Day Trips

The Dabbs Railroad Hotel in Llano isn't a cookie-cutter chain hotel; it's an experience

Day Trips
Photo by Gerald E. Mcleod

The Dabbs Railroad Hotel bed & breakfast in Llano has seen its fortunes rise and fall and rise again over the last 102 years. The period accommodations aren't for everybody, but for those who share a sense of history and camaraderie, the hotel is an oasis along the banks of the Llano River in the Hill Country.

"We cater to a lot of wedding parties, family reunions, and groups," says Tony Griffith, the manager. The hotel is perfect for a group of girlfriends touring the Hill Country wineries, much like it hosted on a recent weekend.

The Dabbs is a throwback to a different era of hosteling. The rooms are small, the bathroom is down the hall, and there is no phone, TV, pool, or pets. This isn't a cookie-cutter chain hotel; it's an experience.

What it does have are conference facilities, a big dining hall, a professional-grade kitchen, and one of the best views of the river, the old iron bridge, and the county courthouse on the opposite bank. It has a beautifully landscaped backyard and a deck overlooking it all. The Dabbs is a blank slate waiting to be filled with the art of conversation and memories.

The well-worn pine walls are polished with years of remembrances. The hotel was built when Llano was a resort town at the end of the railroad line. Families would come from Austin and Houston for vacations. The hotel was a favorite destination for Bonnie and Clyde, soldiers from Fort Hood, and traveling salesmen. Besides being a hotel, the building has been a private residence, a hay barn, and a restaurant noted for its fried chicken.

In the 1980s, Gary Smith turned the property into a rustic retreat known for its laid-back atmosphere, the campfire in the back yard, and a seediness that some people loved and that was a culture shock for others. "Gary is definitely a character," Griffith says. "He has a million stories and a real cult following." As Smith's health deteriorated (he's much better now), so did the hotel.

"When I bought the building, there were holes in the floors," Phyllis Farr Alexander says. She began remodeling the property about four years ago. "The basic structure is sound," she says, "but we had to gut the building to the frame and start over."

The result is comfortable accommodations that are true to the historical character of the building. Alexander doubled the number of bathrooms; added all new plumbing and wiring, including wireless Internet access; and upgraded the dormitory-style sleeping porch. One thing she couldn't improve on was the beautiful view of the river and downtown Llano.

The Dabbs Hotel in Llano is on the north side of the river at 112 E. Burnet St. Individual rooms are available for rent when the hotel is not booked for group events. For more information, call 325/247-2200 or go to

954th 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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The Dabbs Railroad Hotel, Llano River, Tony Griffith, Gary Smith, Phyllis Farr Alexander

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