Texas Travel

City Spotlight: Mason

By Chet Garner 11.18.22

While some towns in the Texas Hill Country are caught up with the bells and whistles of 21st century cities, Mason has been able to retain its old-school charm in the best of ways. It hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years or so, making it a site of Southern antiquity that has withstood the test of time.

As the American West was expanding in the 1800s, pioneers would build forts as they explored westward. Little towns were established around the forts, but as the pioneers continued their trek toward the Pacific, the forts were usually abandoned, and the towns dwindled away. But after Fort Mason was abandoned in the 1870s, the town of Mason managed to survive and thrive on its own. (The old Fort Mason is now a Texas historic site. Check it out while you’re in the area — it’s an awesome piece of history.)

In fact, Mason is the county seat of Mason County. A beautiful, Classical Revival-style courthouse was built in 1909. It looked like it was taken straight out of a Southern storybook. Unfortunately, it burned down in 2021, but the town has already started rebuilding it in an identically classic style. Like I said, Mason is all about preserving old-school charm — it’s a diamond (er, a topaz) in the rough.

Mason, Texas

Mason, the Hidden Gem

Mason is the only county in Texas where you can find blue topaz, our official state gem. Rock hounds and rock hunters from all over the state (and the country) go to Mason to put hands and spades in the ground to try to find that natural topaz. Amateurs are welcome, too — there are a couple of ranches that, for a small fee, will let you dig to your heart’s content. It’s hard work, but you might get lucky like I did when I went out to Emerald Hill with a local rockhound — we actually found some!

It’s not easy to find, so if you don’t want to poke around in the dirt for ages, there’s a local antique store called Mason Country Collectibles in town that also sells raw blue topaz stones. The owners take requests for custom jewelry, too — they had a big chunk of uncut blue topaz that I asked them to cut into small stones for each of my kids. Now my whole family has a little piece of Mason, which is a pretty sweet souvenir.

Whether or not you end up getting some blue topaz for yourself, you’ve got to at least visit the Mason County Museum, which is downtown on the square. There you’ll find one of the largest blue topaz stones in the world. It’s the size of a softball — imagine digging that up!

The museum is also a must for any history buffs looking to learn about the Hoodoo War that happened in Mason in the late 1800s. The war had nothing to do with blue topaz and everything to do with cattle thieves, family feuds, and vigilante shoot-outs like you see in old cowboy flicks. It’s too intricately awesome to explain the whole war here. You’ve got to visit Mason and see for yourself.

Mason Munchin’

After a long day of rock hunting, I guarantee your appetite will be bigger than that blue topaz in the museum. There are three restaurants in Mason that I can’t recommend enough.

If you want authentic Mexican food (and mind you, I didn’t say Tex-Mex), go to Santos. It’s a taqueria inside of an old gas station that serves incredibly authentic Mexican gorditas and homemade tortillas. You won’t find anything doused in gravy and cheese here — it’s all totally fresh and totally delicious.

If your stomach is grumbling for a classic country cooking experience, Willow Creek Cafe & Club is an awesome stop. They make these enormous homemade yeast rolls, and their chicken-fried steak is near perfect. Just be sure to save room for a big ol’ slice of pie which they serve topped with orange meringue. It’s insanely good.

And if you’re hankering for pie of another kind, there’s a new pizza place downtown on the square at Lea Lou Co-Op. It’s in a historic building, but they have an outdoor seating area that has quickly become the hangout spot in town. They regularly have live music jams outside to enjoy while you scarf down some truly dynamite pizza.

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