Austin Chronicle Day Trip
Rose Hill Manor outside of Stonewall looks like an old Southern plantation mansion transported to the rugged hills west of Johnson City and Blanco. On a clear day, the view from the upper balcony of the two-story, white building stretches across the Pedernales River Valley where Lyndon Johnson wandered as a boy.
More than just a country inn, Rose Hill Manor, with half a dozen well-appointed rooms, combines beer and wine sales, a well-stocked bookstore, and on Friday and Saturday nights, a four course dinner to make for a unique Hill Country destination. “It might look like we’re in competition with 300 other bed and breakfast inns in Central Texas, but we’re not, ” says Robert Vander Lyn, the inn’s owner. “Unless we’re missing something, we’re the only one offering the same amenities. It’s a lot of extra work, but it’s worth it to put us in another category.”
The four upstairs bedrooms and the two separate cottages offer spacious accommodation with privacy and comfort. Most rooms have separate reading areas filled with light from long rows of windows. From up above, a cupola pours natural lighting down into the center of the house. “One of our goals is to take people from the cities and give them a country home, if only for a weekend,” Vander Lyn says.
For Texans or out-of-staters, Rose Hill can offer a perfect country refuge. With a strong library of reading material available, much of it about Central Texas and the Hill Country, a guest might curl up on a big easy chair and leisurely pass the weekend. Or just a short, scenic drive from the estate are Fredericksburg, several wineries, Enchanted Rock State Park, and the popular Luckenbach.
Robert Vander Lyn and his wife Patricia started working on the house 10 years ago this September. They have been welcoming guests to their country getaway for the past two and a half years, “in the beginning we lived out here in a tent without a road or utilities,” he says. Then they spent a little more than seven years living in the house while they completed the final touches.
When the couple got married, they decided that they didn’t want to raise their children in Houston. They set off across the country for eight months looking for the American dream and a place to hang their hats. After visiting 38 states and Canada they returned to the Texas Hill Country. One day, while driving down Upper Albert Road, they came across the 40 acres for sale and saw the beauty and potential of the cedar-covered hill.
They had considered buying an old house and fixing it up, but it seemed like more work than starting from scratch. Vander Lyn had always had an interest in architecture even though he is the first to admit that he wasn’t mechanically inclined. During their travels around the country, he had made notes of a dozen or so things that he felt made the old houses they visited special. Their house had to have things like a view, trees shading a big yard, high ceilings, lot of windows, and big porches.
“Our goal was to build a brand-new house that looked old,” Vander Lyn says. He soon became disenchanted with using recycled building materials because of the expense and availability of certain items. “You could find two matching doors, but not four,” he says.
Serving as designer and general contractor, the former Houston attorney learned the construction trade from the ground up. “I wasn’t smart enough to know that you can’t do it the old way anymore,” he says, “but it’s just a big box.”
“Things got progressively easier,” Vander Lyn says with a laugh. Now things like six hours of mowing with a tractor puts a more sizeable dent in the field than six hours of walking behind a push mower.
A couple of years ago the Vander Lyns built a two-story cottage behind the grand building for their home. “After building this house, building a 1,500-square-foot cottage was nothing,” he says.
Business has steadily increased since a group of employees and guest from nearby Becker Vineyards were the inn’s first guests. “The Internet gives a place like this a tremendous running start,” Vander Lyn says, “but word-of-mouth referrals are just awesome.” Folks from the Waco post office came for a vacation after they had seen a post card of the house that someone had mailed. The Federal Express and UPS delivery men have returned as guests after making deliveries.
After enclosing the downstairs side porches the Vander Lyns added gourmet meals on Friday and Saturday nights. Being so far out of town, the guests appreciate a good meal served at the inn, he says. The fabulous meals are prepared by chef Ernie Briggs and his pastry chef wife Annie. The Briggses also own Ernie’s Mediterranean Grill in Fredericksburg. The dinning area can easily accommodate 26 diners and more seating can often be arranged.
Mid-September to Christmas is a great time of year to visit the Hill Country, Vander Lyn says. If nothing else, after Thanksgiving drive down the Vander Lyn’s road just to see the Christmas decoration that he spends five or six weeks every year putting up.