While in Austin, I had the pleasure of staying at The Driskill Hotel, a historical landmark nestled in the heart of downtown. Founded in 1886 by Colonel Jesse Driskill, the hotel still displays its original opulence with marbled floors, stained glass domes, and intricately designed areas. Designed to be the finest hotel west of the Mississippi River, the hotel has been part of the Austin social scene since its inception and the location of various political meetings, weddings, and events.
The hotel was financed solely by Colonel Driskill, a cattle baron who made his fortune selling Longhorns during the Civil War. Completed at the cost of $400,000, the four-story hotel spanned half a block with entrances in the north, south, and east sides.
The hotel opened to great fanfare on December 20, 1886. Touted as “One of the finest hotels in the whole country” in a special grand opening supplement in the Austin Daily Statesman, the hotel quickly garnered attention throughout the country.
The original hotel had been outfitted with 60 rooms and 12 corner rooms, each with attached baths (a rare feature in the hotels of the region). The lavish rooms also had 20 foot high ceilings and 18 inch brick walls, all in all totaling in six million bricks.
The hotel was designed by Jasper N. Preston, an architect who also designed other Austin structures such as the Walter Tips Hardware Company.
Although the hotel was very opulent and featured amenities such as steam heat and hydraulic elevators, the price per stay was high especially for the Wild West clientele. After owning the hotel for less than a year Colonel Driskill was forced to close down the hotel after his fortune was lost in cattle drives. One year later, Colonel Driskill lost the hotel in a game of poker and passed away from a stroke in 1890.
Throughout the years the hotel was acquired by several parties and renovated throughout the process. In addition, the hotel served as the location for different historical events and memorable occasions.
During Prohibition the hotel housed the finest speakeasy in Austin. Graduations, weddings, and evening balls were also held in The Driskill’s many ballrooms.
The hotel played a special importance to President Lyndon Johnson throughout his life and career. In 1934, the President had his first date with his future wife Claudia Taylor (Lady Bird) at The Driskill dining room. Additionally, The Driskill served as his campaign headquarters during his congressional career and his presidency election night.
In 1969 The Driskill was threatened with demolition after a renovation fell through, but was saved by the fundraising efforts of a nonprofit organization. In 1972 the hotel reopened and has remained successful ever since, with Hyatt Hotel Corporation acquiring in 2013.
Besides its historical background and architectural mastery The Driskill is also rumored to be very haunted. Although I did not experience anything out of the ordinary, many legends surround The Driskill and its ghosts.
Some of the ghosts that are rumored to be haunting The Driskill include Colonel Driskill himself, who makes himself known through the smell of cigar smoke and his fascination with bathroom lights. Another ghost who is said to haunt the hallways, is a little girl who fell to her death in the grand staircase of the hotel when chasing a ball.
Perhaps most infamous ghost story within The Driskill is that of room 525. Urban legend has it that two brides in their honeymoon committed suicide 20 years apart from one another. The room was closed down and used for storage until it reopened in 1998. Since, many visitors have reported strange happenings and paranormal activity.
Rich in history and lore, The Driskill hotel is truly an Austin institution worth discovering. Whether you stay at the hotel, or have a couple of drinks at the bar, The Driskill will provide you with a glimpse of a century long ago and with an experience worth remembering.