Small Town, Big Heart

In case you missed it, small towns are back — especially those with a unique history and a level of Southern hospitality that will make you seriously rethink every eye roll and honking horn as you commute through rush hour back in the city.

Thirty miles east of Dallas lies Kaufman, Texas: a town of 8,727 residents anxious for growth but committed to keeping its charm. Zero traffic, easy proximity to necessities, and business owners who remember your name and want to hear your story are just a few of the features that make a visit to Kaufman feel like coming home.

If you happen to run into longtime Kaufman resident and friend of the square Glee Pugh, you’ll feel it even more so. Pugh is delighted to share her knowledge of the town, including the history of nearly every craftsman style-mansion on Houston Street. Pugh also organizes a bimonthly Fresh Market on the corner of Grove Street, giving local farmers and artisans the opportunity to sell their goods.

Formed in 1848, Kaufman County was named after David S. Kaufman, a Texas patriot who was elected as one of the first members of the Texas Delegation to the United State House of Representatives. 

The town square has remained the center of activity in Kaufman, and in 2016, began taking steps to become more lively. When the pandemic hit, much of the effort was paused.

Nevertheless, Kaufman County was ranked #1 fastest growing county in the U.S. from 2020-2021, and residents are determined to make the area a prominent destination for day trippers and overnight guests alike.

“…The future of Kaufman is bright and full of potential from our historic downtown square to business growth to new residents that embrace our family-centered vision and values. Kaufman is filled with friendly, community-minded people that genuinely care about one another,” says Stewart McGregor, Executive Director of the Kaufman Economic Development Corporation.

Though there may be a number of vacant buildings on the square today, these spaces are quickly being scooped up by entrepreneurs — Jesse’s Fajitas & Rita’s is expected to open at 101 W. Mulberry St. later this year. Whispers of a tanning salon and a second AirBnB (Loft On The Square by The ADK House is currently the sole, albeit stunning, option), are floating through the town, though neither are currently under contract.

A second-story space that formerly housed the hotel where Bonnie and Clyde stayed before robbing a local hardware store is among the available real estate.

McGregor noted that the town would love a brewery or tasting room to be added to the mix to contribute to a larger nightlife scene. While Five Points Distilling in Forney isn’t far, “an increase in nightlife on the square would do wonders for tourism.”

Despite not serving alcohol, downtown restaurants Latham’s Bakery and Especially For You Tea Room — located in the aforementioned bank — are thriving.

Currently, Kaufman’s tourism is largely dependent on visitors stopping through on their way to or from First Monday Trade Days, the world’s largest flea market, in Canton, TX, or attending a wedding at local venue, The Emerson.

It likely won’t be that way for long. Developers have 2,000 housing units planned within the city limits of Kaufman, and as more Texans choose to escape the hustle and bustle (and the traffic) of Dallas, Houston, and Austin, smaller towns reap the benefits of growth.

Still, Kaufman’s charm remains. Local artist Greg Doster depicts the town’s growth through his painting entitled “Moving Forward Together,” currently displayed at the Kaufman Civic Center, showing a Walmart on the outskirts of town, opposite buffalo and wild horses. Doster’s piece also includes the town’s second courthouse built in 1887, in lieu of the present, more modern structure installed in 1955.

Just 15 minutes down back country roads is another place that pieces of Doster’s work call home: Peachy Peel Orchard.

The orchard has expansion plans of its own, including an event venue, cottage-style AirBnBs, and even a zipline over the orchard. Currently, the orchard offers ‘Dinner in the Orchard’ events in addition to a farmer’s market during peach season, which runs May 15-August 15.

If you find yourself needing a quiet staycation, head East of Dallas and stop when you’ve hit Kaufman. You won’t regret it. 

Lauren Baughman, Freelance Writer & Travel Blogger “The To Go List”

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