West Columbia in 1901. The family used it mostly as a summer house (their main home being Bayou Bend in River Oaks, Houston) and as a place to entertain. During the span of the plantation's lifetime, several families owned it and is was put to use for cotton and sugar cane farming, and after Mr. Hogg died, oil was found there, the basis for much of the Hogg family wealth. A large pecan tree orchard on the plantation still operates on sort of a sharecropping philosophy; in the fall, visitors can register to pick up the fallen nuts to share 50/50 with the Texas Historical Commission, which operates the historical site.

My husband and I have resolved to take one day trip per month. We'll see if that is a doable resolution, but there are plenty of sights unseen to us in Houston's surrounding counties. Since Tom is a cabinetmaker, he especially enjoys seeing the workmanship evident in historic homes. Best book for dreaming up day trips (even though some of the restaurants listed are long gone): Shifra Stein's Day Trips from Houston: Getaways Less Than Two Hours Away (GPP Travel, 2008) by Carol Barrington.

3 of 4 photos by KAO

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