Each Spring and Fall, in April and October, hundreds of thousands from around the globe, both buyers and sellers, make the trip to tiny little Round Top, Texas, population 77, which sits halfway between Houston and Austin on Highway 290. A woman with a vision, Emma Lee Turney started her Round Top Antique Fair in October, 1968. While a visionary, I doubt that even Miss Emma Lee imagined what her dream would become. Twenty two dealers set up that October, in the old wooden building, The Schutzen Verein, or the Rifle Hall as it is known today. After a few years, a tent was added behind the Rifle Hall, and then another tent. Still the buyers kept coming, and another site was added to accommodate more dealers, the Antiques Annex, which also housed the Folk Art Fair, offering superbly handcrafted art and collectibles. In the early 1990's, the Carmine Dance Hall, another wonderful old wooden building, became the next of the venues for the show, and finally, the 30,000 square foot Big Red Barn was built to house even more dealers who were clamoring to set up at the Original Round Top Antique Fair.
Susan and Bo Franks bought the show several years ago from Miss Emma Lee, who retains the Folk Art Fair, and the Franks have added two tents to the Red Barn property. Two years ago, the Franks made the difficult decision to give up the Rifle Hall to longtime dealer and show promoter Ralph Willard, one of the original twenty two dealers who started with Emma Lee back in 1968.
Over the years, other shows opened, with the Shelby Antique Show the first to follow Turney's lead. It's held in Harmonie Hall, the wood dance hall that was established in 1875, its well worn floors and soaring ceilings giving it an old time Texas ambiance. Down the road in Warrenton, another little Texas town, more shows opened, with some of the earliest being Zapp Hall and Renck Hall, both historic wooden Texas buildings. Now the Warrenton "fields" as they are often called, are filled with small old buildings, tents and thousands of dealers selling their wares. The Marburger Farm show has grown from a single, half filled tent some thirteen years ago to an incredible affair on forty three acres, with six football field sized tents, along with several smaller tents and about ten antique buildings that have been moved to the property in the years since opening. Today, the shows number over 60, and cover Fayette County and beyond.
The original weekend has now stretched to two weekends, with the first being called Preview Week. A free, full color magazine, The Show Daily, which runs to 130 pages, provides a map, show information and advertising for the shows, along with a website, giving details on each show, human interest stories, and articles on the shows and dealers. A new book, "The Round Top Experience", appears this Spring, joining the hardcover "Denims and Diamonds" the story of Emma Lee Turney's Round Top Antiques Fair, which was published in 1998.
After careful vetting, a telephone interview, several references, and many pictures, I was put on the waiting list for Miss Emma Lee's show. I will always be grateful for the opportunity that she gave me, first in the tent behind the Rifle Hall, and now for many years in The Big Red Barn.
Offering everything from museum quality to flea market finds, Round Top is always voted among the Top Ten antique shows in the country, by the dealers, the buying public as well as antique and style magazines. It's a must do, at least once. But of course, after one trip to this antique extravaganza, you will be hooked, and come back time after time. Be sure to stop by The Big Red Barn, and visit with me, I'll be set up in my usual spot on the back aisle. I'll look forward to saying Howdy, in true Texas tradition.