Washington Avenue is an umbilical cord that gives life to Navasota, Texas. When the U. S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service declared Navasota’s Commercial District historic in its 1982 survey, it also uniquely declared Washington Avenue historic in that it was unpaved until the 1930s and extended east to west through the center of Navasota. The main street of Washington Avenue was a section of the early highway connecting the historic settlements of Washington-on-the-Brazos and Anderson.
So why is Navasota’s Washington Avenue historic? Over a century after LaSalle was murdered by his own Frenchmen somewhere in the vicinity of where the Navasota River empties into the Brazos River, just above the now Washington-on-the-Brazos, men by the name of Daniel Arnold and Daniel Tyler were granted land by Stephen F. Austin within his first “300 hundred” Texas settlers in what would become part of Grimes County.
In the 1840s, James Nolan wandered in along this well-traveled trail with his family and his pet bear and set up camp.
It was Nolan who donated land for the railroad in the early 1850s after the Washington-on-the-Brazos folks turned down the rails thinking steamboats on the Brazos were its economy builder. Navasota was named for the river that essentially creates the northern boundary of the new mid-1850s burgeoning railway town.
Through the gut of Navasota, Washington Avenue followed the trail that was related to the La Bahia, sometimes also referred to as the Opelousas Road. It had been, for at least two centuries, and continued as the travelers’ road from west to east and east to west essentially becoming at least the section between Washington-on-the-Brazos on the west and what would become Anderson on the east and beyond in both directions. Obviously, the trail through Navasota was named Washington Avenue, because it led to and from Washington-on-the-Brazos where the Republic of Texas was created.
Along each side of Washington Avenue, stores were built near the railroad. The grand homes of the founders and builders of Navasota extended eastward. Many of these homes along Washington Avenue bear historical markers including Templeman, Horlock, Terrell, Brooks, Foster, as well as the Sanger house that was claimed to be built from the winnings of a lottery. These homes as well as others all still stand heralding the century plus of their lifetime.
Extending miles eastward, even before the railroad, was Malcolm Camp’s Inn where Sam Houston frequently stayed. That is now the location of Beard’s Veterinarian Clinic where the front of the building is built of the rock from Camp Inn. Next is Holland Creek, where Francis Holland located in the mid-1830s, and later the mills of the German Christian Becker. Then there’s the town of Anderson that earlier was known as Alta Mira with Henry Fanthorp’s Inn that dates to pre-Navasota days of the 1830s.
Along the trail that became Washington Avenue is where Republic of Texas’s last vice president Kenneth Anderson traveled by horseback toward home in 1845 to fall ill and stop at Fanthorp Inn. He died there July 3, 1845. He was buried in the small cemetery across the road from Fanthorp Inn. The settlement of Alta Mira took his name for the town of Anderson.
All that, and more, is why Washington Avenue is historic.