MARATHON, Texas — This week we head out to the Texas mountain trail region to find a hotel in a very desolate place. As luck would have it we found one with one heck of a history.
There’s nothing like the beauty and majesty of west Texas. Expansive landscapes, more stars than most see in a lifetime, and the stories of the old west make traveling to this part of our state a must stop on any bucket list.
One town in the Trans-Pecos has been sitting out in the heart of the Chihuahuan desert and in the shadows of the Glass Mountains since 1882, a little place locals call Marathon. J.P. Bryan prefers to call it Marathon but an outsider he is not. Since 1978, Mr. Bryan has played a big role in the revival of this little town thanks to his love of Texas history.
“It shows something that I think became a local colloquialism and people repeated it,” Bryan said. “If you hear someone say Marathon you know they have lived here all their lives where as if they Marathon you sort of establish yourself as sort of an outsider.”
You see it was all those years ago driving between Houston and his ranch near big bend that J.P. noticed a for sale sign in the window of the town’s old hotel. He decided to enquire and that started a life changing conversation.
“Guy answered the phone,” Bryan said. “We went through the normal introduction. I said, ‘I just want to ask you. Is that building, that hotel, still for sale.’ ‘It’s still for sale and you’re the first guy to call.’”
The Gage Hotel had seen better days. Built in 1927, the hotel was in rough shape when Mr. Bryan acquired the old in and that didn’t sink in until after his big purchase.
“Horrified, it was terrible,” Bryan said. “I just started perspiring. I thought, ‘My gosh this is biggest mistake I ever made in my life.’”
Built by famed architect Henry Trost who also constructed Hotel Paisano down the road in Marfa, there’s wasn’t a doubt what needed to be done. After years of research and restoration, the hotel reopened in 1981 to not much fan fair.
“They say you built it and they’ll come,” Bryan said. “In this case, you restore it and they’ll come. Well we did and nobody came.”
Just like living life in this desolate location, perseverance has paid off. It may have taken about a decade but the Gage Hotel finally started to get the notoriety needed to attract out of towners. That’s been good for old hotel but it’s been a God send to the small town of Marathon.
“It’s been enormously gratifying to see what’s happened here because if you look at it now, we just didn’t save this building we saved the community,” Bryans said.
Wanting to make Marathon more than just overnight stay, J.P. and his wife started to restore and renovate businesses and buildings all over town.
“I just like restoring things,” Bryan said. “I get a lot pleasure out of it. Seeing something that fundamentally could be wonderful if someone would just give it some time and attention.”
Adding a store, a dog friendly 26 acres gardens and several other businesses is part of the process of making Marathon marvelous again.
“There aren’t a lot of supporters of this little community,” Bryan said. “Maybe we can make a difference in this small town that we obviously have an affection for the area and our ranch. It’s kind of our way to give back.”
Here’s it more than a place to stay, it’s a place to explore. A chance to soak in a Texas lifestyle in a southwest sort of way that includes fancy drinks, fine meals and far reaching views.
“It’s incredible displays at night beautiful vistas during the day, fabulous sunsets,” Bryan said. “It really should inspire any of those, unless they’re the most jaded people on the planet.”
The historic hotel continues to inspire its owner thanks to the effect it has on the people who come here. While rest and relaxation are the main reasons weary travelers make their way here, sometimes something extra is gained, sort of like soul searching without realizing you were even looking in the first place.
“People come here with all these ideas frequently thinking they’re going to change the country and what they finding out here is that the country changed them,” Bryan said.