Day Trips

'Historic Hotels of Texas' is as much a history book as it is a traveler's guide

Puttin' on the Luther
Puttin' on the Luther (Photo by Gerald E. McLeod)

Historic Hotels of Texas is as much a history book as it is a traveler's guide. You would be hard-pressed to find a hotel of historical significance missing from Liz Carmack's collection of the luxurious to threadbare lodgings around the state.

Here's a book that dares to include the Lancaster Hotel in Houston and Turkey, Texas' Hotel Turkey in the same list. Completely different styles, but they have three or more things in common: They are at least 50 years old, operated as a hotel for the majority of their existence, and offered lodging at the time of publication. Three years ago, when Carmack started her research, she had a list of 66 historic hotels; two closed before the book was finished. The remaining hotels offer an individuality that no chain could possibly replicate.

"I didn't review the hotels," Carmack said over coffee. "So many people have different ideas of what they like. I give the information and let the reader figure out if it meets their tastes." One person's rustic, might be another person's overnight adventure. The book honestly describes the properties without pulling any punches. It even includes a list of accommodations by categories such as Pets Pampered, Ghost Hunting, and Local Color.

Before you open this book, put away your stereotype that historic hotel means worn carpets and cobwebs. Some of these old hotels have kept up with the times. The Driskill in Austin, the LaSalle in Bryan, and the Sheraton Gunter in San Antonio have cable TV, Internet access, and plenty of character.

No one is ever going to confuse the InterContinental Stephen F. Austin hotel in Austin with the Von Minden Hotel in Schulenburg, but they both have an individuality that makes them special.

Carmack's description of the Luther Hotel reminded me of my visit several years ago. The room was tiny but had a view of the bay. The avocado-green shag carpet was a bit stained, but the complimentary morning breakfast was hot eggs and French toast. "The managers at a place like the Luther really make it special," she says. "They enjoy their job and bring a charm to the place that makes it feel welcoming."

After traveling 20,000 miles with her husband, Jeff, to visit all of the hotels listed in the book, Carmack was bound to have a few favorites. Built by Adolphus Busch, the St. Louis brewery owner, the Adolphus in Dallas is where she spent her honeymoon, so it has to top her list.

"The Olle Hotel in Flatonia has the feeling of a large home," Carmack says. "Maybe I liked it because the decor was more to my taste," which she describes in the book as "Pottery Barn meets the Round Top Antiques Fair." Opened in 1926 as a railroad hotel, the Olle was remodeled in 2005.

Maybe the biggest surprise in her research was how much she enjoyed the Fredonia Hotel in Nacogdoches and the Meyer Bed and Breakfast on Cypress Creek in Comfort. While being very different, they both have special features that set them apart.

The Fredonia was built in 1953 by 1,100 community investors to attract commerce to the town. A remodeling in 1989 retained the cabana rooms with small porches around the swimming pool and enclosed garden.

The Meyer might be the oldest hotel in the book. The building began as a stagecoach in the 1860s, and it has been operated almost continuously as lodging. "I liked it because it is right on the creek and offers lots of opportunities to sit outside," Carmack says.

By definition, historical hotels house as many memories as they do overnight guests. That's why it's nice that Carmack included an afterward of hotels that are gone or have changed occupations. Every Texan has heard stories of fortunes won and lost at the Rice Hotel in Houston; now it's filled with shops and apartments. The story of Conrad Hilton's start in Cisco, Texas, is as good as 64 other Texas hotels' legends.

Historic Hotels of Texas, A Traveler's Guide, by Liz Carmack. Texas A&M University Press, 253 pp., $23.

857th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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