By Holli Conley
Brisk winter days will soon give way to one of the most beautiful seasons in Tyler: Spring. Spring brings with it an excitement and a lot of events to enjoy. It’s the perfect time of year to get out and be a “tourist” in your own backyard.
An annual favorite is the Azalea & Spring Flower Trail taking place this year March 25th-April 10th. While Tyler is mostly known for its roses, in the spring, the rose takes a back seat to azaleas. The Azalea & Spring Flower Trail features mile after mile of blooming azaleas, dogwoods, and spring flowers. This event has been described as a floral wonderland and a photographer’s paradise.
If you live in Tyler, it’s hard not to miss these springtime blooms as you travel around town, but many don’t know how Tyler became known as “a natural beauty.” It didn’t just happen overnight.
While oil booms gave Tyler an economic head start in the 1930’s, azalea and rose blooms gave the city its beauty. Azaleas were introduced to Tyler in 1929 by Maurice Shamburger, one of the city’s early nurserymen. Pleased with results of a test garden of azaleas, Shamburger shipped the colorful plants to Tyler by the boxcar loads from Georgia.
After completing his garden in 1929, Shamburger discussed the beautification potential of azaleas with Mrs. Sara Butler of the “Tyler Courier Times Telegraph.” Mrs. Butler not only encouraged Shamburger to promote azalea plantings in the city, but she personally supported the effort by planting a number of bushes around her own home on Charnwood Street.
That home site, along with several other gardens on Lindsey Lane, soon became springtime showplaces with their colorful azalea blooms, and Tylerites began buying the plants by the thousands. Some of the thick, towering azaleas at older homes on the Trail date back to the ‘30’s and ‘40’s.
By 1960, the blooming azaleas were attracting much attention, and that year the Chamber of Commerce established a marked route. The first Azalea Trail featured about 60 homes on a five-mile route.
The Trail was an instant success, and within two years it had expanded to include 75 homes and was attracting 15,000 visitors. By 1964, 25,000 people a year were coming to see the azaleas. In 1986, the Trail was expanded to two trails.
With the success of the Azalea Trail escalating and with more tourists coming to town, the Chamber of Commerce decided guests needed to be welcomed in true southern style. In 1964, the first Azalea Belles, wearing full antebellum dresses, were introduced to the Azalea & Spring Flower Trail. The first group of Azalea Belles were made up of two chamber secretaries. These ladies made their own costumes by hand and distributed brochures to guests along the Trail.
Today, the Azalea & Spring Flower Trail consists of two trails winding through ten miles of historic homes and gardens that are bursting with the colors of spring. Last year, more than 100,000 people visited the event.
Over the years, the Azalea Belles have become a much beloved and anticipated part of the event and are always happy to visit with guests, as well as pose for photos along the Trail. Guests are taken aback by the local hospitality and the extra flare these ladies add to the overall experience.
The Azalea Belles are local Smith County freshman and sophomore girls who are interested in being ambassadors of the Trail.
During this time of year Tyler hosts city-wide events, including historic home tours, live entertainment, arts and crafts fairs, a flower market, and more.
“Visit Tyler” (Tyler’s Convention and Visitors Bureau) will once again be hosting the ever so popular Bunny Hunt and Azalea Photo Contest. Visitors and locals alike are encouraged to try their hand while enjoying the walk along the Trail. Prizes will be awarded to the winners.
Grab your camera, your family, and get ready Tyler, for the most spectacular flower event in East Texas – happening just outside your window. Watch the city you live in literally “come alive” this spring! Mark your calendars now and plan to attend the fun events happening all over town.
For more details about the Trail, an updated progress of the blooms, a list of the Azalea Belles, and more go to VisitTyler.com/AzaleaTrail.