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Texas Travels: Refurbished depot marshals a welcome when Eagle flies by

MARSHALL After 25 years of being boarded up, Marshall's train depot is renovated, staffed and open to the public. The depot's reopening in mid-November caps an 11-year fight by the townspeople, led by Mayor Audrey Kariel.
So, after all their hard work to get it reopened and the struggles to keep the Texas Eagle Amtrak service alive how feasible is it to hop a train from the Dallas area and visit Texas' City of Light?

After all, Marshall is internationally known for its Wonderland of Lights when millions (make that 9 million this year) are strung all around town. The festival this year runs through Dec. 30, although downtown lights will glow until Jan. 2.

And even after the lights are turned off, Marshall and the area has plenty to offer.

The Texas Eagle, which travels between Chicago and San Antonio in 31 hours leaves Union Station in downtown Dallas four days a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday) at 4:55 p.m. and pulls into Marshall at 8:33 p.m.

At least that's what the schedule says, but this isn't Switzerland.(I heard more grumbling from Amtrak workers about the train not being on time than what I actually experienced.)

Trains leave from Marshall on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 11:13 a.m.

The good news is that a round-trip coach ticket to Marshall is only $36. That's $18 each way for a wide seat in which you can stretch out next to huge windows with your feet propped up on a foot rest no extra charge for the comforting sounds of the clicketyclack wheels and the train whistle.

And you don't have to remain in your seat. You can stroll around the train with no fear of running into a dining cart. On a train, you can either grab a sandwich or beverages downstairs in the snack area, or you can dine in the dining car.

Make a dining reservation after you board the train. There are two evening seatings: 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. If you're stopping in Marshall, the 5:30 p.m. seating is a must.

Be prepared to make friends: Passengers are seated four to each booth set with a white linen tablecloth. The first question the waiter asks is whether you are traveling coach or sleeper. Meals are included in the ticket price for guests who have sleeping accommodations. Coach passengers pay separately for dining.

Generally, you have a choice of a beef, chicken or fish at prices ranging from about $8 to $14. Iceberg lettuce salad and rolls are already on your table.

After dinner, you may want to catch a movie, which is shown in the Sightseer Lounge, as well as in the snack bar.

But where ever you are, someone is likely to strike up a conversation. Train people are chattier than plane people. If you're a loner, retreat to your comfy seat with a pillow and/or good book.

Now for the bad news. The train arrives in Marshall at 8:33 p.m. or thereabouts.

Transportation after you arrive is the primary hitch in your get-along.

There's one excellent bed-and-breakfast the Three Oaks within walking distance of the depot, but it has only four bedrooms. Most other B&Bs; in town are willing to pick you up at the depot, but if you want to stay in one of the moderately priced hotels near Interstate 20, you will need a way to get there.

After I explained the situation to the area manager of Enterprise, the only national rental car company in town, he seemed cooperative.

But a call to the car rental company a few days later found resistance from an employee who did not want to work late to await the train. The local manager later called back with assurances that with advance notice, the company is willing to make the appropriate arrangements.

Since I stayed at the nearby B&B, I decided not to press the point of being met picked up at night and was picked up the next morning instead.

That worked well until the issue of insurance came up. Not just one, but two employees relentlessly worked side-by-side to push the extra coverage, boosting the daily rental rate by $11.

An alternative is the local Hurd Taxi service, which generally works daylight hours. If you call in advance (903-935-7757), however, the owner will meet you at the train. But, I was warned, if the train is running late, he will leave. Then you must call the after-hours number (903-938-7147) and wait for him to return. The ride to a hotel near the interstate is about $10.

If you are low-key, it's possible to go to Marshall, stay in one of the bed-and-breakfasts in the downtown area and not have a car, although your options will be limited. (From the depot to the downtown courthouse is less than a mile straight up Washington Street.)

Check out the Texas & Pacific Museum on the middle floor of the refurbished three-story depot, and learn about Marshall's deep railroading roots. Marshall was known as the Gateway to Texas after the Civil War when the T&P provided transcontinental service to the west.

The depot is part of the Ginocchio National Historic District, getting its name from the Ginocchio Hotel and residence next door.

Don't get your hopes up. The Ginocchio Hotel with its stunning curly pine staircase is not operational except for an eatery and a stitchery shop on the first floor. But bc Dr. ec James and Denise Prince bought the building a couple of months ago as an investment, and they hope someone will open it for overnight guests and/or rent space for a restaurant.

Charles Ginocchio opened 11 hotels along the Texas & Pacific rail line, and this is the only one still standing.

Maurice Barrymore (a relative of Drew's) was shot in the hotel's saloon in 1879. He survived, but his friend did not. A news account of the confrontation is posted in the lobby.

Downtown is the Michelson Museum of Art, which offers a collection of Impressionist art by Leo Michelson, as well as touring exhibits.

In the courthouse on the square is the Harrison County Historical Museum more or less. At one point the museum occupied 27 galleries on three floors of the courthouse, but with roof leaks and damage to the second and third floors, the museum is currently limited to three galleries on the first floor and space in buildings scattered through town.

"The medical exhibits are at the hospital, and the money exhibits are at the bank," says Conover Hunt who is in charge of the museum renovation and also responsible for the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.

Money is an issue, so the museum might not be completed until 2002 or 2003, she says.

In addition to the local history, the museum details the local big names who grew up in Marshall, including journalist Bill Moyers, heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman, civil rights leader James Farmer, pro-football quarterback Y.A. Tittle, and actress Susan Howard (of Dallas fame).

A great place to eat in Marshall's downtown area is The Taylor House, built in 1875 by Lady Bird Johnson's great-uncle. It serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (I had a tasty pasta loaded with shrimp and crayfish) and candlelight dinners from 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Marshall also is proud of its new Visual Arts Center in the converted City Laundry building. Area artists offer their works for sale, and artist wannabes can take classes.

Antiques stores are popping up around and near the downtown square.

A little bit out of downtown is the Starr Family Home State Historical Park. The more than three-acre park features the 150-year history of the Starr family and four generations of construction and adaptations to the site.

Candlelight dinners are available here at the historical park during the Wonderland of Lights.

Downtown Marshall can keep you entertained if you like poking around in antiques stores and museums, eating and walking. (Be sure to obtain a tour brochure at the chamber of commerce office.)

But the area around Marshall has much to offer, and it would be a shame to not to explore. For that, you will need more than a good pair of walking shoes.

The town is widely know for Marshall Pottery, the nation's largest red-clay manufacturer. About three years ago, the DeRoma Corp. of Italy bought the company.

Although the Italians have made many production changes, the store looks much as it has in years past, with lots of pottery as well as a wide selection of other goods. One new addition is an area called Little Italy, which offers Italian products.

Clay is abundant in the area, and several other pottery stores can be found.

Farther afield, Caddo Lake is 15 miles away, Jefferson is 15 miles north and Shreveport's gambling boats are 40 minutes east.

But soon it's time to hop back on the train and return to Dallas. Climb into your seat, put your feet up, and listen for the whistle.


KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
DEPOT

The Texas & Pacific Railroad Museum is in the T&P Railroad Depot.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday.
Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for seniors and bus groups and $1 for students ages 5-11.

BED & BREAKFAST
Three Oaks Bed and Breakfast, 609 N. Washington Ave., 1-800-710-9789 or 1-800-899-4538. It is within easy walking distance of the depot. Rates range from $85 to $100.

ATTRACTIONS
Michelson Museum of Art, 216 N. Bolivar; 903-935-9480. Hours: 12 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 1-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. An American Watercolor Society International Exhibition is scheduled Dec. 1 to Jan. 2. Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated.
Harrison County Historical Museum, Peter Whetstone Square; 903-938-2680. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission: $2.

Marshall Visual Art Center, 208 East Burleson; 903-938-9860.

Starr Family Home State Historic Site, 407 W. Travis; 903-935-3044.

Marshall Pottery, 4901 Elysian Fields Road; 903-938-9201. Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

The Taylor House, 212 West Bowie; 903-938-8549. Lunch: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Candlelight dinners start at 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.


TRANSPORTATION

Reservations in advance are a must for all forms of transportation. Contact:
Enterprise Rent-a-Car, 903-935-0499;
Hurd's Taxi Co., 903-935-7757 or (after hours) 903-938-7147;
Amtrak, 1-800-872-7245.



MORE INFORMATION

For further facts, contact the Marshall Chamber of Commerce; 213 W. Austin; 1-800-953-7868.

The Dallas Morning News
Kathryn Straach