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History of The San Gabriel House Bed & Breakfast

The History of the Inn and Tales from Past Owners

This beautiful Arts and Crafts style mansion, located in the Olive Street National Historic District of Georgetown, Texas, has many stories, as you would expect from almost a century of owners. As we have met prior owners, neighbors and Georgetown residents and listened to their versions, we offer some of our favorites.

The original form of the current house was owned, and some say designed, by Dr. Robert Hyer, Southwestern University Regent and President. Belford Lumber Company constructed the home in 1900, when it was described as “a beautiful, ten-room building, modern, convenient, and artistically designed. It is indeed a credit to Georgetown, and the University vicinity.” Dr. Hyer was a leader in the unsuccessful movement to relocate Southwestern University to North Texas. He later moved on to Dallas to become the founder and first president of Southern Methodist University.

William R. Sells and his wife, Olive Traylor Sells, purchased the property from Dr. Hyer. Mr. Sells was a banker/rancher who moved to Georgetown so that his children could attend Southwestern University. On December 1, 1918, the house caught fire, and although all furniture and household goods were saved due to the quick response of the fire department and assistance from the S.A.T.C (Student Army Training Corps) from the University, the house was damaged to a great extent. In 1919 the Sells had the much larger current residence constructed by C.S. Belford and the Belford Lumber Company. When the Sells family had the new house built, they were so concerned about the fire that a fire suppression system was installed located in a central area on both floors. This is still in place today.

According to the grandsons of Mr. and Mrs. Sells, fraternities from the dry Southwestern University campus held parties in the home, dropping the heavy curtains down over all front windows. At one such party, Ms. Katherine Sells was said to have done the shimmy down the stairs.

Due to the close proximity of the campus, the Sells house was “campusized” and since shorts were forbidden on the Southwestern University campus, they were also forbidden in the Sells house and grounds, even when mowing the lawn. The story goes that this unfortunate event occurred when the girls were caught sneaking over to the house to sunbathe on the sleeping porch (now the Garden View Room).

One of the most tragic events reported was the death of Mrs. (Olive) Sells in 1921. She was electrocuted in one of the bathtubs while attempting to regulate the controls of an electric wall heater. This is possibly related to additional fire damage that occurred in or adjacent to the original kitchen, requiring some restoration work in 1922 done again by the Belford Lumber Company. A large back porch was then converted to a new, larger kitchen, with an entire wall of cabinets on the west side which are still in use today. The house was sold to Dr. Albert Rice and his wife Jewel.

During WWII, Mrs. Rice and her son Jimmy lived in the owners’ private quarters while a naval officer and his staff rented the rest of the house. Upon Dr. Rice’s return from the war, the house was sold and passed into the Henderson family’s hands in 1944. Sam and Lillian Henderson owned a dime store on the north side of the Square, in what is now Diva’s. Their daughter was married in the house.

The house has seen many special events. One of Georgetown’s residents remembers a band playing in what is now the upstairs common room while couples danced on the balcony during a Southwestern prom night. Another, cousin to the Hendersons, remembers the sideboard in the kitchen loaded with desserts for the holidays and lights bouncing off of the beveled glass. The prisms still march across the floors when the sun is shining.

The carriage house, believed to be of age with Dr. Hyer's original home, was turned into apartments for Southwestern University students before the Second World War. Dan Moody, the famous Texas State Prosecutor who fought the Ku Klux Klan, reputedly lived there. At the same time, many Georgetown residents who had habitable outbuildings were asked to convert them into housing for military men who were stationed here for maneuvers on Southwestern campus during WWII and the Carriage House may have been turned into housing at that time.

In 1969, Burl and Patricia Brooks bought the home. Mr. Brooks owned the Sears store in town, which was also on the square at one time. It is during the Brooks’ family residence that some of the most interesting stories derive. The Brooks installed a number of Sears appliances, sheds, and fences throughout the property. According to neighbors, Mrs. Brooks had a huge cookbook collection that she kept in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in what is now the kitchen breakfast room. The family kept chickens and sold the brown eggs at the Sears store. Neighbors also reported that Brooks kept “a pack of St. Bernards” in the house (it has been reported that "the pack" was actually just two dogs). During their sojourn, the guest parlor was filled with boxes of old Sears catalogues. Mrs. Brooks was a member of the Georgetown Garden Club, and she hosted an annual flower-arranging contest in which every room housed gorgeous arrangements. Guests had to view the arrangements by walking through aisles of boxes. Another story concerns Mr. Brooks. With his easy access to Sears items, he took advantage of the craze for siding and covered the carriage house and the main house. When the siding was removed in the 1990s the carriage doors, hayloft, windows, Dutch door, and hardware were found exactly as they had been approximately thirty years before.

In 1994, John and Sarah Milburn bought the now run-down home and began the extensive renovations that brought the house back to its former glory. When the Milburns bought the property, bushes climbed to the eaves of the porch and extended out so far that the sidewalk across the front of the house was not visible. Linoleum tiles were glued to the wood floors, and the linoleum ran one-third of the way up the walls. The pantry was located in the front hall where the powder room is now located, and a small toilet was located off of the kitchen. The old cistern was still on the property, so Mr. Milburn used the original old wood from that structure to build the quaint garden shed in the back yard, and made a small pond where the cistern once stood.

John and Sue Wiley then bought the house in May of 2000 with the intent of turning it into the San Gabriel House Bed and Breakfast. They added three bathrooms so that each of the five guest rooms would have its own bath; a new privacy fence required by the city that incorporated a guest parking area, and planted gardens of antique roses and native Texas plants. They named each room after antique roses that flourished in the back yard.

Dee and Neil Rapp purchased the house and business in 2005 and over their 13-year ownership established the reputation of San Gabriel House as a luxurious historic bed & breakfast. They made many updates and improvements to the decor of the house; filled it with beautiful antiques; created a library area for guests to enjoy in the upstairs common area, and hosted weddings and holiday parties in addition to welcoming hundreds of guests. They coined the current names for the rooms, which are still in use (even though the antique rose name plates are still on the doors).

Many guests during that time enjoyed the goldfish pond. This was built by the Wileys to replace an earlier pond in a raised frame. This earlier pond was built over the site of the large wooden cistern house that was dismantled – said to have been among the last of its kind in Georgetown. As mentioned above, Mr. Milburn used the wood to build the garden shed. Sadly, the goldfish pond is there no longer. It was removed (along with much of the previous landscaping) when the sewer lines to the main house and carriage house had to be replaced in 2019.

Throughout the gardens, paths and ornaments were contrived from marble pieces and slabs found at the back of the property, quite likely from an ornate mantel or other pieces from the original home until it was marred by fire. The current owner has retained those historic remnants even as she updated the spacious back yard with flagstones, concrete fit for dancing, updated landscaping and lighting, and a covered gazebo – perfect for entertaining and events!

In November of 2018, the home was bought by Georgetown resident Jeannie Snead. She fondly remembers the beauty of the home when it belonged to the Hendersons, and strives to return it to that historic elegance. A new roof, more period-appropriate exterior paint color, and restoration of the original brick have brought a new grandeur to the facade. On the inside, the coffee and refreshment bar and new game table welcome guests to linger in the upstairs common area, while the new event-friendly back yard landscaping encourages relaxation and appreciation – and perhaps a future wedding or celebration?

New manager Danni Babik and her husband Mark, who turned an appreciation for the unique, pampering experience of staying at a bed & breakfast into a new career, live onsite with their two cats, Tundra and Zoë, and delight in introducing guests to the reason this is the best way to stay! And speaking of pets, if you see Kizmet, the cat who came with the house, feel free to greet him, but don’t let him inside!

Welcome to San Gabriel House Bed & Breakfast! Take the time to relax, explore, and enjoy our house