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November 2009 cover image bicycle riding at Big Bend Ranch State Park

Park Pick: History by Candlelight

Fanthorp Inn takes the holidays back to the 19th century.

By Sheryl Smith-Rogers

Sounds cliché, interpreter Tom Scaggs admits, but history really does come alive at Fanthorp Inn State Historic Site, especially after dark when candles and luminarias softly illuminate the two-story clapboard inn.

But that only happens once a year during Twilight Firelight, a yuletide celebration hosted the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

“There’s just something magical about the inn that night,” says Scaggs, who drives the inn’s replica stagecoach, outfitted in a top hat and coattails. Visitors park near the Grimes County Courthouse in Anderson and board the horse-drawn, cherry-red coach. “The short ride slows down their train of thought and sets the mood for life in the 1850s,” Scaggs explains.

 Reminiscent of those simpler days, innkeepers Henry and Rachel Fanthorp — actually interpreters dressed in period clothing — usher guests inside the decorated inn, where they’re treated to hot wassail and homemade cookies. Other characters, dressed to portray bygone travelers and boarders, recite cowboy poetry, strum dulcimers and sing Christmas carols.

Year-round, visitors may take weekend tours of Fanthorp Inn, first built in 1834 as a dogtrot home by Henry Fanthorp, an English immigrant. As postmaster, he often let travelers on the stagecoach, which carried the mail, sleep overnight in his home. In 1850, he added a large downstairs dining room and 12 to 16 rooms. 

In 1867, the couple died of yellow fever; the inn closed a year later. Family members lived in the home until 1977, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department purchased the property. After a decade of research and restoration, Fanthorp Inn reopened in 1987 as a historic site, where visitors can experience the 1850s and daily life at a Texas stagecoach stop.

Twilight Firelight runs 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28. No entrance fee; donations accepted. Regular tours given Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Open Wednesday through Friday for group tours (reservation only). Stagecoach Days (second Saturday each month) feature stagecoach rides, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Fanthorp Inn State Historic Site in Anderson is located approximately 10 miles east of Navasota and about 30 miles southeast of Bryan/College Station. For more information, call 936-873-2633 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fanthorpinn.

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