Kerrville Texas a Grand History
In 1963, entrepreneur Gene Lehmann, owned and operated a pharmacy in Kerrville when he began construction of a lodge west of town. A year later, the Inn of the Hills emerged as the Hill Country’s most prestigious and buzzing resort hotel catering to family and business year-round. At the time, not much was going on in the sleepy little community, except in the summer months when youth camps enrolled hundreds of boys and girls, and again during the short hunting season in the winter. That’s when the town hummed with activities from parents dropping off their children and hunters trying their luck of bagging that record-book whitetail buck. Because sufficient hotel accommodations were lacking, visitors were frequently bussed to Kerrville from as far away as San Antonio.
There was little industry in the sixties besides ranching large Angora herds producing mohair and legendary whitetail hunting. At the municipal airport east of town was a small airplane factory, Mooney Aircraft Company, building a fast single-engine airplane often referred to as “the Porsche in the sky.” Some three miles north of the proposed lodge was a unique silversmith outlet store. James Avery, crafting of one-of-a-kind silver ornaments and crosses, quickly became a shopping mecca for parents.
The locals smiled about Lehmann’s ostentatious construction project located so far out of town, predicting a small chance of his success. Unhindered by the chitchat, Mr. Lehmann moved on with the project and obtained a first rate architectural firm to design his vision that included a spacious two-story atrium showcasing a massive column made of native rocks that housed the restaurant and fireplace. He spared no expenses. For the wrought-iron handrails garlanding the circular staircase spiraling around the centerpiece to the second floor, he hired an award-winning craftsman. He imported heavy timbers from Canada for the construction of the cathedral ceiling, and Kerr Crafters of Kerrville built the uniquely-designed solid wood furniture.
A cozy restaurant called “The Heart,” circling the fireplace just beyond the atrium lobby, served delicious food and offered elegant service, a novel addition to the community at the time. Two meeting rooms soon catered to conventions and reunions. The Guadalupe also became an overflow seating for the restaurant via a portable wall, and La Fuente Room (now the Bluebonnet Room) was situated adjacent to the private club.
Kerrville was located in a dry county. Hard liquor could be consumed only in privacy, hence the widespread opening of private clubs throughout Texas. Lehmann was not to be left behind. His answer was the exclusive Angora Club that quickly attracted hundreds of members. Now Kerrville’s upper crust of retired colonels and wealthy ranchers had a place to gather round the piano bar to the masterful fingers of Terry Shand or dance away the weekends to the tunes of the Louis Neal & B.T. Wilson Orchestra.
In 1969, young couple Annemarie and Hans Schlunegger leased the Inn’s food operation together with the Angora Club. They brought new life to the scene. Soon the members enjoyed world-class entertainers like Jaye P. Morgan, Moray Amsterdam, the Christy Minstrels, Billy Eckstine, and Gloria Loring, among many local artists.
Centered in the spacious courtyard surrounded by evergreen live oaks, the Olympic-size swimming pool shimmered a deep Mediterranean blue as a natural gathering place for a late afternoon cool-off and a drink from the patio bar. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind: the Inn of the Hills brought life, new business, and much prestige to the Hill Country.
In 1973, Mr. Lehmann sold the Lodge, and after a couple of different owners, the wear and tear of the resort became obvious even to the most forgiving eyes. Then, in 1993, a familiar name, Annemarie and Hans (“they’re coming back home,” as old-time clients would say) purchased the Inn of the Hills as a family venture and began an immediate refurbishing program. There was much to be done. First, they dug out and replaced the old clay sewer lines throughout the resort, replaced the galvanized water pipes, and straightened out numerous electrical issues. A wrought-iron fence replaced the wooden slats around the pool and pavers throughout the recreational areas soon won approval from a new and growing clientele.
The kitchen was gutted and replaced with sparkling tiles and commercial equipment. The restaurant was relocated to its original setting, and in place of the old Angora Club, a colorful Southwestern-themed bar, the Inn Pub, emerged, offering life to Western bands six days a week.
Twenty additional rooms were built on top of the cabanas and a thorough refurbishing program began for the sleeping rooms and suites. In 2003, the family decided to build a new conference center. Hans did the architectural drawings while Ueli, the oldest son, oversaw the construction, and Kurt, the youngest, was entrusted with the management of the resort. Marian, together with her mother, Annemarie, used their talents decorating. The result was a state-of-the-art, 18,000 square foot conference center that can seat up to 900 for lectures and up to 600 for dining in one room.
By the time the family sold the lodge in 2006 to 1858 Historic Hotels, Ltd., the Inn of the Hills had regained its prestige and had once again taken the lead among Hill Country resort hotels. The new owners vigorously continue upgrading the guest rooms, courtyard, and overall curb appeal, while the family still remains involved in the operation.