Built in 1834, the Fanthorp Inn was a popular stop for stagecoaches and travelers, maybe because of its location at a crossroads, probably because it served liquor. It hosted famous people like Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Sam Houston. The inn also served as the post office and general store for the area. Now it is a Texas State Historic Site, fully restored to its 1850 form, offering modern visitors an opportunity to see what a stagecoach inn was like, and, once a month, a chance to ride in a replica mule-drawn stagecoach from that era.
Wanting to get our history on, we journeyed to the tiny, tiny town of Anderson, turned onto the road with the old, pretty courthouse, and soon arrived at the inn. After looking at a historical marker and speaking to a young staff member (and getting an estimate of the wait-time for the stagecoach), we started exploring.
Musicians played dulcimers on the front porch. A dulcimer sounds a bit like a banjo crossed with a lute…and maybe a fiddle…and a piano. The songs the musicians played sounded to my untrained ear kinda Irish-y (which sounds to me a lot like early folk country music).
After listening to those talented artists play for a bit, we were ready to venture forth into the interior of the inn. A knowledgeable, friendly guide in period dress showed us around and told us about the history of the place.
It’s not a happy history. We learned that the inn was built by Henry Fanthorp, and he lived there with his wife Rachel and their children. They had a bunch of slaves. Their son John was killed in the Civil War, fighting for the Confederates. After Henry and Rachel died of yellow fever, their daughter Mary closed the inn.
We realized pretty quickly that the old inn is…old. The walls served more as polite requests to stay out rather than firm barriers to the outside world. Flies, a red wasp, a horde of ladybugs, and a bumblebee all flew to and fro. No one seemed too concerned about their presence. It was unclear to me if those critters had such free entry back in the day, but the guide’s demonstration of the 1850s anti-fly technology made me think “probably so.”
We saw the large parlor where travelers congregated, visited, read newspapers, drank, and relaxed. We found it interesting that many games that we enjoy today — like poker, checkers, and dominoes — were around during the antebellum period.
We looked at a small room that was reconstructed as the post office/general store area, where sale postings would have been put up. Some notices were disturbing.
Our guide showed us the guest bedrooms. The rooms were not large, and guests with more modest means had to share rooms. A traveler could wake up in the night next to someone he didn’t know sleeping right next to him!
After the short tour of the house, Mom and I checked out the stable area. It contained a few exhibits about stagecoaches and the travel-and-mail system in which they were used.
Then we rode a stagecoach.
It might surprise some folks from Up North, Back East, or from some Other Country (same thing?), but not all Texans grow up country. I don’t know how to ride a horse. I have probably been on more elephant rides than I have been on horseback rides. I had only seen stagecoaches in movies. Mom hadn’t ridden in a stagecoach before either. Nobody uses stagecoaches anymore outside of these sorts of historical thingies, so we were pretty excited to get the opportunity to experience it.
The stagecoach is basically a cube with well-padded seats. Four people can fit comfortably inside. There is a fair amount of leg room, more than riding in the coach section of an airplane, but not so much that you could lay down or really stretch out. The wide windows allow air to flow into the cabin, but the 5-mile-an-hour pace doesn’t exactly create a lot of wind. It’s not very loud. The wheels turn without making too much of a fuss, and the mules’ soft plodding steps have a zen-like relaxing monotony to them. I expected a lot of jerking motions, but, as we only traveled a short distance on a paved road, the ride was smooth and even.
After the stage coach, we visited the cemetery across the street from the inn, where the Fanthorp Family and Kenneth Anderson (the town’s namesake) are buried. It’s a quiet, small cemetery. A large buzzard flew around, looking at me. I hope it didn’t know something that I don’t.
We did not encounter anything supernatural at the inn or graveyard.
And yet I feel like we did experience the presence of ghosts. During our time there I wondered….
- What was it like for a weary traveler to stop at a roadside inn after a hard days travel, five miles an hour in a coach on unpaved roads, with no air conditioning? How nice was it to grab a drink, share some news, rest for a spell, even if a room had to be shared?
- What was it like for Kenneth Lewis Anderson to be heading home, 39 years old and battling a fever? He was the last Vice-President of the Republic of Texas, having just presided over the Senate when it approved of annexation by the United States. He hoped to one day be governor. But Anderson never became governor. He never made it home. He died a few miles down the road from the capitol, at the Fanthorp Inn.
- What was it like for the many slaves who worked day in and day out at the inn and surrounding property for the Fanthorps? What was it like to be freed at the end of the Civil War?
- What was it like for Henry and Rachel Fanthorp to lose their son to the Civil War?
- What was it like when the yellow fever that ravaged the South after the Civil War came to their doorstep?
Seeing where those people actually walked and how they traveled and played and slept and ate and dealt with flies…how they LIVED…helped me better understand the answers to those questions. That’s the reason I like going to places like this, to get the tactile experience of the past, to feel and see things I’ve only read about in books or seen in movies. Friends that have traveled to foreign countries have told me that it makes them appreciate being an American even more. Likewise, these “trips to the past” make me appreciate being alive in our time even more.