Houston is a vibrant, bustling city with an energy all its own. But sometimes that energy can be a bit draining and you just need to take a break from it all. Evidently, people have been feeling that way for quite some time. Back in the 1920s, Will Hogg, a wealthy philanthropist and one of Houston’s most civic-minded citizens, founded Memorial Park, one of the largest urban parks in the United States, and, along with his brother Mike, created River Oaks, a stunningly beautiful suburb of Houston, to give Houstonians places where they could go to escape from the noise and congestion of the city. One 14 acre lot was set aside for the brothers, and their sister, Ima Hogg, one of the most respected women in Texas. (Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Hogg actually named their daughter Ima! Her whimsical name was recognized all over and even made it into the NY Times crossword puzzle.) Here they built a magnificent estate which she named Bayou Bend.
Now a part of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens was really Ima’s baby, so to speak. Miss Hogg had a passion for curating early American art and antiques, and her collection was regarded as one of the best in the world. Today, visitors from all over the world come to view the home’s 65,000 works of art and enjoy the the world-renowned gardens.
Begin your visit at the Lora Jean Kilroy Visitor and Education Center, where you can watch some introductory videos, check out the orientation gallery, and browse the charming boutique gift shop. Then, take the short and pleasant walk through a bird sanctuary and over a suspension bridge to the house. Once inside, you’ll get to tour (guided or on your own) 28 fully staged rooms to see some of the finest decorative and fine art objects from the Colonial period up through the Victorian era. The fancy furniture and decorative pieces are beautiful, but I found the everyday items, that ordinary Americans made and used hundreds of years ago, especially fascinating!
Make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to explore the spectacular grounds. Miss Hogg created the gardens not just to admire, but as outdoor living spaces for entertaining or unwinding. And communing with the wide variety of trees and plants, and relaxing by one of the soothing fountains are perfect ways to take a break from it all. I can’t wait to go back in the spring when the tulips, azaleas, magnolias, and the rest of the flowers will be blooming, people will be picnicking and wedding parties will be posing for photos.
Visiting Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens is like taking a step back in time to a more genteel era of southern charm and elegance. It truly is an American treasure, and a must-see destination for anyone visiting or living in the Houston area.
For more information on Bayou Bend, visit TourTexas.com