The twenty-mile stretch of Texas Highway 237 that runs north of La Grange is, most of the year, as quiet and undisturbed as the cow pastures it cuts through. But for two weeks each spring and fall, this unassuming road, located partway between Austin and Houston, becomes the main artery for one of the largest shopping events in the country. Known as Round Top Antiques Week, this buyer’s paradise is more impressive than its name suggests: it spills beyond Round Top to span several other towns, it features way more than just antiques, and it runs at least sixteen days at a time. Thousands of sellers haul in enough stuff to fill Houston’s Galleria, and every barn, dance hall, and shed in the area becomes an instant storefront. In fields and front yards, tents bloom like bluebonnets. And trampling through those fields are collectors, designers, merchandisers, bargainers, magpies, pickers, and junkers from around the world, who’ve come with wildly varying budgets and shopping lists but are there for the same reason: to feel the rush of striking gold at the biggest treasure hunt in Texas.
The origins of this biannual invasion can be traced to the sixties, when wealthy Houstonians, looking for some respite from city living, began buying historic properties in the area. These newcomers filled their weekend retreats with antiques from Europe and New England, a development that caused three society ladies—Hazel Ledbetter, Faith Bybee, and Ima Hogg—to worry that America’s and Texas’s finest early furniture was being overlooked. With preservation in mind, the three approached Emma Lee Turney, a successful antiques dealer who had bought a few historic homes in the area herself, about producing an antiques show in Round Top. The first show, featuring 22 dealers, was held in October 1968 in the weathered Round Top Schützen Verein. It was such a hit that Turney organized the event again, and then again. A decade later, the affair had outgrown the old rifle hall and inspired a host of other enterprising dealers, who began setting up shows to coincide with Turney’s.
Now, 45 years since that first show, the list of venues is seemingly endless (The Marburger Farm Antique Show! The Original Round Top Antiques Fair! The Old Depot Antiques Show! The Texas Rose Show! The Rose of Texas Show! Granny McCormick’s Yard! Das Blaue Haus! Das Gruene Haus!) and the shopping is incomparable (Victorian silver! Turn-of-the-century linens! Texas primitives!). Which means, of course, that for anyone who appreciates quality and value, this pilgrimage is a no-brainer. With more than five thousand vendors, however, it can be difficult to know where to start, so in the spirit of sacrifice, I went on an antiquing spree this past fall to find out for myself. Though it was impossible to hit every venue, by the end of the week I’d gathered enough intelligence to fill several notebooks, which I’ve since organized by day to offer you a sensible plan of attack. Read the following pages carefully, tear them out, and mark your calendar (this year’s dates are March 23–April 7 and September 21–October 6) for the most eclectic, mind-boggling, and rewarding shopping experience of your life. Happy hunting.
Mention Round Top Antiques Week to any casual collector, and he or she will most certainly tell you about the largest shows, Marburger Farm Antique Show and the Original Round Top Antiques Fair, which always open on the last Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. But talk to an Antiques Week veteran, as I did this past summer when I met a longtime dealer in Grapevine, and you’ll learn that the real action happens days before the big shows out in the fields, as the tent-strewn pastures just off the highway are known. If you want the best finds (and the best prices), my acquaintance told me, you’ll want to show up early and stay for several days.
That’s how I found myself driving south from Burton on Highway 237 on a rainy Saturday last September, three days before the Marburger Farm show. My first objective was to get the lay of the land. After passing hundreds of shoppers along the road, I arrived at Round Top ’s historic main square and momentarily lost my bearings: its 1925 courthouse, usually a recognizable landmark, was completely encircled by pole tents, where vendors were hawking purses and T-shirts and silver jewelry. One of the smallest incorporated towns in Texas, Round Top has an official population of ninety. I counted at least that many shoppers in my immediate line of sight. As I continued through Warrenton, Oldenburg, and Rutersville to La Grange, I saw hundreds more going in and out of vendors’ tents with the glee of bees in a garden of honeysuckle.
I turned around in La Grange and drove back to Burton to check in at the Bird Song Cottage, a red one-bedroom studio with a shaded porch that I’d lucked into renting by the grace of the antiquing gods. Antiques Week is so popular that lodging reservations are paramount; every hotel nearby (in Brenham, Giddings, and even Bastrop, fifty miles away) books up months in advance. But on the advice of Ashley Ferguson, the manager of the Marburger Farm show, I had filled out a lodging request form on roundtop.org a few weeks before my visit. Within hours I’d heard back from two dozen B&B owners who still had vacancies. At the Bird Song, I found that innkeeper Leslie Elhai had left me a copy of the Show Daily, the free magazine known as “the bible of Antiques Week.” Before I nodded off to sleep, I studied its detailed tear-out map and recalled the advice of my Grapevine guru: “Antiques Week isn’t something you finish,” she’d told me. “So don’t even try.”
TIP NUMBER 1
Prepare as if for a long journey.
You’re going to be walking for days in (a) the hot Texas sun, (b) sudden rainstorms, (c) muddy, cow-chip-strewn pastures, or (d) all of the above. Lest your