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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

The Nimitz Hotel
- Amazing Hospitality

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

The Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg is much more than the family business of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. The old hotel was a local watering hole. It was a waystation and a gateway to the community. Visitors formed their first impressions of Fredericksburg by the warm reception received at the Nimitz.

Charles H. Nimitz arrived with the early settlers in Fredericksburg. For a time he was a cook at Fort Martin Scott. Some sources say he opened (or possibly managed) his first hotel at 218 W. Main Street (present-day site of the Schmidt-Dietz Building). A story in the Fredericksburg Standard (November 26, 1921) described that original dirt floor hotel as "a one-room structure built of adobe."

Although Fredericksburg sat squarely on the Texas frontier, a surprising number of travelers passed through in the early days. The town was a stopping point for stagecoaches on the road between San Antonio and El Paso. Soldiers on the way to West Texas forts stopped in Fredericksburg for one last civilized fling. The small hotel had a lot of business.


In 1855 Charles Nimitz built a bigger hotel at the corner of Main and Washington Streets. The new place had a large rock-fenced enclosure for horses. The wall cost the fantastic sum of $150 not to mention the "free drinks of whiskey he had to furnish the men building it."

Fredericksburg, TX - Nimitz Hotel
The Nimitz Hotel
courtesy Gillespie County Historical Sociey

When finished, the new hotel had it all. There were 3 wells on the property. The building had wood floors made of cypress boards cut and hauled from the "mill the Mormons had built and were operating on the Pedernales about 4 miles below the colony."

The Nimitz wasn't home, but it was darn close to it. A traveler willing to splurge could sleep in a bed all by himself. The outhouse was a short but polite distance away. The Nimitz was the only place between San Antonio and El Paso a traveler could soak in a hot bath.

At other frontier hotels a guest could take a bath in clean water (unheated) for a dime or bathe at a discount if he was willing to "take a turn."

After the new Nimitz opened "it became the place where the mail drivers of the U.S. mail line from San Antonio and El Paso stayed. They found good quarters here and a fine place to keep their horses."

The hotel was a charming place with comfortable furnishings. On the walls were Hermann Lungkwitz drawings of Bear Mountain and Enchanted Rock. By all accounts the hospitality was amazing.


Quite a few famous people registered at the Nimitz. General Robert E. Lee and General Phil Sheridan stayed there. The Fredericksburg Standard reported that "Dr. Ferdinand Roemer, whose studies for the new country were the first to be printed in Europe made this hotel his home at various times."

William Sydney Porter, better known as the writer O. Henry, slept at the Nimitz when he wasn't absorbing the local culture at the bar.

The Germans had a lukewarm relationship with O. Henry. They admired his talent but weren't always charmed with his treatment of their culture.

An article in the Fredericksburg Standard concluded "The beautiful story of 'The Chaparral Prince' which uses as a setting the one time frequent mail robberies on the mail routes from here to San Antonio and which pretends to depict the life of the people of our country, was undoubtedly begun while the writer was at the hotel."

Charles Nimitz was a ship captain before he came to Texas, and by the late1880s he had socked away enough money to remodel his hotel to reflect his love for the sea. The wheelhouse of a Mississippi steamboat looming above the oak trees must have been a strange and mysterious sight to first time visitors coming to Fredericksburg from Austin or San Antonio.

The hotel was a busy place in its prime. Prominent families from Houston and Galveston spent summers there. Locals had banquets and dances in the ballroom. The Lions Club, the Rotary Club and the Casino Club met there.

The hotel was the center of social life in Fredericksburg for a century.

Sources:
"Nimitz Hotel Interwoven With Colorful History," Fredericksburg Standard, March 9, 1977.
"Short History of the Nimitz Hotel," Fredericksburg Standard, November 26, 1921.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" May 10, 2022 Column


Related Story:
The Nimitz: Hotel with a History by Michael Barr



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