The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2000-07-28/78025/

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, July 28, 2000, Columns

The J.M Koch Hotel Bed and Breakfast in D'Hannis will be getting a state historical marker by Christmas. From the outside, the old railroad hotel is one of a vanishing breed of Texas frontier buildings, but on the inside it's a comfortable guest house with modern conveniences.

At the turn of the century, as the iron ribbon of the railroad wove its way toward the West Coast, hotels sprang up along the way to accommodate weary travelers. These hotels, along with a church or saloon, were often the beginning of settlements.

Some communities grew and prospered, while others never changed much. The austere frontier buildings were often the biggest reminder of unrealized dreams. Many of the once-proud hotels have now decayed into empty shells or been demolished.

"I hate to see an old building torn down," says Hilo Del Bosque. "You don't see a lot of 95-year-old buildings still standing." Hilo, an assistant principal in nearby Pearsall, and his wife, Candy, bought the two-story, red brick building seven years ago and spent four years cleaning and turning it into a showplace.

"It was really nasty on the inside," Candy says. "There were bats living in the upstairs. That's why we call one of the rooms 'The Bat Room.'" Doing much of the work themselves, the Del Bosques had to tear out walls, fix plaster, and replace or repair all 36 windows.

"It was never a fancy hotel," Hilo says, "you could probably see from one room to the next room through the cracks in the walls." Privacy was not one of the basic services the hotel offered. Guests were often doubled up in the eight rooms. The walls were made of cardboard and covered with wallpaper.

D'Hannis, established in 1847, began life as a primitive settlement on the edge of the territory controlled by the two-year-old state. It was the third colony of Alsatian farmers brought to the region bordered by the Hill Country on the north and the Texas/Mexican desert on the south. For many years the settlement was a stagecoach stop along the Old San Antonio Road, 60 miles west of San Antonio.

Then the transcontinental railroad from the Gulf Coast to California arrived in 1881. J.M. Koch built his first wooden hotel in 1898. Six years later he replaced it with a new structure built with locally made bricks.

D'Hannis' claim to fame rests with the brick factory on the outskirts of this town of about 500 residents. Red bricks stamped with the town's name have gone into construction projects around the world. It is estimated that the hills just north of town hold enough clay for another 1,000 years of brickmaking, Hilo says.

The hotel was one of the first buildings built using the red bricks in 1906. Candy says that local businessmen borrowed a brick press from the Lockhart and Luling area to see if the clay would make a good building material. Evidently it does.

By the early 1900s D'Hannis was a thriving little community with abundant agricultural products being shipped out by rail or on U.S. 90. "[The town] even had a Ford dealership at one time," Hilo, a native of South Texas, added. Electricity didn't arrived until 1939.

Today, D'Hannis is a quiet little bedroom community. The frontier-style business district is a little more than a block in length. Most of the storefronts stare blankly at the tracks and the highway beyond. The trains don't stop here anymore, and most cars whiz by, preferring to take breaks in nearby Hondo or Uvalde.

The new Koch Hotel (pronounced "cook") has five rooms, each one appointed with antiques from the Victorian era. The rooms have a private bath but no phone. The building's three porches offer ideal places to catch a breeze and relax. A full breakfast is served on weekends from a menu often decided by the guests. "It's always all-you-can-eat," Hilo says.

"Bring a good book and come to relax," Candy, who was raised in Iowa, advises. Bill and Rosa's KK Saloon and Steakhouse at the other end of the main drag from the hotel provides a good dining choice. The general store and meat market between the two sells the essentials. The brick factory does not offer public tours, but you can drive by and see the beehive-shaped kilns surrounded by stacks of bricks and tiles.

There might not be much to do in D'Hannis, but the town makes a centrally located base camp for exploring the area. "We have lots of motorcyclists stay with us," Hilo says. The border towns of Del Rio and Laredo are about two hours away. There are some great little antique shops in neighboring towns, and nearby Sabinal has a mesquite-furniture maker that is one of the best in the state.

The back roads north of D'Hannis are some of the most beautiful drives in the state. FM 462 from Hondo to FM 470 west to Vanderpool is extraordinary. "It's like being in the Rockies," Hilo says. The hotel is also only about 25 minutes from swimming holes on the Frio River. A good thing to remember this fall when the maple leaves turn golden at Lost Maples State Park is that the hotel is only 45 minutes away.

Whether for a relaxing getaway or as a base camp, one of the best things about the Koch Hotel is the very affordable $50-a-night charge. For more information, call 830/363-7500 or steer your Web browser to www.kochhotel.com.

Coming up this weekend ...

International Apple Festival in Medina celebrates the earliest apple crop harvest in the U.S. with music, orchard tours, and of course, lots of apple foods washed down with the sweetest apple cider, July 29. 830/589-7224.

Quiltfest 2000 at the New Braunfels Civic Center shows off the work of thousands of fingers and promotes the art for future generations, July 28-30. 830/625-0424.

Coming up ...

Shakespeare Under the Stars at the Emily Ann Outdoor Theater in Wimberley presents The Two Noble Kinsmen and Richard III, performed on alternating nights by high school students, Aug.7-19. 888/597-7827 or www.emilyann.org.

New Exhibits at the Art Car Museum in Houston showcases six new cars plus photographic and fine art exhibits by international artists. 140 Heights Blvd, 713/861-5526 or www.artcarmuseum.com.

Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.