For years, Don and I have been intrigued with the Alsatian town of Castroville. The European-style village was established by 27 people in 1844.
We finally got to spend a night in Castroville and we slept at the Landmark Inn State Historic Site.
Sleeping in a Museum
I love sleeping in a museum! The original building where we slept, goes back to 1849. That was when Cesar and Hannah Monod built a one-story L-shaped residence. The structure also housed a store, post office and stage stop. Stage stop? I need to learn more about that history.
In 1853, John and Rowena Vance bought the property and built an expansion and second story.
In 1925, the Lawler Family bought the property, along with its gristmill. The hotel was renamed "Landmark Inn" in 1942.
Ruth Lawler donated the site to the State of Texas in 1974. Lucky for us, since it has been preserved well and we were able to stay at the inn/museum, in May 2021.
We checked in at the gift shop in the afternoon. David greeted us wearing a mask and going over their Covid safety measures.
Even though much of Texas had been easing up, the museum and inn was extremely cautious. Our room had stayed vacant the night before, in prep for our stay.
Signs of Old
We were staying in the only downstairs room at the inn. It was simple and spacious and immaculately clean.
Our room had no TV or coffee maker and we were fine with that. It did have a nice copper ice bucket though. And the thick walls gave us impressively deep, shelf-like windowsills.
The no frills bathroom was also spotless, but we were happy to have it.
The bathroom window looked out on the Monod's original detached kitchen and the stone wash house. We were glad we didn't have to walk out back get washed up.
The grounds were pretty on a May afternoon. The white building in the far back was the Vance House, built in 1859.
I walked down the dirt path past some garden plots, to get a good look at our 2-story inn.
After checking in, Don and I explored more of the grounds.
We found the grist mill that processed wheat, cotton and lumber over the years.
The Dam and Mill
It was just a quick walk to see the Medina River, which was dammed back in 1854. The water powered mill once produced cornmeal for the U.S. Army stationed in nearby forts.
The mill was the industrial center of Castroville until the 1920's. Quiet and picturesque, today.
The home where the Vance family once lived, now holds a number of guest rooms.
It was fun to peek inside the old Vance parlor, where inn guests were given breakfast in recent years. We could have lounged around the tables with books or games, but the weather was too nice.
Don and I were determined to enjoy the weather and use the porch. David had tipped me off that no other guests were staying in our building, so we were excited to have the whole space to ourselves.
The porch was just as fresh and clean as our room downstairs. We sat on the green rockers and looked out over the grounds while we chatted and enjoyed the breeze. For dinner, we walked to town and ate at a Mexican restaurant. Perfect!
Wandering in Town
Don and I got up early and walked around the sleepy little town.
What a curious area, with many of the homes built in the style of Alsace, where many of the original residents were from. The community felt quiet and peaceful on a Saturday morning.
Breakfast on the Way Out
Our stay at the Landmark Inn, came with two breakfast coupons at another hotel. It wasn't within walking distance, so stopped in, on our way out of town.
The rain held off and we had a huge feast on the deck! It was a pleasant way to end our visit to Castroville.
Our quiet stay at the Landmark Inn, was pretty glorious. We had a nice visit to the inside museum, (through the green doors, near the poppies) and we did a little shopping at the gift shop. That was a bonus to our stay.
But mostly, I'll remember enjoying the pretty grounds, on a spring evening. I loved wandering the grounds and I loved viewing them from above, in our rocking chairs. The combination of historic inn and historic town, was just lovely.
We spent the third night of our "back to road trips" adventure, in Gonzales. We stayed at the Dilworth Inn Bed & Breakfast.
The inn sits on one of the corners, of the old town square. It's not an historic hotel, but it's housed in an old bank building from 1912.
A Bank in 1912
The historic Dilworth Building, once held a bank. At one time, it held Gilmer's Department store. At some point, it housed a church.
The original interior looks impressive... and Texan. In this photo, you can spot longhorn and deer heads, mounted on the far walls.
The small town of Gonzales has some interesting history, but it doesn't exactly draw crowds of tourists.
That's why it was easy to park right in front, near the side entrance. It looked neat and tidy and I was curious to see what a small town, boutique hotel was like.
By Day 3, Don and I had already tested the post-pandemic travel waters. Actually the pandemic did not end, when the 2 of us got vaccinated. So for this trip, we just put on our masks whenever we headed inside anywhere. It's easier to just wear them, than to waste time overthinking mask usage.
The owner Tiffany, was working behind the desk when we arrived. Her name sort of fit the style of the decor. That doesn't make sense. There were no Tiffany lamps. But Tiffany did decorate with some festive colors and appealing mirrors and lamps.
The lobby had a Ladies Spa feel about it. No criticism there. It just felt like a Boutique Hotel that was catering to women. That's really sexist. But I think there probably are more women who find boutique hotels and B & Bs appealing.
Luckily Don doesn't cringe at either, like some men. Like me, he's just happy when old buildings are preserved. And we appreciated it even more when we talked to Tiffany and heard her story of moving here 5+ years ago and being passionate about preserving some history. It was nice to hear her enthusiasm about the town and how its improvements.
Men in the Hall
Tiffany showed us to the small elevator. As we stepped inside, she cringed at some muddy footprints on the carpet. She made a comment about the oil men who were renting some rooms, then headed off to get a vacuum.
We got off on the second floor. I didn't spot any Antiquing Ladies or Bunco Gals, but we did greet a couple of the very polite men, wearing boots with caked mud from the oil fields. They left a little behind on Tiffany's carpet, near the coffee station. Moments later, we could hear Tiffany's vacuum.
The inn has 14 rooms and we got the prize room. We aren't usually able to afford the best room in a hotel, but this was just over 100 bucks!
I love a corner room, especially when there's a rounded window.
From the Street
Our corner room faced the southeast.
We had a total of 5 tall windows. 3 facing the stoplights and the 2 arched windows to the left.
This photo better shows the rounded wall. I'm guessing this was once office space on the second floor. Bank President?
Sometimes I like authentic and sometimes I'm happy with modern updates. The new carpet (no mud) and modern king bed, bedside tables and TV, were all welcome.
Our rounded window looked out towards the town square. The streetlights and wires, were the first thing we saw.
I didn't get a photo of the "Come and Get It" bar across the street. Much further away, we could spot the courthouse, which is pretty impressive when you get a closer look.
There was a tall window in the bathroom. When the thick velvet drapes were pulled we had a different view.
This Madonna and Child would have been a jolt, if I hadn't noticed it when we parked. It was actually a sweet thing to see.
The bathroom was curiously long and narrow. I really loved having the bench for my stuff.
All was very clean and roomy.
Our dinner was just an elevator ride away. La Bella Tavola was right below us.
Don picked up our pasta sampler dinner and we ate in our room. I'm kind of sad we skipped eating in the dining room. That was the original bank space and I missed out on an opportunity for snooping. I love peeking around and comparing the then and now.
The town went to sleep early, so we slept well in our room on the square. We got up early and wandered in the cooler morning temps.
The giant "Come and Take It" flag was waving as we passed. This was a reminder that Gonzales is the home to the first battle of the Texas Revolution. It was 1835, when the Mexican army demanded Gonzales return the cannon they'd given the community, few years before. The Texans refused and a flag like this, greeted 100 Mexican soldiers when they arrived in Gonzales. Sounds like a movie! Maybe there is one?
Come and Crepe It
Our B & B offered breakfast, but we had to Go and Take It at a breakfast cafe a few doors down.
Tiffany and her husband Alex, recently opened this cute breakfast place just a few steps away from the hotel. The building is from the 1800's. Older than the Dilworth building. It was cozy and comfy, with its twinkly lights.
Alex made our crepes and it was fun watching. He was very chatty and personable, while he did some pouring and swirling and spinning and flipping. That means he really knew what he was doing. I can't talk and cook.
We could have chosen omelets or other breakfast treats, but Don and I both wanted the crepe experience. Don had the Prestige, with smoked salmon. I of course had to try the Come and Take It, with chicken, bacon, mozzarella, creamy dill and BBQ sauce! Both were delicious!
We walked off breakfast, by wandering around the main square and a little further.
We window shopped and peeked in at the old jail. We spotted King's Service Station, that's been run by the same family since it opened in 1940. I found some old houses that I wouldn't mind living in and I eyed some antique stores that I'll visit next time. It was a nice way to end our visit.
This town of around 7,000, doesn't have a whole lot going on. We didn't really need to stay more than a night.
But I'm glad we stopped. It was nice to feel comfy and safe in our second floor room, looking down on the old town. I liked being able to park on the street and walk to breakfast. I liked that it wasn't noisy at night. (maybe weekends?) I liked that our hosts were enthused about their inn and restaurant and the town of Gonzales. It was a simple little getaway that was well worth 110 bucks!
McAllen, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley
Don and I have explored so many parts of Texas, but never anywhere in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. On May 19, we headed towards the border of Mexico in the southern end of the state. McAllen was our destination. Or at least the hotel was.
It took us twice as long to reach our destination, due to torrential rains and road closures. The sun was just peeking through, by the time we arrived.
Why Casa de Palmas?
We never would have known about this old hotel, if years ago we hadn't spotted it in our vintage cookbook. The 1950 recipe below the image, didn't lure us. Sliced Breast of Turkey Mornay on Toast. Ugh.
But the water color image looked festive. When I saw it in the book, I went straight to the internet and breathed a sigh of relief. The old hotel was still in business! When we arrived last week, I breathed a sigh of relief to see the palms. I expected damaged or dead palms, since Texas lost so many in the February 2021 Freeze. These palms had been recently freshened up and showed new life!
I was thrilled to see the 103-year-old, mission/Spanish revival-style building. It looked to be in good shape. So often historic hotels in smaller towns and cities, just don't get the support and care they need.
The exterior looked similar to the illustration, although the palms were taller. As we carried our bags from the car, I could hear a train on the nearby tracks. That was a good reminder of the tourists and traveling salesmen who used to come to McAllen, by way of train.
As we approached the front entrance, we passed two courtyards. The dining and fountain areas looked very tropical and inviting.
I paused to read a sign about the history of Casa de Palmas. Shortly after the hotel opened, it became a refuge for most of McAllen's residents, when the Corpus Christi Storm hit, in 1919. It's hard to imagine this hotel as a storm shelter, filled with frightened families.
The first thing I spotted when we entered, was the twirling staircase, disappearing into the second floor. Ironwork and blue and white tile!
Recent renovations made the lobby very welcoming. New paint and modern furniture and fixtures. The big fat columns and Satillo-tiled floors, were impressive reminders of the past. I wish I could find interior photos from when Marlon Brando and Anthony Quinn stayed here in 1952. That was when director, Elia Kazan set up headquarters at the hotel, for the filming of Viva Zapata.
At the opposite end of the lobby, there was lots of lounging space.
At 4:30 there were a few guests enjoying drinks. They were seated and not wearing masks, so it reminded me of pre-pandemic travel. However the staff and all the guests coming and going, consistently wore face masks. I was happy with that.
I was excited to check out our room on the third floor. It was gloriously large, after our night before at Tarpon Inn, in Port Aransas.
For $119. + tax, I couldn't complain. There was lots or space and large TV and couch area. There had been some paint and decor updates. The bed was comfy, but it looked like it had been made up by a rushed or cranky teenager. (I'm not showing the bad side)
Beams & Brick
I liked seeing some of the original structure. Our little sitting area had exposed beams and painted brick walls. You don't see brick in hotels much. Not sure why there were 2 refrigerators.
After our tiny bath the night before, we were thrilled to have 2 sink areas and a tub for me. I should have been thrilled for a bath at all. In 1918, only half of the 60 rooms had baths.
I would have preferred Spanish or Mexican style decor, to match the building. However, there was a little Western flair going on behind the bed. The floating cowboy hat art was actually sort of interesting! The photos online showed cowboy pillows. I wonder if the previous guests liked it too much and stole ours.
It was nice having a set of double doors, opening to a large balcony. We actually kept the door closed, due to bugs and birds.
Balcony & Pool
I would have loved sitting on the balcony, with its view of the pool. But some nesting birds made the space a little dirty. The patio chairs weren't inviting. They looked like they had been snatched from a conference room. Maybe the next renovation project will focus on balconies.
The pool below could have been all ours, if we'd thrown on some suits...
Instead of pool time, we decided to find the perfect spot for Happy Hour. The bar/lounge had lots of room, but not the perfect vibe for our moods.
Pandemics and masks, make chatting with others less desirable. And the men studying their cell phones didn't appeal either.
So we ordered 2 glasses of wine at the bar and took our drinks with us.
There was a common porch area on the third floor, looking down on the courtyards. There were a few comfy seats left, but the man with a bottle of tequila at the other end, kept us searching for a better spot.
We spent a little while on the second floor balcony. We were intrigued by a big tree, which looked like it was struggling to recover from the big freeze.
I looked up the tree later and it's an African Sausage Tree. We need to come back when we can see its flowers and sausage shaped fruits. Don encouraged me to pose with the ropey vines... since I was wearing a striped shirt. Good eye, Don!
Chairs with a View
Don and I sat on the balcony and studied the palms through the arch. We liked our cushioned chairs so much, we searched for a tag and Googled the brand. Wow! Those are super expensive chairs!
Then we took our wine to the lowest level and enjoyed some people watching. The hotel van arrived repeatedly with airline pilots and flight attendants. They wore their masks and uniforms and rolled their bags to the lobby. I have a feeling the majority of guests during our stay, were
connected to the airlines.
Dinner in the Spanish Room
I peeked in the newly renovated dining room earlier.
It looked very different than the dark dining decor that I spotted on the internet.
Feast for Two
We returned at 7:30. There was only one other couple dining when we arrived. Our cozy booth made it feel like we had the place to ourselves.
The food was pretty amazing. I had Chef Ari's ravioli of the night, which was stuffed with Osso Bucco. Don got the catch of the day, salmon. We were surprised with complimentary salads, since the wait for our food was a little slow.
The best part of our evening was pulling out the old cookbook to share with the chef and our waiter Oscar. How fun that this cookbook inspired our visit to Casa de Palmas... and that Ari and Oscar were amused by that.
Oscar and I decided to pose with our masks down, since we both were vaccinated. Oh the world is feeling better!
Enjoying the Night
After dinner, Don and I wandered a bit and enjoyed the glow...
The moon was pretty above the palms. The strings of lights, looked festive on the dining patio.
The pool looked pretty at night. Again, not a person in sight.
My photo didn't capture the colorful spotlights very well.
From Our Room
I stepped out onto the balcony one more time. The balmy evening and the pool and palms, made me feel like we were on a little getaway to Mexico.
And we practically were. The Mexican border was just 5 miles from our hotel.
We drove a long way, to stay at this historic oasis and it was worth it. The room and restaurant prices were very decent. The lobby and restaurant felt remarkably classy for this small city.
As usual, it's the connection to history that I adore. I'll remember sitting on the porches, looking at the tropical vegetation and imagining the guests from the past who stayed here... in 1920 or 1950.
Cheers to all the people who keep these historic treasures from disappearing.
Port Aransas, Texas in May 2021
Don and I have had our eyes on the old Tarpon Inn, for years. We've also been curious about the island community that once revolved around tarpon fishing. In fact the gulf coast town was named Tarpon, until 1911.
This little 4-day road trip was our first "fully vaccinated, travel for the sake of travel" adventure. We've done a couple of pandemic road trips, but they were focused on seeing family. Carefully planned, Covid-safe travels, that involved no curious hotel or dining adventures.
I've read about Tarpon Inn, in a few travel books over the years. The hotel's history began in 1886, when Civil War barracks were renovated into hotel accommodations.
The hotel initially stood pretty much alone. In 1900, it burned down and was rebuilt. Hurricanes and tidal-waves caused major damage, in the 2 decades that followed. In 1925 the main building was rebuilt/reinforced, using pine logs anchored into twenty feet of concrete.
This is how the hotel looked when we arrived on an afternoon in May. The long barracks-style building sat back on Cotter Street, behind a tangle of palms and power/phone lines.
More than a dozen palms filled the grassy space between the porches and white fence. I wonder how many times these palms have been replaced in 100 years?
Vintage Book Image
This illustration shows how an artist saw the the hotel and palms, 70 years ago. The drawing accompanies a recipe, in our 1950 Ford Motor Cookbook. This book is what inspired us the most, to put the historic Tarpon Inn on our visit list.
The palms today don't look quite as tidy as they did in the mid-century image. That's mostly due to the huge freeze that Texas endured this past February. I was glad to spot signs of life in those palms, as we headed up the stairs to the lobby.
The lobby had a fun seaside feel to it. Glossy pine floors and wicker furniture.
There was a giant tarpon mounted behind the desk and over 7,000 fish scales, nailed to the opposite wall.
Samantha greeted us from behind the desk. Even with her mask on, she was as cheery and chatty as she'd been on the phone when I made reservations. I've missed our travel "people encounters". It's not the same with masks, but I'm glad to know it's possible!
Samantha pulled our room key, from one of the boxes below the tarpon. I asked if those boxes were original and she believed they were. Then she made sure we took a look all those "signed" tarpon scales, on the wall.
Well, we didn't look at all. There were thousands. I asked if she knew which one was the oldest.
Samantha came out from behind the desk and pointed to the oldest scale, from 1892. The words were a little smudged, but I could read the date. It was fun looking at all the signed scales from the 1920's to the 1940's, when tarpon fishing was at its peak.
Samantha went over to another wall and pointed out photos of FDR, when he visited Port Aransas in 1937.
Then she pointed to a tarpon scale in a frame. It had FDR's signature and the recorded length and weight. 5 ft and 1 inch & 77 pounds! President Roosevelt didn't stay at the Tarpon Inn on that visit. He had his own yacht. But a year before, Duncan Hines (as in the cake mix!) and his bride, spent their honeymoon at Tarpon Inn.
After checking in, Don and I peeked out back to the courtyard. There was a shady corner with a stage and a long deck leading towards the Roosevelt Restaurant.
I'm not sure where meals were served back in 1950, when the hotel shared their recipe for Cocktail Sauce in the Ford cookbook. But I was glad to learn that this little building was original and survived the 1919 hurricane.
I was excited to check out our room on the second floor. All the rooms (except the FDR Suite) are off the front porches. Oh how I love a porch!
I'm glad I was prepared for a small room, because it really was tiny. It barely held a queen size bed, one bedside table, one wooden chair and a sink.
So Much Wood
I loved being surrounded by wood. Painted wood walls and ceiling! Polished pine floors. I think the pine logs (that were added for support in 1925) were hidden behind the angled wood pieces in the corners. Interesting.
And displayed on the painted wood wall behind our bed, was a photo image of some sweet summertime gals. I had a fun time imagining my Grandma Meyer posing for a picture like this. Grandma Daw, would never...
The size of our room was just plain cute and comical. The tiny bathroom was a reminder of why they were once called water closets. Next morning, when I stepped through the framed opening to the shower, I was reminded of the raised thresholds in China, that keep the spirits out. Since I'd heard about Tarpon Inn's ghosts, I hoped this would at least keep them out of the shower.
Our sink was in the room. We had a tidy shelf and mirror, but they weren't too helpful. No worries about that, or lack of TV or coffee maker. We were there for one night and loved our cozy space.
We had a few hours before dinner, so we explored. Luckily the big storm that was expected, held off a while. We spent a little time at the pool, under the palapa. We chatted with a couple who had just returned from kayak fishing.
Then we drove down to the beach and enjoyed the view. After a bit, the winds began to pick up. Visitors got battered with blasts of sand. Seagulls seemed to fly in place.
We headed back to the hotel for our own happy hour. There was no room to lounge inside the room, but the porch was wind-free!
We made a toast to Road Trips, then took in the view while we rocked. Golf carts passes by below. (That seems to be a thing in P.A.) We couldn't see exactly see the bay, but could see some ship movement through the cluster of buildings. The dry palm fronds also kept us entertained. They were taking a beating from the wind and making quite a racket.
We had reservations at 7:30. There were only 4 other couples in the hotel, but we'd heard the restaurant was popular with locals.
We were glad to read positive reviews about the food. Since this was our first inside dining experience since the pandemic, we wanted it to be a good memory. We headed over in our masks.
Tarpon and Knotty Pine
We stepped into the cozy space and felt a little jolted to see not a single mask in the whole restaurant. Odd, since the hotel seemed strict.
We were seated right beneath a tarpon, hanging on a knotty pine wall. I was pretty happy about that. I've been ready to make use of our vaccinated state and focus on the things we enjoy. The decor was retro charming. The service and menu seemed upscale for such a casual community. And the oysters and salmon were delicious! It felt wonderful to be back enjoying a dining adventure, while traveling!
Sharing the Book
I (of course) had the cookbook tucked into my bag. I waited until the dining rush was over, before I pulled it out to show our waiter. He had only been on the job 6 days, so my hopes weren't high. He seemed a little perplexed about why I was showing him the page. "Oh we don't serve cocktail sauce."
I refused to stop there. I caught the eye of another waiter and shared the book. He gave me the fun response I'd hoped for. "What? Where did you get this?" He snapped some a photo of the 70-year-old recipe and chuckled with the others. Next thing you know other waiters were looking on and then it was photo time! I love cookbook adventures.
We lucked out since the hotel's owner was dining across the room. The waiter tipped him off and he stopped by on his way out. Lee Roy Haskins introduced himself and I told him we were enjoying our stay in the hotel and I raved about our meal. Then I asked, "Can you guess how we learned about this hotel?" He said he had no idea.
I pulled out the book and he pulled up a chair. He definitely appreciated the curious history behind this crazy book. He seemed impressed that it had guided us to Tarpon Inn and on other adventures. He got it. But he was equally enthused about the fact that we loved historic hotels. We spent nearly 30 minutes sharing a few stories back and forth.
After dinner, Don and I rocked on the porch before the storms came. It was fun to see some other couples doing the same. The skies let loose in the wee hours and in the morning we drove through flooded streets to find coffee and donuts. We enjoyed the (soggy) porch, one more time.
Then we headed for the lobby to check out. The storms picked up and Samantha encouraged us to stay put a while. We enjoyed more photos and memorabilia. I decided the fishing family photo, was my favorite. We chatted with Samantha about curious ghosts and guests. After 20 minutes we were on our way, only to turn back when Samantha called and said we'd dropped a wad of money on the floor. Oops! We navigated floods to get back and I thanked Samantha with some dessert cash. She'd raved the night before about her favorites at Roosevelt's. I told her she deserved many!
Our stay at Tarpon Inn gave us a successful return to hotel and dining adventures! I didn't expect to talk to as many people as we did. We've avoided people for so long, I thought it might feel odd. Personally, I wish Texas would keep wearing masks until more are vaccinated, but I'm glad I could put that aside. It felt nice to explore and experience, knowing that Don and I feel safe. We'll still wear masks for now, while we begin to wander and enjoy travel. It feels like it's time to stop cringing and worrying and judging.
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!