WINTERS — The historic Rock Hotel stands as a testament to the progress and vision of those who brought prosperity to the town over 120 years ago. The hotel was built in 1909 and stands at 300 West Dale Street.
It was built to accommodate passengers of the Abilene and Southern Railroad that ran between Winters and Abilene. The railroad track was laid by legendary railroad man Colonel Morgan Jones, while the hotel was built by Mr. and Mrs. J.L. Heath. Jones brought the railroad to Winters using his rapid construction techniques. The rail line was soon moving people and freight between Winters and Abilene at an ever-increasing rate. Jones was noted for bringing railroads to remote places and thus opening up new avenues of commerce for the people of those otherwise isolated areas. Winters was no exception.
The Heaths bought a house in Winters after coming west from Panola County in 1905. They soon turned that into a business venture by opening a general merchandise store along with Ira Beard. As goods and people flowed in on the rail line the Heaths decided to build a hotel.
The name of the Rock Hotel comes from the fact that it was constructed with stone quarried locally. Many didn’t realize how busy the railroad would be and soon it was moving over 40,000 bales of cotton between Winters and Abilene in the first season alone. Traveling salesmen arrived by the score to peddle their wares. To have a separate place to accommodate the salesmen, known as “drummers”, and others passing through, a structure called “the sample room“ and later called “The Drummers’ House” was built adjacent to the hotel.
By the time the hotel was built the population had jumped to over 600 people.
The population was booming, the railway was going strong and the first major industry sprang up when a cottonseed mill was built. The cottonseed mill stood until 1939. Winters became a hub of activity in the area, including having one of the most popular traveling brass bands of the day. The brass band was organized by Charles Tipton Grant and played many venues across the state and southwest. There is a photo of Tipton and the band hanging in the lobby of the hotel.
The hotel itself contains 14 guest rooms, a lobby and a few other rooms used for varying purposes. The construction was completed in 1910 and was it sold that same year, at the height of commerce. The Heath family continued to operate the general store until 1912, at which time they moved to Ballinger. Preserving such a landmark, that offered hot food and a warm bed to weary travelers, is an important part in understanding the history of Winters. The Texas Historical commission registered the hotel as a historical landmark in 1982 and gave it marker #4317.
The hotel continued on, serving travelers and boarders for several years. In 1926 it was renovated but the railroad passenger service stopped soon after that. The reduction in passenger service didn’t affect the freight service as grain and cotton were hauled for many more years. The hotel is still as alluring today as it was a century ago. It stands, as a witness to, and an integral part of the history of Winters, exhibiting charm and dignity while still being used for meetings and other celebrations. It stands as a daily reminder of more prosperous times for the town of Winters.
The hotel is much more than a collection of rooms as it houses exhibits and is part of the Z.I. Hale Museum. One of the exhibits is the Rogers Hornsby exhibit. Hornsby was born in Winters on Sept. 10, 1896. He played Major League Baseball from 1915-37. He was a player/manager during part of his playing career and later on he became a manager until 1953. He won the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1926, was the National League batting champion seven times, the triple crown winner twice and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Also housed in the hotel are exhibits for the West Texas Shetland Pony Breeders Association show that was an annual event in Winters. Another exhibit honors service members from World War II and Korea, with many items of memorabilia from during that time including newspapers, uniforms, equipment and photos of soldiers from the war.