The History of the Antlers Inn
The area where the Llano and Colorado Rivers meet has long been a gathering place and resort area in the central Texas Hill Country. First it was used by Paleo-Indian people as evidenced by archaeological sites found in the area, followed by the Comanches and other hunter-gatherer tribes. Archeologists speculate that the unusually large number of artifacts found indicate that this river site was a frequent camping area for various tribes to socialize, share information, and trade. Eventually settlers came, including Martin D. King who purchased land in 1877 and for whom the town of Kingsland is named. In 1892 The Austin and Northwestern Railroad built a railroad bridge at the juncture of the two rivers and a depot between the tracks in Kingsland. They brought the tracks through Kingsland from Austin as an extension of their Burnet to Llano line. The line is best known for bringing the granite from Granite Mountain in Marble Falls to build the Capitol.
The Antlers Hotel was begun in 1900 by Captain Leitnaker, head of The Austin and Northwestern Railroad, and was completed in 1901. This two-story wooden structure was built near the railroad so passengers could disembark the train and walk to the hotel. The wide verandas on both floors gave unobstructed views of the country and of the Colorado and Llano rivers. Small cabins were built around the hotel grounds. Across the street was a half-block park with cottonwood trees and a large Pavilion complete with stage and dressing rooms. There was a lake behind the hotel then called Crescent Lake, five miles long formed by a lock thrown across the Colorado River. Fishing was excellent. The Antlers opened on May 1, 1901 for tourists and business travelers coming to Kingsland by rail. Framed historical newspaper articles from that date now hang around the hotel telling of events of the era-including a cross-country trip by President William McKinley who toured Austin May 3, 1901.
The Antlers Hotel was named in part for The Antlers hotel in Colorado Springs, a new and fashionable railroad resort that opened a few years earlier. The name is quite suitable because Llano County was then and continues to be a major deer hunting area. From an early photo of the hotel, one can see the large advertising sign painted on the roof of the “Sunset Route” railroad emblem with an antler’s head above it and the words “The Antlers” underneath it. A copy of this photo now hangs in The Antlers dining room. A large park surrounded the hotel and the place was a beautiful and restful one. From a booklet published by The Houston and Texas Central Railroad (who had acquired the Austin and Northwestern Railroad and The Antlers Hotel), Kingsland is described as a village possessing great attractions for those seeking rest and pleasure, for the wonderful natural scenery, the Llano River, and the comfortable hotel. (From “Health and Pleasure Resorts on the H. and T.C.R.” issued with the compliment of the Passenger Department). Historian Anne Harrison writes that Kingsland was known as “The Little Adirondack Village” and was a favorite Central Texas recreation center in early 1900’s.
The hotel was a fashionable resort and on weekends the railroad ran excursions out from Austin. The hotel also catered to traveling salesmen or “drummers” and to cattlemen. There were 11 bedrooms in the hotel each with a lavatory, there was a barbershop, game room, and hot baths could be had. There was adjoining campground, Riverside Park, just north of The Antlers, on ten acres of land that fronted on Crescent Lake, the park was kept in good condition for vacationers, hydrants and waterworks were installed. It had tents with wooden floors and there were telephones connected to the hotel for campers to order lunches from the hotel kitchen. C.F. Smith was the chef for The Antlers from 1901 to 1905. His wife was the pastry chef. In his diary, notes are made of meals prepared and events of the day. On November 29, 1903 his son was born and named Antlers J. Smith for “The Antlers-the place we cater to high class visitors from Austin, Houston, Beaumont, Galveston, Llano, Waco, San Antonio, Ft. Worth, and all High Class Cattlemen of Texas.” The son, Mr. Antlers J. Smith, returned to the hotel in 1994. He remembers seeing his father cook at the large wood fired stove in the kitchen; using the basement as a summer kitchen, and watching the guests’ large trunks coming rolling-head over heels-down a ramp from the west end of the back upstairs porch. This section of porch was enclosed in the 1930’s to accommodate indoor plumbing.
The Antlers Pavilion was the center of activity for tourists and town folks alike. Ellen Williams, wife of Commissioner Shirley Williams, writes “South, across from The Antlers Hotel, the railroad company built a Pavilion. This was a large open building and it was the coolest place in town for activities. (You see, we had not even dreamed of air-conditioning in those days.) The Pavilion was free and open to the public. Oyster suppers (probably all you could eat for 25 cents), picnics, political meetings, revival meetings (all denominations attended) and stage plays were all held here. Of course dances were one of the main attractions. We really danced in those days – waltzes, two-step, schottish, polka, and of course the square dance. Music was usually provided by fiddlers and guitar pickers. It was all good clean fun.” Muriel Jackson writes of traveling shows and Chautauqua’s putting on plays and community singings.
The railroad resort prospered that first decade of the 1900’s. As the automobile entered American life, vacationing by rail and activity at railroad hotels slowed. In 1913 Mr. C. E. Schults bought the hotel from Texas Town Lot Company, a subsidiary of Houston and Texas Central railroad. In 1914 resident Muriel Jackson recalls, “A wagon bridge was built across the Colorado when my uncle, Henry Smith, was Commissioner. Before the bridge was built, people waded across or forded the Llano at the low water crossing at Lions Park. There was a large sand bar there with the river flowing through the middle… the flower of Kingsland faded with the coming of the automobile. The good times were over. People with cars now had other vacation spots available to them. They no longer had to ride the train to Kingsland. Cattlemen could transport their cattle to market in cattle trucks and trailers cheaper than shipping by rail. With the automobile, people could drive to larger cities and towns to shop. Businesses were forced to close, and many people moved away. Once more, Kingsland was almost a ghost town.” On February 3, 1918, Mr. C.E. Schults sold The Antlers to a wealthy San Antonio family, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Van Der Stucken, who ran it as a hotel for two years, and then used it as a summer home. A fire destroyed much of the town of Kingsland in 1922, leaving The Antlers as one of the few historic buildings left in the area.
Thomas H. Barrow had been a guest of the Antlers in its heyday. He and other family members signature are on the guest registry. Some of the Barrow family had leased and operated the hotel around 1908. Mrs. Thomas H. Barrow took her children, L.T. Barrow and younger brother David, two sisters-Maime Dell and Anne to vacation at nearby Campa Pajama in the summer of 1911. The family had enjoyed vacationing in the area for years, and in 1923 Thomas H. Barrow bought The Antlers from the widow of Alfred Van Der Stucken, acquiring it for his family. For the next 70 years, generations of Barrows spent summers and vacations at the old hotel, becoming part of the community and the history of Kingsland. Anne Barrow married Eric Lappe' of Kingsland and stayed in the area. The historic Lappe’ Ranch is just up the Colorado River from The Antlers.
In November of 1993, the Antlers property was sold by the Barrow family to Barbara and Dennis Thomas of Austin, Texas. Renovation took place over the next three years under the leadership of Anthony Mayfield. The old hotel was refurbished first, followed by several of the cabins around the property. To the west of the hotel is the Wild Plum cottage and behind that the River Trail cabin. The architectural details of the hotel and these two cabins indicate all were built at the same time. There is evidence of other cabins throughout the property, but it is not known how many were from the 1901 era. Antlers J. Smith son of the chef, remembers living in a building near the hotel, but not the exact location. It is possible cabins were used for hotel and railroad staff as well as overflow for guests. The Antlers reopened September 1, 1996 with Anthony and Lori Mayfield as managers. The Antlers was added to the national Register of Historic Places as part of the Kingsland to Llano Historic Railroad District, and in 2002 became a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark.
Through the years, The Antlers has continued to grow. An arts and crafts old house used as a bakery in Marble Falls was purchased, moved to The Antlers and renovated for more rooms. New cabins were added throughout the property. Three cabooses were found on the internet and moved by rail from Decatur, Illinois to become some of the more popular accommodations at The Antlers. When Pastor David Henry and family told us about the availability of an antique wooden rail car, we refurbished it to become the McKinley Coach, one of the oldest items on The Antlers property. There is also a Victorian house, briefly used as a set location for the movie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was moved from Round Rock. It has become a restaurant, while its neighbor in Round Rock – the old red barn, also made the trip to Kingsland to be used as storage. The Depot-moved from Muldoon-had already endured one move in its history to house hay for a cattle rancher. The Depot was relocated to the Antlers, first as a gift shop, and then it was reconfigured as more rooms in the railroad theme.
Down by the shoreline, there were remains of an old log cabin with a limestone chimney and foundations stones strewn around. The cabin was far too deteriorated to save. However, across the Colorado River from The Antlers was another log cabin on the old Buckner Ranch property. When the ranch sold to a new development, the log cabin came available. In 1997, it was moved to The Antlers property where the limestone chimney and foundation stones were incorporated and new chinking was added to the log structure. It wasn’t until 2009, that the relatives of this cabin came to The Antlers to confirm that this was the old Hoover Cabin, constructed in 1860 by the Reverend Isaac Hoover of Hoover Valley. In 2010, the Hoover family had a dedication ceremony installing a plaque and photos to preserve the history of this cabin. It is a wonderful meeting place for friends and families down by the water.
Also in 2010, Jay Littlepage was succeeded as the innkeeper of the inn by Susan and John Boyd. The Boyds managed The Antlers Inn when Rick Gregory and Drew Gerencer opened their restaurant, Grand Central Café, in the neighboring Texas Chainsaw House in 2012. In 2015, Gregory and Gerencer moved their successful coffee shop into the lobby of the hotel when they took over management of the inn with the plan to purchase the property from Barbara and Dennis Thomas. In October of 2017, Gregory and Gerencer officially purchased The Antlers and its cabins and train cars.
Recently, in November of 2022, the Antlers Inn welcomed its new owners, two couples from Austin, Texas. The new owners, Mike and Courtney Rhodes and Simon Madera and wife Hobie Sasser, plan changes but will preserve and protect the history and integrity of the buildings. A community space on the property is also in the works. Renovations have already begun with the first phase of upgrades completed by the summer of 2023. The Antlers Inn and restaurants will remain open throughout the process. While the design details are still being finalized, plans include an elevated menu at the restaurant, upgrades to the inn, and a “town square” on the property that would host concerts, Christmas celebrations, and market days.
The Antlers Inn sits on several acres of the original plat known as “Old Town Kingsland” with lawns and trails through the woods going down to the water. Visitors arrive by car now to enjoy this beautiful, Texas Hill Country resort on Lake LBJ.