Texas Mountain Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program

Back to Front at the Clark Hotel

How would you go about turning a building around so its storefront faces a different street? Just change the street name? How about simply building a new façade, complete with a new front door. The Clark Hotel in Van Horn did just that. During a major thoroughfare construction through Van Horn in 1925 automobile routes known as the Bankhead Highway which ran from Washington D.C. to California and the Old Spanish Trail running from Florida to California, became the new U.S. Highway 80. This road paralleled the community’s Front Street which runs along the railroad tracks, becoming the primary commercial avenue. The Clark, as well as many of the other structures along the south side of Front Street, reversed their facades so that they would face the new highway. The transformation symbolized the passing of a horse-drawn era where most travelers arrived by passenger train to one of automobiles and highways, a paradigm shift that would permanently change much of rural Texas.

For the Clark, however, it was merely another alteration in a long history of changes, beginning with the structure’s initial construction in 1901. It was, in fact, built upon the razed remains of an earlier 1889 commercial building. The new construction served as commercial center for a variety of unrelated businesses until 1918 when a new owner converted the building into a hotel. The design typifies the two-story hotel of the era, with a lobby and public spaces on the first floor and rooms, some with private baths, on the second. Although simple and relatively unadorned, a detail standout is the mahogany bar in the former saloon, an 1876 import from France. The Clark stands as the oldest building in Van Horn and its “about-face” occurred a year before its final expansion phase in 1929. The building’s history includes service as retail space, commercial offices, opera house, community center, pool hall, saloon, drug store, newspaper printing office, dance hall, and court house throughout the 20th century. In an amusing combination of functions, the rowdy saloon activity on the first floor would often disrupt the sober court sessions in progress on the second. The hotel continued to provide respite to travelers until 1968. Today, the Clark Hotel serves as a regional historical museum for the Van Horn Historical Society and its own storied history.  

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