When planning a road trip during the 1920s, travelers had to do some careful planning. In those days, cars could not drive long distances without stopping for fuel, air, and water. As a result, numerous gas stations popped up in rural and urban areas to keep travelers moving along.
Many of these early gas stations went through an evolution of sorts over time. The first step began with gas pumps near a small building used to run the business. From there, a stand or counter with snacks and goods from local farms might be added. Often, camping would be permitted and as money allowed, motor courts would be added. Finally, a place where weary travelers could sit down for a hot meal would be constructed as the crowning jewel. This is what happened at the Texas Tourist Camp complex in Decatur.
Just outside of downtown Decatur on State Highway 81, local businessman E.F. Boydston saw an opportunity in 1927 to turn what once was a feed lot into a place where he could start a lucrative business – a gas station. His business quickly grew into a complex that included a gas station covered in petrified wood, five cabins, and a café.
During this time State Highway 81 was known as the Meridian Highway, one of the first major roadways that ran north-south from one end of the United States to the other. According to the Texas Historical Commission, “The Meridian Highway is the foundation of one of the busiest and most significant transportation corridors in the nation.”
According to local legend, the infamous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde used the motel as a hideout; located right on a major thoroughfare provided the outlaws a quick escape. People have come from far and wide to see it for themselves.
The café known first as the Texas Lunchroom and later the Texas Café was popular with the locals and travelers until it closed its doors in the 1960s. Business declined when a highway bypass moved traffic from the area. The Boydston family owned and operated the gas station until 1988.
In 1993 the café reopened as the Whistle Stop Café and began serving up some of the best homestyle Texas cooking around. Open weekdays from 6:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m., the dedicated staff makes everyone feel right at home. The menu covers everything from hamburgers to meatloaf to chicken fried chicken (lower left) but the most popular dish is the chicken fried steak. According to diner Shirley Laster, “You have to try the deserts, they are so good – especially the banana pudding.” Along with the banana pudding there is a variety of pies (lower right) and cobblers. The Whistle Stop Café is just a quaint place that will serve up comfort food with a smile so be sure to bring your appetite and leave room for dessert!
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of history lovers from The Wise County Historical Society and the Wise County Historical Commission, this site is designated as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark by the Texas Historical Commission (1995) and is on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior.
Text from the historical marker: Local businessman E. F. Boydston (1888-1945) purchased this site, a former feed lot, in 1927 for $400. Recognizing a potential business opportunity in offering services to the traveling public, he built a wooden shed and gas station in 1927. Travelers were allowed to build campfires during overnight stays, and by 1931 Boydston added three wooden cabins with garages to the camp complex. The buildings later were faced with rock, and more cabins and garages were added in 1935. The original wooden gas station was covered with petrified wood in 1935 when the highway was widened and remained in operation by the Boydston family until 1988. The Texas Lunchroom, a one-room frame building, was built in 1929. Renamed the Texas Cafe in 1935 and faced with stone to match other buildings in the complex, it was enlarged to provide second-floor living quarters. Popular with local high school and college students, as well as families and the traveling public, it was closed in the 1960s after a highway bypass built west of town diverted traffic from this area. The cafe reopened in 1993. One of the few intact examples of tourist camps built throughout Texas in the mid-20th century, this property is significant for its association with the early development of automobile tourism.
Whistle Stop Café
904 U.S. 287 Business
Decatur, TX 76234
Mon. – Fri. 6 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Decatur Town Square
Wise County Heritage Museum
1602 S Trinity St.
Decatur, TX 76234
Mon. – Sat. 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Please call ahead to ensure the Museum is open.