I DROVE ALMOST TO THE ARKANSAS border seeking relief from mass-produced minimalism. Don’t get me wrong: I’m awed by big-box stores full of big boxes of insanely cheap yet hip furniture made in China of pretend wood and assembled (by you) in your home. But after an hour lost in one such store, wandering among paper lamps and translucent plastic tables, I found myself starved for consuming encounters with less ephemeral furnishings—the kind that had withstood the test of time and seemed poised, on legs of real maple or cast iron, to withstand it some more. This craving for the whiff of heirlooms, rather than Swedish meatballs, medium-density fiberboard, and birch veneer, was powerful enough to propel me all the way to Gladewater, the antiques capital of East Texas.
Gladewater’s history follows the trajectory of many neighboring towns, beginning in 1873 with the arrival of the Texas and Pacific Railway, which hauled out peaches, cotton, and timber and hauled in people and their stuff. Then came the oil boom of the thirties, when the population skyrocketed from five hundred to eight thousand. And all these new people needed more stuff hauled in (including, in the sixties,