Research Road Trip

As an author of historical novels, I love it when I get a chance to walk over the same ground as my characters. Most of my research is done online, but every once in a while, I get the chance to get my boots walking in the actual setting of a book I’m writing. This past January was just such an occasion.

During the last weekend of January, I took a research trip to explore the setting of my current work in progress. Not only did I get to dig into the local history of Kingsland, TX, but three writing friends met up with there and turned the weekend into a writing retreat. So wonderful to be blessed by the fellowship of fellow writers and friends.

Anne Mateer and I are in the ticket window with Nancy Kimball (left) and Crystal Barnes (right) in the main living area.

I love staying in historic places whenever possible, and especially when I’m trying to immerse myself in an historic setting. We pulled that off in Kingsland with The Antlers Hotel. The hotel was built by the railroad in 1901 a few years after the rail line came through town in 1892. Unfortunately, it’s about 6 years too modern to include in my story, but it offered fabulous accommodations. I took some photos inside the lobby as well as the exterior.

Since there were four of us, and retreats are much more fun when we can all stay together, we rented a separate building on the property. The Depot cabin we rented had been an actual railroad depot in Muldoon, TX in the 1890’s. I loved opening the door to discover two ticket windows still in place. So fun! Creaky wooden floorboards added to the historical ambiance.

After spending a couple hours on Friday afternoon in the local library’s genealogical section reading up on local families, I drove down to the railroad bridge that is still standing from 1892. I found a really cool tidbit about how folks from the Burnet side of the Colorado River could only get into Kingsland by rails – either on the train or by walking across the railroad bridge. I took a photo from the Burnet side showing the top of the track. I also took a picture from the Kingsland side to show the underside and the pillars. The 4 stone ones are original. The concrete supports were added later.At some point, one or more of my characters is going to be in peril on this bridge. I just need to figure out who and why.

Saturday morning, I took a drive down a country road (and I mean country – dirt, cattle guards, livestock free and ranging) to get some photos of Packsaddle Mountain. It was named for the dip in the middle that makes it resemble a packsaddle on a horse. A major plot point in my novel revolves around this mountain, so being able to see it in person will help me get the details right. A couple decades before my novel’s timeline, this was also the site of the last Indian battle in the region. The settlers, while greatly outnumbered, routed the raiding Apaches and ushered in a time of peace.

On my drive, I also ran into this fellow. Probably not historically accurate, but fun nonetheless.

We finished off the weekend by having brunch on Sunday at the Grand Central Cafe located on the same property where we were staying. It is a grand Victorian home built around the turn of the century and serves wonderful food.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. So much history, so many great conversations, and great food for the imagination and the taste buds . (Crystal Barnes made us her famous farm fresh breakfast with ingredients straight from her very own cow and chickens Saturday morning and fried us up some fresh-off-the-hoof hamburgers for dinner. Yum!)

What are some of your favorite historical locations to visit?

Kingsland was only about a 3-hour drive from my home. Do you have places close to you that are rich in history?

 

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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

48 thoughts on “Research Road Trip”

  1. Karen- Wow looks like you had a great time. You were definitely in some beautiful country. I am familiar with the area but it’s been way over 30 years since I’ve been down there.
    I live in SW KS now and I’m not to far from the Sand Creek Massacre site in Colorado. I visited it in 2017 and I must say, it’s a wonderful place to learn some great history. I live near Wagon Bed Spring which sets on the Cimarron River, it’s part of the southern Santa Fe Trail which leads to Santa Fe. If you follow the trail through SW KS the very SW counties, you can stop and read historical markers all along the way. Great history.
    Thank you for sharing your amazing trip with us. Texas is my home state and I have always loved all history from there. Have a blessed day and stay safe & healthy!!!

    • It was such a fun trip, Tonya. Short but rich. It sounds like you’ve had some great excursions of your own in your neck of the woods in Kansas. I’ve actually never been to Kansas. I’m going to have to rectify that oversight one of these days.

  2. University of Nebraska Lincoln has a lot of historical building that have been renovated and still in use. Some of the outsides of the building are amazing.

  3. Here in New Jersey there is a lot cabin in Morristown called The Wick House which I believe is named after the family who built and lived in it. It’s amazing to see the inside and the kitchen was awesone. All the bowls used were made out of wood. There were also several Army cabins nearby where the Army has stayed. It was an amazing feeling to see the way they lived and made just about everything in their cabin.

    • What a great step back in history, Carol! I love visiting historic homes that have been kept true to the time period. Imagining myself in that era is great fodder for the writing imagination.

  4. We do have some historical areas and have always enjoyed visiting them when possible. Thanks for the information

  5. Sounds like a fun trip! I love visiting old historical places and especially country ones. Thanks for sharing! No huge places to note by me, sadly.

    • I’ve turned up some fun history just by reading the historical markers in my area. One day I was downtown and just happened to stop by a marker and decided to pause and read it instead of hustling by. Found out it was the site of a shootout back in the late 1800s. That got the creative juices flowing!

  6. Douglas Lodge is located at Itasca State Park, where the Mississippi River begins. It is awesome!

  7. I love learning about local history. 15 minutes from where I live is the Dalton Gang hideout, and I’m just under an hour away from Dodge City. It’s a fascinating place and I lovd learning about the history of this region.

      • Karen. I’m honored I only live about an hour from Jess and when I moved to Kansas 26 years ago I moved to the town she’s referring too that has the Dalton Gang Hangout. I also wanted you to know that Jess is a published author and writes super sweet romantic books and also collaborates in series with our very own Shanna Hatfield. So if you get a chance check out her books. They are under her name: Jessica L. Elliott.

  8. I love to visit the old log cabins and homestead around Vermont. Also the old forts like Fort Ticonderoga in NY. Thank you for sharing your time with us all.

    • One of these days I’d love to see Vermont, Charlene. I’ve visited Baltimore and the DC area, and I love all the history evident on the east coast. And I’m a sucker for a log cabin!

  9. I live 15 minutes away from Antietam Battlefield and about 20-25 minutes from Sharpsburg and Harpers Ferry.

  10. I was raised in a small community called High Bridge. High Bridge was opened in 1876 and was the first cantilever bridge in North America. This bridge was 275 ft off of the Kentucky river. One side of it was Mercer county and our side was in Jessamine county and we would walk across that bridge to get to the other side. We lived in mercer county for a while and would walk across the bridge to visit my grandparents in High Bridge. It is still used today.

  11. Welcome. Wow this looks like a fantastic way to do some research. So cool. yahh pretty sure the zebra was not historical, but very cool non the less. Thanks for sharing your retreat. So fun that you met up with other ladies. Makes it more fun over all. Our family went to the Trail of Tears. This was a very emotional and informative visit. I have Cherokee on my mothers side.

    • Wow, Lori. I can only imagine all the emotions you experienced seeing the Trail of Tears. And you are right, sharing this kind of adventure with others makes it so much more meaningful and enjoyable.

  12. St. Augustine is a couple of hours away from me, Fort Christmas is closer, and I’ve been to Andersonville twice.

  13. Nothing is super close to where I live now in Oregon, but we’ve traveled to several places in Oregon previously that are rich in history, especially the Oregon Trail and the Lewis & Clark time period. History is my #1 favorite hobby (other than reading, of course) and I love looking for places to visit anytime we go anywhere! We’ve seen to many places as we’ve gone all over the USA!

  14. Karen, thank you for sharing your adventure! I drive by zebra on my way to Hempstead, Texas. It’s so fun seeing them!

  15. I grew up between Ft. Ticonderoga and the Saratoga Battlefield. We were surrounded by historic places. Maybe that is why I enjoy history so much. This past week I have been steeped in history as I sort through old letters and family bussiness papers from old trunks that belonged to my husband’s grandparents. The letters date from the 1880’s to 1930’s and have given me a look at life in Eastern Washington when the grandparents were the first settlers in this part of our county including establishing a Post Office at their home. It has been great fun and very educational.

    • What a treasure trove, Alice! What a joy to get to peek back into the lives of your ancestors. History is so much more exciting when you have a connection to it. Love it!

  16. Living on the East Coast, there are so many places with history from the Indigenous Peoples, to Colonial life, Revolutionary War, Federal, Antebellum, Civil War, and all the way up through now. One of my favorite places is Old New Castle in Delaware.

    • So many wonderful places to explore, Denise! You know, I did a school project on Delaware back in elementary school, and ever since then I’ve wanted to visit. I’m going to need to do that one of these days. 🙂

  17. This is an area I will have to visit. All our trips include historic sites and events. I love staying in historic inns and B & B’s. We live in NE TN, an area rich in history. We live in the country outside the oldest town in the state, Jonesborough. Andrew Jackson was a lawyer in this area during his early career. In Greeneville, the home of Andrew Johnson is a National Park. The library where I was the children’s librarian is located in the old rail station. It was built in 1925 and there is a lot of history (and ghosts) there. There are several historic sites in the area including David Crockett Birth Place Park, Sycamore Shoals (a pioneer era fort), and 2 original homesteads which have all been restored or rebuilt. They all have excellent programs bringing the history of the area alive.
    We have no particular favorite place to visit. There is so much to see and learn, we try to visit a new place every trip.

    • Such rich history all around you, Patricia! How wonderful! Now that my children are mostly grown and not traveling with my husband and I ask often, I definitely want to start staying in more of those historic inns and B&Bs. Love it! 🙂

  18. I forgot to read this yesterday! What a great retreat y’all had! If I was an author I’d want to actual go to the places that I was writing about. I’m a Texan too and we live in such a historical state that we can drive in almost any direction and find a little bit of history. I love to just drive by and look at all the beautiful historical homes in Palestine and Tyler. It’s best to do this when the Azaleas, Rose’s and/or dogwoods are in bloom.

    • You know, Stephanie, with my Archer Brother series being set in Palestine, I really need to get over there one of these days. I wonder if they have any historic homes available for rent through VRBO or AirBnB?

  19. In Wisconsin I’ve visited: The Pabst Mansion, House On The Rock by Frank LLoyd Wright, The Schwartz House also by FLW, The Old Wade House, Villa Louis, The beautiful Wisconsin State Capital Building, Holy Hill and Caddie Woodlawn’s home. Wisconsin also has beautiful light houses. I’ve visited several of them. The Rawley’s Point Lighthouse is near my hometown, Two Rivers, Wisconsin.

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