By Kelsi Sexton, Landmark Inn State Historic Site Office Manager
Since reopening in December 2015, working at the Landmark Inn has been a veritable blur of exciting activity. Little can be more exhilarating than having an unimpeded view of water cascading over the dam, or more invigorating than the smell of fresh, hearth-cooked blueberry pies and bread. Every day brings new visitors and new stories to the site, and every day we look for ways to extend and amplify their experiences. Updating the museum store was one simple way to do exactly that. Located in the front lobby of the Vance Hotel building next to the museum gallery, the space is dedicated to providing overnight guests and day visitors with tangible connections to their experiences at Landmark Inn.
Prior to the recent renovations, some of our historical spaces were used for fairly modern and unglamorous purposes, such as housing for ice machines or storage for extra supplies and materials. The untapped potential of a space like the 1849 Monod Kitchen building proved too enticing for the Texas Historical Commission to ignore, and it has since been turned back into a fully functional open hearth kitchen.
In an effort to reflect these and other changes, we restocked the store with a number of reproduction items similar to what once populated its shelves. Tin candle pans and candle sconces with glass chimneys are now available for sale, sold with pure beeswax candles. The items are accurate replicas of devices that would have been used by residents and guests to the Landmark Inn throughout the 19th century. Handmade beeswax candles burn cleaner and longer than ordinary wax candles, while their slow smokeless flames give off more light and heat than the average candle. The sconces can also be mounted and could make the perfect addition to a mantelpiece or hallway begging for historical charm. In the future, we plan to include other kitchen items such as aprons and small cast-iron cookware so our guests can relive their experience at Landmark Inn.
In addition to creating a more direct historical link with the site, our store has been refocused to make each visit more memorable with the addition of several new souvenir items. We still have a variety of custom coffee mugs, stainless steel travel mugs, wine glasses, and vintage-style t-shirts available in sizes from small to triple extra-large. We’re pleased to announce the addition of newly designed refrigerator magnets, keychains, lapel pins, and ornaments. These sturdy metal and enamel pieces feature a view of the Vance Hotel building from the northwest, complete with a bed of Castroville’s signature red poppies in the foreground.
We also offer full-size bars of our delightful soaps for purchase, handmade in Texas by Main Street Soap Company. Each overnight guest at the Inn receives two complimentary one-ounce bars as shower amenities. So many have fallen in love with the scents that they end up buying a full-size bar the next day! The scents range from floral (Texas Bluebonnet and Coconut Lime, our staff favorite) to masculine (Bare Essentials for Men, smelling of rich leather) to spicy (Texas Gold and Simple Nature, both of which were created for people with sensitive skin).
Since reopening, we’ve also restocked our book selection with a number of titles pertinent to the site, ranging from ecological to historical to genealogical tomes. One of our best sellers is Frederick Law Olmstead’s legendary Journey Through Texas, a chronicle of his time spent exploring the fringes of the known and settled world, including Castroville. We also offer Mark Gustafson’s A Naturalist's Guide to the Texas Hill Country. Its full color photographs and detailed descriptions are the perfect companion for a hobby naturalist or hiker. For local history buffs and genealogists, we sell the History of Medina County, Volumes I and II, which feature lengthy sections of genealogy, folklore, and photographs of families that settled in the area. Other notable books available include Terry Jordan’s German Seed in Texas Soil, which discusses German immigrants and the blending of German and native Texas cultures, and The Harness Maker's Dream by Ukrainian immigrant Nathan Kallison—an account of his long and sometimes troubled journey as a Jewish person in South Texas.
We have not forgotten our younger visitors to Landmark Inn. We offer Jacob’s Ladders, sets of jacks, penny top spinners, pick-up sticks, and dominos that provide plenty of timeless entertainment. Plans are underway for a substantial children’s section that will include books, naturalist kits, and a variety of toys children enjoyed more than a century ago.
One of our goals at the Landmark Inn is to present the site to our visitors as a dynamic space rather than as a static photograph from 160 years ago. Our museum store helps meet that goal by offering a variety of products that connect the public historic site, with its many modern elements and anachronisms, to the historical place as it existed over a century ago. While our visitors and overnight guests in our bed and breakfast enjoy modern amenities and comforts, they can also take a little bit of the past they find here back home with them. When they light a beeswax candle and set the glass chimney into the tin sconce, they’re not only mimicking lifeways of the people who lived here in the 1850s, but also illuminating a memory of their visit to the modern historic site. When a visitor opens a copy of Jefferson Morganthaler’s Promised Land, they’re not only experiencing the joy of reading, but also preserving Texas history found in Castroville. When a guest pulls out their Landmark Inn commemorative mug for their morning coffee, they’re not only getting their jolt of caffeine, but also recalling the chirping birds, blooming wildflowers, and cascading waterfall they enjoyed on their last visit. In these moments, we hope they will want to come back here—and tell a friend, too.