FORT WORTH, TX. April 19, 2013 — For all that makes up Texas, there is much more to the Lone Star State than cowboys, horses, and the Alamo. In the midst of our state sits the town of West, little known by the outside world until the horrific explosion on April 17th.
West, Texas lies 75 miles south of Dallas and is a treasure to those of us who regularly traverse the I-35 corridor. Whether heading south from the Oklahoma state line or north from the Mexican border at Laredo, anyone who knows anything in this part of the state has to stop in West.
The first settlers were farm and ranch families that came to the area from the east in the 1840’s. 1881 saw the railroad arrive. Farmer Thomas West sold some of his land to the Katy Railroad who used part of it to build the new depot and lay tracks. The businesses built on the rest of the land helped create the town.
The train depot housed the post office and West was the first Post Master which is where the town got its name. West officially became a town on June 11, 1892. It was the center of commerce for the area. There were cotton gins, grocery stores, churches, schools, and doctors’ offices.
Anyone who ever traveled this stretch of interstate 35 has probably stopped in West for one reason (aside from gasoline)—kolaches. Yes. Kolaches in Texas and they are most certainly the real thing.
They came from the old country with the large Czech population that immigrated to Texas in the 19th century. Czechs are one of the largest immigrant groups to the Lone Star State along with Mexicans and Germans. Many of them settled in West in the 1880’s. By the 1920’s they were the dominant culture in the area.
As of 2011 the town’s population was 2,849. They work in locally owned businesses, many of which promote the Czech culture. There is a grain company, a small hospital and the West Fertilizer Company as well.
The family farms are alive and well in West too. Many of the descendants of the original settlers continue to farm the lands and run the businesses still today.
My first trip through West was in 1993 when I traveled with my sister on a weekend trip to Poteet, Texas, just south of San Antonio. It had been fourteen years since we left the Chicago area and its Eastern European food. I had not had a decent kolache since then.
On another trip we explored further into town and had lunch at one of the family-owned restaurants there. We are not Czech by heritage but the homemade ethnic food was comforting. It reminded us of our Sicilian grandma’s cooking—not the food itself—just the fact that it was homemade and filled with the love and pride that went into making it. Of course we had to stop at one of the bakeries in town too. The mouth-watering aroma of fresh baked yeast dough delighted our senses. Through a cut-out window in the wall to the baking section of the store we saw what seemed like an army of real Czech grandmas rolling out dough and other tasks necessary to make the kolaches. It was our grandma in Czech disguise!
Needless to say we bought a few dozen kolaches each to take home. Since then I’ve been in every one of the bakeries and many of the shops in West. All the people we met that day and since then were wonderful; the salt of the earth.
- Westfest is the annual festival celebrating the city’s large Czech population and their heritage.
- West has been named home the “Official Kolache of the Texas Legislature”
- Czech Heritage Capital of Texas
Notable people from West:
- Cliff Bartosh, former left-handed relief pitcher in Major League Baseball played for the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs.
- Scott Podsednik of the 2005 World Series Champion Chicago White Sox is also from West.
My prayers and thoughts are with the courageous people of West and all those who raced to the area to help and save lives. My sincerest condolences go to the families and loved ones of those who gave their lives to give others a chance to live. Zdravíčko. God Bless You.
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