In centuries past, this magnificent setting on the south bank of Salado Creek, shaded by giant oak and pecan trees and fed by both fresh and mineral water springs, was a campground for the Comanches while they hunted the large herds of bison and other wild game. Later, the Tonkawa established a village on this site.
Spaniard explorers passed through and named the small oasis “Salado” (“salty or salted,” referring to the mineral waters). Legend and lore persist: Spanish gold still remains hidden in the small cave that runs under the Inn. In the 1840s, enterprising buffalo hunters built a log cabin on this site. Salado was organized as a town in 1859 and immediately became an oasis of culture on the frontier, including establishment of Salado College in 1860, the first Grange in Texas, and the Institute for the Humanities at Salado.
Most of the north-south travel across Texas from 1860 to 1890 came through Salado, which was both a major stop along the famous Chisholm Trail, as well as a Butterfield Stage Lines stage stop. In 1861, W. B. Armstrong, one of the area’s first settlers, erected this building on the footprint of the old Tonkawa village and opened the “Shady Villa Hotel.” It is believed that the Stagecoach Inn is the oldest remaining structure in Salado. Many varied and distinguished persons found food and rest inside these walls: Sam Houston, General George Custer, Robert E. Lee, Jr., cattle barons Shanghai Pierce and Charles Goodnight, and outlaws Sam Bass and Jesse James.
In 1943, Dion and Ruth Van Bibber restored the building and opened the Stagecoach Inn. “Mrs. Van” created and prepared the now-famous Stagecoach recipes, while “Mr. Van” hosted with old world charm. Just as in earlier times when local frontier women greeted the stagecoach passengers and cattle drovers by announcing the day’s bill of fare (whatever was ready in the kitchen), the Stagecoach Inn waitresses recited the distinctive daily prix-fixe menu, which included the Inn’s iconic hush puppies, tomato aspic, banana fritters, and Strawberry Kiss.
For many years thereafter, the Stagecoach Inn was one of the most renowned highway restaurants in the country: featured in Life Magazine (July 1, 1957), Ford Times (May 15, 1963), TIME (Sept. 23 1966), and it appeared on the prestigious Duncan Hines list of select restaurants. Travelers from Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and beyond had good reason to stop and linger in picturesque Salado, to dine and visit the art galleries, antique shops, and many specialty stores, as well as enjoy local cultural and historic celebrations.
The Stagecoach Inn’s reputation has endured over the years and through generations of families who’ve celebrated many important occasions inside these historic walls. The menu has been updated to reflect modern dining habits and preferences, and its hotel rooms have been renovated with a mixture of Palm Springs and Texas ranch aesthetic; however, the core Stagecoach Inn experience will remain as tribute to the rich history and authenticity of the Stagecoach Inn, a central Texas treasure.