Destination: American Treasure in Canton, Texas
Every month, this town explodes in size when it hosts the world’s largest flea market. It’s the place to be, whether you’re hunting for rare antiques, a friendly chat or a slice of sugary chess pie
BY STIRLING KELSO | PHOTOGRAPHY BY JODY HORTON
|Doorknob Bob with license plates; one of Wild Bill’s antler chandeliers; the author inspects a scrapbook with John the Saddleman.
For 317 days a year, the tiny East Texas town of Canton (pop. 5,147) is a sleepy country crossroads, anchored by a stately limestone courthouse and historic square.
The streets are lined with mom-and-pop stores, homey B&Bs and cafés that still close on Sundays. But four days a month, Canton is invaded: Traffic jams threaten the single four-way stop, and the population swells to more than 400,000. All of these rummage-sale pilgrims come for a crack at the best bargains the 150-year-old flea market has to offer.
First Monday Trade Days Flea Market, once a modest row of merchants set up outside the courthouse on the first Monday of every month, is now the world’s largest flea market (in continuous operation). Despite its name, the fair moved to weekends to attract more visitors, and today has more than 5,000 stalls on 500 acres of ranchland. Most buyers and sellers drive in from around Texas and neighboring states, but some come from as far as California and the East Coast—and you might run into a few Europeans.
Trying to catalog the wares is impossible. As one vendor put it, “if you can’t find it in Canton, it ain’t been made yet.” Shoppers come for the antiques, housewares, furniture and artisanal goods—but also for the experience. To visit Canton is to enter an old-world Americana marketplace that thrives on friendly conversations, word-of-mouth advertising and secret family recipes. Computers are rare, cash is preferred and the thrill of the hunt—for that perfect Depression-era kitchen table,
Art Deco doorknob or early 1900s gold bracelet—is addictive.
FINDING YOUR WAY
A few unspoken rules will help you navigate the layout. New or infrequent vendors are in the unreserved rows of garage-sale booths. More established antiques merchants typically have bigger lots along pedestrian paths. Contemporary items—clothes, jewelry, artworks—are often in one of the 11 pavilions or breezy atriums. Though the First Mondays office, a log cabin on the south side of the grounds, does have spiffy laminated maps, visitors are probably better off using landmarks (the entry gate, the water tower) or asking for directions. Here’s a loose guide to some of our favorite old-time, out-of-the-ordinary and just plain interesting stalls, stands and vendors.
Travelers eager for a taste of cowboy culture should start their day at B Saddlery (972-551-0113), where John “the Saddleman” exhibits his hand-tooled chaps, canteens and custom saddles, “guaranteed to fit your horse & you” (as his business card notes). Over the past 22 years, he has built some 1,000 Western saddles for ranchers, rodeo champs and Texas celebrities like George Strait. Hunting enthusiasts flock to Harry White, “the Cowboy” (817-676-1692), a 6-foot-4-inch man sporting a handsome mustache, beard and cowboy hat. He has more than 1,000 hunting rifles and antique knives, mostly locked in glass cases.
Two jewelry vendors stand out for their well-curated collections. Saikou of SK USA Import Export Inc. (917-312-1860) sells beads from all over, including rustic necklaces made from colorful sea glass carefully selected in Nigeria. For estate jewelry, visit Donna Bookout of Bookout Antiques (903-753-0613), who’s only missed two trade days in 40 years. Ask to see her 1810 Georgian ring with an oval ruby, or a swath of mine-cut diamonds set in white gold.
Joyce Nicoletti of Ole Yeller Barn Antiques (417-434-1194) carries a vast selection of “hard times glass” from the Depression era. Shabby chic decor continues at the Gypsy Pearl (817-319-6290), where Fort Worth native Pam Burnett has French country furnishings and rare pieces of antique lace.
If metal works are more your speed, David Lowry at String Bean’s Blacksmith Shop (903-498-7245) sells striking iron candleholders, pot racks, headboards and tables, forging some on site. Next door, Phil and Tina Rice (903-527-9166) make furnishings out of discarded metals, such as barstools built from tractor parts. For antler chandeliers and cowhide rugs, visit Wild Bill (318-355-2503), who also sells wooden swans he makes out of driftwood from Louisiana’s Ouachita River.
HEAD INTO TOWN
The Atrium, or food hall, on the market grounds sells delicious roasted corn, sausage dogs, turkey legs and funnel cakes. But a walk into Canton proper makes for a pleasant escape from the crowds. The first place to open every day is Donut Corner (365 E. Dallas St.; 903-567-2045), where the counter is laden with donuts fresh from the oven. For cappuccinos, head over to Come Together Trading Co. (116 E. Dallas St.; 903-567-1133) on the main square. It also sells toys, clothes and souvenirs through Ten Thousand Villages, a Fair Trade retailer. If you can excuse the frilly interiors, the Tea Room on the Square (131 S. Buffalo St.; 903-567-6221) is worth a visit for sweet almond tea and a slice of chess pie—a traditional Deep South dessert.
Happy hour fans were thrilled when the Texas Roads Winery opened last summer (134 W. Dallas St.; 903-567-6801), pouring only Lone Star State wines. The Winery’s own Sweet Freedom is a refreshing white for a hot afternoon. Two doors down is Canton’s newest restaurant, the Soda Jerk (100 W. Dallas St.; 903-567-6800), a 1950s-style jukebox diner serving thick chocolate malts made with Texas Blue Bell ice cream. For 40 years, Ochoa’s (305 E. Dallas St.; 903-567-3373) has been known for its salsa, grilled skirt steak and tamales. And the best barbecue is only a short drive from town: Backwoods Bar-B-Que (630 W. Hwy. 243; 903-567-6253), for smoky brisket and spicy pork sausage.
BEYOND THE FAIR
Across Highway 19, the animal market affectionately known as Dog Town is like one big petting zoo: puppies, kittens, ranch horses and even flying squirrels are for sale along straw-covered paths. Pet fashions range from glitzy collars to warm woolen coats. Nearby is the Mountain, a gated shopping area set up like an old Western town, with stores housed in wooden cabins. Before you ride off into the sunset, stop here to rest your shopping bags, settle in on a breezy porch with
an iced tea and tap your feet to some bluegrass.
FIRST MONDAY TRADE DAYS FLEA MARKET
401 N. Hwy. 19
2011 FAIR DATES
Apr. 28–May 1
June 30–July 3
Sept. 29–Oct. 2
Dec. 29–Jan. 1, 2012
OTHER TOP FLEA MARKETS
BRIMFIELD ANTIQUE SHOW
Since 1959, the world’s largest outdoor
antique show. Brimfield, MA; May 10–15,
July 12–17, Sept. 6–11, 2011;
Collectibles, clothing, crafts and food.
Fort Greene, Brooklyn, NY; Saturday–Sunday
year-round (indoors mid-November through
GEORGETOWN FLEA MARKET
D.C.’s longest-running outdoor market,
with 100-plus vendors. Washington, DC;
Sunday year-round; georgetownfleamarket.com
You’ll find everything from antiques and
quilts to handmade soaps. Middletown, PA;
Saturday year-round; saturdaysmarket.com
DAYTONA FLEA & FARMERS MARKET
Florida’s largest flea market. Daytona Beach,
FL; Friday–Sunday year-round;
SHIPSHEWANA AUCTION & FLEA MARKET
An 89-year-old market in Amish country.
Shipshewana, IN; Tuesday–Wednesday, May–Oct.;
MAXWELL STREET MARKET
Come for the estate sales, stay for the live
music. Chicago, IL; Sunday year-round;
ROSE BOWL FLEA MARKET
Every month, some 20,000 shoppers pass through
here to browse the 2,500 stalls. Pasadena, CA;
second Saturday of every month; rgcshows.com
RCI affiliated resorts near Canton, TX, include:
A playground for water lovers, with its own
indoor water park and an ideal location on
the shore of Lake Palestine. 18270 Singing
Wood Lane, Flint (an hour southeast of Canton)
“A lot of things to do with kids. You can check
out games, and the mini golf was fun, too.”
“We visited the wildlife museum and rose
garden in Tyler, both of which were free.”
SILVERLEAF’S LAKE O’ THE WOODS
Stay in a one-bedroom log cabin and enjoy mini-golf,
fishing and nature trails. 17446
Pintail Dr., Flint
(an hour southeast of Canton)
“The lake’s nearby, so bring rafts or tubes!”
“On wooded acres with wildlife galore—I saw an
armadillo for the first time in my life.”
SILVERLEAF’S HOLLY LAKE RANCH
The resort is set on 4,300 pine-filled acres, and
offers boating, golf, a movie theater and an archery
range. 1823 S. FM 2869, Holly Lake Ranch
(an hour east of Canton)
“Love the woods and relaxing feel. Great
location as a home base for Canton, Tyler
“Excellent service with a ‘living in the woods’
atmosphere. Lots of on-site activities.”
For complete member reviews
(as member reviews have been condensed)
and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call
Club Members, please call your
specific Club or RCI telephone number.
NON-RCI AFFILIATED RESORTS:
CANTON SQUARE B&B
Ideally located on Canton’s
this charming inn has five bedrooms with
century antiques. Be sure to try the
biscuits and gravy, the best part of the full
breakfast. 133 S. Buffalo St., Canton;
doubles from $95 per night
The perks here don’t stop: valet service, porches,
made-from-scratch daily breakfast, plus a prime
location on the Mountain, one of Canton’s top
shopping grounds. 542 E. Hwy. 64, Canton;
doubles from $110 per night
The eight suites at this stately B&B just outside
Canton have spacious private bathrooms and
free Wi-Fi; some have Jacuzzi tubs and separate
entrances. 17744 N. FM 1255, Canton;
$95 per night
MEMORY LANE INN
This elegant inn recently opened in Tyler,
45 minutes southeast of Canton. Its four
suites have chandeliers, antique furnishings
and stained glass windows. 505 S. Chilton Ave.,
Tyler; 469-228-0900; memorylaneinn.com; from
$169 per person for three nights (minimum stay)
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
Published: Summer 2011