January 2006 Park of the
Landmark Inn State Historic Site
Bed & Breakfast
Historic Landmark Inn Rewards Guests With Tranquility, History
If the walls of Landmark Inn could talk, its overnight guests would get an earful. Today's visitors to the 145-year-old Castroville inn would hear the ancient voices of German and French immigrants who settled the area, as well as the tales told by 19th century travelers such as Gen, Robert E. Lee and Mexico's Santa Anna who forded the Medina River just below the inn on El Camino Real.
Operated as a small bed-and-breakfast inn by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department since 1981, the white stucco, two-story, Landmark Inn occupies an elevated riverbank on a five-acre state historic site. The park-like setting boasts manicured grounds planted with gardens of Texas natives, towering pecans and cottonwoods, winding stone pathways and a sprinkling of historic structures dating to the 1840s and 1850s.
Landmark Inn is only one of two state-operated B&Bs - the other being the Rosemont Cottage at the Starr Family Mansion State Historic Site in Marshall - where guests can stay overnight in 19th century accommodations offering 21st century luxuries, such as air conditioning and comfortable beds. A Texas Highways Magazine readers' poll last year ranked the Castroville, Texas landmark just 20 minutes from downtown San Antonio among Texas' Top 10 B & Bs.
To stay a night or two within the foot-thick walls of one of 10 rooms in the venerable inn is to immerse oneself in Texas history at its simplest and most romantic. Since the cleanup from the monster flood of 2002 that inundated the lower portion of the property, including the basement of the Vance House, and ongoing maintenance projects, the Landmark Inn and grounds have never looked better.
Hally Stegner, who has been a guest at the historic inn off and on since the 1950s, was found in the lobby on a recent sunny winter day singing the praises of the inn to Manager Ken Conway. The diminutive, energetic former West Texan, who now lives in San Marcos, was on a solo road trip to one of her favorite getaways.
"It's just been wonderful, wonderful," gushed Stegner. "It's so peaceful and quiet, and it doesn't have a television or phone. I just love it and never get tired of staying here."
Showing up at midweek, Stegner had been assigned Room #1, formerly a small room with double bed and bathroom that had been renovated and expanded several years ago into a spacious suite with a sitting room, bathroom and bedroom furnished with two, queen-sized iron beds.
Conway, a former South Padre Island B&B owner who's managed the Landmark Inn since 2001, says the bottom-floor suite is the second most popular of the 10 rooms. Room 8, a cozy upstairs room in a former rock bathhouse with a private bathroom, is tops. Downstairs, Room 7 features similar accommodations and its own bathroom, a rare commodity in the vintage inn, where all but four rooms share a bathroom with another room.
Each guest room has been restored and features unique furnishings ranging from 19th century Texas armoires, dressers, chairs and beds to 1940s light fixtures. Rocking chairs on the inn's upstairs and downstairs galleries invites guests to linger and enjoy star-studded skies, pastoral views, hummingbirds, butterflies and other wildlife that call Landmark Inn home.
The inn offers two "Romantic Packages," or what Conway calls "Get Out Of Trouble" combo deals that are perfect for anniversaries, honeymoons and other special occasions. The one-night "Short But Sweet" package for two includes a standard room with private bath, a bouquet of wildflowers in season and dinner at La Normandie, a four-star restaurant offering French and German cuisine. The two-night "Deluxe Romantic" deal includes a gift basket and wildflower bouquet, lunch at the new Castroville Cafe and dinner at La Normandie. A Valentine's package is being offered the entire month of February. Call the inn at (830) 931-2133 to book a package.
If you haven't visited the Landmark Inn in the past few years, you'll be delighted to know the self-serve continental breakfast in the small Monod Kitchen (circa 1849) has been upgraded and moved to the air-conditioned and heated comfort of the Vance House parlor. Guests start arriving at 7:30 to be served gourmet coffee, fruit juice, cheese, cereal and oatmeal, granola-topped yogurt and fresh pastries from the renowned Alsatian Bakery. The dining room seats 12, with more seating available on the outdoor patio. Hint: If you "snooze you might lose" the chance to try the tasty pastries that sometimes run short as the clock approaches the 9:30 a.m. closing time.
Castroville takes pride in its Alsatian (French-German) heritage that dates to September 1844 when French entrepreneur Henri Castro gathered Tejanos from San Antonio to accompany his party of 27 French and German colonists to settle a village at this scenic spot on the banks of the Medina River. Interpretive panels in the Landmark Inn's exhibit hall recount Castro's arrival and other highlights of "Historic Castroville" and the Landmark Inn. Also explained are on-site archeological excavations and restoration efforts, the influence of the Lower San Antonio Road that passed through the park and the gristmill/cotton gin whose remnants still stand.
Think of the Landmark Inn as the super Wal-Mart of its day, offering not only lodging for travelers, but also groceries, dry goods and even postal services to early Texans, military troops and others crossing the frontier on their way to search for gold in California, fight in the U.S.-Mexican War and U.S. Civil War, establish a homestead or just to seek adventure in the Wild West.
Landmark Inn history dates to 1849 when Swiss merchant Cesar Monod built a store of cut limestone that was to become the first floor of the hotel. In 1853, Irish immigrant John Vance and his wife Rowena purchased the property, operating a general store. Five years later, Vance added a wing to the mercantile fronting the bustling San Antonio Road, changed the name to the Vance House and started renting rooms to travelers.
By the 1870s, a second floor and upstairs and downstairs porches had been added and the name changed to the Vance Hotel. It operated until the 1880s. In the 1940s, Ruth Lawler, a descendent of a New Orleans businessman who had converted the old gin into a hydroelectric plant, reopened the property and named it the Landmark Inn. After a long hiatus, the handsome home where she lived until her death in 1991 - the Vance House - began offering lodging in October of 2002. Today, the Landmark Inn welcomes guests seven days a week to experience the tranquility and hospitality of this storied Texas roadhouse.
Landmark Inn State Historic Site is one of about 120 state parks that make up the Texas State Park System. The historic inn is located in Castroville roughly 20 miles west of San Antonio on U.S. Highway 90. For more information visit the Landmark Inn State Historic Site Bed & Breakfast web site.
Article by Rob McCorkle