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.

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!

Texican Court – A Nod to Nostalgia

     Roadside motels in the 1950s and 60s lured travelers in from the road with their distinct architecture, flashy neon signs, clever names and often the promise of a cool dip in the courtyard pool.

     My father was definitely more of a “chain hotel” kinda guy on our family trips, so I just watched as we drove past these intriguing pieces of nostalgia every summer.

     But now…ta-da! They’re making a comeback. (Who would’ve thought?)

     So obviously, when one of the newest ones in Texas invited me to stay and check it out, the answer was “Absolutely!”

     The Texican Court boutique hotel opened its doors in Irving in November, and just one look lets you know it isn’t a “cookie cutter” experience. Arriving guests are greeted by a beautiful neon sign of a lasso wielding cowboy on horseback that would make Roy Rogers grin.

     The facade of the hotel is highly reminiscent (intentionally or not…but I’m convinced it is) of the Alamo Plaza Motor Courts – America’s very first motor court hotel which, it happens, was just a few miles away in Waco. But that’s a topic for another time.

 

     It’s immediately obvious that every detail of the hotel was carefully curated to bring to mind the nostalgia of old fashioned motor courts while providing the utmost comfort to today’s travelers.

     Merging Southwest and mid-century style, everything from the custom furnishings to the mid-size bright orange fridges in every room (fully stocked enough to have a party on the patio!) made me want to settle in and ‘stay a spell.’

     If it had just been a bit warmer (darn that norther that blew through town), you would have found me in one of the poolside chaises with a margarita in my hand.

     My sister and I agreed that the shower was hands-down THE nicest shower we’ve ever experienced at a hotel (and we’ve been in a few).

How much do I love this version of “Do Not Disturb?” Sooo much!

     Half of the rooms open into hallways and the other half open onto balconies facing the pool area. each evening fire pits are lit around the property to provide gathering points for guests (not that that’s a challenge, with two separate bars).

     For a short video “tour” of our room, visit Texican Court

Hop on a bike and ride around the property.

 

 

Friendly and polite staff who were ready and willing to answer questions and do anything they could to make our stay more comfortable.

Two Mules Cantina Restaurant

     The complimentary European style breakfast was surprisingly varied, and included fresh fruits, pastries, yogurt, oatmeal and plenty of other options to start our day off right. And since our stay was during a cold snap we were especially happy to see a wide assortment of teas and coffees available.

     The Texican is right across the street from the Toyota Music Factory and Irving Convention Center, and would make a terrific place to stay if you were in town for a concert or business. It’s easy to find, positioned right off the freeway and close to public transportation access, as well.

Tequila Bar

     One of my favorite features was the presence of outdoor fire pits – one by the pool and one in a large open courtyard outside of the restaurant and bar. Both great spots for gathering with family and friends.

Great place to sit and relax in the evening.

     If you love the look of the Texican (I know I do!), you’ll love staying there even more.

     DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary stay at this hotel, but that in no way effects my opinion or review of the property.

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?

Stepping Back in Time at Varner-Hogg Plantation

Don’t you just love visiting a place that makes history come to life?

The Varner-Hogg Plantation in West Columbia is one of those sites.

When most of us think of plantations, our thoughts go immediately to Louisiana or Mississippi. But just an hour south of downtown Houston an enchanting reminder of the past sits tucked backed on acreage covered by magnolia trees and a pecan orchard, beside a lazy, winding creek.

The Varner-Hogg Plantation Historic Site shares the story of three owners and their families.

Martin Varner came to the area in 1824 and was granted 4,428 acres by Stephen F. Austin. Along with the two male slaves they brought to the area, his family raised a small amount of livestock and established a rum distillery.

Ruins of sugar mill

Ten years later, Columbus R. Patton moved from Kentucky with a large number of slaves. He became active in politics and served in the Texan army. During the years the plantation was known as the Patton Place, between 40 and 60 slaves made bricks by hand, constructed a plantation house, smokehouse, sugar mill and their own living quarters.

Sugar mill boiling kettles

The two-story sugar mill, which sat across Varner creek within sight of the front porch (now the back) of the main house, made Patton highly successful.

View of main house from site of sugar mill.
The original front entrance now serves as a back porch.


His long-running, open relationship with a slave named Rachel was unpopular in the community. She had many of the rights a white wife would have, and was known to have ruled over the other slaves in a harsh manner.

Patton’s extended family also disapproved, and his nephew and brother were disinherited by Patton because of their actions against her. The extended family had Patton declared insane in 1854, and had him committed to an asylum in South Carolina where he died in 1856. After his death and a prolonged court battle, Rachel was granted her freedom and an annual stipend.

Between 1869 and 1901, the site changed hands several times. Many of the original buildings, including the slave quarters and sugar mill were destroyed during the 1900 hurricane.Governor Hogg purchased the plantation in 1901, convinced that there were oil reserves beneath the land. His 1906 will recommended that his children retain the mineral rights, and the discovery of oil a short time later made the family extremely wealthy.

His daughter Ima was a renowned collector of antiques and decorative arts, and furnished the main house with exquisite pieces before donating the plantation to the state of Texas in 1958.


 

 

A stairway leading from the second floor to the third floor, where the boys of families of former residents would have slept, is off limits to current visitors. Luckily, I was allowed access so that I could share these phots with my readers.

Stairway to third floor.

Though the quarter round windows would have originally allowed light into the space, it’s hard to imagine how the heat of summer would have been tolerable.

The original, covered quarter-round windows as seen on the third floor.

A much smaller set of stairs, tucked beneath what was possibly an original eave, then leads from the third floor to the glassed-in cupola atop the plantation house.

Stairs from third floor to the cupola.
View from cupola
View from cupola.

A feature of the plantation site that kids find especially fun is

“Governor Hogg’s Tub” and Swimming Hole.


Fed by a natural spring creating a small fountain from a pipe, the water is retained in a square, brick lined “tub” before continuing to a small lake. The well-maintained feature is now enjoyed by local wildlife.

One of the things this site does so well is to preserve the beauty of this time period and lifestyles, without romanticizing the sacrifices of others that made them possible. In the outbuidling known as Ima’s cottage, where she stayed on her visits in later years, a fascinating account has been gathered of what the lives of slaves on the plantation were like. Visitors can even listen to recordings of reminiscences of former slaves in their own words.


During your visit make sure you visit the barn, where you can see antique carriages. The yard to the barn is now used for special events.







The visitors center, immediately to the left as you enter the grounds, has a small exhibit room as well as a great selection of local history books and souvenirs.

In my next blog post, I’ll share a special place to stay overnight when you

visit the Varner-Hogg Plantation! 




 

 

Legends, Mystery & Romance

   I love a good mystery, and a dash of romance just makes it better, right?

Rose Window

   The iconic Rose Window at Mission San Jose in San Antonio is one of the most famous windows in the world. Along with other features of five Spanish missions in the area, it is listed as one of the details that distinguish it as the first World UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas.

   Sculptor Pedro Huizar carved the quatrefoil shape entangled with the images of pomegranates, said to symbolize fertility, in 1775. Yet the ten foot tall, six-foot wide window sits only about four and a half feet above ground level. And its position in the sacristy wall (where windows were traditionally plain) and the purpose of steps leading up from the interior remain a mystery.

   But what intrigues most visitors who come especially to see this ornately carved window are the legends behind it.

   One version of its creation says that Huizar’s sweetheart Rosa either died or disappeared in a shipwreck on her way from Spain to be reunited with him in Texas.

   Another that he carved the window in the throws of despair after the woman who he came overseas to make a fortune to win, betrayed him.

   Yet another story relates that Huizar carved the masterpiece after falling in love with a wealthy woman whose family shunned him.

   Which version is true? Perhaps one…or none of them. The tales most likely took shape during a period of romanticism after the 1870s in order to attract tourists.

   But does it really matter? Sometimes the legends can be more intriguing than cold, hard facts.

   Whatever its origin, the Rose Window has become one of the most recognized architectural features in the Southwest. Miniature replications of the window can be seen in several buildings in downtown San Antonio, and there’s even a massive version at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Beaumont.

   Which version of the story would you prefer to be true?