Thursday, June 4, 2009

Alta Mira

Grimes County Courthouse, Anderson, Texas, 2004

Perched atop an unexpected range of hills in the prairie northwest of Houston, there is such a Tuscan feel about this place that early settlers called it Alta Mira, “high view.” Today it’s known simply as Anderson. Good soil, good water, good crops and numerous stagecoach routes fueled Anderson’s growth during the days of the Republic of Texas. But the same hills that gave the town its elegant first name were also the reason the railroad bypassed Anderson in the 1860s and as much as sealed its fate. Some say the last big thing to happen in Anderson was the 1930s trial of some of the Clyde Barker gang in the majestic Grimes County Court House that sits like a castle at the head of the main street.

The man who donated the property for the courthouse knew this would be an impressive site. The courthouse can be seen from miles away, though to the uninformed it could easily be mistaken for the home of a notable family, a school, a monastery or an asylum.

A less patient person would probably say there’s nothing going on here. But if nothing else, photography teaches patience and sensitivity.  And there was something  pleasing about Anderson. Even though I visited on an overcast winter day, I could imagine a vivid blue spring sky, a golden summer sun and a gentle hilltop breeze on even the hottest August days. And where others might see inactivity, I sat on the courthouse steps and saw: a young woman step out of her shop in the handsome Apolonia Building to greet me, an obvious stranger, with an earnest “Howdy;” a genial mutt guarding the front of the auto parts store; a court clerk spending his lunch break reading on a comfortable bench outside the confederate memorial park; cats dozing in sunny windows and occasionally stirring to chase mice out from underneath a field of old Edsels; an aging farmhand standing at the end of the street trying to figure out how to upright a giant bale of rolled hay tipping precariously off the back of a truck; and a little farther out, where the paved street gave way to a well worn dirt road, two neighbor ladies laughed over a rickety fence.

No doubt this tranquil scene belies an inner life as strange as anything out of “Blue Velvet” or “Twin Peaks.” I’ve never known a small town, even one little more than a block long, that didn’t have its dark side. But for at least the moment, I felt like I could live there. I’d have my office on the second floor of the Apolonia, where on warm days the breeze would gently sway the curtains and I would look down onto the prairie and watch the clouds go by.


  1. Chris, from what you've told me, you could live in a lot of places. But at least I know you'd find lots of good photo subjects most any place you visit! I always love your building photos.

  2. *sigh*

    Another place I need to visit, in quest of rusty bits.

    If I only didn't need to work on that darn schoolwork this weekend...