NORTHWEST FREEWAY (HEMPSTEAD TO GRAND PARKWAY)

Welcome. You are about to read the Northwest Freeway Corridor page, one of the most extensive pages on an American highway. I began this page several years ago (before Carbon-izer, actually) and it eventually spawned an entire section of this site. In the years following, this page has received a number of major updates and eventually became what it is now, a more-readable version that only covers the first section (or third, depending on your view) of Highway 290 from Hempstead. The section between 610 (where Highway 290 ends) and Beltway 8 can be seen here while the second section, covering between Beltway 8 and the Grand Parkway, can be seen here. The main bulk of this section is originally from my 290 blog, here and has been updated where relevant.

Version 3.0 of the "new" version of this page redoes the front paragraph, updates Pilot Travel Center (rewrite), Shell (still holding on to some writing where LJS was still operational, and adds new restaurant), McDonald's, and Sutong Tire Resources (cleanup). It adds Taco Bell (on FM 1488), Best Western Plus (Stokes Road), Fountain Hill Apartments (near A&M Prairie View), Chevron (at Kickapoo), and Texas Farmhouse Homes.

HIGHWAY 6 NORTH to FM 1098

While U.S. Highway 290 actually extends to west of Fredericksburg, we won't be covering that. After all, if you keep following west, you'll have to take an exit at Brenham to continue west. The road will go north as Texas 36, including the terminus of FM 60 (University Drive). There are actually six distinct segments of U.S. Highway 290 (including where it shares the designation with I-35) between its two access points off of either end of I-10 (which itself is a different distinct segment).

Our story actually is between Hempstead and Houston. As a younger person, going to Houston was somewhat of an adventure. Rarely did we actually stop in Houston (mostly a pass-through en route to Galveston) but Houston represented more than that. While Florida (see my other blog for a reference to that) and Louisiana were more exotic in their own ways , Houston was more of a superior example of what my town could be, with pretty much everything that College Station/Bryan had but much much more. Every type of store and fast food restaurant could be found there, there was more trees, skyscrapers, and generally what my town could aspire to be. My mother, of course, was horrified at these prospects, and frankly, with the historical high crime and pollution (as well as the ever-present contemporary problem of traffic, something that BCS would gain soon enough), she had a point.

After driving on the section between Navasota and Hempstead (see link), we would see it...a ramp, jutting three full levels up into the air and curving the entire way into 290 East. Today, they have little dividers to mark the ramp (those didn't appear until some point after spring 2008 but not much longer afterward). Symbolizing this great change from the rural Highway 6 to the wide, smooth environs of Highway 290 was the massive Lawrence Marshall Hempstead car dealership. "We clobber big city prices!", they bragged, advertising to Houston and College Station while giving the Hempstead economy a big boost. Well, that didn't work out when the auto industry imploded. LMH closed in February 2009 and over the next several years, I would watch sadly as the place started to deteriorate, as the banners of the auto makers faded and eventually fell off (you can see them with the slider feature on Google Maps Street View). There was also a large electronic sign to be seen as one accelerated onto the highway. As of August 2016, there is now BARRY Fleet Services taking up part of the Highway 6 side of the vast complex.

Still, you could see a large McDonald's/Exxon sign in the distance, and the adventure began.

FM 1488 is mostly Hempstead's collection of highway gas stations and restaurants, and further along, it does connect to the other highways and neighborhoods in the northern outreaches of Houston, but it's not usually used as a loop road.

Joe's Italian Grill / 260 Cottonwood Drive
Possibly built 2020, this restaurant relocated from Highway 6 heading north.

DaVita Dialysis / 220 Cottonwood Drive
Built here in spring 2015, I was expecting this (when it was under construction) to be a restaurant of some sort. Couldn't be farther from the truth...

Hempstead Seafood & Steak / 210 Cottonwood Drive
Modestly popular restaurant. I have yet to get a good picture for this one. It appears that it opened in 2011, but only occupies half of the building.

Pilot Travel Center / 2000 FM 1488
Originally known as Hempstead Truck Stop and opened in November 2000, this station combined an Exxon sign and a McDonald's on its fading dual-pronged sign, and it was a great reminder to the road trips I took with my family in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including (but definitely not limited to) the Houston area. Imagine the hole in my heart when I drove up around December 2017 to find that the Exxon sign and the price display was missing, leaving a lopsided lone McDonald's sign there.

While Exxon/McDonald's combos are relatively common, the Hempstead Truck Stop originally was combined with a Denny's, which had the address of 100 Cottonwood (the small access road between the truck stop and the westbound on-ramp) rather than 2000 FM 1488. The McDonald's is located next to it (and it appears to have been renovated between 2012 and 2014). From what I was able to figure out, the Denny's had the side closest to the freeway and had a doorway that faced Cottonwood (the freeway side) while the north side of the building was occupied by the convenience store portion.

From what I'd read on Yelp, the Denny's was bad even by Denny's standards (dirty, poor service, and smelled like smoke) and downsized in early 2016 (February or March, though construction probably started in 2015) for a Subway in the southeast corner of the building. The Subway shared the convenience store's address but did not open into the rest of the complex. At some point (I want to say near the end, because I didn't really notice it until then) the gas station also had a Krispy Krunchy fried chicken program going on.

The Denny's didn't open until 2003, probably why the Denny's didn't co-share the sign, but in spring 2017 it closed and was replaced with "Country Delight Cafe", which replaced the Denny's logo with a simple black and white logo and was a sign of things to come. Based on some tax records, it appears that both the gas station and Denny's closed at the same time, with Country Delight Cafe taking up Denny's space until it closed less than a year later. By January 2018, the whole gas station had been gutted (except for Subway), which had its facade missing and could be accessed from Cottonwood.

Pilot Travel Center (#573) opened in May 2018. The center had a bumpy start (in June, the restrooms were out of service, and they told patrons to use Subway's) and the Dunkin' Donuts that it advertised is little more than a kiosk. (It also features Pilot Flying J's "PJ Fresh" concept). The center still doesn't connect to Subway and there's no entrance from Cottonwood anymore.

McDonald's / 2100 FM 1488
McDonald's opened in November 2000 like Hempstead Truck Stop but it did not actually share the convenience store's space, just sharing signage with a separate building. It was renovated (to not have a mansard roof) around 2013-2014.

Taco Bell / 2150 FM 1488
Taco Bell opened in November 2019. It connects to the McDonald's parking lot (and by extension, Pilot Travel Center's).

Sonic Drive-In / 2045 FM 1488
The Sonic was built in 2001.

Shell / 1945 FM 1488
This gas station (opened 2002) included a Long John Silvers inside (a bit uncommon, especially for gas stations), though it was fully integrated into the gas station (there was a counter and some seating inside), which meant the whole store probably smelled like greasy fried food. An actual stop to the store in mid-March 2016 revealed that the store was in the midst of either changing it to a Chesters Fried Chicken. Signage on the inside was gone, and there was an employee meeting going on. Despite that, there were a lot of LJS décor leftovers inside. (Furthermore, tax records indicate that LJS had been gone for a year at that point).

Chesters was not long for this world, as of summer 2017, Chesters is already out, replaced with "Southern Kitchen Kountry Cooking" (also known as Southern Kitchen and More), a one-off which advertises barbecue. It appears to have closed during the COVID-19 epidemic. As of June 2021, Taqueria Ana is in the place.

Jack in the Box / 1925 FM 1488
Until September 2016, I never went to this Jack in the Box. When I did, I found it remarkably similar to the other one at Waller, and today I prefer this one on my Houston trips since it's much easier to get in and out, and less crowded. It was arguably cleaner, too.

FM 1098 to FM 2920

After going on undeveloped parts for miles, it's here that if you're not familiar with the area (younger me and later a friend who moved to Texas later), tricks you into thinking you're getting close to Houston. It features a once rather attractive late 1990s build underpass (the only depressed underpass along 290, at least until Austin), though it is a bit worse for the wear today, unfortunately. Set back a bit from the road is a large and once-colorful (today it's looking kind of grimy from one side and faded from the other) "Frenchy's" sign (not visible in the picture above), which replaced a large Williams Fried Chicken sign from 2003 to 2011 when it operated a restaurant at 608 University Drive. Regardless, Frenchy's didn't last long, closing about a year after its opening circa 2011 and reduced to rubble by the end of 2013. A tarp eventually covered the progressively darker and grimier sign by 2016. This is also the access road to Prairie View A&M University, a historically African-American campus originally created as the segregated "colored" counterpart to what is now Texas A&M University in College Station.

Shell / 420 University Drive
This Shell, one of the first installations of a commercial base at this intersection, has a Checkers (418 University Drive) inside. It's about time--it's a significant university (and they are building lots of apartments around the area) but there was previously no commercial base at the highway; no gas stations or restaurants, except for the aforementioned Williams Fried Chicken/Frenchy's.

Two exits east (passing James R. Muse Parkway, which like Binford and Kickapoo further down used to, widens out at the freeway but continues north and south as a small two-way road) is FM 362. I've always felt that the FM 362 overpass (heading eastbound) goes way too high with sharp dropoffs before adding guardrails at the very top (at least they have shoulders), moreso than other overpasses in this part of 290.

Fountain Hill Apartments / 702 Santee Street
Built around 2019-2020, these apartments aren't accessible from 290 but they are visible from it.

Waller County Line BBQ / 20727 FM 362
Waller County Line BBQ, a large Exxon (as of summer/early fall 2019, formerly a Shell) station, this was slightly expanded (based on roof and pavement color differences) in the time span between 1995 and 2003. They have survived the arrival of the beaver's gas station, but I can't imagine they were very happy about it. This is a picture from February 2014 of Waller County Line BBQ from the highway (sorry for the quality). The address is also home of Cedar Creek Saloon, which does not connect with the convenience store/restaurant portion of the gas station. This is your typical smoky poorly-lit honky-tonk with pool and cheap beer.

Swamp Shak / 20797 FM 362
The Swamp Shak seafood restaurant appeared sometime in early 2015, though a Yelp review seems to indicate they've been active since April 2014. Normal activity stopped around 2016 (the Facebook page confirms this), though current signage on the restaurant (defunct) indicates it is used as a fireworks stand seasonally, at last check.

Buc-ee's / 40900 U.S 290
Once Buc-ee's opened, it quickly became a near-regular stop on the highway. Based on what I can find, it appears to have opened in late 2013, though I swear I remember it opening earlier that year (just a little). It advertises (at least until it became common knowledge, or I could be just getting used to it) even on Highway 6 South as "Waller You Waiting For?" I love this store and has become a regular stop in returning on the 290 corridor. At least three times (as of last time I kept count, which was a while back) I have eaten here for their awesome club sandwiches and in-house potato chips, though I gotta admit, I've had a number of "bad chips" (almost consistently per package) where it somehow doesn't get cooked properly and ends up having the texture of folded paper. It was definitely disconcerting for the first time, because I couldn't see them while eating. True story: I remember actually exiting the highway to try to spit out what I thought I was a napkin I had accidentally ingested. I have a few pictures of this Buc-ee's, but not from the highway. Buc-ee's is hard to capture because it's so large (looking east in March 2015). Here's another picture looking back at the beaver statue to the west (also in March 2015).

NCI Metal Roofs / 40202 U.S. 290
The opposite direction has a building called NCI Metal Roofs. I'm not sure when it was built, but it was prior to 2003 (though not that earlier). For some reason, around late December 2018 or early the next month, the signage changed slightly to feature the new name, with the color changed from black text, tan background, and red accents, to black text, white background, and lime green accents.

Waller Travel Plaza / 40203 U.S. 290
Field Store Road got its start as a freeway destination when a small gas station (Chevron brand) began building on a cul-de-sac created during freeway construction. "Rocky's B-B-Q Grille" opened in summer 2010 but within its first few years, it changed hands and became Field Store BBQ (at least by my memory...for some reason I remember being it under construction in early 2009), then Irv's Field Store by 2013, then eventually simply Irv's with a repainted red sign by August 2014. Not long after it was simply "Irv's", construction began next door which by March 2015 was revealed to be a new gas canopy with diesel (the canopy is a simple green one) with a large concrete pad for trucks. That's right: they "upgraded" to being a truck stop. For Irv's, I actually have before and after pictures. Here's my picture from May 2014, back when it was still Field Store. Notice obviously-tacked-on later "Irv's" sign. My second picture comes from December 2015, with what Irv's looks like today. Sorry it's a bit darker (a lot darker, actually) than it should be, it was a new camera. In 2019, Waller began to build a water tower behind the gas station. A visit around that time showed that Irv's had some video gambling machines, but only with small, non-money prizes.

As of June 2021, Irv's had become Waller Travel Plaza, and in a notable change, switched from Chevron to Shell.

CVS/pharmacy / 31013 FM 2920
Opened around 2005. This was never an Eckerd to my knowledge, and I've stopped here at least once. It probably doesn't see as much freeway-side traffic as the fast foods and gas station does, but it serves a purpose for those things drug stores have that convenience stores don't (hey, I stopped there once), and it serves local Waller interests as well.

FM 2920 to GRAND PARKWAY

Ironically, I have few photos for this interchange despite being the most familiar with it. Of special note is "Stokes Road", which provides access to CVS, Jack in the Box, and many others. It does directly touch the US-290 right-of-way but actually was never part of the frontage road system even though it looks like it was.

Love's Travel Center / 30710 FM 2920
On the north side of 290 sits just one business, the Love's Travel Center, which has an Arby's inside. I've been here a few times but I rarely stop at it (usually prefer Buc-ee's). As a truck stop, its merchandise mix is a bit more interesting than the usual convenience store fare, but the restrooms aren't that great, the prices aren't that great, and I don't really care for Arby's as a fast food option (probably why they seem to have closed a lot of locations in the last few years). It can be seen on the left side of the distant shot looking toward the Exxon. The logo (for Arby's) was updated, though.

Jack in the Box / 31014 FM 2920
Jack in the Box used to be my Dad's stop when heading down to Houston and later was adopted by me. The first time I actually remember going in to the store was as far back as 2009, when they were advertising the HangInThereJack campaign, which would ultimately result in altering the logo of Jack in the Box, and within a few years that would sweep the chain. I don't know about the logo change, to be honest, it took me a few more years to get to used to it, but this is one of the places I always stop these days. It was built in 1999.

Exxon / 31100 FM 2920
As aforementioned, this Exxon is actually in a large plaza featuring a Subway, Sakura Nail Spa, and a local doughnut place called Donuts Delight. Popeyes is there too, but it's not connected to the inside of the convenience store, Town & Country Market. I have one shot of the gas signage when gas prices began to go down around late 2014 (January 2015 picture), though on my iPhone, reds display as oranges. I'd have to say that the gas station (minus Subway, which was built later...probably why it lacks co-billing with Exxon) probably came in-line in the late 1990s, though don't quote me on that.

In previous versions of this page, I stated that "none of the food establishments are accessible from inside the convenience store", but that's not true, it actually does have a Domino's inside, but it's just a counter inside the store.

Shipley Do-Nuts / 19757 Stokes Road
This opened around 2013 or 2012, and is the furthest from the highway access. I stopped here once in early 2015 as a day trip and got an apple fritter. Since then I've dropped by once or twice for a donut. It's closed from mid-day on, so if you want a donut, get here early.

Americas Best Value Inn / 19777 Stokes Road
This hotel appears to have been built in or around 2005. The main entrance is off from the Exxon's driveway, Stokes Road is an unpaved back entrance.

Best Western Plus / 19720 Stokes Road
Built on the section of Stokes that turns and goes back toward Waller, this hotel was opened in early 2019.

Stoneside Veterinary Hospital / 38111 US-290
This vet office was formerly Walker Veterinary Hospital until sometime in the latter half of the 2010s. It seems to share the original rectangular plot of land US-290 cuts through with Topper's (see below).

Topper's Camping Center / 38002 US-290
Also known as Topper's RVs.

Daikin North America LLC / 19001 Kermier Road
Also known as Daikin Texas Technology Park, or informally, the ComfortPlex, this mega-structure HVAC factory/office campus was finished in 2016. I can't tell what's worse, the continuing sprawl of Houston or the fact that it will drag traffic out here, or the fact that even "rural" in recent memory is once again being dramatically transformed (Kickapoo and Binford used to do the "bulge out and shrink away to rural" like James R. Muse Parkway still does.

Chevron / 35515 Highway 290 Bypass
This mega-Chevron opened in 2019 and features Fuel Maxx as the convenience store, plus "Taco Corner", Dickey's Barbecue Pit, and Checkers. There's even a huge truck stop area behind it, and since then, a few hotels and a small strip center (featuring a liquor store) have opened. It seems almost strange now that even as of circa 2015, it used to be exclusively farmland and that the only thing noticeable on the horizon was to the south where a park had added a soapbox derby track in the early 2010s.

Texas Farmhouse Homes / 33270 U.S. 290 Bypass
Homebuilder company; has been here since 2011.

Lansdowne-Moody Co. / 32804 U.S. 290
This moved here in 2017 from its old Cypress digs covered in the next section of the highway. Of course, back then the area was very rural, and packed up and moved to Hockley at 32804 U.S. 290 sometime around 2016 or 2017. The warehouse used to be used by Axon but I can't find any more details on it at the moment.

Sutong Tire Resources Inc. / 33400 U.S. Highway 290
This large stone building (33400 U.S. Highway 290) that originally opened as D&D Farm & Ranch Supermarket in 2001, which was billed as the world's largest western store upon opening and sold upscale western-inspired clothing, many of which consisted of, and I quote, "music-star jeans". The store also sold actual farm-related equipment including saddles, fencing, and home furnishings (but no food, ironically). D&D eventually moved on (it appears to be in Seguin now). By November 2005, the space reopened as Sergeant's Western World, which was in many ways more of the same but focused more on horse equipment and custom saddlery, with Western apparel and everything else following behind. I remember passing by Sergeant's in January 2009, when it was going out of business. It was replaced by Foster's Farm & Equipment store soon after. Foster's remained until sometime in late 2015 and was superseded by its next-door neighbor, Brookside Equipment Sales, with Sutong appearing by December 2016. This is my best photo...a drive-by photo of Foster's, May 2015.

Hanson Aggregates of Hockley / 16910 Katy-Hockley Rd.
A concrete plant that has a large, circular railroad spur (since it loops, it can't accurately be called a spur now, can it?) though right near it is an abandoned ROW that led out to a salt mine (which still exists).

Sonic Drive-In / 32202 US-290 Bldg. B
This Sonic looked like the older prototype of Sonic stores but is still very much open. I noticed as of June 2017 they finally did update the red and yellow perimeter neon to the modern Sonic prototype of the gray plastic tubing or whatever (yeah, I know that's an unflattering term). Despite the fact that it looked pretty old, it actually wasn't, it was actually built in 2004-2005 (and likely the last of its kind built like that).

32202 US-290 Bldg. A
An abandoned Exxon truck stop, "290 Express Way", which operated between 1996 and 2011. The only reference I can find is a 1999 article where the owner described the major accidents happening at Becker Road, since it was not a freeway at the time nor had lights. I don't know why it closed, either problems stemming from the widening of Becker, or the fact that it may have been a less attractive option than Shell, as a good truck stop usually requires a prominently advertised restaurant option (usually fast food, but not always). A few photos I have (all from 2/15) include the empty canopies of the Exxon, the fading and deteriorating billboard, and the Exxon roadside sign—note the older Sonic in the background with the red and yellow neon.

Shell / 32150 US-290
I've gotten relatively cheap bottled water here (at least for gas station standards). The truck stop features a Taco Bell and (formerly) Church's Chicken inside, though it's just two counters in a common seating area (and not particularly well-lit). Here's the front of the fast foods from the outside (taken 2/2015). If you're coming from West Houston Archives, you'll notice that the Taco Bell sign is now painted more of an orange color (I'm pretty sure it's not just the sunlight) and lost its "Express" moniker before gaining the new white-and-purple logo. By late 2019, Church's would give way to a Krispy Krunchy Chicken counter.

Community of Faith / 16124 Becker Road)
A church (not related to The Community of Faith in Houston proper) which has a massive facility (originally built circa 2007 and built an expansion as of spring 2015), a super-stylized cross (shaped like a boomerang) and a bright electronic display screen which was toned down around late 2014 since drivers don't like a miniature sun 24/7 just off the freeway that's ten times worse when it's foggy.

Past the Grand Parkway, we enter Cypress and an area that has developed greatly since 2005. Go here next.


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