Established in 1874, Luling was the far western stop of a branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad and developed as a cattle-raising and shipping center. When cattle drives north waned, Luling turned to cotton farming. But in 1922, the town’s fortunes changed when an eccentric wildcatter, Edgar B. Davis, brought in the first oil well, opening a field 12 miles long and two miles wide. Luling’s population quickly jumped from 500 to 5,000 as roughnecks and their families made their homes in a tent city constructed along the railroad tracks. By 1924, the field was producing 11 million barrels of oil a year.
That history is commemorated at the Central Texas Oil Patch Museum, the gem of downtown Luling. Exhibits trace the development of the oil industry and its social and economic impact on Central Texas. Displays include a working model of a modern oil rig, pump jacks, and decades’ worth of tools. The museum is located in the Walker Brothers Building, a restored, 1885 mercantile store that’s also home to the Luling Area Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center. Stop by for a map of the whimsical Pump Jack Tour, and for information about Luling’s signature festival, the annual June Watermelon Thump, a celebration of the luscious fruit that draws some 50,000 visitors.
If eco-tourism is your passion, grab your kayak or canoe and head to the Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail, the first designated inland paddling trail in Texas. Put in at River Trail Park, west of town, and enjoy a leisurely, six-mile encounter with nature and wildlife. Take out at the historic, Zedler Mill Museum and Park. Established in 1874, the Zedler family operated the mill until the 1960s. Now it’s being preserved as a nine-acre historical site. Use your cell-phone to take a tour then enjoy a picnic —remembering to pack watermelon for dessert.