Tag Archive for Texas Travel

A Gem Of A Depot in Gainesville, Texas

Santa Fe Depot, Gainesville, TX
At this sleepy little Santa Fe Depot, I squinted my eyes and tried to imagine it as the bustling hub of Gainesville, Texas. That was hard to do when there wasn’t another person on the street with me. However, in 1944, passenger tickets sales for the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway in Gainesville were the 8th largest in the nation! Soldiers from nearby Camp Howze (an infantry replacement training camp), families with fidgety children, and businessmen would have crowded the sidewalks, sweating in the midday sun.

Built in 1902, the brick train station served passengers until December 1979, when the last Amtrak train came thundering down the tracks. For twenty years, the station was unused by passengers, until the Amtrak Heartland Flyer began making a stop here in 1999. You can still hop aboard a train in Gainesville, but only twice a day. That’s not why you want to stop at the depot. Visitors to this neck of the woods need to stop because it houses a gem of a museum that pays homage to (among other things, including memorabilia of the Gainesville Community Circus) the first twenty-nine years of operation — when a Fred Harvey lunch counter operated out of the building. As a sweet aside, it might also have a ghost! Hang on. I’ll get around to that in a minute.

Outline of lunch counter

Although the counter has long since been removed, you can still see the outline on the floor of where it stood. Displays throughout the building give you a hint of what it was like when waitresses in black dresses, black hose, polished black shoes, and crisp white pinafore aprons efficiently buzzed about the counter serving meals to hundreds of passengers each day.

Courtesy of Morton Museum of Cooke County

Courtesy of Morton Museum of Cooke County

They were The Harvey Girls. The picture on the left shows the Harvey Girls and their German-born chef, Ernest Emil Schurig, around the lunch counter.

This tiny museum in Cooke County, Texas preserves a bit of the Harvey Girl history. It whetted my appetite for more. I had no idea the part that the Harvey Girls, and their employer, Fred Harvey, played in changing the West.

Fred Harvey came to the United States from England in 1853 at the age of seventeen. Like most immigrants, he was chasing the American Dream — and he caught it. His first jobs were as a dishwasher and as a busboy in a restaurant in New York. He quickly moved up the ladder, learning all about the food service industry. He later owned restaurants but the Civil War, and the depressed economy following it, hampered his success. Then, he had a brilliant idea: he made a deal in 1876 with the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway to put eating houses along the rail line.

Rail travel in the 1800s was pretty miserable. With no air conditioning, the open windows made for dusty, hot travel … with no food served! Passenger had to wait until the train stopped, every hundred miles or so, and hope to be able to buy beans and biscuits during the short pause at the station. Fred Harvey changed all that with his Harvey lunch counters — the first restaurant chain in the United States. Ticket masters queried the passengers about whether they planned to eat at the next stop and telegraphed ahead, so that the chefs at the Harvey diners could plan for the amount of food to have ready.

Harvey House place setting

Excellent food, served on fine china, awaited the passengers. Imagine how difficult it would have been to accommodate everyone during the twenty minute stop! Was the food excellent? Yes, it was only the best. Beef was shipped in daily from Kansas City; oysters and clams were shipped from the coast; and in Gainesville the water was deemed unsuitable for coffee, so it was shipped in daily from Fort Worth! Here is an excerpt from a 1927 Harvey diner menu, on display at the Gainesville Depot Museum, to give you an idea of what foods you might find waiting at the next stop.

excerpt from 1927 Harvey House menu

Prime rib of beef for $1.10? Jumbo Bull Frog Almandienne? Grilled Boston Scrod? I don’t even know what a Scrod is, and I don’t think I want to find out!

All of this would have been served to you by those immaculate and efficient Harvey Girls. That women were serving the food in these fine establishments was a bit of a novelty in those days. Before Fred Harvey started hiring women to serve in his diners, most waitresses were “shady ladies,” or at least perceived to be so. Waitressing was not considered a job for a proper young lady.

The story goes that in a Fred Harvey restaurant in Raton, New Mexico, the waiters were a bunch of rowdy ruffians. After a fight one night, they didn’t show up for work the next day. Mr. Harvey was so enraged that he fired the lot of them and promptly advertised for young ladies to take the positions. Ads went out in newspapers across the land saying:

Wanted: Young women 18 to 30 years of age, of good moral character, attractive and intelligent, to waitress in Harvey Eating Houses on the Sante Fe in the West. Wages, $17.50 per month with room and board. Liberal tips customary. Experience not necessary. Write Fred Harvey, Union Depot, Kansas City, Missouri.

Adventurous young women from farms in the Midwest, cities in the northeast, and all points in between rushed to apply. The money was good, the thought of adventure in a new community out west was enticing, and some of the young ladies figured that there was always a chance that a suitable husband might be on the next train.

The women had to sign an affidavit that they were of good character, they had to agree not to marry within six months of employment, and they had to abide by strict rules of conduct (including “no expectorating on the floor”). After six weeks of training, they went to work.

Fred Harvey and his Harvey Girls raised the reputation of the job of waitress to a high level of respectability. In a time when there weren’t many jobs available to women, the Fred Harvey chain offered females a chance to gain independence. That history is commemorated at the Museum at the Depot in Gainesville, Texas.

I know what you are thinking. “Wait a minute, Shelly. You mentioned a ghost!” I did, didn’t I.

bedroom for Harvey Girl

The ghost is upstairs, where you will find the rooms that were once occupied by the Harvey Girls who worked at the depot and the manager. There are seven sparsely furnished rooms that were for the girls, a common bathroom, and two rooms for the manager.

hallway at the Harvey House

Museum volunteers and guests often hear footsteps tap-tap-tapping down the hardwood floors of the long hallway when there is not a living soul upstairs!

Who could it be? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps it is the manager of the Depot, making certain that these ladies of high moral character are safely tucked into their rooms at night? Perhaps it is the restless spirit of a Harvey Girl stepping down the hall to the communal bathroom? I suggest that you visit the museum and decide for yourself. It’s definitely worth the stop.

The museum is located at 605 East California Street in Gainesville. Just find the train tracks, and you will be there. Because it is a small town, you might want to call ahead before visiting at (940) 668-4579.

[Note: If you are curious and want to read more about the Harvey Girls, I suggest Harvey Houses of Texas: Historic Hospitality from the Gulf Coast to the Panhandle (Landmarks) by Rosa Walston Latimer.]

Haunted Adolphus Hotel in Dallas

adolphus hotel
We stayed at the Adolphus Hotel, a grand historic edifice at 1321 Commerce Street in Dallas. After a century, the place is still a masterpiece. The hotel was built in 1912 by Adolphus Busch, a beer baron, and was intended to be the grandest hotel imaginable. Until 1922, when the Magnolia Petroleum building was built, it was the tallest building in Dallas, but it is dwarfed by many high rise buildings these days. Yet, it is still quite opulent.

You can click the pictures in the gallery below for a taste of the beauty that was everywhere!

It is easy to see that the hotel has always served up luxury to its guests. It is said that some of those guests from long ago decided never to leave! Rumors abound that guests check into the Adolphus hotel and never check out. They say it is haunted. I had heard some of the tales. I knew that it was rumored that a jilted bride committed suicide on the 19th floor. Tragically, it is said that she still haunts that floor.

I’ve seen the videos on YouTube showing the “haunted” elevator doors on that floor going wild; randomly opening and closing for no reason. Sometimes guests complain of hearing footsteps in the hall when no one is there. People have reported hearing ghostly crying or laughter or the faint sound of big band music, when there is no reason for those sounds. Hotel workers on the “graveyard shift” complain of feeling watched by someone they can’t see or of being tapped on the shoulder by unseen hands.

Some think that the ghosts of people who once lived or worked at the Adolphus still come back to haunt it. I don’t blame them, because it is a lovely place. Some members believe that they have seen the ghost of a deceased customer. Shortly after the death of a woman who was a regular customer at one of the hotel’s bistros, some claim they saw her ghost walk in and settle down at her usual table. But, not everyone believes in the ghosts. Some of the employees just laughed when we mentioned apparitions.

We talked to a bartender, who gruffly said, “Yeah, some folks talk about ghosts … but I don’t know about that. However something strange did happen to me once.” He went on to tell us that he was working in his office when a wine bottle fell off the shelf for no reason. “There wasn’t an earthquake,” he said. Luckily the bottle didn’t break and he put it back on the shelf. Two weeks later, the same bottle “jumped” off the shelf. “I don’t know why that happened,” he said. “Maybe the ghost wanted you to relax with a glass of wine?” I suggested.

While there, we saw that a conference group was given a “haunted tour” by the concierge. We later cornered the poor man and asked him about the ghosts, and he kindly offered to take us on a private tour! With luck, Kevin McCrackin will soon be giving regular haunted tours of the Adolphus to the public. It definitely would be a tour worth taking! We crept down the corridors as he kept us spell bound with his tales. Kevin knew much about the history of the hotel … and he had some spine-tingling stories.
Kevin McCrackin -- haunted tour guide at Adolphus
No, I’m not going to tell them to you! Stay at the Adolphus, ask for “Kevin.” Get him to take you around the hotel and when he takes you on a tour give him a decent gratuity! He deserves every penny of it, because he is a darned good storyteller. I don’t think you will regret taking his tour. Unless, of course, you are afraid of ghosts and are sleeping on the 19th floor!

Lady Bird’s Ghost Tale

I foresee a visit to Karnack, Texas in the near future. You’ve never heard of it? It’s a tiny town in east Texas near Uncertain. Not sure that rings a bell? It’s near Caddo Lake, which was the only natural lake in Texas … at least it was natural until it was artificially dammed during the oil boom in the early 1900s. Karnack is also less than twenty miles from Jefferson, Texas, which claims to be the most haunted town in Texas. I’m determined to get the opportunity to take the Historic Jefferson Ghost Walk. But, first I have to go to Karnack.

I have to see this house:

Lady Bird's childhood home --Linda Petty

It is locally called “The Brick House,” and was built before the Civil War. The house was the childhood home of Claudia Alta Taylor, better known as Lady Bird Johnson. I know that I won’t get to see the interior, because they do not give tours of it, as far as I can tell. Still, I want to view it up close. My desire doesn’t just stem from an admiration for Lady Bird. The house, according to one of Lady Bird’s biographies, is haunted. Mrs. Johnson told the story herself. It is a story that seems wonderfully Gothic.

Supposedly the house was built by Confederate Colonel Milt Andrews. He had a lovely daughter named Eunice, who was often called “Miss Oonie.” Sometime after 1861, the nineteen-year-old Miss Oonie was sitting in a rocking chair in her upstairs bedroom when a storm rolled in to the Piney Woods. A bolt of lightning struck the chimney and traveled down the bricks. It zipped into her bedroom, struck the rocking chair, and zapped Miss Oonie, who died a fiery death.

By the early 1900s, Thomas Jefferson Taylor owned The Brick House, which he bought to please his wife Minnie Lee (née Patillo). It was there that Claudia Alta Taylor was born on December 22, 1912. As Claudia grew into a toddler, her nurse decided that the child was as pretty as a lady bird, thus her nickname.

When Lady Bird was young, the servants often told of seeing the ghost of Miss Oonie. They claimed that she looked ethereal and light-filled. Her specter was said to be slightly built and wearing a long white dress. Her “freakish” blond hair stood up on her head. It glinted as if charged by lightning.

You’ll forgive me if I conjure images in my head of The Bride of Frankenstein.

Although Lady Bird never saw the ghost herself, she claimed that she felt uncomfortable in Miss Oonie’s former bedroom. However, Miss Oonie might not have been the only ghost at The Brick House when Lady Bird was growing up.

When little Claudia was only four years old, her mother tripped over the family’s collie dog while she was descending a circular staircase. She was pregnant at the time, and the fall caused a miscarriage. A few days later, Minnie Lee Patillo Taylor died of septicemia.

Several years later Effie Patillo, Minnie Lee’s sister, came to live at The Brick House to care for her young niece. According to the stories, it seems as if Effie was about a half-bubble off plumb. However, Aunt Effie assured the young Lady Bird that the house was haunted by the ghost of her own mother. Effie believed that Minnie Lee came to her in dreams and told her that she should clean grime off the windows, do certain things to help Claudia, and finish other chores. What do you think? Was it the ramblings of a crazy lady … or was there really another ghost?

I’m having difficulty finding more information on either of these ghosts. Ancestry.com is not giving me much information about the original owners, either. I’d love to know more of the story of Miss Oonie. However, I really want to see The Brick House in Karnack. It’s on my “to-do list.”