Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Simple Country Inn

Down a short road leading from the courthouse can be found the Fanthorp Inn. It is a long, white building 2 stories tall. It sits behind a picket fence and is shaded by a large old tree dripping with spanish moss. We are told, during rainy periods tree ferns also adorn it's branches. To one side of the inn stands a barn housing a stagecoach. A horse grazes in an adjacent pasture.

A gentleman approaches us to offer a tour of the property. As the inn was initially a stagecoach stop we begin with the reproduction coach in the barn. The coach is suspended on top of the wheel base by thick leather straps. When I mention that I have heard stagecoach rides were uncomfortable our guide opens the door and invites me to step inside. He steps to the front of the coach and bounces it simulating the motion of horses. Bumpy does not begin to describe the experience. Add to it the crowded conditions inside the coach, the rough, undeveloped roads of the time and I begin to wonder if nausea bags were provided for the riders of the day. As I stagger out of the coach, my host asks about the frequency of robberies during the time. The guide says that in Texas there were only 5 or 6 robberies. I mention that in the history of the area of California I lived in as as teen, there was a famous stagecoach robber named Black Bart. It is at this point my respect for the guides knowledge grows tenfold. He says, "Do you know how they caught him?". When I reply that I do not, he relates the following tale.

Black Bart was a schoolteacher. His name came from the mask he wore to protect his identity. As a man of habit, he always had his clothes cleaned at the same Chinese laundry. During one robbery, he lost an item of clothing bearing the name of the laundry, thereby giving the law the information they needed to form a sting operation.

Talk about your trivia experts!

He leads us across the dry lawn to the inn. Originally the man that built it would travel the countryside buying up corn crops and storing the corn in a crib which still stands behind the inn. When winter came, he would sell the corn for feed back to the same farmers he had bought it from. He lived outdoors using his wagon for shelter.

When he met his wife, who was 20 years younger than he, she accepted his proposal but insisted she would not live under a wagon or in a corn crib. He built 2 rooms, a parlor and bedroom on either side of a breezeway for her.As he became aware of  the stagecoach traffic passing his door, he saw a second opportunity to make a buck and began expanding the 2 room structure to accommodate the travelers. Over the years the structure continued to grow.

A second floor was added expanding the number rooms as well as providing the family with separate, private quarters. The family quarters are currently under renovation. We are taken to the guest quarters on the upper floor. There is a dormitory room for men and several smaller private rooms. All the rooms have been restored to their appearance in the 1850's, down to the shared toothbrush resting on the washstand in the central hallway at the top of the stairs. Apparently, dental hygiene was somewhat primitive at this time. Returning to the ground floor we are shown the foundations of the kitchen.They are located in a yard a short distance for the main structure. This reduced the hazards of fire and kept the heat of cooking from exacerbating the already sometimes torrid conditions inside the main building. In the dining room banners hang above the table operated by a rope pulley system. The were used to keep the flies at bay. The guide also tells us of the spices and seasonings utilized to cover the taste of rancid meat. Due to the lack of refrigeration and the Texas heat, food did not keep fresh for long. We are led back to the covered. front porch.

As we sign the guest book I notice a notation by one name. This visitor had worked on the early restoration of the inn as a college student in the 1970's. Our guide tells us of his own personal history with the inn. He and his wife had lived there during the beginning stages of the restoration. They used a small camp stove for cooking and filled a tub by hand for bathing. In the cold winter months, the tub was filled twice. Once to heat the tub and a second time of the bathing water. He tells us the experience was somewhat eerie due to the history of the structure and the solitude of the surroundings. The generations of the family that followed the original owners seldom got rid of any of the furnishings or documents that had accumulated over the years. This provided the restoration team with a great deal of written information about the history of the inn and the surrounding area. After deciding on the time period of 1850, the furnishings from earlier and latter periods were distributed to other historical sites throughout the state.

The history of the inn includes stays by Sam Houston as well as the death there of Anderson, the last vice president of the Republic of Texas. His remains are interred in the family cemetery across the road from the inn.

After bidding farewell to our guide we drive off, as a cloud of Texas dust rises from the roadway behind us.

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