Former NBA player Greg Ostertag and his wife Shannon have invested more than $2 million in restoring Mount Vernon, Texas. The small town has a population of less than 3,000 and is located 100 miles northeast of Dallas.
Greg and Shannon Ostertag sit on their porch watching chickens and turkeys prance around the farmland.
After retiring from his professional basketball career, Greg wanted to return to his small-town Texas roots, so he and Shannon settled in Mount Vernon in 2015. Located off I-30 between Dallas and Texarkana, the northeast Texas town has historically been a weekend lake getaway for those looking to escape the city (Dallas is 100 miles away).
While he enjoys tending to his farm animals and spending countless hours on his tractor, Greg isn’t necessarily living a life of anonymity—and it’s not just because he’s 7ft 2in.
The Ostertags have invested more than $2 million in a local restoration project designed to improve Mount Vernon and its quality of life, and to encourage tourism.
“When we first came here, my goal was to sit around on the farm and take care of the animals and do that kind of thing,” Greg says with a laugh. “My wife got this idea to try to restore the town and we’ve been doing it since.”
The Ostertag Group was established in 2016 for that exact purpose. The collective of different brands, including Ostertag Construction, was created with the goal of “restoring and preserving small-town living for current and future generations to enjoy.”
Their first big project was M.L. Edwards & Co., a general store and funeral home originally built in 1900. In conjunction with the Texas Historical Commission and the National Park Service, the 11,000sq ft property was remodeled and upgraded to a general store, café, and private event venue. The space, which features locally sourced food and retail items, was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was also awarded the Best in Texas Historic Restoration Award by the Texas Downtown Association.
“A lot of times people think of building restoration as fixing doors and windows, but it’s about preserving history and what the place means to the town because if it isn’t preserved it’s going to be gone,” Shannon says. “This small town experience is really worth saving. It’s really why we do what we do.”
The Mount Vernon area was originally settled in the 1840s. The first town, called Keith, was changed to Lone Star in 1850, before becoming Mount Vernon in 1875. Mount Vernon is one of nine places in the state to be designated a “Texas Treasures” city by former Texas First Lady Anita Perry.
“It’s one of those small towns where everybody knows everybody’s business, and everyone gets along,” Greg says. “I love it because it’s a small town. In a city it’s hustle and bustle; the faster, the better. Here, nobody is in a hurry.”
The Ostertags’ next project is to establish and expand ownership pride throughout the town. Their plan is to build bungalows and cottages on many of the town’s empty lots to encourage homeownership—something that isn’t as prevalent in the getaway locale as it is elsewhere. Shannon says homeownership in Mount Vernon is approximately 50 percent compared to rental, while the statewide average is closer to 70 percent. As their website says, it’s all about big dreams for small-town living.
“When you’re part of small community it gives you chance to be part of something bigger than yourself,” Shannon says. “You can get lost in a big city, but here you can do stuff to make a difference. It’s been rewarding.”
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.