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by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
On May 8, 1901, the Austin Daily Statesman ran a display ad proclaiming:

"May Day Excursion and Christening of The Antlers At Kingsland Under Auspices Austin Lodge B.P.O.E. (Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks)"

At a roundtrip fare of $1.50, a special Austin and Northwestern train would leave the Capital City at 8:30 a.m. on May 15, reaching the Llano County community at the juncture of the Colorado and Llano rivers three hours later. The return train would depart the Kingsland station at 8 p.m. for an 11 p.m. Austin arrival.

When the big day arrived, the Statesman's Watters [CQ] Park (an Austin and Northwestern stop just north of the city) correspondent took the trip, likely courtesy of the railroad in exchange for publicity.

Not surprisingly, the unnamed journalist had a great time.

"All that the…developers of Kingsland have said about it-after allowing the usual discount for their poetic fancies-is warranted by the facts," he wrote the day after returning from the Hill Country junket.

"The Austin and Northwestern Railway…built a hotel facing the depot which for size, architectural design and completeness in all its interior arrangements would do credit to a big city," the correspondent continued.

Named for early settler Martin King, Kingsland got a rail connection in 1892, when the Austin and Northwestern built a bridge across the Colorado and a spur line off its main line to Llano.

The destruction of Austin's Lake McDonald dam in the spring of 1900, which left the capital city without any significant recreational attraction (other than Barton Springs), must have played a role in convincing the railroad that Kingsland could become a tourist destination.

Named for the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs, the Kingsland hotel was dedicated as the headquarters of the ancient order of the Elks "and members of that order will find it a home where they can certainly rely upon getting home comforts."

Kingsland's boosters could not tout the town as a great agricultural center, the Austin correspondent continued, "but when they claim that it is the one spot in Texas where those suffering from ill health and the worries of business and the suffocating effect of the polluted air of a crowded city can offset those evils, they verily speak the truth."

It's hard to imagine the Austin' of 1901 being polluted, but at twice the city's altitude above sea level, Kingsland had less humidity and cooler nights. And it was plenty quiet.

Fishing was good either in the Colorado or Llano and the hotel keeper-identified in the report only as Mrs. Carrington-laid out good groceries. As the newspaper writer put it, "The one unvarying verdict was: 'This is the best meal I ever ate at a public function.'"

Predicting Kingsland would grow into a popular "health and pleasure resort," the newspaper writer went on to surmise that "as soon as the public learns the advantages of the place as a holiday resort there will be less traveling to northern points with not a fraction of Kingsland's attractions."

Indeed, the hotel did well as long as getting to Kingsland by train constituted the only easy way to make the trip, but with the development of automobile travel, business declined. Closed in 1923, the hotel sold to Thomas H. Barrow, whose family kept it and used it as a private lakeside retreat for the next 70 years.

Barbara Thomas, a librarian turned children's bookseller, bought the old hotel in 1993. She and her husband had intended to "fix it up and get out." The fixing up took three years and a lot of work.

To guard against erosion, the couple had three-ton granite blocks put in place with a crane along the property's 1,500-foot lake front. In addition to restoring the hotel, they moved an old log cabin from property across the lake to the site of another cabin that had stood on their property.

In the spring of 1995, about the time the place had become livable, their Sandy Harbor lake house flooded. The Thomases moved into the Antlers and tried to live there, but they had so many guests it began to feel like the hotel it used to be. On top of that, people showed up thinking it was a hotel.

So, the couple went with the flow and opened to the public in 1996. They built a two-story annex with a conference next door and began adding a collection of historic railroad cars they transformed into rentable rooms.

Now, more than a century after the Antlers first opened its doors, the booming Capital City does occasionally have polluted air. But the restored hotel remains a great place to forget the worries of business.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" July 13, 2006 column
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