Riley’s Tavern and Hunter, Texas
Context
When the cotton industry was flourishing, the town of Hunter sprang up along what is now considered Hunter Road. It was originally a stagecoach route from New Braunfels to San Marcos and also part of what is now the El Camino Real National Historic Trail. Early on in the 1880s, a saloon or gathering place known as Galloways in Hunter became a place for residents to socialize. There were several businesses in Hunter that were active until the decline of the cotton industry in the early 1920s. In the 1920s, another business sprang up in Hunter, the making of plaster figurines that were sold up and down the road from several stands. The sale of the figurines sustained several families in the area through the Great Depression. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the once active saloon in Hunter became active again under the name of Riley’s Tavern. J.C. Riley at age 17 was the 1st to obtain a liquor license in Texas after the repeal. Riley’s Tavern at 8894 Farm to Market 1102, Hunter, Texas, 78132, is still in existence after 100 years of being a saloon and 79 years after the repeal of Prohibition. Most of the building and many of the fixtures are original from the late 1800s and Riley’s still maintains its old time charm as a gathering place to socialize and listen to music.

Overview
In 1867 when cotton was “king”, Andrew Jackson Hunter bought a thousand acres of land in eastern Comal County for the purpose of growing cotton. It would be known as the Hunter Plantation. In 1880 when the International and Great Northern (IGN) Railroad came through that area, the small settlement was called Hunter and was located on York’s Creek. Hunter is located six miles north of New Braunfels on Farm to Market Road 1102 in Comal County. One of the oldest businesses still in existence in Hunter is Riley’s Tavern located at 8894 FM 1102. The building is thought to have been built in 1895. (see Exhibit A)

There were about 60 people in the settlement of Hunter when its namesake Andrew Jackson Hunter lived there as businesses sprang up. In 1883, Gustavus A. Schleyer opened a general store, post office and saloon. There was a blacksmith shop, a church, a barbershop, meat market and school. The population soon grew to 200 as many emigrants began arriving from Mexico.

Andrew Jackson Hunter died in 1883 and his acreage and holdings were divided among his children, one of them being Louise Hunter. Louise Hunter married Edward Mandel House of Houston. His father, Thomas William House, was a wealthy landowner from Houston who also owned sugar plantations and was eventually mayor of Houston.

As a young man, Edward House went to boarding school and was always interested in politics. He entered Cornell University and stayed there until his father became ill. He went home to Houston to take care of him. After his father died, House married Louise Hunter of Hunter, Texas. The couple honeymooned in Europe and then lived in Houston to supervise the extensive landholdings of the family.

In 1885 the couple moved to Austin to be nearer the cotton plantations. In Austin, House entered the political scene and helped several governors achieve the governorship. He wintered in New York and gradually moved to the east permanently. He became involved in national politics by participating in the presidential campaigns of Woodrow Wilson and later Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In 1894 Hunter’s daughter Louise and son-in-law, Edward House, went into business with Harry Landa of New Braunfels and organized the Hunter Cotton Gin Company in Hunter. Six mule wagon teams hauled cottonseed from the Hunter Gin to the Landa Cotton Oil Mill on Landa Street. Eventually Landa bought out House’s interest in the gin and the House connection to the community of Hunter was no more. There still is a street in Hunter named House Street. House died in 1938. When another railroad, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad (MKT-KATY) built a line through the area in 1901, the population was still about 200.

Much of what we know about Hunter during the early 1900s is derived from the memoirs of Pablo Sanchez recorded in 2005. Pablo L. Sanchez was born November 18, 1919 in Lockhart, Texas however moved to Hunter, Texas in 1921 at the age of 2. From his memoirs, he noted that “Hunter was very lively in those days for it sat between the International and Great Northern Railroad, which was called the “Linegene” by many, and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, also referred to as the “El Katy.” To Pablo’s kinfolk, Hunter was known as “La Mota.” He notes that the handful of Anglo residents that lived there were primarily farmers and cattlemen. There was a general store owned by Mr. Simon, referred to as “El Simon.” He recalls that in those days, everyone made their own beer and would gather in front of the store, drink beer and relax. Mr. Sanchez tells that El Simon would join the group however would warn everyone that as sheriff, he would have to jail anyone caught making beer. El Simon did sell all of the ingredients for making beer in his general store. Pablo remembered playing in the old abandoned cotton gin near the railroad tracks and remembered seeing cattle drives which terrified him because of the noise. Pablo’s father learned to make figurines of animals from plaster and bought nine lots alongside the road to use as vending areas. (see Exhibit B) Many Hunter families survived the depression selling the figurines. Pablo notes that business was so good that his father paid cash for a new 1928 Model A Ford. Pablo also remembered Dr. Dunn, who he said was the best doctor in town, because he was the only doctor in town. There was Old Man Riley who owned a gasoline pump to furnish gas for all the cars and farm equipment. (see Exhibit C) In 1925, Pablo’s father, Bernardino, purchased what is now known as Riley’s Tavern from J.M. and Mellie Cochran. The family lived in it as a house until 1930 when Bernardino moved to New Braunfels. Pablo’s maternal grandfather stayed in the house until 1932. Pablo recalls that although they lived in it as a house, it must have been a saloon way back before their time because he saw beer racks in the attic. Bernardino told him the racks were to hold beer barrels and Pablo heard it had once been a stopover for cattle drives in the 1800s. (see Exhibit D)

Riley’s Tavern was alternately a tavern, then a house and then a package store and tavern. It was first the Galloway Saloon, then the home of the Bernardino Sanchez family in the 1920s and early 1930s and then became a Package Store and Riley’s Tavern. , On one of the original signs for Riley’s Tavern, you can see the imprint of a previous sign for Riley’s Package Store. (see Exhibit E) In the 1930s, there is record that the building was rented to Old Man Riley by the Sanchez family for $4 a month and then finally sold to (J.C.) James Curtis Riley (son) on November 3, 1942.

The little old tavern has been in operation for over 100 years. The first owner, Mr. Galloway, J.C. Riley’s uncle, ran it as a local saloon and store in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The square nails used in the original construction are still visible. It has the original bar-back and remains exactly as it was built except for an addition to the back made many years later to make room for the pool tables. J.C. Riley reported that the original bar was 22 feet by 2 feet out of a solid piece of black walnut however his mother sold it for five dollars.

A tavern or saloon is a “beer joint” and the Prohibition between 1920 and 1933 dealt it a mighty blow. In an interview with J.C. Riley in 1983 by Katherine V. Keating from the Austin Chronicle, Riley is quoted with the following story: “Everybody that could would slip up and make a little home brew. It wasn’t real sanitary; I remember I would go to peoples’ houses and they would have these open crocks that were fermenting. Back in those days there weren’t too many screens on the windows and there were little mice that play and some of them would fall in there and this, that and the other. But still people drank it.” “Home brew back in those days people put up in 5-10-15 gallon crocks, big open crocks, fermented it so many days.” “They’d sell four or five bottles to someone and say, ‘Now get away from here with it.’ They didn’t let ‘em sit around and drink it ‘cause they’d get caught too.” “There were lots of moonshiners here and in New Braunfels. One or two out in this area but they would get picked up every now and then by the revenuers. They would burn the little old still they made whiskey out of, have to break it up with an ax, take a man into jail and depending on how many children he had, what shape his wife looked in, they’d maybe put him in jail a week or two, something like that and then let him out to work again.”

On September 19th, 1933, Texas became the first state to legalize alcohol sales after the repeal of Prohibition. When Prohibition ended, 17 year old J.C. Riley drove to Austin with his uncle in a Model T to get a permit for a liquor license. They arrived early and waited on the steps of the capitol for the doors to open. They were the very first in Texas to get a liquor license after prohibition and the license number was No. 00001. This information is derived from family history and at the writing of this narrative, the researchers have been unsuccessful in obtaining a copy of the original permit or county liquor license however the current liquor license displayed in the tavern is No. 00001.

After prohibition, nearby Hays County was a “dry” county and all up and down the county line between Hays and “wet” Comal County were saloons. Many Hays County residents frequented the Comal County saloons. It was the last place you could get a beer coming from San Antonio until you reached Austin. Riley’s father had a sign on his garage that read 41 miles to Austin and 41 miles to San Antonio. Riley’s Tavern was active. Hays voted “wet” in 1977.
In the 1930s, Riley began helping John C. Waldo run the Package Store which was located in part the building. Riley started going to San Antonio for him and bringing cases of whiskey to the area. Riley sold beer in the larger room adjacent to the packaging store. A package store is a liquor store. When Prohibition was repealed, liquor had to be purchased at a package store. Only beer and wine were available at a tavern. Liquor by the drink in a tavern only became available in 1971. Prior to that, patrons could purchase liquor at the package store which had a separate entrance, walk out the door and take their bottle into the adjacent tavern to mix their own drinks. (see Exhibit F) Riley also reports: “I made hamburgers and chili and stuff like that. We had two railroads here, two depots, and a post office. Children going to low school here, they would come by to get hamburgers, stuff like that. We had two General Merchandise stores, whatever you wanted they had it, and two cotton gins.”

In the 1930s and 1940s the tavern served Pearl, Shiner, Bullfrog, Travis, Blue Ribbon, Southern Select, Monte Carlo, Magnolia, Sabinas and Grand Prize. The Texas beers cost only 10 cents and Budweiser (premium) and Travis (Texas premium) cost 15 cents. The beer was delivered from New Braunfels in a Model-A truck. It was kept cold by 300 pound blocks of ice until Riley bought electric coolers in the 1940s. The ice had to be replaced eight times a day. Riley’s ration during the war was 400 cases per week and he sold his quota. Before World War II, Riley’s never closed and never had to lock up. After World War II came there was a curfew and Riley noted that he finally got some sleep.
In the 1920s and 1930s when the cotton industry declined, businesses began closing. By 1947 both railroad depots closed. The little one-room Hunter school was consolidated with the NBISD in 1949 and then the post office closed in 1953 . In 1993 Hunter had about fifty residents, a general store, Saint John’s Catholic Church, a flea market and Riley’s Tavern. There was an industry that manufactured pre-stressed concrete products and road-base material called Hunter Industries.

When Riley died on October 28, 1992 , his wife sold the saloon to Rick and Donna Wilson. In May 1996, Comal County Judge Carter Casteel denied renewal of the alcohol license after receiving several complaints about loud music, parking problems and large crowds from residents living near the tavern. At that time the Wilsons voluntarily closed the tavern and surrendered its license to the Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission (TABC). In June, District Judge Charles Ramsay overruled the previous decision and ordered the TABC to issue an alcohol license to the Wilsons. In a 2000 interview for the San Marcos Daily Record, Donna Wilson was interviewed and noted: “The coolers are still there chilling the goods. Nothing keeps the beer colder. Antique beer cans and bottles still line the walls among countless photos of patrons and various mementos collected over the decades. The old cash register is still there and Riley’s hat still hangs behind the bar right next to Rick Wilson’s.” When the Wilsons were redoing the old linoleum floors, they found newspapers from the 1940s and 1970s used as insulation. The legible sections were placed under glass on the bar.

In 2004 Riley’s Tavern was purchased by long-time Hays County resident, Joel Hofmann. He reports that his clientele are sometimes third generation customers. Hofmann maintains the business open seven days a week and boasts a band every night. Joel has managed to maintain the tavern the same as when he purchased it. There is an outdoor area with stage for performances. The bar back is still original and the coolers are still there along with the old cash register. (see Exhibit G) The original beer holders line the pool area so you don’t set you beer on the pool table. There are several original signs and countless photos and autographs on the walls. (see Exhibit H) One sign stands out, “If You Drive Your Old Man To Drink, Drive Him In Here” –J.C. Riley 1942. Stepping into the tavern is truly like stepping back in time. (see Exhibit I)

Significance

Riley’s Tavern in Hunter, after 100 years, is still a lively spot. In the inside, little has changed even though the outside has witnessed many years of change. The owner, Joel Hofmann, from San Marcos, grew up knowing about Riley’s Tavern. He still maintains the building with its old world charm and caters to multiple generations, some being third generation. The old tavern witnessed a community that changed with the times due to the cotton industry, Prohibition, World War I, the Great Depression, repeal of Prohibition, wet counties, dry counties and World War II. The town of Hunter is still a small self-sustaining community and with easy access from Austin, San Marcos, New Braunfels and San Antonio, Riley’s Tavern helps sustain Hunter, Texas. Please visit www.RileysTavern.com.

Information compiled by Joel Hofmann, Sami Devillier Myra Lee Goff and Karen Boyd

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Exhibit D

Exhibit E

Exhibit F

Exhibit G

Exhibit H

Paul Sanchez Collection: