I was lucky. My parents were a little ahead of the curve compared to the parents of a lot of my friends because they enjoyed traveling around the country, and they always took us with them…not necessarily something that was done all the time in the late 50s and the 60s.
I’m also a part of that generation whose parents flocked into something brand new in this country called a motel…motor inn because you could truly motor in…right up to your front door and slip into your room unnoticed. No longer did it matter what the kids looked like after a day of swimming on the beach because no one was going to see them, certainly not anyone dressed for dinner in a hotel lobby, and my parents loved it!
I, however, was a little different. I was mesmerized by what I saw as the grandeur of the old hotels, made even grander in my own mind because of the stories of my grandfather.
As I’ve told you here on United before, my grandfather was a gambler…became a gambler during the oil boom in Desdemona, Texas, and obviously that meant that he traveled a lot. Naturally, I didn’t know that secret as a child, but I did hang onto every word that he said about the various hotels where he had stayed, and as a child of the progressive, mobile 1960s, I must admit that I thought it a bit strange when he told me tales of having once stayed in what I considered very local hotels such as the Travelers in De Leon, Texas.
From the best information that I can find, the Travelers Hotel was built in the year 1919 and registered its first guests in 1920 and, of course, my young mind was not computing the fact that the distance between De Leon and Hasse, Texas wasn’t really the hop, skip, and a jump that it is today and certainly not in the middle of the night!
The hotel contained 54 rooms, and it was apparently one of the best in the area…if not the absolute best! In 1929, Mrs. Laura Valenta purchased the hotel, and, with the help of her daughter, she operated it until 1969. I actually normally refer to the hotel as the Valenta Hotel, but I believe that I am wrong and that the name was always the Travelers.
Some years ago, De Leon’s Betty Wofford wrote the following about the old hotel. You will notice that her dates differ a bit from mine.
“The Travelers Hotel was a home away from home for many people from the time it was built in 1925 until it was sold in 1969 for a Senior Citizen’s Home.”
According to Betty, Mrs. Laura J. Valenta purchased the hotel and moved to De Leon in 1929 and was the sole owner of the place until she sold in ’69. She and her daughter, Laura Miller, who helped her at the hotel, were known for serving delicious meals, and people would drive for miles to eat with them.
“The hotel was known statewide for its food and hospitality.”
Dignitaries stayed there as did some from the other element: Pretty Boy Floyd and Bonnie and Clyde.
“These people were very kind and courteous and sat where they could exit a back door if necessary.”
The women also used their hotel for benevolent work, never turning anyone away simply because he could not pay. One man apparently was given both room and board for twelve years, and he was never charged a penny “because life had not been good to him and his abilities to earn a living were small.”
Mother and daughter were also big supporters of the Peach and Melon Festival, giving rooms to the duchesses so that they could change their dresses and have a place to rest. “They also hosted the Queen’s tea and ball at no charge to the festival.”
The women were truly ahead of their time, running a successful business long before most women had entered the workforce.
And today, the grandeur that once was is often lost as 21st century vehicles rush by the old building…but every now and then…just about dark…if one only stops, closes his eyes, and listens closely…