Before Trains, Planes and Automobiles: Hochheim's Stagecoach Inn recalls the 1850s
By Nola McKey
Tucked away on a backroad in the northeast corner of DeWitt County lies a remnant of early Texas. A two-and-a-half-story structure built of stone from the banks of the nearby Guadalupe River, the 1856 Valentin Hoch Home stands amid rolling blackland prairie dotted with live oaks and pecans. The secluded setting makes it easy to imagine Valentin Hoch, a German immigrant and stone mason, stopping at this spot and saying to his children, as reported in family histories, “Here we shall build our home.”
Not long after the house was completed, it became a stagecoach stop, one of the way stations that made travel across Texas possible in the days before railroads. An article by Mike Cox in the Texas Almanac states that 31 stage lines were operating in Texas before the beginning of the Civil War. “Those were the major transportation routes of the day,” says local historian Doug Kubicek, “and the stops along the way like Hoch’s place —which became known as the Stagecoach Inn—were crucial. They offered a place for drivers to change horses and for travelers to have a meal and sometimes spend the night. One of their most important functions was mail delivery. Places like the Stagecoach Inn really opened up the interior of Texas for settlement.”
According to Bob Brinkman, an architectural historian and coordinator of the Texas Historical Commission’s Historical Markers Program, several things make this site special. “The house is a testament to Hoch’s craftsmanship and practicality,” he says. “ I’m amazed every time I see it how well it’s integrated into the landscape: He sited it on a hill among a grove of trees so that it could catch the prevailing breezes.
“But the other reason it’s one of my favorite sites is because the story of the Hoch family is so interesting,” adds Brinkman. “Like many immigrants, they endured great hardship and tragedy, yet they eventually made a good life in this new land.”
An account by Valentin Hoch’s great-granddaughter Mildred Allen Duhon describes the family’s voyage from Germany to America: “Just days before they left … , the youngest child … became ill and died. In the fall of 1845 the family ... began their journey. On their way to America, another child … died and was buried at sea.”
Soon after the ship anchored at Indianola (then called Indian Point), Hoch’s wife also died. Duhon wrote, “It was said that she died of either scarlet fever or cholera, but others say she died of a broken heart.”
Details about the whereabouts of Hoch and his remaining four children for the next two years prove sketchy, but in February 1848, Hoch purchased 45 acres of land near the Guadalupe River, the family’s eventual home site. According to accounts by Duhon and other family members, Hoch spent several years quarrying the stone and assembling the materials to build the house.
He was still building it when a neighbor told him about a woman named Johanna Flemming who had come to Indianola and recently lost her husband. Desperately needing someone to help look after his children, Hoch went to Indianola to see Flemming, who had two small children of her own. When he returned, he brought all three with him. Valentin Hoch and Johanna Flemming married on August 18, 1854; their union resulted in four more children.
An inscription in stone over the east entrance reads “V. Hoch 1856.” Other lintels bear dates of 1857 and 1866, indicating that Hoch completed the house in stages. The attic was designated for the boys, the second story for the girls, and the bottom floor for the adults. They stored food and supplies in the cellar, including wine that the family made from mustang grapes gathered along the river.
The home lay along an old freight trail, and the government soon awarded contracts to Hoch for mail delivery. According to a Recorded Texas Historical Marker placed in 1964, the home “served as an inn on the Austin-Indianola stage road. While drivers changed four-horse teams, the passengers welcomed the chance to enjoy the inn’s food and hospitality.”
Doug Kubicek says there’s tangible evidence that the home was on a stage route. “The first time I went out to the site, I nearly fell on my face in the wagon ruts on the east side of the house—they’re still two to three feet deep in places,” he notes.
The Stagecoach Inn sparked settlement in the area. The community of Hochheim (Hoe-hime, meaning “Hoch’s home” in German) grew up around it and today lies six miles west of Yoakum. Three generations of Hochs lived in the house, which remained in the family until 1899, when it was sold to rancher Valentine Bennett. His descendants restored it in 1954, earning several awards. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
A local insurance company acquired the property in 2000 and
established the Hochheim Historical Foundation to serve as the Stagecoach Inn’s
caretaker. Restoration efforts continue through the foundation, whose aim is to
preserve the site as a German heritage center.
From the November 2011 issue.