Denison, Texas

Destination Denison

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Discovering the playful & presidential sides of Denison, Texas

By Lori Stacy

In the decade since my family relocated to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, we’ve spent countless weekends exploring all the great state of Texas has to offer. Our latest jaunt to Denison tops my list of interesting cities due to its mix of history, scenery, entertainment and dining.

“Did you know that President Eisenhower was born in Texas?” Jack, my 15-year-old son, the family history buff, asked us.

We were watching a news report about the new Eisenhower memorial scheduled to open in May 2020 in Washington, D.C.

Jack pulled up the map app on his phone to show us just how close Denison was.

My husband, Mike, and I looked at each other with a “Why not?” expression. That evening, we planned a trip to Denison. We could have some fun and give the kids a little hands-on history lesson. After all, there’s more to learning than looking things up on your phone. Saturday morning, we headed north on the easy drive to Denison.


Downtown delights

Photo from My Curly Adventures

Our sights were set on CJ’s Coffee Café, on Main Street in historic downtown Denison. We parked near Heritage Park, which I learned is the site of Friday night concerts in the summer, part of Denison’s Music on Main series beginning in May. I thought about what a fun night it would be to drive up, grab a bite to eat at the Denison Food Truck Park across the street, then head over to the park to take in a concert in this intimate outdoor setting.

Inside the bright and cheery café, we perused a menu that included made-from-scratch baked goods and an impressive coffee selection. The kids dove into their muffins and smoothies, while Mike and I savored our coffees and dug into our breakfasts—a ham and egg croissant for me and a breakfast bowl of eggs, sausage, cheese and salsa for him.


Presidential roots

Inside, we were transported to 1890, as we walked through rooms filled with antique furnishings.

After breakfast, we headed over to the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site, a short drive from downtown, to catch the first tour of the day, at 9 a.m. We began in the visitor center, a small wooden house with rocking chairs lining the porch. Inside, exhibits highlighted Eisenhower’s time as president and as a general and Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during WWII.

Our tour guide took us through the garden, which featured a larger-than-life statue of the former president, and on to the home where he was born. Inside, we were transported to 1890, as we walked through rooms filled with antique furnishings. Our tour guide told us the town holds a celebration every year for Eisenhower’s birthday—October 14. We had just missed his 129th!

“This house seems small for a president,” our daughter, Claire, remarked. It was hard for her to imagine someone going from this small white house to the White House.

We learned about Eisenhower’s humble roots from a short film in the Visitor Center, which showed a railroad had run right in front of the Eisenhowers’ home. Although it was later moved, a section of tracks remained to show just how close the train had been to the home. The railroad, we learned, was what brought the Eisenhower family to Denison.


Railways, lakeside caves & airmen

Photo by Daniel Akers

More proof of the importance of the railroad in Denison’s history was found at our next stop: the Red River Railroad Museum in the historic Katy Depot. There, we learned how the depot—and town—got its name. There was a ton of history packed into the little museum. The kids loved checking out the trains outside and trying their hand at the diesel train simulator. The docent told us the museum hosted real train rides during the annual Doc Holliday Saints and Sinners Festival, a Wild West fest held in April in Denison, where the notorious gunslinger once had an office. The kids squealed with excitement, and I made a mental note to put the date on our calendar for a return trip.  

With stomachs rumbling, we headed across the street to the aptly-named Best Burger Barn, where we had our choice of 15 different burgers, from a plain meat patty to the Reuben–inspired Falkenburger, along with some amazing-sounding appetizers. We ordered burgers for everyone and the Armadillo Balls, grilled chicken stuffed with jalapeños and cheese, wrapped in bacon and deep-fried. Yum!

After lunch, we headed to Waterloo Lake Regional Park to walk the loop trail around the lake. We got to see the rugged, natural side of Denison, and Jack was excited to discover the hidden caves. The kids had a blast exploring.

Then we headed out to the Perrin Air Force Base Museum near the North Texas Regional Airport. Jack, ever the history buff, loved the replica of the barracks, which gave him a feel for how the airmen lived. We saw their uniforms, a sparse bed and a footlocker that held all of their belongings. There were also exhibits on the Tuskegee Airmen, including one who was born in Denison and trained 400 others. Mike pointed out a uniformed mannequin seated at a desk with a typewriter, rotary phone, camera and adding machine.

“That was life before cell phones, computers and calculators,” he told the kids.

Jack pulled out his phone and snapped a pic. “This does all of that,” he said waving his iPhone.  


One last play for the day

We heard about a new fun-filled place that had opened and surprised the kids with a visit to HeyDay Denison. They had their choice of laser tag, mini golf, bowling, a ropes course and arcade games. We joined them in a game of laser tag, and then let them climb like monkeys on the ropes course, while Mike and I stayed firmly planted on the ground, planning our next visit to Denison: It would be a kid-free day, with a tour and tasting at Iron Root Republic Distillery, with stops at Ivanhoe Ale Works and Homestead Winery. And we knew we had to bring the kids back in April for the Doc Holliday Saints and Sinners festival.

Railways, lakeside caves & airmen

Photo from FastTrac Cruises

We had to lure the kids out of HeyDay with the promise of a surprise. I could tell they were tired, and this would be the perfect way to cap off the day. We arrived at High Point Marina on Lake Texoma and found our way to the Sight-Sea-Er II. As we settled into our seats for our sunset cruise, the kids thanked us for a “really fun day.” The cruise was peaceful and relaxing. We watched the sun go down on the horizon, behind the lake’s rocky cliffs and wooded bluffs before heading back to the marina.

I had read about Devolli’s Italian Restaurant, which offers live music, an extensive menu of Italian specialties and, much to the kids’ delight, pizza that is out of this world. We ordered an extra-large cheese pizza and sat back to enjoy the musician singing and playing guitar in front of a quaint mural of musicians, and bonded over fun memories in a town we are sure to visit again.

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