Reminiscing About the Early Round Top Antiques Shows
Photographs of the early Round Top Antiques Shows are hard to come by, so we asked people who have been around since the early days to share their stories. Our goal? To create a snapshot of the show.
The cast of characters includes:
Gloria Schwarz Hickey (GSH): was working at the Winedale Historical Center, founded by Miss Ima Hogg, at the time of the first Round Top Antiques Show. Hickey, a lifelong resident of Round Top whose parents owned the local grocery store, retired from the Winedale Historic Center after a 38-year career.
Charlotte Hillbolt (CH): was a piano teacher who, along with her husband Grover, lived in Houston during the week and came to their Round Top farm on the weekends. The couple had restored the historic farmhouse on the property, and it was home to antiques. Once Grover retired from IBM, they moved to Round Top full-time and founded Round Top Real Estate.
Mary Lou Marks (MLM): was a young mom and artist when she came to the first show from Houston with her partner in weekend antiquing, Connie Haney. At the time, Marks collected Christmas items, toys and folk art, unique, one-of-a kind things. Marks, who lives near Round Top, did the show off and on for years. Today she exhibits her art at Southern Beasts at Ex-Cess II in Warrenton during the spring and fall shows.
Judith McClellan (JMcC): was 22 years old when Emma Lee Turney invited her to show at the second Round Top Antiques Fair. She began collecting at age 14, eventually focusing on Texas furniture and pottery. At one time, she had pickers all over the Round Top area because her former in-laws had a farm in Carmine. Today, the Houstonite owns Judith Wholesale Antiques with her son, who is an exhibitor at Ex-Cess. He was in an infant carrier at his mother’s first show.
Woody Straub (WS): was a veteran of the U.S. Navy, which first brought him to Texas, and of the antiques business. His mother was an antiques collector, and his father was published Hobbies Magazine. The family’s circle of friends was either antiques people or writers. He began collecting as a child, and the Floridian has been an antiques dealer for the past 54 years. He began showing with Emma Lee Turney in 1971 and continues to sell at the Original Round Top Antiques Fair today.
Lonn Taylor (LT): was curator of the University of Texas at Austin’s Winedale Historical Center in 1970 when he attended his first Round Top Antiques Show. He served as director of Winedale, working closely with Miss Ima Hogg, until 1977. After directorships at several museums around the country, he was hired as a historian at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., where he worked for 20 years before retiring to Fort Davis.
RTR: How did you hear about the Round Top Antiques Show?
WS: I did a show in Houston and heard about Round Top. I called Emma Lee.
JMcC: Someone told Emma Lee about me.
CH: Grover and I drove past the Rifle Hall and noticed a lot of cars. When we got to the grocery store, we asked what was going on, and somebody told me about the show. I couldn’t wait to get over there. And once I got over there, I didn’t want to leave. I spent the whole weekend over there.
LT: Miss Hogg “invited” me to drive her to the show the night before it opened so she could shop while the dealers were setting up their booths. She’d buy what she wanted and send someone to pick it up the next day.
RTR: What do you remember from the early versions of the show?
MLM: It seemed small to me. Of course, I was the youngest person there by a long shot.
CH: Everything in the hall was of incredible quality— wall-to-wall wonderful things with hundreds of people thrown in.
JMcC: I was intimidated. I saw all this wonderful Texas furniture and pottery. I remember being in heaven surrounded by all of that fabulous stuff.
And, I remember Emma Lee standing in front of me shaking her finger and saying, “I’ve never had anyone as young as you show with me before.” It was her way of saying don’t screw this up.
GSH: Most of us from Round Top walked around the show wishing we had saved more things from our grandparents.
WS: I knew Miss Hogg, Mrs. Bybee and Mrs. Ledbetter. They were enthusiastic collectors—and competitors. They were true Texas ladies, tough and certainly not afraid to get mud on their boots.
RTR: What was your favorite thing about the Round Top Antiques Show?
MLM: The people and the atmosphere. No place like it.
JMcC: The people—and being surrounded by all that wonderful stuff.
GSH: I enjoyed seeing the really high-quality things that none of us had ever seen before such as the paintings. I also enjoyed meeting the vendors. They would ask the local Round Top people about the town and its history.
LT: The dealers. They were fascinating people. And they were good salesmen. They all knew that Miss Hogg and Mrs. Bybee were friendly competitors. It seemed as if every time Miss Hogg and I visited the show Mrs. Bybee had just been there. Every dealer would say, “Miss Bybee was just by here. She has her eye on that. She hasn’t bought it yet, but I think she will.”
WS: The notion that the show must go on. I remember times that the skies opened up, and the fields turned to mud. Local folks—and my then eight-year-old son—were on tractors pulling the big duallies and SUVs out of the mud. But that didn’t stop the collectors. They’d be dressed to the nines in their western finery wearing rubber boots and making their way through the slop to see what was inside and to reconnect with their friends.
RTR: What made Round Top the place to be?
MLM: You just never knew what you were going to find. And Emma Lee. She was famous long before she started the Round Top show.
JMcC: We [dealers] liked each other and helped one another.
GSH: Most of the people attending the shows loved the friendly people. At the time, most of the residents in Round Top were of German descent. I’m German on both sides of my family.
JMcC: Really and truly did not.
GSH: No idea. It is unbelievable. At first it was very exciting, but as the show grew some challenges came along with it.
CH: I never thought it would grow so big, but there is no doubt that it was successful from the first weekend. And success begets success—antiques shops started popping up all over out here once Emma Lee started the show.
WS: I knew there was growth potential because there were always more dealers and customers waiting to get in before there was room to accommodate them, but I never expected it to explode like it has.
RTR: How has the show changed?
JMcM: It’s nothing like it used to be. And no one had movers. That was unheard of.
GSH: Of course, the size of the show but also the antiques are very different. Back then, most the things were found in barns, sheds and old houses around Round Top. Now most of the antiques are not local.
MLM: It’s huge. It’s kind of crazy—always has been.
JMcC: She had class and integrity. She ruled with an iron first, but she had to.
JT: She was a very good businesswoman who had an eye for antiques. She had high standards for antiques and behavior—and she didn’t tolerate people who didn’t meet her standards.
WS: Emma Lee was tough as nails and determined to produce the best outcome for dealers and collectors. She had the energy and drive to succeed.
What is your most vivid memory of Emma Lee Turney?
MLM: About eight years ago, I did a “Women of Round Top” calendar, and all of the models were topless. Emma Lee refused to take off her top. Finally, we got her to my house, and she had on her hat with a shawl pulled up. She became “Miss Queen” and had a great time.
JMcC: Oh so many! I probably broke every one of her rules. She didn’t allow anyone to smoke. When she added the tent, I asked to move out there. I had a 60-foot space. One day I was sneaking a quick cigarette and had my mouth completely full of smoke. There she was. I haven’t smoked in 30 years.
And when she built the Big Red Barn, she asked me to come and pick my spot because I’d want to be in a covered area when I got old. I thought, “What do you mean, I’m going to get old?”
RTR: What role did Miss Turney play in the show’s success?
MLM: She made the show.
JMcC: She did something no one had ever done before—nor will ever again. She got good dealers with great merchandise and convinced them to come to Round Top.
GSH: She made it a success because she knew how to handle it all. She knew how to bring in antiques that people would want to see—and come back for.
The Birth of the DYD Show
“We [Charlotte and Robert Sterk] moved to Round Top in 1983, and my husband became mayor of Round Top in 1984.
Back then the “Do Your Duty” Club maintained the courthouse square in Round Top. They kept the lawn looking beautiful, maintained the flower beds and made sure the buildings were neat and tidy. The club’s membership was women, and in fact, an 80-year-old woman mowed the grass.
The club used funds from weekly Bingo to raise money for beautification efforts. Laws regarding Bingo changed, so the ladies needed a new way to raise funds. Sometime around 1987, I suggested a ‘Square Fair.’
My husband killed fire ants, and I marked off booth spaces for the vendors. We held ‘Square Fair’ the same weekend as the Round Top Antiques Show because we didn’t have the money to advertise and Emma Lee Turney successfully promoted her show. There were about three vendors that first year.
It wasn’t long after this that people started selling antiques off their front porches, churches set up their bake sales in Warrenton and the shows took off like wildfire.” – Charlotte Sterk, antiques show patron and community volunteer
Mary Emmerling’s Round Top
“I made my first trip to Round Top in 1980; it coincided with the publication of my first book, American Country: A Style and Source Book. It was love at first sight because there was something for everyone.
As an East Coast girl, I loved meeting Texans, learning about Texas and making friends. Plus, the dealers in Round Top were the real deal—they knew their stuff. They offered antiques they collected or inherited. I had dealers who I’d make a beeline to as soon as I arrived.
Speaking of arriving, I always looked forward to seeing the flowers in the gazebo at the Rifle Hall. It meant, ‘I’m here!’ That in turn meant I would find something fabulous and have a good time to match. Plus, I’d get to enjoy the barbecue and desserts prepared by local folks.
And memories were there for the making. One day I bought a set of steer horns and left them with the dealer as I shopped. As the day wore on, I forgot about them. A few years later I was walking through a show, and a man yelled, ‘Hey, are you ever going to pick your steer horns?’
From that I learned a valuable lesson: Not only take a list of what you want to buy but make a list of what you actually bought. When you get hungry for kettle corn, you’ll forget to pick things up.’” —Mary Emmerling, author and tastemaker
A Historian Writes the Book on Antiques
“When I discovered Round Top, I knew absolutely nothing about antiques. I was working for the Texas State Historical Association as a researcher and editor of The Texas Southwestern Quarterly and contributing to the supplement of the original three-volume Handbook of Texas.
As an employee of The University of Texas, I was allowed to take one course per semester for free. My wife at the time and I took advantage of that benefit and enrolled in Wayne Bell’s class on historic preservation, which included a field trip to Winedale.
A year later, I got a call from the director. Center personnel were starting an inventory of the collection and needed someone to work on it until it was completed in a year.
Before I took the job, I had to be interviewed by Miss Hogg. I went to her home and she said, ‘Young man, part of this job is writing a book about Texas furniture.’
I replied, ‘That’s wonderful Miss Hogg, but I don’t know a thing about Texas furniture.’
She said, ‘Oh that’s fine, we’ve hired David Warren at Bayou Bend [her restored historic Houston plantation]. He’s a graduate of the Winterthur Program [at the University of Delaware] and knows all about antique furniture.’
Later, as David and I began working on the first volume of Texas Furniture: The Cabinetmakers and Their Work 1840 – 1880, he told me about his interview with Miss Hogg. Shehad told him about the book project,too. He explained that, while he had had a class on antique furniture up to 1840, he knew nothing about Texas furniture.
She replied, ‘Oh that’s okay, we’ve hired Lonn Taylor who has been working as a historian at Texas State Historic Association, and he knows all about it.’
The fact is David and I both learned about it together—from Miss Hogg.
—Lonn Taylor, author, historian and former Director of the Winedale Historical Center
Might as Well Go Shopping
“When Emma Lee began to use tents, people would pull their vehicles right up to the tent wall. These were generally rolled up, so you could see the booths lined up side by side.
One day a woman came zooming in her big SUV. She accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake and just ran through the booth right next to mine. Fortunately, the rear of the SUV caught one of the metal stays that anchored the tent and lifted the SUV’s rear up. I walked over and reached through the window and turned off the key.
The dealer was away from his booth, so he didn’t get hurt, but the commotion made him come running.
He said, ‘You destroyed my whole booth.’
She replied, ‘Honey, don’t worry about it. I’ve got good insurance.’
The deputy came by to report the tow truck was on the way, and the woman said, ‘I can’t do anything here, I might as well go shopping.’” —Woody Straub, antiques dealer
_________________________________________________________________Interviews by Cammy Jones, Katie Dickie Stavinoha and Lorie A. Woodward