NOTICE: This trip was taken before the Corona virus quarantine.
Mother-daughter weekend getaways with my teenager are a gift, and we recently discovered an inviting bed and breakfast that was the perfect home base for our exploration of the charming town of Waxahachie.
The last thing you might expect to find in this small town just 30 miles south of Dallas are British theme lodgings, but you won’t want to miss experiencing the British Merchant’s Inn for yourself.
Owners Mary and Howard Baskin have been lucky enough to live in the red brick Mission style bungalow style home twice. They raised their family there before moving away for several years, and then re-purchased it in 2016 to turn it into a bed and breakfast.
At the end of a long drive from Houston my daughter and I were relieved to pull into a parking space on the side of the inn, which sits on a lovely residential stretch of West Main Street. After being greeted at the door by a large concrete bulldog painted with the Union Jack we stepped inside, and into an explosion of creative interior design with a nod to the British Isles.
If every corner you see appears to be a picture perfect vignette, there’s a good reason. Mary worked as an interior designer for over 35 years and produced interior design articles for publications such as Traditional Homes, Country Home and Better Homes and Gardens as a regional editor for Meredith Publishing.
She also organizes small group antique shopping trips abroad – which I’d love to take part in now that I’ve witnessed her knack for finding such unique items. Her delightfully amusing discoveries fill every room at the BnB.
The home, whose layout is ideal for operating an inn, was built and occupied by James Wright Harrison by 1910 (according to the census), although the owner’s obituary stated that he built it in 1905.
James was born in Arkansas and came to Texas in 1868 when he was just 12, with his British born father, American mother and a houseful of siblings.
Later, the cotton farmer married an English girl named Fanny and they moved into this home in town where they lived the rest of their lives, passing away just one day apart in 1944.
Though they never had children, I’m pretty sure their love story lives on in the walls of their beautiful home.
Mary took the opportunity to incorporate her love of England to reflect the heritage of the original homeowners, and create an inviting place where guests can recharge between jaunts into town to take in the sights.
We stayed in an upstairs Room 1, which offered two separate beds. My daughter immediately chose the one nestled beneath a window and piled with pillows.
My larger bed was beneath a crystal chandelier in another nook of the room, providing us both with a sense of togetherness, with a bit of privacy.
Each of the guest rooms has a private bathroom in which the Baskins have provided all the necessities down to fluffy towels and make-up remover. My daughter and I were determined to enjoy the large claw foot tub during our stay (although we used the shower more often), so we stopped by a local drugstore and treated ourselves to fragrant bath bombs. (Because it wouldn’t be a girls’ weekend without a bit of pampering, right?) Ooh-la-la!
Mary invited us to explore the other rooms to statisfy our curiosity, and each was a unique little oasis of comfort and style.
Room #3 featured a very British, very red bathroom with walls adorned with antique hats.
The romantic canopy bed in room number 2 is perfect for couples or just to treat yourself. The room features its own private second floor patio balcony.
The only downstairs guest room, number 4, is the largest and features boldly striped walls.
A “formal” downstair parlor and bar areas, complete with grand piano, are also on the ground floor and would make an ideal place to meet up with your traveling friends who may not have been lucky enough to stay at the inn.
Our mornings began with cups of tea sipped from china cups while we were getting ready for the day. My daughter loved visiting the “tea station” in the mornings and evenings and choosing a different floral china cup to use…and I admit so did I.
For breakfast we were given vouchers for an adorable nearby café called the White Rhino Coffee + Kitchen. Conveniently close to the inn it had plenty of parking and delicious food. I hate to think that I may have missed this gem if Mary hadn’t sent us there! Located in an old two-story home, the downstairs has been renovated and opened into large comfortable spaces that encouraging lingering. And, um…the cinnamon rolls served in individual mini skillets? Yes, please! The staff was just as enchanting as the food and restaurant itself, so we were glad to be able to revisit them two days in a row.
Anyone who thinks there wouldn’t be enough to do around this small town needn’t worry. We spent hours in the antique shops and chatting with the friendly owners, searched for and found all of the “Hachie Hearts” (read more about them HERE), had a yummy sandwich and malt for lunch at Farm Luck (an old fashioned soda fountain that is a “must”), photographed the old railroad station and bridge, and Art on the Square where we enjoyed chatting with a local artist patiently creating a new masterpiece.
The recently restored courthouse on the square in town has quite a legend attached to it, that you can read more about HERE.
Movie buffs may recognize several sights around town used as movie backdrops for films that include “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Tender Mercies” and “Places in the Heart.” And the friendly hosts of the English Merchant Inn are more than happy to cue up one of these classics for you to enjoy in the TV room as you put up your feet after a long day of walking from shop to shop.
If you aren’t in the mood for movies, you may want to pull up a chair to the den table to work on a puzzle or curl up with one of the numerous books from the shelves guests are invited to enjoy.
I couldn’t help but think how fun it would be to stay at the inn with a group of friends, taking over the entire second floor and enjoying the common spaces together, or sitting on the wide porch watching the rest of the world go slowly past.
I think it’s the perfect “excuse” to visit again, don’t you?
It’s impossible to roam the halls of Mineral Wells’ 14-story Baker Hotel without uttering the stories of its hauntings. And while I look forward to sharing more about the history and state of the hotel itself in my next post, Halloween calls and insists that we revisit their stories once more.
Now closed to the public the once luxurious Baker was one of the most popular resort destinations of its day.
Now the graffiti covered walls with their flaking paint and the crumbling walls and ceilings create what seems to be the ideal home for the numerous phantoms that are said to roam the premises.
Climb the front stairs, turn on your flashlight and join me for a visit with the Baker Hotel ghosts.
15-year-old Douglas Moore earned a job as a passenger elevator operator at the grand hotel two years after his family moved to Mineral Wells.
On January 16, 1948 Douglas arrived early for work and went to the basement to catch up with his friends working maintenance shifts. Teenage talk turned to horseplay and Douglas began to play with the service elevator at the base of the stairs, jumping in and out when it was in motion.
Mind you, this was in the days before safety features would keep doors from closing entirely if something (or one) was in the way.
You see where this is going…and it can’t be good.
One of his friends notice that Douglas hadn’t jumped quite far enough to get his body totally inside the elevator compartment on one attempt, and pulled the young man’s legs to try to get him out. Tragically, he wasn’t quite fast enough and Douglas was caught between the doors and floor of the rising elevator, crushing him at the abdomen.
Even more gruesome, it was half an hour before help could dislodge him and get him to the hospital, where he died of his injuries.
As if his fate wasn’t horrific enough, lore states that he had actually been cut in half and that apparition of merely the top half of the unfortunate teen has been seen throughout the basement. According to his death certificate was an exaggeration of his fatal injuries, however.
Visitors have said that those who call the young man’s name aloud will feel a cold rush of air push by them…but it’s best not to tempt him while standing too close to the elevator shaft. The teen might just be lonely for a bit of company after all these years.
In an odd coincidence, his only brother Thomas was also killed as a teenager in a horrific accident while at his job in Mineral Wells.
BAKER, BUT WHICH ONE?
Earl Maynard Baker, nephew of the hotel’s found Theodore B. Baker, managed the Baker Hotel for over 40 years and lived in its Presidential Suite. After a string of contentious years with his family, spouse and even the community, Baker had a heart attack in his suite and subsequently died in the local hospital.
Reports say that he (or perhaps his uncle, the original resident) endlessly paces the rooms, now only a shadow of their former elegance. When the hotel was available to guides of ghost tours it was customary to knock before entering the suite as a form or respect…or perhaps to avoid his fiery temper.
Visitors to the area have claimed to smell cigar smoke, and to have small items from their purses or pockets come up missing…only to be found on the premises by tour guides later.
Whichever Baker may remain, he certainly has a sense of humor!
The most famous spectral resident of the Baker is the lovely apparition of a ghost with red hair and green eyes. A porter of the hotel first saw her in the 1960s.
Known as the “Lady in White” she is believed to be the former manager’s mistress Virginia Brown, she flirts with men whom she finds attractive and resents the intrusion of other women in her suite at the southeast corner of the 7th floor.
Apparently the woman, distraught from the affair, committed suicide by jumping to her death from the window of her room (or the roof, depending on which version of the tale is told).
Her distinctive lavender perfume wafts throughout the floor; a red lipstick was even found by a maid on the rim of a glass when no one was staying in the suite.
The most restless spirit in the hotel, she refuses to be confined to one floor as she was in life, and the clicking of her high heels can be heard on the lobby floor.
I couldn’t find a Virginia Brown that would fit her age range and profile living in Mineral Wells at the time, though there were three others with the same name.
Whatever the name of the permanent guest, she is not to be taken lightly.
HIGH DIVE DURING COCKTAILS
The parties held in the Cloud Ballroom on the 12th floor were legendary, and guests often enjoyed themselves to excess.
One intoxicated woman actually tried to jump from the ballroom balcony into the pool below and naturally died in the attempt. Versions of the story say that she may have been racing her boyfriend who fled down the stairs to the pool deck and others that perhaps she may have received an unfriendly push.
Now she paces along the balcony considering her fate.
The Cook and the Maid
One of the persistent tales linked with the Baker is that of a hotel cook who was having an affair with one of the chambermaids. The legend states that the hotel’s cook was having an affair with one of the maids. The story goes that the woman threatened to expose their relationship to the cook’s wife, causing him to fly into a fit of rage and stab her to death in the kitchen pantry.
It’s said that female visitors have reported hearing a woman’s voice telling them to leave when they entered the kitchen.
Not surprisingly there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to support that such a murder too place – though the hotel’s food was reputed to be “to die for.”
Considering the fact that many visitors to Mineral Wells came in search of thee curative properties the local spring waters were said to possess, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that not all cures were successful.
The spirit of a little boy about six-years-old plays in the hallways of the hotel, accompanied by his large, shaggy dog companion. A visiting medium claims that the boy communicated to her that he passed away in 1933, when his parents brought him there seeking treatment for his leukemia. He tends to be watched over by the spirit of an older woman who remains nearby, and try to gain visitors attention by bouncing his rubber ball.
Any hotel that has had some many people pass through its doors has seen its share of tragedies, and the Baker is no exception.
In 1944, a federal civil investigator – probably assigned to Camp Wolters- threw himself out of a window from Room 919. The FBI is said to have investigated, but no foul play was found.
In 1952, a man rented a room, went upstairs and cut his throat.
In the 1940s one man murdered another man in the lobby, reputedly over a private parking space. The murderer was found guilty, but released…enough of a reason for any victim to roam in anger.
Stories have also circulated about a spooky, secret network of tunnels beneath the hotel. There is one known passageway that leads from the hotel the pool on the property, and it’s possible that originally extended northeast to the original water tower (now a parking lot for a Methodist church). No other tunnels have been discovered but just the possibility can cause a shiver.
Although it doesn’t have stories of specific haunting attached to it, the hotel spa on the second floor is unarguably one of the creepiest areas on the property. It’s difficult to say whether that feeling is due to the archaic equipment crumbling in place or the general atmosphere.
The “Brazos Room”
When a group of World War II veterans and their spouses toured the hotel, multiple people in the group heard voices chatting, orchestra music playing and the sound of dinnerware and utensils being used. This occurrence seemingly had not happened before or since that day. Maybe their recognized their contemporaries?
With the Baker Hotel now receiving long overdue renovations and restoration, the ghosts of the famous inn will hopefully have plenty of living company very soon.
“Good evening, Mrs. Maca,” the desk clerk smiled as she handed me my room key card. “We’ve booked you in a suite on the haunted floor.”
It definitely wasn’t the usual greeting I receive at a hotel check-in, but obviously someone on staff had Googled my name . . . and I have to say I was pretty delighted.
I was in San Antonio speaking about cemetery symbolism at a paran
ormal conference, of all things. My books about Galveston cemeteries and ghosts have certainly opened up some unusual venues for me. And although I must admit that my choice to stay at the Emily Morgan was based on an admiration for its elegance and location (right next door to the Alamo, for heaven’s sake!), the stories of its hauntings may have played a part in the decision to choose it. It is known as one of the three most haunted hotels in the city.
Now a part of the luxurious Doubletree by Hilton chain (yep, that means their famous fresh cookies at check-in), the thirteen-story building wasn’t always a hotel.
The striking Gothic Revival structure opened in 1924 as the Medical Arts Building, with the first four floors being doctors’ offices and a pharmacy. Other levels included a psychiatric ward (seventh floor), the top two floors served as surgical wards, and of course – a morgue in the basement.
The towering building features unique ornamentation and a copper roof with wood ribs. The most unusual adornments are undoubtedly a variety of gargoyles (actually “grotesques” since they have no downspouts) that surround the building, each portraying a medical ailment that might have been treated within. They’re slightly reminiscent of some stone carving from the movie “Ghostbusters” about to come to life. There are even flying monkeys for those who look closely.
One of the more “princely” – though certainly not handsome – examples wearing a crown was perched right outside a window of my room, and it was fascinating to see him so close-up.
It remained a hospital for about 52 years before being converted into an office building in 1976. Luckily for those who appreciate her beautiful architecture, the Emily Morgan (named after the Yellow Rose of Texas) was recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Alamo Plaza Historic District the following year.
In 1984 it opened as a luxury hotel, and in 2012 it underwent a multi-million dollar renovation before being reopened as part of the Doubletree group.
I suppose that should be our first clue, since one of the common superstitions about spirits . . . or is it a fact . . . is that they tend to get “stirred up” during renovations of their surroundings.
Considering the amount of suffering and death the walls witnessed for so many years, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that “energies” from the past are reported to remain.
SPIRITED ROOMIE, ANYONE?
Throughout the weekend I heard hotel guests inquire of each other if they had had any ghostly experiences, anxiously hoping to hear the answer “yes.” When comparing room numbers, my answer was usually met with a lot of interest, and I invited people up to check out my room for themselves whenever my timetable allowed. There was even a YouTuber who took video. More often than not, the visitors ended up being just as intrigued by the beauty of the view and the room as any otherworldly roommates I might have.
I found it amusing that even a few attendees of the paranormal convention, which was held at a reputedly haunted mansion, left before all of the festivities were over to return to the Emily Morgan to seek out their own “encounters” in impromptu ghost hunts.
Would you stay on the 13th floor of a notoriously haunted hotel or do you think that would be bad luck?
Poppycock, you say – hotels don’t have a 13th floor! Ah, but we all really know the truth, don’t we? A glance at any hotel elevator board and you’ll see they’ve conveniently skipped from the 12th to the 14th when numbering floors to avoid any superstitious guests being uncomfortable. So the 14th floor actually is the 13th.
The Emily Morgan has taken these superstitions into account at an entirely new level by omitting the room number 1408. You see, when you add those numbers together you would realize they equal 13 on the actual 13th floor.
Regardless, there have been reported ghostly occurrences on almost every floor, with the 7th, 13th and 14th being the most active.
12th & 14th FLOORS
Guests on the 14th floor have often specifically requested to stay on this notoriously haunted level. As one of the former surgical wards where numerous deaths occurred, the expectation of ghosts is somewhat understandable.
Room occupants in the past have reported opening doors to the hallway only to see hospital scenes playing out in front of them, complete with nurses pushing squeaky-wheeled gurneys.
When they shut the door to gather their wits before reopening it, the scenes vanish.
Much more unpleasant is the report of a lingering scent of antiseptic, which I was quite grateful not to have noticed.
The perception something cool brushing up against guests has been noted on both floors. Would it be a relief on a hot summer night, or send unwelcome chills?
Utilities seem to be of special interest to spirits on the 12th floor, including flashing lights and impish water faucets. Dripping noises can be heard in the middle of the night, with investigating occupants discovering the bath faucets to be completely cranked open.
I must admit that I heard an incessant dripping of water as I was admiring the full moon outside my window, but after investigating I decided that someone on the floor above me must have a slow draining bath, as there was no water actually running in my room.
Bathroom doors visibly opening and shutting have also been witnessed, which is odd since the extensive renovations should have taken away any explanation of “off kilter” doors.
Having heard these stories, I considered myself pretty darn brave to take a soaking bath both nights of my stay . . . but I just couldn’t resist the immense “champagne Jacuzzi” tub. Thankfully, the spirits left me to unwind in peace.
I even heard one report that the Emily Morgan’s swimming pool, a triangular feature situated on an outcropping of an upper floor, was constructed out of the stainless steel from the medical center’s operating tables. Though I couldn’t find anything to confirm this, it sure makes a great story and would have been an ingenious (if eerie) example of repurposing materials.
IT HAS ITS UPS & DOWNS
One ”phenomenon” at the Emily Morgan that I can confirm through personal experience is that the elevators seem to have a mind of their own.
The elevators are said to often to ride up and down without a single rider or skip past a floor that a rider has requested by pushing the button, because . . . c’mon, ghosts just wanna have fun.
When you step onto one of these conveyances, take a bit of patience and be ready to accept an adventure if it should present itself.
Front desk attendants are said to receive phone calls –from these same elevators-even when no one is inside.
One of the creepiest experiences reported by visitors is that the elevators (regardless of which floor was requested) have taken their passengers below ground to the basement level, where the morgue once was.
Meeting rooms and housekeeping are the only things housed there today, but it is said that even employees keep their time there to a minimum. Among the things reported to have been experienced there are dancing orbs (there are no windows, so they couldn’t be reflections) and disembodied voices. I wonder what they have to say?
The most dramatic – verging on unnerving – experience I had at the hotel involved the elevators. It was witnessed by numerous other guests and staff, but I’ll keep this one to myself (sorry).
Other floors in the hotel come with reports of a woman’s shrieking cries in the middle of the night, transparent apparitions moving from room to room and passing through walls or even gazing into the mirror as guests check their appearance. Which of these would you be brave enough to see or hear?
The staff confirms that occasionally guests request to switch rooms, citing that the activity in theirs is too much to endure.
Did they actually experience something paranormal or did they take the hotel’s ghostly tales too close to heart? Only they will know for sure, but I suggest you check in and decide for yourself.
Employees of the hotel are happy to share their own experiences or stories they’ve heard, and if they aren’t scared, why should we be?
Ghosts or not, the Emily Morgan Hotel remains high on my recommendations for accommodations in the city of San Antonio. The beautiful architecture and interior spaces and gracious staff are unparalleled.
The next stop on our Texas Route 66 trip was the charming little town of Vega, the county seat of Oldham County. Locals, or “Vegans,” are some of the friendliest folks you’ll find along this trek. The people here and their love of the history of Route 66 are a perfect example of how the road and its travelers can become the fabric of a community.
Walking around the courthouse square, it was easy to spot the show stopping mural of a white buffalo on the side of a building at the corner of South Main and West Main – just across from the Bee’s Knees Café (whose “Sweet Tea” sign would have tempted me into sitting on their bench for a spell if they’d only been open!).
The massive painting screams Southwest pride and will capture the heart of anyone who loves the area’s history, wildlife and deserts. It is one of four murals painted by talented art partners Joshua Finley and Valerie Doshier in 2014. Tragically, Valerie died of a brain tumor just two years later. What a beautiful legacy of public art she left for passersby to enjoy for years to come.
The children’s book character of Cheeky Maneeky whose stories she had outlined before her passing were later brought to life by her mother D’Ann Swain’s writing and Finley’s illustrations.
Another of the duos’ murals appears on the side of a 100+-year old building at 1005 Coke Street that used to serve as the town’s lumberyard. Expanded a few years ago, it now houses the Milburn-Price Culture Museum that displays memorabilia from around Oldham County including a 1926 Model T affectionately named “Tin Lizzy.” (But I’ll say a bit more about her later.)
The mural at this site depicts the famed XIT Ranch, whose history will be at least vaguely familiar to anyone raised in the state an subjected to local history books. The Panhandle ranch encompassed a mere three million acres (yes, really!) and was conceived in 1879 to fund a new state capital building. At its peak, it raised 150,000 head of cattle, represented by the large longhorn statue who,…ahem…has a “66” brand instead of an “XIT.” The last of the cattle were sold in 1912.
What’s most likely to catch your eye as you approach the building is the world’s largest branding iron laying on the ground beside the parking area. The XIT iron, made by Greg Conn, was designed so that visitors who drove into the lot at night could cast an immense “XIT” shadow brand onto the side of the building with their headlights. It’s certainly impressive even if you only visit during the day.
There are countless vintage gas stations in every stage of repair and disrepair along the route, but the restoration on North Main Street (Coke Street) is sure to make visitors smile.
Colonel James T. Owen opened the “Hi-Way” Magnolia station in 1924 on what was then the Ozark Trail, a partially bricked and partially dirt road. It was only the second service station built in Vega. Owen was an important figure among highway boosters rallying to have Vega as part of the upcoming Route 66.
Edward and Cora Wilson leased the station from Owen just a couple of years after it was built. The Wilsons lived above the station until 1930, in two cozy rooms with one sink. They had to go downstairs to access the bathroom. Can you imagine? Right on Main Street.
After the Wilsons, a string of businessmen leased the property including E. B. Cooke and A. B. Landrum. One operator, Kenneth R. Lloyd, claims to have actually married his wife at the small station before moving upstairs to live.
The station went back under family control when Owen’s son Austin took over the operation in 1933, and entered into a lease with Phillips 66 Petroleum which charged him one cent per gallon of gas sold. The average price of gas was 18 cents per gallon, so that was a pretty good profit!
By 1937, the year J. T. Owen passed away, Route 66 was paved through Vega just south of the station.
Vega’s Magnolia station shut down its pumps in 1953. From 1953 to 1965 the building was home to Slatz Barbershop.
The service station remained vacant for decades, until Vegans rallied to restore it. The before and after photos are pretty impressive, don’t you think?
Restoration was completed in August of 2004, and now the station contains mementos of its previous life. The museum is open on special days or by appointment, but you can glimpse many of its contents through the large windows. A glass-globed pump and blue oil pump sit out front.
If you’re into the more “kitschy” finds along Route 66, it’s hard to beat Dot’s Mini Museum on North 12thStreet. Dot Leavitt’s family ran a refrigerated storage facility named the Vega Zero Lockers. For years they provided services to locals and travelers along the Mother Road, including “Jugs Iced Free.” Sounds like a pretty good deal, considering most cars didn’t have air conditioning! It was also the only place to buy ice on Route 66 between Amarillo and Tucumcari.
Determined to share reminders of the era after the interstate passed Vega by, Dot began an informal collection of Route 66 artifacts and memorabilia, which turned into her “mini museum” in 1963.
Known for her sweet and chatty nature, Dot became instant friends with all who stopped by to learn more about her unlikely treasures. She is said to be the inspiration (along with Lucille Hammons from Hydro, Oklahoma) for the character of “Tin Lizzie” in the Disney/Pixar movie ‘Cars.’ (See? I told you that “Tin Lizzie would come up again!) The character, voiced by Galveston native Katherine Helmond, owned the Radiator Springs Curio Shop and was the oldest auto in town.
Dot passed away in 2006 at the age of 89, and the collection is in the care of her daughter, Betty Carpenter.
If you’re lucky enough to run into Betty on the property, she’ll show you around. There wasn’t a sole in sight on the hot afternoon of our arrival, so we satisfied ourselves by taking some photos of Dot’s whimsical outdoor collections.
There’s quite a variety to see, including a gravestone for a newspaper that no longer exists, a waving cowboy made of reclaimed metal parts, signs with humorous bits of advice, and…my very favorite…the cowboy boot tree.
The living tree, decorated with discarded boots of all shapes and styles, actually gets more fascinating the longer you look at it. Taking in the details, you’ll find “well-loved” boots weathering to the point of stitching unraveling, sole nails protruding and heels expanding like the “grow capsules” my daughter used to play with that expand into interesting shapes when you drop them into water. It’s definitely a no-place-but-Texas kind of thing.
The yard of this diminutive museum alone is worth pulling into the town of Vega.
If you’re into staying in “rooms with a past,” you’ll definitely want to check out the historic Vega Motel that opened as Vega Court in 1947. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s one of the last remaining tourist courts on the Texas stretch of 66. The Lucky Horseshoe “residence” at the Vega Motel recently opened as an accommodation option for road weary travelers, with enough room for the entire family. Here’s the link. (If you haven’t ever stayed in an Airbnb before, this codewill get you $40 off your first booking!)
There’s even a barber shop on the property, so if you’re in need of a trim after getting windblown on the road…you’re in luck. The rest of the motel is currently undergoing renovations, so I’m looking forward to heading back that way to check on the progress!
The last thing I wanted to search for before we had to move on down the road was this wonderfully weathered Pepsi-Cola sign…and I feel lucky have have found it.! If you’re in the area and want to see this beauty for yourself, it’s on the original Route 66 between 14th and 15th Streets. And yes, those of you who know me well know that I’m a Dr. Pepper girl through and through, but who could resist this beautifully hand-painted relic?
Just in case you’re interested, Oldham Country has the longest stretch of Route 66 stencils painted on the roadbed, at ever other mile marker beginning east of Wildorado (don’t-cha just love that name?) all the way to the west of Adrian. And though I don’t advise sitting on the road for a photo opportunity, there are a surprising number of places on the original Route 66 alignment that you’d be hard-pressed to spot an on-coming car. I settled for snapping my shadow rather than taking a chance. Just sayin’.
Who could resist pulling over to see this amazing hotel?
Danish-born Jules Leffland, the most famous architect in Victoria during the Victorian era, designed the the historic Hotel Blessing in Blessing, Texas. He adapted his take on Mission Revival style into wood construction instead of the traditional adobe or plater over brick.
Amazingly, the original blueprints drawn and signed by Leffland were discovered in the attic of the historic Abel Pierce home in Blessing in 2005.
The town of Blessing was established on property belonging to Jonathan Edwards Pierce, who granted a right-of-way to the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad to increase commerce.
So why isn’t the town named Pierce?
The businessman was so relieved to get a town to ship his cattle that he had suggested the name “Thank God,” but postal authorities considered that somewhat blasphemous. Blessing was suggested and the post office opened in 1903.
Between 1903 and 1905 a library building was attached to the train station, and in 1905 the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway also built through Blessing.
One of the oldest remaining buildings in town, Hotel Blessing has served as a community gathering place since it opened in 1907 when G. H. Crandall from Wisconsin was the manager.
Pierce and his son Abel built the hotel to provide lodging for new settlers, traveling salesmen and as a home for himself. The elder Pierce resided on site until his death in 1915.
The hotel was refinished and painted in the 1930s. During World War II wives and girlfriends of soldiers at Camp Hulen in Palacios would often stay at the inn. After the war ended the camp closed, freight train service stopped and eventually the hotel stopped renting rooms in 1972.
In 1977, Able Pierce, Jonathan Pierce’s grandson, and his wife Ruth renovated and reopened the hotel. The hotel was deeded to the Blessing Historical Society, which currently takes care of its operation. The hotel has 25 rooms, most which have a semiprivate or shared bathroom in a hall.
These days Hotel Blessing is widely known for food rather than overnight stays. Walk past the original registration desk, down a hall lined with screen-doored rooms and across the creaky floors, and enter the dining room You can count on bountiful breakfasts and a famous $10 lunch buffet with immense trays and pots of chicken fried steak, chicken, green beans, corn, breads, and more. Going away hungry just isn’t an option!
Generations of visitors and locals have spent countless hours in the dining room/coffee shop enjoying tasty, home-cooked meals and discussing local events.
The hotel is rightly proud to be the first building in Matagorda County ever listed on the National Register of Historic Places, earning that honor in 1979.
If you’re within a couple of hours of Blessing treat yourself to a leisurely lunch and then go down to the nearby shore to sit back and let your meal settle. It makes a great daytrip for family or friends.
Many people spend a big part of their lives trying to get OUT of school, but there’s one schoolhouse in Texas you’ll want to make a special trip to get INTO.
The Martindale Schoolhouse may say “time for class” on the outside, but don’t let that fool you. The minute you walk in the door it invites you to relax, and that gets an A+ in my book!
Nestled across the road from the San Marcos River in the quaint town of Martindale, this 1921 Mission Revival style building has been turned into a five-bedroom, four-bath vacation rental.
If you’re looking to de-stress or spend some quality time with your “people,” this place is ideal. Follow the road down to the river, across the street to a historic cemetery or walk into town to take in a few historic buildings. Think long talks and long walks, with only the birds and rushing water for background noise. Ahhhh…
The Martindale School Campus operated from 1921-1968, initially serving grades 1-12 until the late 1940’s when the high school split off and the school became a primary and junior high school serving grades 1-8.
Those were the days when the tiny town supplied over 65% of hybrid seed corn and a large percentage of the cottonseed supplied to the world. Pretty hefty bragging rights for a community of that size. The mill still sits right down the road from the school.
Since the school closed over 50 years ago, the building has housed an antique mall, an auto repair shop and a private residence before falling into disrepair in the 1980s and 90s.
The basic structure of the schoolhouse remains intact, but the spaces have been renovated into cozy living spaces and decorated largely with the owner’s collection of mid-century modern furniture. It will inspire you to pull a Dean Martin LP from the large album collection on the living room shelves and pop it onto the turntable.
The main building is over 4,700 square feet, with high ceilings and large windows, and classroom spaces have mostly been changed into bedrooms and bathrooms, providing room to accommodate up to 14 guests. You can even stay in the old principal’s office! Others have been used for the living and dining rooms and kitchen.
The kitchen is large enough for a houseful of cooks to prepare party fare, but my sister and I chose not to cook during this particular stay. There were just too many tasty temptations in the area calling our names!
The schoolhouse is right down the road from El Taco Feliz, a taco truck with cheap, yummy breakfast tacos.
Just around the corner from that is the Highway 80 Feed Barn. Yep, it’s actually in an old cottonseed building (super clean and cute) and the décor echoes its past in an only-in-Texas way. The burgers were so good – don’t expect for there to be room for dessert! (But you better believe they have Blue Bell ice cream, just in case.)
But let’s get real, here. Martindale is also just 11 miles away from Lockhart, the BBQ Capital of Texas! We’ll leave that tasty discussion for another time.
My sister and I stayed in the “Harper Hall” room, courtesy of our hosts. It’s the bedroom that most still resembles an original 1921 classroom, complete with blackboard. The long-leaf pine floors creaked in friendly reply to our footsteps. Two queen cast iron beds are tucked beneath the chalkboard, and two twin sofa/daybeds sit to the side.
The “Ellison Suite” with its four-poster king bed and sitting area boasts the largest of the private bathrooms, with two sinks and a double head shower.
Looking for a room to meet your instagram feed needs? Say “Ole” to the “Lady Martindale” with 12-foot high, arched windows, king bed, wet bar and separate entrance from the front patio. It even has its own turntable (the other turntable and records collection is in the common room).
I especially liked one of the side table lamps in this room that’s made from an old band instrument. It might be a nod to Miss Louise Lawson, the school’s music teacher between 1931 and 1958. She was instrumental (if you’ll pardon the pun) in keeping the love of music alive in the community. She would have surely appreciated the piano and guitar in the living room for guests’ use, too!
“The Bagley” is the smallest of the rooms, but has it’s own 12-foot, arched window behind the queen bed.
And last but not least, if you get sent to the “Principal’s Office,” it’ll be a reward rather than a punishment. The office itself now serves as a large, brightly tiled bathroom to a southwest-vibe bedroom, with a kind bed and separate entrance from the back veranda.
Oh, and the school colors? Blue and gold. I don’t know whether or not it was planned (I think it was just kismet), but those colors live again throughout the schoolhouse’s mid-century modern furnishings that the owners collected over a number of years before even purchasing the property.
The long hallway leading to three of the bedrooms is lined with photos of students of the school and some of their sports teams, including the Wildcats girls’ basketball team of 1935. It was fun to try to match up the locations in the backgrounds of the photos with present day features of the schoolhouse.
Being located so close to the river, you can enjoy a little tubing without fighting the crowds around San Marcos. But…shhhhhh! That’ll just be our little secret.
And when you get back and dried off, the back porch fireplace or fire pit and back yard make great gathering spaces with plenty of room for younger ones to run off any excess energy.
Just behind the schoolhouse sits the Martindale Gymnasium, built in 1939 as one of the last projects constructed by the Public Works Administration. Over the years it hosted countless sporting events, dances, concerts, plays and community events.
Luckily it has returned to serve as a gathering place under the name of the Martindale Social Hall, available to rent for special events. Now open air (the roof is long gone) the space is ideal for a party or concert beneath the stars, with 4,200 square feet to spread out in.
A little side note for you trivia fans…
In 1938, Martindale High School played Prairie Lea High in one of the first six-man football games ever played in Texas. It was a demonstration games for the UIL to determine whether to officially sanction it as an alternative for small high schooled to field a football team during the Great Depression. Within a year, over a hundred schools in the state were playing six-man. Pretty cool, huh?
Martindale, Texas is centrally located between the cities of Austin and San Antonio. If some of the buildings look vaguely familiar, it’s possible you’ve seen them in a movie or two, like “The Newton Boys” with Matthew McConaughey or Clint Eastwood’s “A Perfect World.” One of the buildings even served as a courtroom in the TV miniseries “Blood Will Tell,” about the Cullen Davis murder. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch one of the movies while staying right down the street from where they were shot? Next time, I’ll be prepared for a movie night!
Oh my gosh, the holidays can get so hectic. Everyone’s schedules are tight, there are different events to bake for, the challenge of finding time to do something special with good friends…oh wait! You can do some of it at the same time!
This season might be the right time to schedule a Holiday Cookie Exchange!
If you haven’t participated in a cookie exchange, here’s a brief overview of how it works.
Make a list of friends, and send the invitations with instructions. We simplified ours by creating a Facebook event for our group. That way we could all keep up with the number of attendees and invitees could ask questions.
Decide on a location and time to hold your get together. Renting a beautiful location to hold your exchange takes the pressure off of any individual to get their house “holiday perfect” so early in the season. And since I was in charge of finding a location, you KNOW I wanted to have it at a beautiful, historic property! We had ours in the dining room of the elegant Lasker Inn in Galveston during the middle of the week, when the inn would most likely not be filled with other guests. Look for a similar location in your community and ask if they will charge a lower fee for a weekday morning. Our event was from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Each person is asked to make (or buy – no guilt trips here!) one kind of cookie to share with others attending the exchange. We asked that everyone bring sampling cookies and enough to send at least four cookies home with each guest, that way the baking process wasn’t overwhelming. (Some exchanges I’ve been invited to ask for a dozen of each type of cookie for each guest!)
Everyone can be asked to bring their own containers to fill, or the hostess can provide containers (the dollar store and craft stores have cute options).
With some exchanges, everyone will bring printed copies of the recipe they used to send home with the others. That way, not only does everyone leave with goodies – but also a stack of new recipes to try for themselves.
Yes, THIS is where we got to have our exchange! (Can you believe how lucky are are?!) The 1870 Lasker Inn B&B and Event Venue in Galveston, Texas. It’s a stunning home inside and out, and the owner is a delight.
I decided to share Laura Bush’s Cowboy Cookies because….hello…Texas! They are a delectable combination of so many favorite cookie ingredients. My family finds them irresistible. Anything that starts with three sticks of butter just HAS to be pure goodness. And the large treats definitely make a Texas-sized statement when stacked on a platter!
Here’s a link to Mrs. Bush’s recipe on the Southern Living website.
After we spent some time visiting and enjoying our exquisite surroundings (and of COURSE taking some photos), we gathered samples of each kind of cookie to take home. I filled up my pick-up truck (well, at least my truck shaped platter) with all kinds of goodies.
What a great way to spend a morning together and start off the Christmas season!
We all went home with plenty of cookies in a variety of flavors to share with our families or to take to our next event. Phew!
To find out more about the Lasker Inn, visit their website, here: The Lasker Inn
Looking for a reason to travel this fall, and get together with friends spread far and wide?
Plan a Destination Friendsgiving celebration!
The Thanksgiving holiday season is an ideal time to show our friends what an important role they play in our lives. A “Friendsgiving” is a gathering of those people for a feast and time spent enjoying each others company.
If your friends are coming from different parts of the state – or further, it will simplify things to find a bed and breakfast or rental hall as centrally located to everyone as possible. You might even put a fun twist on things by finding a town with a name perfectly paired to a Friendsgiving feast:
Moore, Texas (for the group that’s sure to want seconds)
If most of the members of your group live in cities, consider a country setting where there are fall colors and outdoor trails to enjoy together.
Small town girls might consider staying in the city to enjoy the city lights and shopping.
For accommodations, check Airbnb, VRBO and the local Chamber of Commerce. Finding an inn with room enough for everyone to stay in one place will extend the fun.
For our meal space, we found a local small event venue in a historic building (and you know that makes me happy!) that wasn’t booked on the weekday we were getting together, and was having some work done on the property, so gave us a terrific deal.
The location doesn’t matter as much as the friends.
Next, choose a date that works for everyone. This usually means it won’t actually be the official week of Thanksgiving – which is great. It takes off some of the packed-schedule pressure. The added advantage is getting everyone away from the holiday stresses that at home.
Social media can make the planning easy, but keep things as simple as possible. It’s about the time spent together, after all!
Set up a Facebook event to invite friends, and have everyone add to a master list of dishes they’re bringing. Pie and cookies are the most important, of course (I’m entitled to my opinion), but you’ll want a few sides and at least one main dish too. Since everyone likely will have a traditional Thanksgiving celebration with their families soon, you may even decide to have a more non-traditional potluck meal, with Italian or Mexican food. No rules!
Well . . . maybe ONE rule. There must be pie. (It may be MY rule, but I think everyone will benefit from taking this one to heart!)
If you’re traveling to a destination Friendsgiving, consider picking up smaller essentials at a local grocery store to save on packing lists and ice chest space.
To really put the focus entirely on fun and togetherness, everyone can pitch in on ordering a dinner prepared by a local restaurant and to be picked up the afternoon or evening of the event.
Once the time and place have been decided, do a little online investigating to search for nearby holiday events that your group might enjoy attending together.
So what’s stopping you? Get busy contacting your favorite gang, choose a merry destination and celebrate your own Friends-giving.
This time of year, Texas travel can take on a spookier theme when tourists seek out the most haunted hotels in their area.
Our state has no shortage of hotels with stories of resident spirits and unnatural occurrences. Some are based in fact. Some are more of a “reach.” If you want to test your nerves by staying at a property that might be home to unearthly beings, here are a few to try:
The Hotel Galvez, Galveston
The Driskill Hotel, Austin
Sheraton Gunter Hotel, San Antonio
Menger Hotel, San Antonio
Nutt House, Granbury
The Excelsior Hotel, Jefferson
Jefferson Hotel, Jefferson
Baker Hotel, Mineral Wells
The Ott Hotel, Liberty
Renaissance Casa de las Palmas, McAllen
Gage Hotel, Marathon
Le Meridien Stoneleigh, Dallas
Queen Isabel Inn, Port Isabel
Of course, this list is far from complete, but it’s a good place to start…or a lucky 13 places.
If you’re planning to brave a potentially haunted hotel in hope of having your own other-worldly experience you may make your reservations pretty far ahead of your stay.
Read the stories about the resident spirit(s) and experiences of others. If there is a particular room in the hotel that is purported to be the center of the activity and you want to stay in it (like room 501 at The Hotel Galvez), plan to book your room MONTHS in advance. These rooms are incredibly popular! If you’re thinking about staying there in October, you may need to book even further out.
Don’t trust your own senses, but don’t have expensive “ghost hunting” electronics? No problem. Just download one of the many apps available that claim to detect the presence of spirits…but if the information they give you creeps you out, don’t blame me!
A few to check out:
Ghost Radar: Classic by Spud Pickles
Ghost Communicator by Andrew Gronek
Ghost Detector Free by Purple Penguin.com
Ghost Locator by Sebastien Mougey
Ghost Observer by AKEV
Ghost Recorder by MEDL Mobile, Inc.
Ghost O Meter by Adrian 3
But remember, if all of this ghostly talk isn’t your style, there’s no shame in checking into a brand new hotel, cuing up “Hocus Pocus” on pay-per-view and digging into some Halloween candy instead!
I recently learned that the former Ranger’s Cottage at Varner-Hogg Plantation in West Columbia is now available to rent for overnight stays. I didn’t hesitate to make a reservation immediately!
The Varner Hogg Plantation is a State Historic Site featuring the original plantation home and several outbuildings. See my previous post for more about it: https://bit.ly/2Nxki0L
Though the website had basic information about the cottage, the photos online don’t do it justice. Being a Girl Scout leader, I know that the word “cottage” sometimes means extremely rustic and bare bones. While that won’t scare me away, I was pleasantly surprised with this location.
Built in the 1920s, the Ranger’s cottage sits slightly back across the site road from the main house, beneath large pecan trees that probably predate my grandmother.
Rocking chairs and a bistro table and chair set wait on the porch, inviting guests to linger and enjoy the immense trees, heavily draped with Southern moss. I honestly wasn’t sure I’d get much further, since I have in incurable weakness for porches, but I’m glad I did.
The entire cottage has been updated and decorated with comfortable, modern furnishings. No detail has been overlooked in making each room a welcoming space. The living room even has a basket of monogrammed blankets so family or friends can curl up on the sofa to enjoy an evening movie.
A stairway from the rear of the cottage leads to the second floor, and an additional full bath and two large bedrooms. Again, I was surprised by the size of the rooms, considering the age and original use of the cottage!
The yellow bedroom with twin beds and floral bedding seemed bright and cheery even on the dreary rainy day that I arrived.
The second upstairs bedroom was decorated in a lovely shabby chic violet, with full beds.
The cottage was so comfy, it would have been easy to just nest inside, but of course one of the major advantages of staying on site at the plantation is being able to explore the grounds even after visiting hours. Everything on site is within easy walking distance, including the main house, the ruins of the sugar mill and slave quarters, picnic grounds, the old family cemetery and more.
It was a special treat to wander around after an evening rain taking in the beauty and history while being serenaded by the frogs in Varner Creek.
I’m already planning a girls’ trip to share this wonderful find!
For information about making a reservation for your stay at the Varner-Hogg Plantation, visit https://bit.ly/2oHdpkB
Have you ever stayed at a historic site? If so, which one and did you enjoy it?