Archive for October, 2009

Mystery Building Solved

Friday, October 23rd, 2009


            You remember a few weeks back we discussed an unusual rock house James Mather found on a newly acquired parcel of land way out County Road 214? Neither James nor anyone else I spoke to knew anything about the structure.  At that time I promised to visit the Exxon station more regularly, hoping to find the answer to the riddle.  In my imagination I could just see a rugged, bewhiskered old man wearing scruffy boots and patched jeans, with a sweat stained hat, having coffee there.  And in my fancy I would approach him and he would have the answer to our riddle.

             Well to my astonishment last Thursday, as I promised, I was having a cup of coffee with a bunch of gentlemen at the Exxon, when in came that very man I had imagined. I introduced myself, and he offered me a calloused hand that had done a life of hard work, and said he was pleased to meet me.  “Sir, we have a mystery here in Liberty Hill that you may be able to shed some light on.”  I shared with him the house James had found and the fact that no one knew anything about it.  “No, he said, I am afraid I can’t help you with that.  I am from out west and I don’t believe I have ever been in these parts.”  You can imagine my disappointment as the old man paid for his coffee, got into his battered pick up and drove off to the west.

             Gary Spivey was sitting at our table.  Gary Spivey, our historian.  He said,  “I overheard your questions to the old man and the riddle of the newly found building.  What do you want to know about that house?”  Well, Gary did not fit the description of the man I knew would reveal the answer to my quest.  In fact, Gary was wearing Nike running shoes, walking shorts, purple Liberty Hill tee shirt and a baseball cap.  Hardly the sage I was expecting.  However he did have the answer to my question.  “The building was a stage stop on the road from Austin to Lampasas and further northwest,” he said.  Gary stated in the 1830’s as roads were spreading to the north and west, a stagecoach could only travel from 10 to 20 miles, before the horses had to be changed.  And the passengers needed rest also, so the stops were placed that far apart.  The stage road northwesterly from Austin came to what was to become Liberty Hill and made a fork; one going west, another going north.  The north fork of the long ago road is where our stage stop is located.  So I found a Texas map and laid a straight edge on the map from Austin to Lampasas and sure enough, the line passes close to our mystery stage stop.  Gary said one early stop was at Jollyville, just north of Austin.   Others were placed along the route northwest. 

             So there you are.  Mystery solved.  If you have a question, hang around the Exxon station until a wrinkled, battered, whiskered, booted old man comes in for coffee.  Then ask Gary.  Odds are you will get the answer.  

Mystery Building

Monday, October 5th, 2009



               A lot of guys go to the Exxon station for coffee each morning, and sometimes have breakfast.  The ladies in pretty green smocks make a mean taco and good coffee.  Besides you can hear a lively story there once in a while.  Sometimes it is the same one from last week, but it is still good.

            I saw James Mather there a few weeks ago.  He had just bought a parcel of land out county road 214 where the community of San Gabriel River Ranch is.  He was excited about finding on his land what has become a mystery.   He asked if I wanted to go see it.  I jumped at the opportunity.  In the thick live oak, Spanish oak, and cedar covered land there stands a most unusual stone building.  The structure is about 20 feet by 25 feet with a fireplace in the north end of two feet thick walls.  The fireplace opening has a keystone to carry the weight of the rocks above.  The masons that built the house shaped the stone with carefully cut limestone rocks.  They obviously knew how to build a stone fireplace.  Openings on all four walls where windows would normally be are only about one foot wide by 20 inches tall.  There is a doorway on the east side as well as on the west side.  The lintels over the doorways have fallen away or were removed in later years.  All around the house are the remnants of rock fences to keep something out or keep something in or both.  

            The mystery is, why is it here?  Some one labored long and hard to cut and haul the stone.  It is built stronger than most buildings of that era.  There does not appear to be any signs of an old road in the area.  Could it be a forgotten stagecoach stop?  Or perhaps a Pony Express relay post?  Or was it a home built on the far frontier.  With two-foot thick walls it is apparent it was built for defense.   The window openings appear to me to be made for shooting from.  The fireplace offered a bit of comfort as well as a place to cook meals.

            I spoke to Imogene Stanford, a long time citizen of the area, but she did not know of the building.  I called Raymond Hodon, who lives, with his wife Edna, on the North Gabriel to see if he could shed any light on the mystery.  His guess was it might have been built on a long forgotten trail between the Baghdad community and the gristmill at San Gabriel Mills, some 5 miles up the river.  I scanned the book, “Land of Good Water,” by Clara Scarbrough looking for a clue, but found nothing.

            So the building remains a mystery of our area.  My mind brought up thoughts of the early days of hard working men and women pushing the frontier further west.  It is hard for us, in these days of easy living, to understand their courage, tenacity, and strength to build such a structure.

            I think I will visit the Exxon station more often.  Maybe I will have breakfast with black coffee.  Who knows, one morning, an old, wrinkled guy with scuffed; overrun boots will have the answer to our mystery.  I will let you know.  I might even buy his coffee.