Glenrio Ghost Town: Exit 0 on Route 66

     After spending the night in Tucumcari, New Mexico so we could get a “running start” at the stretch of Route 66 that cuts through Texas, we headed out to find our first bit of nostalgia.

     Glenrio is a town that’s actually in two states, straddling the border of New Mexico and Texas, so it was an ideal place to begin our adventure. Now a ghost town (although it still technically has two residents), it sits silently except for the hum of semis rushing down Interstate 40 just about 1000 feet behind what was once a popular stop along Route 66.

     Crossing into the Lone Star State and Central Time zone, we took Exit 0 and two short right turns to end up on the original roadbed of old Route 66 that runs through town.

     My heart raced a bit, because the crumbling bones of the few remaining buildings looked so familiar to me after doing much research for the trip. That’s when it hit me that we were actually doing this roadtrip I’ve looked forward to for so long!

     Here’s just a bit of background on the town to put things in perspective (then we’ll get to the ‘good stuff!’).

     The town site was primarily populated by large cattle ranches, and then wheat and sorghum farms. Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway established a station there in 1906, one year after the region was opened to small farmers to settle.

Humorous clipping from the Glenrio Tribune

    In September 1910, J. W. Kirkpatrick opened the first business in town, the Hotel Kirkpatrick. Other buildings soon popped up including grocery and mercantile stores, a bakery, a post office, the Glenrio Tribune newspaper (published from 1910-1934), a barber shop, a blacksmith shop, a feed store, a telephone exchange and a Methodist church. A school was added to the community in 1912.

    In the 1920s the government improved the dirt road running through town by paving it and dubbing it as part of the Ozark Trails Highway. By then the town had added a hardware store, a land office, more hotels/motels, service stations and cafes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo taken shortly after the road through Glenrio was paved.

     One of the amusing facts about Glenrio is how its businesses were divided by the states they sat in. Deaf Smith County in Texas was dry, so the bars and any establishment selling alcohol were built on the New Mexico side of town. No service stations were on the New Mexico side because of that state’s higher gasoline tax. Just a few steps along the road changed the laws and the prices.

     The original Glenrio post office was on the New Mexico side, even though the mail arrived at the railroad depot on the Texas side. Years later a new post office was built on the Texas side.

Photo by 20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

     In 1940, just two years after the final pavement through the Llano Estacado terrain of Route 66 was finished, scenes for the movie version of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath was filmed in Glenrio for three weeks. Pretty big excitement for a little panhandle town.

     At the midpoint between Amarillo and Tucumcari, Glenrio became a popular stopping point for Route 66 travelers and a “welcome station” was built near the state line.

 

Glenrio Welcome Station on Route 66


     The town’s population never rose above about 30 people. Most of the residents made their living from tourist based operations for Route 66 in the 1950s, but its popularity couldn’t save the town when Interstate 40 was built, bypassing the community.

I can only imagine how many families took their “New Mexico photo” and then just steps away took the Texas version.

     The Rock Island Railroad depot closed in 1955. By 1985 the Texas post office was the only business open, but it has now long been closed.

     You’ll want to step carefully if you walk off the road toward the buildings, because the biggest population in this town just might be the snakes judging by the number of holes I saw in the dirt.

     The remnants of the few buildings left standing each must have innumerable stories to tell, if only they were able. All of the remaining buildings are on the north side of the road.

State line marker as it appeared just a few years ago
State line marker as it appears today

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Texaco Gas Station and Brownlee House

Image via Google Maps

 

     One of the first things visitors encounter is this old, abandoned Pontiac in front of a forlorn gas station. Thanks to the fascination for abandoned places and the internet, even those who haven’t visited Glenrio are familiar with the car. What most dod’t realize is that the classic automobile has a much darker story than most cars that are left in place to rust, but I’ll share that in my next blog post.

     Built by Joe Brownlee in 1950, this Texaco station still sports its original gas pumps and front door, which is pretty amazing considering the harsh climate and years of abandonment. Because it was posted as private property and was in such close proximity to the Brownlee House, I respected the owners privacy by not venturing too close. But I sure WANTED to!

Joseph (Joe) Brownlee House

     Sitting about 40 feet in back of the station is the Joe Brownlee house. Originally built in Amarillo ca.1930, he moved the bungalow style home to this location in 1950 to inlaced wrought iron porch posts and a faux stone veneer.

     Roxann Travis, daughter of Joe Brownlee still resides in the home, and if you hear dogs barking when you step out of your care…they’re hers. It’s pretty fascinating to think of her living her entire life in Glenrio.

     An interview once quoted Roxann as relating that, “My father had two gas stations here. Traffic would be lined up both directions. He’d have all five of us kids out there washing windshields and changing the oil so all they had to do was pump gas and keep moving them through as fast as we could.”

     “We used to keep horses across the road but it was hard to get to them there were so many cars. When my kids were being raised here, they played ball on the road. You could take a nap on it now.”

     West of the house is a picturesque horse corral made of native wood, and a handful of agricultural buildings.

Brownlee Diner / Little Juarez Cafe

     This little Streamline Moderne building sits just west of the Texaco gas station. It housed the Brownlee Diner, later known as the Little Juarez Café. It served its last meal in 1973.

   The curved aluminum sign panel on the roof has the barely discernible word “Diner” visible on each side. On the east side I could barely make out the outline of a Mexican sombrero with the words “Little Juarez.” Photos that I’ve seen of the diner from as few as five years ago show the lettering quite a bit more clearly. Panhandle weather is a tough beast.

How the abandoned diner appeared in 2013. You can see more of the original sign paint still existed.

     The windows were covered from the inside (no peeking allowed, evidently!), so there was no sense in disobeying the ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted all over the property.

     But the little building does have quite a modern day claim to fame…


     Does this look familiar from the movie “Cars?” Yep, it was the inspiration! The animators for the movie actually traveled Route 66 and used many of the roads iconic sites in the film.

From the movie “Cars”

 

Texas Longhorn Motel, and the State Line Cafe & Gas Station


     In 1939, businessman Homer Ehresman purchased the State Line Bar and operated it for several years before selling the property to Joseph Brownlee.  In 1953 Ehresman constructed the State Line Café and Gas Station just east of his former property on Route 66.

1965 postcard of the Longhorn

 

     The one story building housed both the cafe and gas station, and a garage bay for auto repairs was on the west end of the structure. Not surprisingly, none of the twenty-light glass panels in the original bay doors are intact. An original hydraulic auto jack sits inside.

 

   In 1955 the Ehresman family opened the Texas Longhorn Motel directly in back of their gas station and cafe, which was in operation until 1976. The U-shaped motel featured side eaves supported by wrought iron posts to provide guests shade on the walkways in front of the rooms.

     As I walked into the center court of the motel (it was difficult to imagine it filled with autos at one time), I could easily see that the “U” was composed of two sections.

     The wing to my left (on the west) housed five rooms of stucco construction, and had most of its original doors. I was surprised to find that each of the rooms once had small kitchens in addition to a sitting area, bed area and bathroom. Though some of what must have been original furnishings were inside, they were covered with crumbled drywall from the ceilings and walls.

     The eight rooms at the back (north side) of the court appeared to be more simple, with a bedroom, bath (much of the original tile in place) and closet constructed on concrete block.

     A detached office wing to the right (east) also providing living space for a manager, and was apparently occupied once again as recently as five years ago. Even then the condition of the building would have been rough, to say the least. Whoever lived there seems to have left their furnishings (or those provided to them) behind.

     The most recognizable feature of the property to Route 66 afficiandanos is what is referred to as the towering “First-Last Sign” built directly in front of the buildings in 1955. Considered one of the most popular novelties along Route 66, it originally read “Motel – First in Texas – Cafe” or “Motel – Last in Texas – Cafe” depending on which was motorists were driving.  A line of cars waiting for the pumps was a daily sight during the Route’s heyday. Now the only cars in in sight are ones that haven’t run for years, and the famous sign sits deteriorating. Soon none of the words will be left.


 

State Line Bar & Motel

Vintage photo of State Line Bar and Gas Station

 

     The State Line Bar and Texaco gas station (gee, all the “necessities” in one stop!) was built about 1935 by John Wesley Ferguson who originally came to Glenrio to be the Rock Island station master. It was remodeled in 1960 with a concrete block exterior and aluminum and glass door. The little wooden lean-to building in the left of the old photo above (taken ca. 1950) functioned as the New Mexico post office.

     Peering inside you’ll glimpse the caved-in ceiling, and pieces of carpeting and wood paneling. Other than that and some refuse there isn’t much to see.

State Line Bar

 

     To the northwest of the bar is an abandoned eight-unit adobe motel built ca. 1930. The main façade has nine entrances, with eight opening to guest rooms and one to a storage area. A concrete sidewalk runs across the front of the motel in front of the warped, three-panel doors and each room has a window whose glass has long since disappeared.

     To walk far enough back on the lot to reach the rooms, you’ll want to be wearing boots or snake guards because . . . well, yeah. The nearest hospital isn’t exactly around the corner.

 

Ferguson (Mobil Oil) Gas Station & Post Office

     This charming little concrete block and stuccoed wood ruin was originally a Mobil gas station built in 1946 by John Wayne Ferguson, Jr. Its missing all of its doors and windows, which makes it appear even older than it is. The wood ceiling has collapsed into a maze of slats for the sun to filter through, creating patterns on the debris inside.

     My favorite part of this building is the ghost sign reading “Post Office” on one side. It was a fun discovery when I was walking among the remnants of buildings trying to identify them. For this one I only needed to literally read the writing on the wall!

The original circle driveway concrete planter at the post office is still visible.

 

Texas Route 66 Roadbed

 

     One sight that many visitors to Glenrio  may not even realize they are looking at is a section of the original Route 66 roadbed that runs through town.

     The first road through Glenrio was a dirt track which was gradually improved in the 1920s as part of the Ozark Trails highway. In 1926, the section of road was officially designated as U.S. 66, with a two-lane paved road completed through Glenrio by the late 1920s. Due to the popularity of the town and amount of traffic on the road, Route 66 was widened to four-lanes with a concrete median added on the New Mexico side. This asphalt-surfaced, four- lane highway remains drivable, but eventually runs into dirt road where the state pulled up the asphalt to avoid maintenance.

     Grass now grows through the cracks in the asphalt on the four lanes but its worth the short drive just to say you’ve traveled part of the original Route.

     A handful of other foundations exist, but I won’t mention them here since the buildings they supported are gone. If you explore the town in person or just via Google maps, this key to the buildings and foundations will help to act as a good guide.

Courtesy of Texas Historical Commission
Courtesy of Texas Historical Commission
Courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission

 

Courtesy of Texas Historical Commission

     You can drive through Glenrio in less than one minute without even going the speed limit, since the drive is just over a mile in length, but there is so much history there for those willing to stop.

     After a bit of exploring, it was time to hop back in the car (and air conditioning), drink some cold water and to head to our next stop which I’ll share soon!

Getting Our Kicks on Route 66

     Not every good trip takes a lot of planning, but it really pays off when you’re going on a “theme” trip with family members!

     This summer’s goal was to drive the section of Route 66 that goes through the Texas Panhandle, and I definitely did weeks of research through travel bureaus, internet, books and maps. I enjoyed the process and it really built up the anticipation for me!

     After doing a preliminary review of the sites along the way, I decided to spread the drive across six days. Now, If you’re familiar at all with this section of Route 66 or the Panhandle, you’re probably thinking I may have lost my marbles since this stretch of road is just under 200 miles long and would only take about three hours to drive straight through!

     But stay with me, here! There was so much to see!

     I decided to actually begin the drive in Tucumcari, New Mexico which is only about an hour west of the Texas border. I fell in love with photos of the old, restored motels from Route 66 that are still operating here while I was doing my research. It also helped to make sure we were going to include every inch of the Texas section of the road, which I was determined to do!

Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, NM

     The route would take us across the Panhandle to Texola, Oklahoma (although we took it all the way to Oklahoma City so we could cut south and spend a few days with friends on their ranch).

     One of the challenges of planning the trip was to incorporate things that would be of special interest to everyone in my family.


   My 17-year-old daughter is interested in music, animals, and antique a
nd thrift shops. First things, first…she was in charge of the playlists for the road trip, and I’m so glad she was! She enjoys “vintage” music (like, um, from when I was in high school) as well as some of the new and alternative bands. My husband and I got to enjoy old favorites and hear some terrific new music and only once (yes, once!) asked her to skip to the next song.

Fell in “puppy love” with this 7-week old chihuahua!

     We came across plenty of animals on the trip, which was a treat, but incorporated riding horses into our “definitely do this” list. Seeing the land from horseback always seems to make exploring the outdoors more special.

     There were countless antique and resale shops along the way, so I dove in and checked out online photos and reviews to find some that might suit her particular interests.

     Special bonus: she recently got her driver’s license so she helped with the driving, too!

     My husband is a ham radio operator (AB5SS, if any of you are, too!). He has a “roving” antennae and is operating to contact every “grid” in the United States. He decided to use this opportunity to help other “hams” contact grids along Route 66 that are difficult or impossible

to cross off their wishlists…and he sure made some people happy! He has a map of where each grid is along the way, so we made a point to stop (at least once) in each grid to give him a chance to operate. He announced via his twitter account that he would be doing this so that interested hams could mark it on their calendar, and then announced prior to each broadcast where they could find him on the air. He made over 150 contacts during the trip! That’s a lot of happy ham operators.

AB5SS

     And of course I got some fun shots of him operating in unusual locations.

     Besides Texas history and travel, I love old buildings, cemeteries and photography, so let’s admit it … I was basically set for this trip! (Insert “happy dance” here!)

 

     Using Google Maps street view, I virtually “drove” any sections of the towns I was particularly interested in or not sure about. Familiarizing myself with how these places actually appear made things so much easier when we actually arrived, and circumvented some areas to cross off the list as being not as worthwhile.

   Maps and checklists in hand, and lots of road snacks loaded up, we headed out from Houston to check out this historic roadway.

     In the next few blog posts, I’ll take you along to see what we discovered and hopefully encourage you to “get your kicks on Route 66.”

World’s Largest Bowie Knife

Looking for a roadside attraction that’s “on point?” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist)

          In line with making sure that everything really IS bigger in Texas, the town of Bowie offers a Guinness World Record Bowie knife.

     Now in case you aren’t familiar with Bowie or just need a quick refresher, Colonel James Bowie was one of the heroes of the Battle of the Alamo. But what his name will forever be linked to was a custom knife, designed for him by his brother Rezin. It was reportedly 9.5″ long, 1 1/4″ thick and 1 1/2″ wide with a simple riveted wood handle. It was his skill using this weapon that became legendary.

Colonel James Bowie

     In an 1827 brawl with several men on a sandbar outside of Natchez, Mississippi, Bowie was stabbed in the chest, shot multiple times and beaten half to death but still managed to win the fight using his large knife. Two of his attackers lay dead and two grievously wounded. The action would be almost unbelievable if we watched it in a modern movie.

     But back to the impressive roadside attraction that bears his name…

     Bowie, Texas, Jim Bowie’s namesake town in Montague County, erected the world’s largest Bowie knife in his honor. The impressive weapon is 20’6″ in length and 16’10” high. The steel blade alone (which was created hollow to lessen the weight) is over 14′ long! Constructed basically the same as more functional versions of the knife, it is made of steel and brass with a wood handle  made from a Bodark tree (*more information about this side fact below!). It weighs 3,000 pounds and had to be lifted into place with a crane. The monument was designed by engineers to withstand normal seismic activity, winds up to 90 per hour and an inch thick layer of ice. Basically, to be as tough as the man for whom it was named.

     The blade isn’t sharpened for safety reasons, although crawling on the monument isn’t allowed. But the positioning of the knife provides some interesting photobombing opportunities.

     You can see this cutting edge monument (sorry…again) for yourself in Pelham Park in Bowie, Texas. There is easy, free parking at the site as well as a few brief explanatory plaques about the man and his weapon.

     This is one of those sights that will convince you everything really IS bigger in Texas.

*The Bodark tree that was used to create the handle of the monument goes by other names you might recognize: bois d’arc, Osage orange, horse apple, and hedge apple. The hardness of bois d’arc made it popular with wheelwrights for use in the spokes and hubs of wagon wheels, bridge timbers, foundation piers for houses and paving blocks. It was also prized for being the the perfect post material for barbed wire fences due to its toughness. I’d say that makes it an appropriate wood to incorporate into a Bowie Monument, wouldn’t you?

SITE: Roadside monument

LOCATION: Pelham Park, on the northbound side of US 81/E. Wise Street

ADMISSION: Free

Rocket Your Name All the Way to Mars . . . For Free!

     However far you’re planing to travel this summer, your name can go even farther…all the way to Mars!

     From now until September 30 (2019) you can provide your name via a special website link, and the Microdevices Laboratory at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will use an electron beam to stencil submitted names onto a silicon chip with lines smaller than one-thousandth the width of a human hair. Because of the size, more than a million names can fit on a single dime-sized chip. The chip(s) will ride on the Mars rover under a glass cover…so your name can quite literally travel where no man has gone before!

     Thomas Zureichen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate explains that NASA wanted “everyone to share in this journey of exploration.”

     Once you’ve input your information, NASA will send you a printable “boarding pass” as a keepsake. (It’ll be the coolest thing on your refrigerator.)

     Count us in!

     This would be a fun thing to do with your kids or classrooms, and then let them watch the actual launch of their names into space. But…yeah…I did it, too.

      Click this link to join in the adventure:

Send my name to Mars, please!

Group Experiences Mix It Up at Hotel Valencia

Do you chimichurri?

     I recently had the opportunity to visit with Executive Chef David Rapozo at Hotel Valencia Riverwalk in San Antonio about activities and unique group experiences for groups traveling together.

     

     In response, he treated our group to a chimichurri making competition. Chimichurri is an uncooked sauce (like a pesto in Italy or salsa in Mexico) that originated in Argentina, which was particularly appropriate as this beautiful hotel is designed with a stunning Argentinian theme and restaurant menus.

     Chef Rapozo demonstrated how he uses a variety of ingredients to make a chimichurri similar to ones that he personally found in Argentina, and then let us sample it. Once we saw that it wasn’t as intimidating as we might have thought, he presented us with a table filled with portioned seasonings and oils to try making our own. We were split into teams of two, and got busy mixing.

     Though some of the participants were a bit hesitant at the start of the event, we were all quickly caught up in the fun, while getting to know each other better. The light-hearted approach encouraged everyone to experiment and laugh at any mishaps along the way.

     Much to our surprise, even though we were all working with the same variety of ingredients, each team’s efforts had very different results . . . even different colors.

     To our delight, a variety of grilled meats arrived from the kitchen to try the sauces on. Chef Rapozo went first with tasting all the “entries” of course, to act as our judge. And although he did declare a winning team (which just might have been mine!) he gave nice feedback to everyone.

   Now, truth be told, I thought they were all really tasty and it was fun (and delicious) trying all of the varieties. We all went away anxious to try it again once we returned home.

VIDEO OF INGREDIENTS TABLE

     Activities like this would be a great addition for a group girlfriends getaway or used as a corporate team building event during business travel. Be sure to contact the hotel several weeks ahead of your arrival to allow the staff to present possible ideas (maybe a guacamole making competition?) and allow you time to choose and them to prepare for the experience.

     Try it the next time you travel in a group!

Galveston’s Coastal Grill – Tasty & Priced Right

     There is no shortage of great places to eat on Galveston Island, but if you’re looking for a fresh catch on the seafood scene add Coastal Grill to your list.

     Open just four months, this restaurant already has it figured out.

     Don’t let the unassuming exterior fool you. The interior is bright and clean with plenty of seating.

     Sitting at the west end of the Strand just a block or two beyond where most tourists wander (1827 Strand), it would be a nice spot for a date night, family dinner or girls’ night out with a varied menu to satisfy everyone in your group.

     We were pleasantly greeted as soon as we entered the restaurant. The gentleman then invited us to sit wherever we wanted (it was just before 6 p.m. on a Saturday night, so the dinner crowd hadn’t arrived yet) and look over our menus.

     Guests then go to the counter to order (take a peek at the dessert case while you’re there!), and the food is brought to the table when ready.

     Looking over the menu, I wasn’t sure which direction to go in since the dozens of choices all sounded so good.

     I always look over menus for items that might intrigue family and friends with different tastes, and I can honestly say that there was something for everyone … seafood, steak, burgers, loaded baked potatoes, tacos, tortilla soup, shrimp or beef kabobs and more. And everything was reasonably priced.

     My husband and I finally decided to stick to our original thought of seafood as a type of ultimate “test” of a Galveston restaurant. We weren’t disappointed!

     The stuffed mushroom appetizer was a bit surprising in presentation, using a large amount of stuffing with button mushrooms beneath. Both the stuffing and mushrooms were perfectly prepared and tasty.

Stuffed Mushrooms

     For the main course I ordered grilled shrimp and my husband had the grill red snapper. The “Mmmmm-ing” fest immediately began ( as in “mmmm that’s so good).

Grilled Red Snapper, Grilled Shrimp & Cole Slaw

     It was immediately obvious how fresh the seafood was, and we expected nothing less being just blocks from the docks. The seasoning was the perfect level to enhance the dishes without masking the natural flavor of the items, as well.

     And let me add here that my husband is a lifelong recreational fisherman, so when his picky seafood palate is impressed it’s a very good sign.

     I recommend the slaw as a side, as their version is just as fresh as the entrees and not the “soupy” type I so often unfortunately encounter.

     Everything was attractively plated, and the friendly staff kept our glasses filled and checked on us often.

     We were discussing which dishes we would try on our next visit before we even left the restaurant.

     And…yes. We “had” to try a dessert, too. We split a piece of key lime pie which was made in-house. Just the right amount of sweet and tangy, in a thin-but-perfect graham cracker crust, it was the wrap-up for our meal.

Key Lime Pie

     Coastal Grill also has a newly constructed back patio and performance stage ready for some summer music and gatherings. I can’t wait to try that out!

     There’s parking in the front as well as a bit in the back. If you’re in a hurry, grab a to-go menu from the display by the front door.

 

     I can imagine visitors wanting to get back to their beach houses to enjoy a sunset, while enjoying delicious food they’ve picked up at the end of a busy day on the Strand.

     I’m looking forward to a return visit. Who wants to meet me there?

COASTAL GRILL

1827 Strand, Galveston

409-765-5386

www.coastalgrillgalveston.com

THE SAGA – LIGHTING UP THE NIGHT

IMG_5429

Absolutely stunning!

     I have been looking forward to seeing this since I first heard about it several months ago, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful and emotional it would be.

     “The Saga” is a video art installation in San Antonio created by French artist Xavier de Richemont. Projected on the facade of the imposing San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest operating sanctuary in North America, in the heart of downtown it definitely makes my “must see” list for the city.

     In the minutes before the show our trio slowly wandered into the plaza to join others who were deciding on their ideal viewing spot in anticipation of the show. A few brought folding chairs, children made their way to the front of the gathering to sit cross-legged on the pavers, but most just stood.

     A rumble of rain followed by crashes of thunder surged through the speakers to start the show, and all eyes were on the cathedral.

 

Click here to watch the first moments of “The Saga”

 

   Light, color and a collage of images burst onto the 7,000 square foot projection choreographed to music provided in surround sound speakers.

     The progression of images- drawings, photos and maps – took us on a historical journey through the discovery, early settlement, and development from this 300-year-old city.

     Pictures of landscapes, Native Americans, famous battles and finally skyscrapers filled the space, surrounded by wavy blue lines signifying the San Antonio River. A progression of timely music from Native American songs, German polkas, fiddle solos, and more kept our hearts pumping with excitement to see what would come next.

     Richemont worked with local scholars in the creation of the monumental show. He has produced similar projections on famous architecture throughout the world, including Chartres Cathedral in France.

     Totally mesmerized by the breathtaking display, I didn’t have any problem standing for its 24-minute length, even after walking all day…and I bet you won’t either.

   And one of the best parts about this $1 million monumental attraction? It’s absolutely free to the public! I guarantee that if I my schedule had allowed, I would have attended more than once.

     The multimedia work will be projected on the facade of the cathedral three times a night each Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:00 p.m., 9:30 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. through 2024.





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




Texas Proud on President’s Day

     Both U.S. presidents most associated with Texas in recent years weren’t actually born here. Former President George H. W. Bush was born in Massachusetts, and his son was born in Connecticutt.

     The two actually born in Texas? Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson.

     You can visit the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site in Denison.

Eisenhower birthplace

     The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is in Stonewall, Texas. The “Texas White House” is temporarily closed, but other park facilities are open.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Ladybird

     Now just for fun, how many Texas places can you think of that share a name with a former President? Try your hand, and then see below for a list, in order of the presidential office year. (Not all of these places were named for the President whose name they share.)

Washington

Adams

Jefferson

Madison County

Madisonville

Monroe City

Lake Jackson

Harrison County

Tyler

Polk County

Taylor

Pierce

Buchanan Lake

Lincoln

Johnson City

Hays County (O.K., well  – the prez spelled it Hayes so this one’s a stretch)

Garfield

Port Arthur

Cleveland

Harrison County

Roosevelt

Taft

Wilson

Coolidge

Hoover

Kenedy (again..spelled slightly different than Kennedy)

Nixon

Carter

Reagan

Clinton

How many were you able to name without peeking? It’s O.K. if you did peek…no judgment here.

Happy President’s Day!