In the 1840s, the Republic of Texas encouraged settlement of the state’s vast unsettled land. Responding to the opportunity, entrepreneur Henri Castro recruited more than 6,000 settlers, mostly farmers from the Alsace region of France, to travel to Texas and settle tracts of his 1.2 million-acre land grant. On Sept. 3, 1844, Castro and 50 men founded Castroville.
In 1849, César Monod, a Swiss merchant, purchased a town lot from Castro and an adjoining lot from Michel Simon the next year. He built a large one-story structure with a rear-detached kitchen. Monod used the main structure as a home and a dry goods store. The store provided provisions for travelers along the San Antonio-El Paso Road. In 1852, Monod was elected mayor of Castroville.
Irish merchant John Vance purchased the property on Feb. 23, 1853. Vance felt travelers needed more than just a store, they needed a place to stay, so he added a second story and first and second floor galleries to the main structure to create the Vance Hotel. He also built a 1.5-story family residence between the original main structure and the Medina River. A two-story bathhouse built in the courtyard in the 1860s provided the only man-made bath between San Antonio and Eagle Pass.
Vance sold frontage property along the Medina River to George L. Haass and Laurent Quintle in 1854. The partners built a dam to divert water through an underground mill race to power a two-story stone gristmill. Today, the well-preserved mill and arched stone waterway offer visitors an instructional view of the pioneer agricultural industry. Joseph Courand purchased the mill property in 1876. He enlarged the enterprise and modernized its machinery. His son turned the business into a commercial establishment. The mill prospered for several decades and around 1900 was expanded to include lumber milling.
In 1925, Jordan T. Lawler acquired the mill, inn, residence and outbuildings. He converted the mill to a power plant that provided Castroville's first electric power. Around the time of World War II, the hotel was renamed Landmark Inn. The property was donated to the state of Texas in 1974. The inn, gristmill, bathhouse, kitchen and grounds were renovated and the area opened as a historic site in 1981.
Did You Know?
- Robert E. Lee worked as an engineer for the U.S. Army and designed the Medina River crossing on the site.
- At its peak, the Hass-Quintle Gristmill processed 100,000 bushels of corn a year, with much of the ground cornmeal going to forts west of Castroville.
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