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Bracken Village

Written by Maxine Mayes.

Near the southern tip of Comal County, on a stretch of El Camino Real (The King’s Highway), lies the German-rooted community of Bracken. At the edge of town sits a retail community called Bracken Village, 10 acres of pastoral, oak-shaded grounds and gardens dotted with restored, German-style houses dating from the 1880s to the 1920s. Picket-fenced yards, a gingerbread-trimmed gazebo, winding, granite-graveled pathways, and several rustic outbuildings complete the impression that a Victorian village has been re-created for a movie set.

Bracken Village is the vision of Ron Travis, a commercial painting contractor with a degree in environmental design, a minister, an avid antique collector, and a passionate student of Texas history, especially the period of the German influx into Central Texas. If a Texas History Channel existed, Ron could narrate each segment in his deep pulpit voice without a script.

In 1988, Ron and his brothers, partners in the family painting business started by their great-grandfather, bought 10 acres of a pioneer farmstead in Bracken. The acreage came with a big red barn, two houses, blacksmith shop, carriage barn, chicken coop, and washhouse. When each brother decided to go “solo,” Ron retained the property and renovated one house for his office and the barn for a paint warehouse. But, after restoring the barn, he decided, “I’m not going to store paint in this beautiful barn.” Instead, Ron began to “collect” old houses, to “put back a village that looks much like it might have 100 years ago.”

His plans were not drawn on paper, unless you count sketches on the back of napkins. “Everything has just evolved,” Ron says. At first, he searched for his houses, but soon they began “finding him” as developers who were buying up farms learned of his interest. In essence, they would call and say, “Mr. Travis, I have an old house [or barn], and I’m fixing to bulldoze a road right through it for my subdivision. If you want it, come get it.”

The names of Ron’s houses—the Wiederstein house, the Burkhardt, Orth, Helmke-Fischer, Spenrath—roll off his tongue as if they were his children, and, in a sense, they are. All of the structures were neglected or abandoned, and some were destined for demolition when he “adopted” them and brought them “home.” And, like all proud parents, Ron is full of stories about them. “The Wheeler house,” he says, “belonged to a wheelwright who lived on Wagon Road. The walls were covered with 1898 editions of the San Antonio Express newspaper. The house has no two-by-four studs in the framing. It’s supported exclusively by the one-by-twelve exterior walls.”

What distinguishes Bracken Village from similar enterprises (such as Old Town Spring near Houston) is the sense of intimacy, warmth, and goodwill that makes it a close-knit neighborhood and more than just another shopping venue. So, “Welcome to the neighborhood—Mr. Travis’ neighborhood.” Let me show you around and introduce you to the shopkeepers who are injecting new life into the vintage homes while fulfilling their own dreams.

Sisters Katy Brockman and Rachel Dranselka operate Bless Your Heart and Sole Sisters. “If you asked me in 5th grade what I wanted to do,” says Katy, who has a marketing degree from Texas A&M, “I would have told you that I wanted to have my own store. I just love to shop.” Besides sharing the same alma mater, these Aggie sisters think along the same lines. “At market, we can look at a wall with hundreds of items and pick out the same two things.” Bless Your Heart is jam-packed with what Katy calls “girly gifts like sparkly jewelry and accessories, yummy candles, sassy greeting cards, vintage furniture, and loads of pink.” Sole Sisters, next door, features shoes, of course, clothes, and fashion accessories.

Ron Travis’ big red barn is now Country Gatherings, and bolts of colorful wool (instead of cans of paint) are stacked in the hayloft, where Tricia, Ron’s wife, teaches rug hooking. Downstairs, she sells primitive and country home decor and chocolate fudge she stirs up herself. Texas Mercantile, Tricia’s second Village project, showcases items like old-fashioned bibbed aprons in a bluebonnet fabric, San Antonio Spice candles, and Texas Traffic Jam, a succulent blend of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

At Minas De Taxco, a jewelry store that “roosts” in a reclaimed chicken coop, Rosalinda Brinson oversees creations of colorful stones and fine sterling silver from Mexico (Rosalinda and her husband have another store on San Antonio’s River Walk). Piles of bright, imported bangles fill the original nesting boxes still tacked to the walls of the circa-1903 structure, the finery gleaming in brilliant contrast to the tiny building’s weathered gray.

Sue Moore, a transplanted New Yorker, once owned a nail and tanning salon, but she always wished for a boutique. Her wish became reality with 23 Skadoo, a boutique housed in a railworker’s home built by the International-Great Northern Railroad. The shop is stocked with home accents, such as La-Tee-Da! fragrance lamps, and “wearable art and accessories,” including Sue’s favorites, Laurel Burch handbags.

An “Achieving Your Dreams” segment on Oprah inspired Air Force retiree Sandra Bohlander to open Grandma’s Attic. As a child, Sandra dreamed of owning a red VW bug and her own business. “After watching that show,” Sandra says, “I went out and purchased a red VW bug and rented a building!” She and her sister, Candace Harris, carry scads of collectibles, including Jacqueline Kent dolls, Forchino comic figurines, and Tracy Porter teapots.

“A flight theme runs through a lot of my work,” says Bryan Kelly, of Kelly’s Art & Design. His father, a U.S. Navy pilot during World War II and the Korean War, inspired Bryan’s passion for painting and photographing vintage military aircraft. Particularly intriguing are his “ghost images of aircraft,” created through double exposure, giving the photos a “mystical quality.” Bryan’s work also includes landscapes and prints from Italy, and he offers sensitive restorations and enhancements of old black-and-white WWII-era photos.

A shop with the whimsical name And The Bead Goes On will probably call to you, even if you’re not into beading. Though sisters Susan Offermann and Ellen Hughes do offer classes in bead stringing and bead weaving, they also sell stunning handmade jewelry, fashion accessories, and antiques. “The old Jonas house where we’re located just has good ‘karma,’ and the serene setting of the village seems to stir the creative juices,” says Susan.

Jerry and Kay Thomason, at Garden Fantasy, offer everything needed to dress up outdoor spaces—statuary, flags, fountains, and more—but they specialize in live plants, including beautiful hanging baskets of bougainvillea.

The rooms of Carriage Hill, owned by mother and daughter Jane and Marijke Dunfield, hold a medley of treasures, such as jeweled cloisonné figurines—peacocks, cats, hummingbirds, butterflies—with matching necklaces tucked inside.

Don’t go to Bawdsey Manor British Tearoom with the preconceived notion that it’s the type of place where ladies with gnat-sized appetites nibble on watercress sandwiches and sip tea from fragile cups. Although the Manor does serve finger sandwiches, and tea is poured into delicate Staffordshire china cups, the popular lunchroom can also satisfy a linebacker’s hunger with hearty entrées like Shepherd’s Pie followed by scrumptious scones made from a recipe dating to 1880. The Manor’s proprietors, Vicki Seder and Chris Thomas, are sisters and natives of England, so they do, of course, offer an authentic High Tea (by reservation). Customers who visited them when the shop was just across I-35 in Schertz will be happy to know that they still also sell a wide array of British foods and other products.

A Bengal cookstove, an old-fashioned icebox, and other antique kitchen equipment look right at home in Marci’s Cafe, in the circa-1880s Helmke-Fischer house. Marci Price, a former clinical researcher turned restaurateur, serves up savory soups and sandwiches and luscious desserts like Banana Split Pie.

Back in Boston, Jane Davis-Toerner was active in the Massachusetts Audubon Society and worked for two different wildlife sanctuaries. “But,” says Jane, “I often dreamed of having a country store where people would come to gossip and purchase a newspaper and a coffee. Now they come to The Curious Naturalist to buy a field guide to birds or a cardinal-decorated coffee mug, and chat about that blasted squirrel that gets to their bird feeder every day.”

As I write, a few of the houses are vacant, but probably not for long. Folks will come, exclaiming over the beautiful restoration work, admiring the setting, and asking, “When can I move in?” On moving day, the other shopkeepers will saunter over, offering assistance and bearing a covered dish.

Well, maybe not a covered dish, but who knows. It is that kind of neighborhood.

Bracken Village is just west of I-35, at 18771 FM 2252 (Nacogdoches Rd.), on the northeastern outskirts of San Antonio (just south of Garden Ridge). From I-35, exit at Loop 1604, go west about 2 miles to Nacogdoches Rd. (FM 2252), then north 2.5 miles. Hours: Mon-Sat 10-6 (some shops open Sun); closed New Year’s, Thanks-giving, and Christmas days. For information, call Ron Travis at 210/651-6935.

Contact information (the area code is 210):


And The Bead Goes On, 651-3363; Bless Your Heart, 651-1000; Carriage Hill, 651-0933; Country Gatherings, 651-4470; Garden Fantasy, 651-4638; Grandma’s Attic, 651-3090; Kelly’s Art & Design, 651-3390; Minas De Taxco, 651-6019; Sole Sisters, 651-4864; Texas Mercantile, 651-5303; The Curious Naturalist, 651-0446; 23 Skadoo, 651-6512. (Curves, the women’s exercise franchise, occupies one other house.)


Bawdsey Manor British Tea-room, 651-7500; Marci’s Cafe, 651-6644.


Festivities at the Village include a Girl’s Night Out Shopping & Chocolate Extravaganza (Feb.), Queen for a Day (May), Fifties Weekend (Sep.), and the biggest event, a Charles Dickens Christmas (early Dec.). Call 651-6935 for specifics.

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From the March 2006 issue.

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