Just 100 miles northeast of Dallas you’ll find the charming little town of Mount Vernon, with a quaint but thriving town square and a solid sense of community. Historically thought of as a weekend lake getaway for city folk trying to escape the Metroplex’s sweltering summer heat, Mount Vernon has quietly been transforming into a vibrant East Texas destination.
Mount Vernon is like most other small Texas towns: Friday night football, summer rodeos, farmers market on the square and the struggle between preserving the past and embracing future growth. And, just like most small towns, everybody knows everybody’s business whether they want them to or not.
What makes this place special is that the people here care about their town. They care about preserving history and they care about each other. One couple in particular is making quite a splash. Greg and Shannon Ostertag moved to Mount Vernon after Greg retired from the NBA. Greg grew up in Duncanville and knew he always wanted to return to his Texas roots and settle down in a place with good schools, a farm and his own tractor. Not only are the Ostertags living their dream of being farmers, they are also committed to doing their part in revitalizing downtown, preserving history and improving the quality of life in Franklin County. Shannon says, “There’s an authenticity here and an emotional connection to the past.”
So, a couple of years ago, they purchased and began renovating and restoring two historic buildings on the square, including the famous M.L. Edwards building, which once housed a hardware store, a funeral parlor and the city’s opera house. The Ostertags have transformed the space (which was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places) into the tasteful Bistro 1916 and the M.L. Edwards & Co. general store featuring locally sourced gourmet kitchen items, beautiful tableware for bridal registries, fine soaps and candles, and more.
At the back of the M.L. Edwards & Co. space you’ll find Watermelon Mills Coffeehouse, where you can wet your whistle with not only freshly brewed coffees, but also teas, lemonade, spritzers and seasonal libations. Upstairs, in The Loft, accessible by an ornate wooden staircase or by the original pull-rope elevator that was used to transport caskets (remember it was a funeral parlor?), is a wide open, private event space with stunning views of downtown Mount Vernon, exposed brick walls, and original wood flooring. Take a peek after you’ve enjoyed a delicious weekend brunch and purchased a little something to take home with you.
Greg and Shannon have a few more irons in the fire that are worth noting. Ostertag Construction has been remodeling and rebuilding historic homes as well as building new affordable homes for families in Mount Vernon and is committed to rebuilding neighborhoods, restoring pride of ownership, and building a sense of community while maintaining the character in their new hometown.
What the Ostertags are doing is contagious—folks are starting to take notice and make their own expressions of community: participating in projects like “Paint Our Town” in which donated paint and labor is supplied to homes in need of little facelift, supporting the locally run Alamo Mission Museum where reenactments, carnivals, cookoffs and concerts are held, free of charge for the community, and more people are restoring historic homes and buildings.
One of these newly restored homes worth visiting is The Holbrook, a bed-and-breakfast owned by Paul Macias and remodeled with the Ostertags. Built in 1890, this is the place you’ll want to stay when you’re in town. Within walking distance of the square, The Holbrook is the perfect “home away from home.” Four unique bedrooms, each with their own baths and unique decor are spacious and comfortable. Paul came to Mount Vernon from California via Dallas and loves to visit with guests about the history of the home and show off his collection of eclectic and historic furniture. (Ask about the Coco Chanel mirror!) And just wait until breakfast…chocolate chip caramel pancakes are just one of the mouthwatering courses he serves. He’s also putting in a gorgeous lap pool so guests can cool off during the hot East Texas summer. It’s quite a stunning property.
If you are in need of a weekend getaway on the lake or you’re just passing through, this former hometown of Dandy Don Meredith is worth a stop. You will be welcomed in to a town that is willing to invest in itself, its people and its guests.
Cover photo courtesy Greg and Shannon Ostertag