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Texas | Columns

"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Llano's Dabbs Hotel

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

The Dabbs Hotel in Llano has been an overnight stop for travelers and a weekend getaway for romantics for over a century. Past guests included railroad workers, miners, prospectors, cowboys, college students, raccoons and the ghosts of Bonnie and Clyde.

In 1880s the Austin and Northwestern Railroad began laying tracks from the Texas capital to Llano County to haul out the iron ore believed to be abundant at Iron Mountain. By 1892 the rails reached the town of Llano.

That same year the railroad began a daily passenger service between Austin and Llano. Curious travelers came to the little town in the granite hills to catch a final fleeting glimpse of the wild Texas frontier. In fact, Llano became the travel destination of choice for many Austinites.

Llano, Texas - Dabbs Hotel
Llano's Dabbs Hotel
Photo By Michael Barr, Dec. 2023

Over the years a number of hotels sprang up in Llano to serve out-of-town guests. In 1913 local businessman M. B. Dabbs built the Dabbs Railroad Hotel to accommodate travelers and railroad crews. The hotel stood at the end of the line, near the depot on the north bank of the Llano River.

A popular destination from the day it opened, the hotel soon expanded. The July 10, 1914 edition of the Llano News reported "Work has started on the new hotel building which will be occupied by the Dabbs Hotel. It will be located on the same lot that has been occupied by the old Dabbs Hotel in North Llano."

The story noted that during construction, "boarders are being accommodated in an adjoining building and in a large tent nearby."

Mrs. Eaves operated the hotel in the beginning. Then in 1918 Mrs. M. B. Dabbs, the owner's wife, took over. The dollar a day rates included room and board.

A modern-day traveler might be surprised to learn that Llano, Texas in the early 20th century could be a lively place. Several hotels offered alcohol, music and dancing. Then on Sunday commuters gathered at the depot to catch the train for the 4-hour ride back to Austin.

Unconfirmed stories claim that Bonnie and Clyde laid low at the Dabbs Hotel. Some accounts say they gathered information for future robberies by eavesdropping on train crews. Another story claimed the old hotel once housed a brothel.

After WWII, travel by train declined, but even then, the Dabbs Hotel received a steady stream of guests. Railroad crews continued to bunk overnight at the Dabbs until 1979, making the Dabbs one of the last authentic railroad hotels in the country. UT students used the hotel as a quiet place to cram for exams.

But as the old hotel aged, it didn't always get the care and attention it deserved. By the 1980s the Dabbs had fallen into disrepair. The screens rusted and the paint peeled. Part of the building became a haybarn and a home for raccoons, hoot owls and stray cats.

Then in the 1980s a character named Gary Smith bought and restored the Dabbs. Smith had a gift for storytelling, and he made a connection with young people. He placed regular ads in the Daily Texan, the UT student newspaper, advertising a "secret hideaway for romantics on the Llano River."

The Dabbs Hotel soon became a popular weekend destination for UT students looking for pleasure and relaxation. Couples could stay at the Dabbs for $30 a night, breakfast included. Campers could pitch a tent near the river.

At sunset they all gathered around the campfire for a wild night of singing, storytelling, beer drinking and other forms of recreation. Warm evenings usually ended with a midnight dip in the Llano River.

Young people forged a lot of friendships at the Dabbs Hotel. At least one Austin band, the Asylum Street Spankers, famously got its start there after a night of debauchery in 1994.

In its latest chapter the old hotel, now a B&B, has been beautifully restored and renovated. The place is bright and breezy with a spectacular view of the granite hills, the lazy Llano River and the water tumbling over the dam behind the Roy Inks Bridge.

Llano Texas - Llano River Dam, Roy Inks Bridge,
Roy Inks Bridge and dam
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, December 2007

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" January 15, 2024

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