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Texarkana visitors can take a stand in 2 states

By JACK SCHNEDLER SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published June 26, 2014 at 2:02 a.m.

Visitors to Texarkana can stand in Arkansas and Texas outside the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse on the state line.

TEXARKANA -- If your bucket list of things to do someday includes standing simultaneously in two states, Texarkana is just the place to do it. You can have your picture snapped here straddling the border in front of the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse that serves Arkansas and Texas.

The 30,000 Texarkana residents on the Arkansas side of this unusual two-state conurbation have extra reason to smile for the camera. They are exempt from the state income tax paid by most other Arkansans.

That's a concession made some years ago in the name of equity, given that Texans (including the 37,000 of them in Texarkana) pay no such tax. For taxpayers, the break resonates neatly with the chamber of commerce slogan: "Texarkana -- Twice as Nice."

Thanks to its unique two-state setting, the federal building along State Line Avenue is touted as America's second most photographed courthouse, after the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington. Completed in 1933, the Texarkana edifice has walls of Arkansas limestone and a base of Texas pink granite.

A memorial to President John F. Kennedy outside the entrance takes note of the 35th president's peripheral connection to Texarkana. He visited the city during his successful 1960 campaign and spoke at the Four States Fair and Rodeo.

Referring to running mate Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy ended the speech by promising, "If we are elected, this country will begin to move again, this country will move forward, this country will stand strong, this country's brightest days will be ahead."

After Kennedy's assassination in November 1963, Johnson came to Texarkana as president in September 1964 and dedicated the monument. Its inscription points out that the text of the speech Kennedy would have delivered in Austin the evening of his murder mentioned his Texarkana visit.

Railroad expansion led to the founding of the Texas city in 1873 and its Arkansas sibling seven years later. The past is creatively presented at the Museum of Regional History, where a lobby exhibit focuses on ragtime legend Scott Joplin, who grew up here in the 1870s. Joplin's later fame is gorgeously evoked by a large outdoor mural in the 300 block of Main Street.

The Museum of Regional History is part of the Texarkana Museums System, which also operates the nearby Discovery Place Children's Museum and the distinctive "Ace of Clubs" Draughon-Moore House on Pine Street.

Built in the shape of a playing-card club, with three octagonal wings and one rectangular wing, the Ace of Clubs was erected in 1885 with money won in a big-stakes poker game. The home stayed in the same family for a century before becoming a museum. Furnished in period style, it is open for guided tours.

Downtown and other areas of the two Texarkanas are dotted with a distressingly large number of derelict buildings. But architectural gems do remain, including Historic Perot Theatre.

Built in 1924 in Italian Renaissance style and originally known as the Saenger Theatre, it was fully restored in the 1980s, in part with a donation from Texarkana native and former presidential candidate Ross Perot. Named for his parents, the theater will host a performance by the 531st Air Force Band at 7 p.m. Friday.

The best-known Texarkana restaurant, Cattleman's Steak House, sits on the Arkansas side of State Line Road. Large-letter signs on the facade tout "Seafoods" as well as "Steaks," which may call up a vision of cowhands rounding up catfish and tilapia while riding (or rowing) the range.

Entrees come with soup (beef vegetable hearty enough for a main course on a recent evening) as well as jalapeno cornbread, salad, potato and vegetables. The flavorful prime rib is a best bet -- and a terrific value as a Tuesday special. Anyone with room left for dessert is eligible for the trencherman's all-star team.

For more information, call Texarkana USA Chamber of Commerce, (903) 792-7191, or visit texarkana.org.

Weekend on 06/26/2014

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