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
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
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
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
could become a tourist destination.
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."
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
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.'"
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
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
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
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" July
13, 2006 column
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