In the late 19th century, cotton was king in Waco (population 116,887), weaving its way through the vivid heritage of this colorful town. The dark, rich soil of the Blackland Prairie proved ideal for growing the crop, and like the oil that would be discovered later, it attracted a rush of immigrants eager to make a living.
Before the advent of river steamers and railroads, cotton buyers employed teamsters to make the overland trek to markets in the east. Eventually, trails and railroads converged in cotton boomtowns like Waco, which became known as “The Crossroads of Texas.”
Baylor University, the world’s largest Baptist university, moved to Waco in the late 1800s, and by the early 20th century, the city’s manufacturing base increased from agricultural-related business to include standard service industries, two domino factories, and several soft drink companies (Dr Pepper became nationally famous, while the cream soda-ish Big Red remained a big sensation primarily in the South).
Waco attained a “wacko” reputation in 1993 when eccentric Branch Davidian sect/cult leader David Koresh defended his Mount Carmel compound against the U.S. government in a highly publicized attack that drew unwanted worldwide media coverage.
Waco is practically equidistant from Austin and the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex (nearly two hours from both), so most travelers arrive via I-35, the city’s (and state’s) main north/south thoroughfare. Those wanting to show up in grand style can utilize the Waco Regional Airport (866/359-9226), serviced by American Eagle and Continental Express.
To get around downtown sans vehicle, take the air-conditioned Brazos Trolley (254/753-0113), which runs between the city’s major attractions, hotels, and the Convention Center every day from June through August and on weekends September–November and March–May. Cost is $0.50 per ride or $1.50 for a day pass.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition