From the moment entrepreneurs James Nolan and Ira Freeman arrived on the now tree-lined Washington Avenue in the mid-1800s, Navasota’s future was off and running! Their primitive lodgings and way stations on the LaBahia Trail laid claim to what would soon become a thriving center of commerce. Unlike the neighboring towns of Anderson and Washington, Navasota welcomed the railroad. That bold decision propelled Navasota’s Washington Avenue and Railroad Street into the spotlight as a primary shipping point for cattle and cotton.
But even before the arrival of these two foresighted business owners, Navasota’s main drag provided a valuable link from East Texas to the capital of the new Republic at Washington-on-the-Brazos. In December 2022, Washington Avenue’s contribution to Texas history was commemorated with the unveiling of a Texas Historical Commission marker.
Today’s downtown Navasota is filled with cars instead of wagons and it bears little resemblance to its predecessor. But the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the quaint shops and business establishments lining Washington Avenue. Navasota’s proximity to major thoroughfares, institutions of higher learning, state-of-the-art medical facilities and ‘can-do’ spirit provide a wealth of opportunities for the next generation of creators and risk-takers.
Reuse, repurpose and enjoy!
Navasota’s downtown weathered its share of challenges in its infancy, from the yellow fever epidemic of 1867 to five fires in eight years. The last in 1873, prompted a city ordinance requiring the use of fireproof brick and rock within the city limits – a decision which has ensured the present use and enjoyment of these historic old buildings.
In 1982 the Navasota Commercial Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Before that designation and since, the majority of Navasota’s historic buildings have continued to function as commercial and retail businesses. For instance, the P. Nemir Dry Goods Co. at 107 E. Washington Avenue, established in 1911, enjoys both a thriving brick and mortar business and online presence.
The use of other 19th century buildings has changed but their good bones have been repurposed to serve the needs of today’s residents and visitors – like food, drink and roll n’ roll at Classic Rock Coffee Co. & Kitchen!
In the last decade, the City of Navasota has sought to improve the downtown experience for visitors and residents alike. Its comprehensive Downtown Streetscape Program resulted in new concrete sidewalks, the addition of colored pavers, attractive planter boxes filled with seasonal plants, period lighting and ample bench seating for shoppers to get their second wind.
Railroad Street revitalized
Just around the corner on Railroad Street, a new generation of entrepreneurs has taken repurposing to a new level with extensive renovations of several historic buildings. Railroad’s once dirt street filled with cattle, cotton and watermelon on their way to market now provides parking for fine dining, elegant lodging, a nightcap or two and a variety of entertainment!
For history enthusiasts, both the P.A. Smith Hotel, 111 Railroad and the Giesel House, 113 Railroad, are recipients of Texas Historical Commission markers.
Other downtown Texas Historical Commission building markers can be found at the Lewis J. Wilson Building, 100 W. Washington; the Old First National Bank, 107 W. Washington; the Mickelborough Building, 115 E. Washington; the Leake Building, 211 E. Washington Avenue and the Henry Schumacher Home, 306 Duke Street.
Navasota’s historic downtown also boasts several Texas Historical Commission site markers such as the Washington Avenue historic trail and road, 100 block of Washington; the Freeman Inn, 500 E. Washington Avenue; the Henry Schumacher Oil Works, 206 Duke Street; and the Old LaBahia Trail, N. LaSalle Street at Brule Street.