The Antlers Hotel ca 1901
April 6, 2020
The drummer* stepped off the westbound Austin & Northwestern train onto the wet wooden platform, a carpetbag in one hand, a leather-sheathed cardboard sample case in the other, wishing he had booked another night in Austin at the Depot Hotel. He was glad it was only sprinkling when he walked the few blocks from his hotel to Austin’s Union Station. With a sigh he set both down, pulled his coat tighter around him in a useless attempt to set off the bone-chilling dampness of the evening. If it weren’t for the rain – a downpour of the kind seemingly known only to Central Texas – and a washed out bridge a few miles up the line, he’d be spending the night in Llano at the Dabbs where he had reserved a room. Picking up his bags he fell in with his fellow passengers, all but a few, stranded like himself, toward the large hotel across the tracks.
Stepping across the wide porch and into the lobby damp from both the elements and dripping clothes, the drummer made his way to the front desk to see about a room. Before a word was out of his mouth, the clerk shook his head, “Sorry not a room in the house, nor one in any of the cabins. The best I can do for you is a hammock on the upstairs porch, if that will do? At least some shelter from the rain if not the dampness.”
“Is there nowhere else where I might seek lodging?” the drummer asked. “Sorry, my friend, the Antlers’ upstairs porch it is, unless you can find someone out there in a tent to take you in.” Resigned to a restless, if not sleepless night, the drummer reached into his coat pocket to extract his money, “How much?” he asks.
Unnoticed by the drummer, another had debarked, and followed the drummer into the lobby. This fellow, like the drummer, had caught the train in Austin, although Kingsland and the Antlers, not Llano, was his destination. Without hesitation, this rather dapper fellow moves through the lobby, out the rear door, hat pulled down tight over his head to ward off the rain, and makes for a set of step stairs at the rear of the hotel, ultimately making his way into the room at the bottom of stairs. Taking off his coat, shaking off the rain as he did so, he turned to the Negro by the door. “Good evening ... a busy night I see.” “Yes sir, the rain sees to it. Whiskey, sir?” “Yes, please, thank you.” Turning from the porter, he silently surveys the room looking closely at the faces. “Fancy a game of cards?” he asks the drummer.
The Antlers Hotel Lobby
The Antlers Hotel
The Antlers Hotel Today
The arrival of the Austin & Northwestern was a godsend to the little isolated hamlet of Kingsland, as it was then called. With the rails came commerce, and more importantly, city folk seeking to enjoy the confluence of the Llano and Colorado Rivers. In 1892, the Austin & Northwestern Railroad extended their tracks to Llano to serve the rich granite quarries. In the process, they passed through Kingsland and built a depot and a section-house, along with a bunkhouse for crews across the tracks -- and eight years later a resort, The Antlers.
It is at this depot that our drummer debarked and crossed the tracks to the Antlers Hotel.
The Antlers Hotel Dining Room Today
The Antlers, built in 1900-01, opening in May of ’01, was one of the grand railroad resort hotels of the era. Built by the Austin & Northwestern RR, the hotel catered to Austinites and other “City Texans” seeking to escape the summer heat for the coolness of the countryside, and maybe to fish and swim in the Colorado R., which flowed just a short walk away. With the railroad running excursion trains from Austin, and advertising heavily, the hotel drew clientele from throughout the Texas, the Midwest and South. And, yes, sometimes the hotel was so full that only accommodation available was a hammock on the porch. The rear basement, the “dapper gentleman’s” destination, featured a single chair barber shop and a gaming room. Rumor has it, that an inquiring gentleman could possibly employ with a tip to the bartender or porter the company of a lady. Whether our drummer did so, we will never know. More than likely, the “dapper gentleman” did.
Austin Western (Austin & Northwestern) Tracks heading west to Llano
The hotel, featuring gas lightening throughout and a lobby phone, was situated on the peninsula were the Llano and Colorado Rivers met, and oriented to capture the breeze that blew off the water. The structure itself was L-shaped, one room wide, surrounded by lower and upper porches. Every ceiling, including those of the eleven guest rooms, was 12-foot high. Transom windows, large windows, and many doors were situated to move the breeze through the hotel. Porches and balconies were lined with chairs and, often, hammocks. The hammocks not only accommodated the overflow, but also allowed quests to sleep outside when their rooms became too stuffy during the hot Texas Hill Country summers. Sometime over the years, the upper level porch took on a vertigo inducing slope.
Antlers Hotel (Rear View)
Situated behind the hotel was “Camp Pajama,” a campground with cabins and tents alongside the Colorado R., hence the clerk’s suggestion of finding a camper to take our drummer in. Another phone was placed in the campground allowing for campers to order meals and then pick them up from the hotel kitchen.
The Antlers remained popular until 1922, when a fire destroyed much of Kingsland. The depot was engulfed, as was the section master’s home and a large Chautauqua-like wooden pavilion for dances and community gatherings. Fortunately, The Antlers was spared.
The Colorado R. Arm of Lake LBJ as seen from Camp Pajama.
Along with Kingsland, after the fire, The Antlers rapidly declined. Adding to the decline was the growing popularity of the automobile and the grading of highways. In 1923, an Austin family purchased the resort to use as a personal family retreat; remaining in the family for 70 years.
Caboose Lodging (added between 1993 and 1996)
In 1993, Barbara and Dennis Thomas purchased the hotel and undertook a two-and-a-half-year renovation project. During that time, they purchased several cabooses for lodging, and the Muldoon Depot, which was relocated to the resort. The Antlers reopened as a hotel on Sept. 1, 1996. The old railroad crew bunkhouse next to the hotel proving additional rooms.
Muldoon Depot (Moved, Sept. 1, 1996, by the Thomases to Kingland to be used for lodging.)
Today under new ownership, the hotel remains pretty much as it was when it was built. The original pine floors have been refinished. Most of the original glass, with its wavy imperfections, is still extent. And the vertigo inducing balcony floors still slope.
A&NW R.R. Kingsland section hand lodging (Now used as part of the hotel for lodging.)
The 'sister house' to the Chainsaw Massacre house. Moved from Round Rock, currently used as a restaurant.
Austin Western (A&NW) tracks approaching the depot (behind the camera), looking toward Fairland / Marble Falls
Map of Antlers Hotel & Camp Pajama along the Colorado Arm of Lake LBJ
The Hoover Cabin was built ca. 1860 by the Rev. Isaac Hoover, a circuit riding Methodist Minister. Located in Hoover Valley it served several generations of the Hoover Family. It was relocated to Camp Pajama in the 1990s and serves as cabin lodging for the Antlers Hotel.
This photo-essay first appeared in The Trackside Photographer as part of a longer piece on the Austin & Northwestern railroad hotels (“The Drummer,” August 24, 2018).
*“The Drummer,” (a traveling salesman) as it appears in this photo-essay, is part of a longer piece currently in the works.
The Antlers Inn Website
© Text and images, Frank A. Mills, 2020