As you know, I love exploring and I can often be found stopping in the strangest places to go explore, take pictures, and yes… blog about it.
While in Texas I had the opportunity to explore the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin. I spotted this historical landmark while out exploring and it was just too much to let pass without trying to learn more and possibly getting a tour. I was not let down, and I wish that I had more time in the Driskill. But I’ll be back for sure.
Stepping through the grand front doors into the lobby, I fell in love with the Driskill Hotel. From the five-pointed Texas star on the lobby’s massive stained-glass dome to the majestic columns, you can almost imagine how Lyndon B. Johnson felt as he takes his date and soon to be wife through the lobby of the Driskill on their first date. The future President of the United States and Lady Bird fell in love with the Driskill and with each other over breakfast in the Driskill Dining Room. He even proposed to her on that very same day there at the hotel. Some date!
This breathtaking hotel, opened in 1886 by Colonel Driskill (An honorary title given to him by the Confederacy for his selling of cattle during the Civil War) was built as a grand hotel to rival hotels in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Austin was the newly appointed capital of Texas and Driskill wanted to be part of that foundation. The longhorn head mounted above the fireplace in the bar is a reminder that the cattle baron, Driskill made all this possible because of those fierce longhorn cattle and his determination.
The entire hotel cost an estimated $400,000 in 1886, these days that cost would have been about $92 million dollars. And just by looking at the lavish details, you know this place was only for the most affluential and celebrities of their time. So, having the chance to walk through these halls and explore what a great honor to step back in time and learn more about the opulent Driskill Hotel.
Haunted History: The ghost of a little girl is said to be heard playing ball and laughing through the halls. The story goes that a U.S. Senator visited the hotel with his family. The Senator attended a function on the Mezzanine, while his four-year-old daughter played with a ball near the staircase. The child tripped and fell to her death, probably breaking her next at the base of the stairs. I walked down those stairs a few times, they are steep and I felt a bit uneasy navigating them. I had no idea at the time of the child’s death, but felt like I just better hold on tight to the handrail. However as I have gone to edit my photos. Every photo I took of the massive portrait of Colonel Driskill or these stars came out damaged or very blurry. Sorry! However the other photos before and after this area came out just fine. Weird!
The hotel changed hands in 1888, two years after opening after a nationwide drought, the Driskill Family suffered a huge financial loss after their cattle died off in the drought. The hotel was sold to the Colonel’s Brother-in-law, “Doc” Day. The Colonel was very distraught about the loss and suffered a fatal stroke in 1890. The hotel purchased a life-size portrait of Colonel Driskill that can be seen to this day overlooking the Lobby. It is also said that the smell of his cigars can also be smelled through the hotel, maybe he is still there!
Something I found very unusual was the huge bank door in the lobby. This was installed in 1895 by Major George R. Littlefield, another cattle baron like Driskill and maybe even one of his competitors. Littlefield renovated the hotel and added electric lighting, steam heat, and probably one of the most lavish things in the Texas heat… electric fans in every room. But the bank door that remains is part of the band that was opened in the lobby and the vault and door are all that remain of that addition.
The hotel is amazing and filled with so many tiny details that are fun to explore and find. There are D’s in every nook and cranny, and you could spend the day counting them throughout the hotel.
Interesting fact: There is a legend that Peter J. Lawless who lived in the hotel from 1886-1916 and outlasted several owners, even living in the hotel without staff when it was closed several times, has been seen on the 5th floor checking his pocket watch. I explored the 5th floor and while I didn’t see Mr. Lawless, I did find several shadow boxes filled with memorabilia that were a little spooky!
My experience at the hotel was one of my favorite Austin adventures. The staff at the hotel were very helpful, the hotel is spotless and welcoming. I’d love to spend the weekend just walking the halls and getting to know this historical place even better.
Sadly, the Driskill was discovered on my last day in Austin, before I raced to my flight back to Seattle. I wanted to stay and spend more time reading the plaques outside the doors, learning more about the special rooms, and yes dining in the 1886 Café and Bakery. But that will be for my next trip to Austin. The 1886 café features recipes from the hotel’s past and is recognized as one of the top culinary destinations in the country. I can’t wait to get back to Austin to try the food!
Travel Tip: The Driskill is small pet friendly. (50 pounds and under or two dogs must weigh 75 pounds combined with a $100 fee.) They also offer gourmet treats from 1886 Café & Bakery, bottled water, Map of Austin with designated pet-friendly areas and a fluffy bed for your canine best friend.