Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

February 12, 2013

BUSINESS: The 'Love Apple:' Love's Lookout helps sell East Texas to visitors and tourists

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE —

So how long has it been since you picnicked at Love's Lookout? With a 30-mile view, East Texas' favorite high place definitely qualifies as a "must see."

"Visitors can scan a horizon that stretches into several counties," writer Bob Bowman explained in an outline about the popular stop. "Some are convinced that, on a clear day, they can see Louisiana."

This particular East Texas treasure really helps sell the area to tourists and visitors, officials said. It is even on the list of East Texas Film Commission support services.

In outgoing comments delivered late last year, Nathan Jones, the 2012 Chamber of Commerce Chairman of the Board of Directors described Love's Lookout Visitor Center as a Jacksonville treasure visited by thousands each month.

"Twenty four welcome and provide local information promoting our community daily," he said. "This is the crown jewel of the chamber with the selfless dedication of the Love’s Lookout volunteers sharing with visitors the rich heritage of our area."

In the words of former State Rep. Chuck Hopson a few years back, “A lady stopped by my drug store and said, ‘this is the nicest stop we’ve ever been to in the state of Texas.'"

According to Bowman — whose article is published on the jacksonvilletexas.com website —  this recreation area was pretty much always popular. Its initial appeal was to the residents of Larissa, about three miles to the west. After automobiles were invented, many out-of-towners flocked there.

The appeal of Love's Lookout was so vast it attracted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration during the Depression era of the 1930s, Bowman wrote.

Using red rock mined from Cherokee County, the administration built a park, picnic grounds and an amphitheater for plays, sunrise services, and various other events. The improvements also included a swimming pool and a dance pavilion. Both were extremely popular.

But a 1980s earthquake — yes, an earthquake, one of the very small amount to ever occur in East Texas — damaged the amphitheater, making it unsafe for public use. So the Texas Forest Service also built on the hill a forest fire lookout tower that functioned into the 1980s. ((Eventually, fire-spotting airplanes made the tower outdated.))

"The metal structure still stands on the hill, mostly as a historical relic, but park visitors are not permitted to climb its stairs," Bowman wrote.

During its heyday, it wasn't uncommon for families from as far away as Dallas and Houston to drive to Love's Lookout for a weekend picnic.

Nowadays, volunteers turn in numbers to help care for the spot. This historical site has always been and remains incredibly popular -- as well as a boon for area business, officials said.

It begs the question: Instead of spending your money on a venue, why not can use your funds for items that will supplement a visit to the free and open to the public area?

Love's Lookout is certainly famous for events such as Easter Services. And it is easily identifiable because of the nearby lookout tower.

A popular comment by Jacksonville Chamber President Peggy Renfro: “Jacksonville has Love's Lookout. Jacksonville is known for tomatoes and the tomato is what? The love apple.”