Red Brick Renaissance

Oldest City in Texas Embraces a New Direction While Paying Homage to Its History


Downtown Nacogdoches lights up at night.

Photos by Jerry Permenter

There’s a new world emerging into its rightful place of ownership in Nacogdoches, a city familiar in East Texas for Stephen F. Austin University (SFA), red brick streets, and a unique place in Texas history as the state’s oldest town.

With the recent renovation and re-opening of The Fredonia Hotel this summer, an anchor is firmly placed to enhance an already growing and thriving downtown of locally owned shops filled with a striking array of items crafted by East Texas artisans. The Fredonia originally opened in the spring of 1955 with its architect describing its mid-century modern design as “Creole modern” to reflect the French influence on the city’s early history.

The newly renovated Fredonia Hotel provides downtown lodging to visitors.

The hotel has enhanced its mid-century polish with advanced technology, including scan cards for door entry, flat screen televisions and Wi-Fi throughout the property. The historic landmark is once again a gemstone on the city skyline with a changing kaleidoscope of colors illuminating the exterior of the Fredonia’s tower rooms at night, elevating the art form of laid back luxury for what is being hailed as an exquisite boutique hotel.

The new 1st City Cafe in The Fredonia Hotel serves fresh farm-to-table Southern cuisine.

New restaurants include the hotel’s Nine Flags Bar and Grill, 1st City Cafe and opening soon is Republic of Fredonia Steakhouse, an addition to rival any in East Texas.

The hotel has already become a hub of renewed night life for the city with a constant stream of visitors from throughout the region.

A variety of local business owners have found their niche in Nacogdoches as well and now play key roles in the current “red brick renaissance” of its downtown.

The Bosslight Bookstore, a local favorite since it opened in the fall of 2016, plays a significant role in bringing new energy and music downtown, along with its books, including works by owner and author, Tim Bryant.

“I created the Bosslight space because I knew there was a niche that wasn’t being filled,” Bryant says. “When I first opened it, I had no idea about its outcome. But The Bosslight Bookstore slowly revealed itself to me as a needed space and I just kept going. There was this spirit of community opening up downtown and I simply followed it. It wasn’t something I planned; it was truly organic. A need was identified and the right people came forth in a perfect synchronicity. If we could close our eyes and see what this place will look like in a year, we wouldn’t recognize it. This is the start of something, but it’s not the something it will become. And the momentum only builds each and every day. I see The Bosslight as being a conduit for much of that creative energy emerging so quickly downtown right now.”

Gerry Larabee, the owner of Heart of Texas, which sells everything from hot sauce to everything Texas related, said “I had always been in office work, or a secretary, and I was bored with it. One year, I found myself between jobs, taking a vacation and I noticed while traveling there was a push towards all things Texas. So I decided to open Heart of Texas as a commitment to Nacogdoches. My mother had once owned her own little store, a classic old country store with gas pumps where she also did handicrafts, including a little Texas ornament, and I wondered if I could sell those. And so it was on a whim I decided to start the business, as I’d never done anything like it before. But I found my way of life in this store and it suits me. I just love my life right here.”

Blue Horse Bakery is a premier bakery serving a variety of lunch and dessert specialties in downtown Nacogdoches.

Whitney Ronzello shows off one of the popular cakes at the Blue Horse Bakery.

Blue Horse owner Whitney Ronzello noted, “When looking for a location downtown, our current site worked out well as we always wanted to be near the real center of town. A true variety of businesses was sorely needed downtown and we wanted to offer the community something different. Now, every day when I ride to work I see people painting new building sites and continuing to revitalize the downtown area. Though I graduated from SFA as an animal science major, our bakery has been in business since early 2015 when it outgrew my home-based business. It became a true passion of mine.”

Blue Horse Bakery is expanding its savory side, now offering cake and cookie decorating classes. Blue Horse is also adding additional gluten free, soy free and a vegan line of products soon.

The Coca-Cola mural is on prominent view.

The City of Nacogdoches also continues to invest in updating and enhancing its downtown area, with more grand seasonal displays each year. Ongoing community efforts continue annually as well to highlight the natural beauty of downtown and its historic red brick streets.

For the holiday season, Nacogdoches celebrates their Nine Flags Festival with a variety of events from November 4 to December 20. The festival pays homage to the rich and spirited history of the town that includes three attempts to establish a Republic of Texas, thus nine flags have flown over Nacogdoches as opposed to the six that have represented Texas.

The festival theme this year is “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and events include a holiday parade, Christmas markets, Wassail Fest, Jingle Bell Run 5K, home tours, theatre presentations, and numerous other events held on the historic square, truly one of the oldest avenues to ever to grace the state of Texas.

The community bringing about the “Red Brick Renaissance” invites visitors and residents alike to experience one of the most beautiful and historic downtown areas in the state. Everything old is truly new again.

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