Unless you live somewhere in upper east Texas, chances are you probably don’t recognize the name Carthage, but there’s also a good chance you’ve heard it somewhere.
A small town of approximately 7,000 people nestled in the piney woods of East Texas near the Louisiana state line, Carthage, Texas, is only 10 square miles of buildings, many built around the turn of the century. It’s a sleepy little place that you can drive through without paying it much notice. But for its size, it has produced more famous people per capita than almost any other town in America, based on the number of well-known people who have come from there.
Home of Country Music Legends and Other Notables
If you drive through Carthage too fast, you might miss the bright blue sign welcoming you to the “Home of Texas Country Music Hall of Fame,” and you’ll never see the nondescript building that houses this little-known establishment. You’ll also miss the Tex Ritter museum and the Jim Reeves Memorial, a small sign on the outskirts of town to the east on U.S. Highway 79. Reeves and Ritter, stars of traditional country music, were both from small unincorporated communities near Carthage, but the town claims them. Perfect Stranger, a country band from the 1990s, also came from Carthage.
Carthage is also home to Mildred Fay Jefferson, the first African American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. Green Bay Packers player Michael Montgomery also came from Carthage.
The town doesn’t like to brag about all of its famous citizens. Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede, a killer who was subject of the 2011 film “Bernie,” is a native that the town would probably like to forget, as is Drew Nixon, a Republican member of the Texas Senate whose political career was cut short in 2001 by a sex scandal. Tiede, a 38-year-old former mortician, killed an 81-year-old widow, Marjorie Nugent, and put her body in a freezer in her home in 1996. He then altered her will, disinheriting her son, and took over her $10 million estate. Her body, wrapped in a white sheet, was found nine months later by police and the victim’s son.
Carthage is the county seat of Panola County, and like most county seats in East Texas, is located near the center of the county at the intersections of U.S. Highways 59 and 79, 42 miles west of Shreveport, Louisiana.
Things to Do
Carthage is a great stop for people who like outdoor activities. Nearby Lake Murvaul is great for fishing and boating, and the pine forests surrounding the town are a haven for bird hunters and bird watchers alike.
Eating is an East Texas pastime, and Carthage has its quota of typical eateries, including a traditional truck stop cafe, Graves Truck Stop, located on Route 59, with a menu right out of “Mel’s Place.” There’s also a Mexican restaurant, Benitez Mexican Restaurant, in town on West Panola Street, offering authentic Mexican cuisine along with the expected Tex-Mex fare.
The Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and Tex Ritter Museum honors Texans who have made outstanding contributions to country music, including singers, composers, and disc jockeys. In the center of the museum’s exhibit area is a replica of a theater marquee from the 1930s that showcases the role of country music in film. Among the notable performers featured are Tex Ritter, Jim Reeves, and Linda Davis, who are natives of the area, as well as the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Gene Autry, Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller, George Jones, and Jimmy Dean.
For a view of the justice system of the past, a visit to the old Panola County Jail Museum on North Shelby Street is a must.
Where to Stay
You might not expect much in the way of lodging in a town so small, but Carthage has a number of places that provide comfort with a Southern touch, including Holiday Inn Express & Suites and a Best Western. My personal preference, because of the ease of checking out when you’re ready to leave, is the Holiday Inn.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites
2295 S.E. Loop
Carthage, TX 75633