What a Blessing! Hotel Blessing Serves Up Tradition

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.

Back to School – Airbnb Style!

     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!

     To see a “video tour” of the Martindale Schoolhouse, visit my YouTube channel at Martindale Schoolhouse.

     And to book your own stay, visit www.martindaleschoolhouse.com




Cookie Exchange at the Historic 1870 Lasker Inn

     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!

Photo by Stacy Anderson

    If you haven’t participated in a cookie exchange, here’s a brief overview of how it works.

  1. 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.

    Photo by Stacy Anderson
  2. 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.

  3. 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!)

  4. 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).

  5. 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.

Southern Living: Laura Bush Cowboy Cookie Recipe

     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!

Pictured: @jennybusheyphotography & daughter, @kathleen_maca, @thehurriedhostess and @tamaragoesto

To find out more about the Lasker Inn, visit their website, here: The Lasker Inn

 

Destination: Friendsgiving!

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.

Photo by Tamara Underdahl

     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:

Turkey Texas

Blessing, Texas

Holliday, Texas

Salty, Texas

Moore, Texas (for the group that’s sure to want seconds)

Friendship, Texas

My Texan Pumpkin Pie

     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.

     I’d love to hear where you go!

     And when you’re sitting back in a Friendsgiving food coma, take the time to check out the instagram accounts of some of my talented friends who gathered for our special occasion: Kathleen (mine, of course!), Stacy, Tamara, Amanda, Hailey, Christine, Vashti, Lauren, Tia, CourtneyLaShanta, Rachel Marie, Sarah and Sammy.

Butler’s Courthyard

 

 

 

 

Haunted Texas Hotels

     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:

 

 

 

 

 

  1. The Hotel Galvez, Galveston

  2. The Driskill Hotel, Austin

  3. Sheraton Gunter Hotel, San Antonio

  4. Menger Hotel, San Antonio

  5. Nutt House, Granbury

  6. The Excelsior Hotel, Jefferson

  7. Jefferson Hotel, Jefferson

  8. Baker Hotel, Mineral Wells

  9. The Ott Hotel, Liberty

  10. Renaissance Casa de las Palmas, McAllen

  11. Gage Hotel, Marathon

  12. Le Meridien Stoneleigh, Dallas

  13. 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:

  1. Ghost Radar: Classic by Spud Pickles

  2. Ghost Communicator by Andrew Gronek

  3. Ghost Detector Free by Purple Penguin.com

  4. Ghost Locator by Sebastien Mougey

  5. Ghost Observer by AKEV

  6. Ghost Recorder by MEDL Mobile, Inc.

  7. 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!

Cozy Cottage with a Historic View

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.

 

To the right of the living room is a brightly colored, spacious master bedroom with space enough to do a little dancing before bedtime. The master bath has a dressing room with sink and mirror, and a separate room with shower and toilet. The amenities (towels, shampoo items, gels) are more who I would have expected from a hotel than a historic cottage on a state historic site! 

The kitchen was the next pleasant surprise (and by the time I saw it I was regretting not bringing a group of friends with me!). Stocked with serve ware and basic cookware, it features a full size refrigerator/freezer, microwave, range and coffeemaker. It would be such fun to stay here with family or friends and gather on the barstools at the counter to chat while fixing a meal! The attractive concrete counters, by the way, were made by one of the site employees (and I wonder if he would mind stopping by my house to make some for me!).
Just outside the kitchen door is a small back porch big enough for a couple of chairs. It would be a relaxing spot for a chat and cup of coffee or cocoa.

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?

Travel Out Loud

   I’ve ALWAYS been excited about traveling. Can you guess which one is me? Yep! Even at age six I had trouble controlling my enthusiasm for exploring.

     This is a photo of me with my mother (whose red hair I inherited, but not her demure nature) and my beautiful big sister (who I’m sure more than once has wondered if we are really from the same gene pool), on a visit to the Franklin Mountains State Park in west Texas. Dad was usually the one behind the camera, as that was one of his hobbies.

     Whether it’s playing tourist in your hometown or discovering new places, travel is full of surprises. The love of these discoveries is why I’m going to be sharing more places around Texas, old and new, to give you a peek at some of the fun to be found out there . . . and hopefully inspire you to take a trip or two to see it for yourself.

     I’ll be visiting small towns and big cities, locations close to home and on the far side of the state, historic hotels and unusual B&Bs, classic soda shops and Victorian cemeteries . . . just to start things off.

     It’s a wide open state with so much to see, so let’s fill up the tank and hit the road!

     What are your favorite Texas destinations, and what do you like to do there?

Secret Compartments

     Imagine finding the original house deed of your Victorian home, or perhaps love letters from over 100 years ago. It’s possible you’ve been walking by them on a daily basis.

     Newel posts, or the large post ending a staircase, are structurally meant to keep the rest of a staircase safely anchored, but sometimes they keep secrets as well.

Newel Post at the Carr Mansion, Galveston, Texas

     In the last half of the 19th century, machinery had advanced to make the popular “new style” of broad posts on a lathe, often leaving an empty space in the middle. It’s the hollow posts that have lent themselves to the folklore of secret hiding places.

     Before the cap of a hollow newel post was attached (or removed later), some owners rolled up their house deeds, original plans or other mementos and placed them in the void before it was closed. The item most often found is a coin, placed inside for good luck.

     The lady of the house was, of course, aware of this hidden space as it was most likely one of the few places not easily accessible by her servants, children or spouse on a daily basis. There are many family stories of love letters from previous relationships or loved ones off at war, or documents that might reveal some tawdry detail from the owners past being found years later in a newel post.

     Though most of these stories are probably the stuff of family legends, enough have been true to keep the intrigue alive.

Amity Button

     Another feature of a newel post cap sharp eyes might spy is a small round “button”  carved of ivory, whale bone or mother of pearl sometimes inlaid in the newel cap. These are called mortgage buttons or amity buttons, and signified their was no lien on the property – a point of pride for the homeowners. Not as mysterious perhaps, but interesting nonetheless.

     So the next time you tour a grand home with a large newel post anchoring the staircase, ask your guide if anyone has peeked inside. There might be a story there.