On a seasonal spring afternoon, historic downtown Brenham is brimming with shoppers strolling along stone-lined storefronts and making their way into the city’s antique and specialty shops. Even strangers are greeted like old friends, especially when they stop at Must Be Heaven to order a mile-high slice of pie. Behind all this charm and pleasantry, however, Brenham is at the center of some serious business.
According to Lu Hollander, public relations manager of the Brenham/Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, more than 70 percent of the state’s population lives within 210 miles of the city, which pulls double duty as the employment hub of an eight-county region. Not coincidentally, it’s also home to Blue Bell Creameries, which has been employing locals and dishing out frozen confections since 1907.
Ant Street Inn
The Ant Street Inn’s storied history comes to life as soon as guests enter its well-appointed foyer. There are 15 rooms, and each accommodation is outfitted with period antiques, including lavish beds and writing desks. A supply of Blue Bell ice cream is available to guests 24 hours a day.
On Ant Street Inn’s second story, polished hardwood floors lead from the suites to a wide interior hallway and a private boardroom for six. Beverage service is available, as are meals at the on-site restaurant, The Brenham Grill. Additionally, the staff at Ant Street Inn can coordinate catering provided by local restaurants, says Suzy Hankins, who owns Ant Street Inn along with her husband Keith.
On the main floor, there is a 4,000-squarefoot meeting space that once served as Brenham’s general store. In fact, the first scoops of Blue Bell ice cream were sold there.
All of Ant Street Inn’s meeting spaces are available without booking guest rooms, but those who do will receive a discount, Hankins notes.
Within easy driving distance of Brenham, the Saddlehorn Winery offers tours and event space, as well as custom wine tastings with award-winning vintages crafted on site. The winery is nestled on a 390-acre ranch in a renovated horse barn with scenic views of rolling hills.
In addition to a spacious tasting room, Saddlehorn Winery has a dedicated 2,300-square-foot event space that can comfortably accommodate 100 people seated at round tables or 150 people for a cocktail event, says Emilee Glueck, tasting room and events manager.
The event space features high ceilings and polished concrete floors that display the Saddlehorn Winery logo. Those who book the room will have use of round tables and chairs, as well as 8-foot tables, and the Saddlehorn Winery staff will lend a hand to set them up.
“Many of the groups who book events here will include a tour of the winery and a wine tasting,” Glueck says. “Often, they’ll purchase our wine and have us pour for them during an event. We keep the tasting room open, too, in case guests would like to purchase wine to take home.”
The winery is in the process of adding additional event space in the form of a large patio that will flank each side of the building. The patio adjacent to the event space will serve as an outdoor gathering area, as well as a private entrance and exit for attendees. It will include overhead awnings for protection from the elements and will feature a wine tasting bar and stage, says Glueck.
The Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site has it all: spacious event spaces, interactive museum displays and living history exhibits.
The historic site includes walking trails that wind past ancient pecan trees, as well as guided tours that give guests a closer look at a replica of Independence Hall, the building known as “the birthplace of Texas.” It was on this spot on March 2, 1836, that elected officials declared Texas an independent country from Mexico.
The nearby Star of the Republic Museum, located on the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, is focused on this period in Texas history. “Our main interpretation is of the events leading up to declaring independence and our existence as an independent republic for 10 years,” says Ann McGaugh, the museum’s curator of education. “Our exhibits illustrate the early history and the chronology of how we declared independence.”
The museum welcomed nearly 30,000 visitors in 2014, says Elaine Platt, visitor services coordinator, and is within easy distance of the park’s meeting venues—all of which are equipped with wireless Internet.
Indoor venues include a conference center that seats 400 people theater-style and 250 people in a banquet arrangement, as well the Brazos Overlook meeting room that accommodates 70 for banquet seating. There also is a meeting room for 80 in the education center that includes a theater and classroom. Outdoor meeting venues range from an amphitheater with space for more than 2,000, as well two pavilions that can accommodate 50 and 100 people, respectively.
Also in the park is the Barrington Living History Farm, which allows visitors to walk through a working farm that shows what life was like in the 1850s. Interpreters in period costume take care of crops, animals and daily tasks.
Antique Rose Emporium
The Antique Rose Emporium occupies an 8-acre stretch of land near Brenham, where more than 50,000 visitors a year wind along paths lined with sprawling stands of antique roses and native flowers. Herb, vegetable and water gardens punctuate the landscape, along with themed plantings, such as a children’s garden.
For 30 years the Antique Rose Emporium has been a cult favorite among rose enthusiasts, selling more than 300 varieties by mail. It’s also blossomed into a venue that offers several options for special events, says Jean Shoup, who owns the Antique Rose Emporium with her husband, Mike.
On the grounds, Champney’s Green is a restored 1904 Victorian home, complete with period gardens, gazebo and an outdoor pavilion with 1,700 square feet of event space. The pavilion can accommodate 160 people for a seated dinner and the surrounding tree-shaded lawn can be used for additional seating.
The home includes a small serving kitchen, two restrooms and a large wraparound porch. Its interior can accommodate up to 50 people for a seated dinner, 75 for a buffet and 100 with porch overflow. The lawn and patio areas can be incorporated into event setups as well.
The Antique Emporium’s Country Chapel features a soaring vaulted ceiling and gothic windows. Its oversized front door, complete with a century-old stained glass transom imported from England, opens to 1,500 square feet of flexible space. Instead of permanent seating, the chapel’s interior can be reconfigured as needed. The chapel can accommodate 150 people.
Weekend rentals, says Shoup, include all the buildings and surrounding gardens, along with tables and chairs for 180 guests.