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Riley’s Tavern in Hunter lives on

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

In 1867 when cotton was “king”, Andrew Jackson Hunter bought a tract of land in eastern Comal County for the purpose of raising cotton. He lived nearby on York Creek. In 1880 when the IGN Railroad came through that area, the small settlement was called Hunter. As you drive out past Gruene, you’re on Hunter Road and one of the oldest businesses in Hunter is Riley’s Tavern.

There were about 60 people in the settlement of Hunter when its namesake lived there. Businesses sprang up. About 10 years after the railroad came through, Gustavus A. Schleyer opened a general store, post office and saloon. There was a blacksmith, a church, a barbershop, meat market and school. The population soon grew to 200.

Andrew Jackson Hunter died in 1883 and his acreage and holdings were divided among his children. In 1894 Hunter’s daughter and son-in-law, Edward M. House, organized the Hunter Cotton Gin Co. and went into business with Harry Landa of New Braunfels. Six mule wagon teams hauled cottonseed from the Hunter Gin to the Landa Cotton Oil Mill on Landa Street. Eventually Landa bought out House’s interest in the gin and the House connection to the community of Hunter was no more.

Let’s look more into the background of Edward Mandel House. His father, Thomas William House, was a wealthy landowner from Houston who also owned sugar plantations and was eventually mayor of Houston.

As a young man, Edward House went to boarding school and was always interested in politics. He entered Cornell University and stayed there until his father became ill. He went home to Houston to take care of him. When his father died, House married Louise Hunter of Hunter, Texas. The couple honeymooned in Europe and then returned to Houston to supervise the extensive landholdings of the family.

In 1885 the couple moved to Austin to be nearer the cotton plantations. In Austin, House entered the political scene and helped several governors achieve the governorship. He wintered in New York and gradually moved to the east permanently. He became involved in national politics by participating in the presidential campaigns of Woodrow Wilson and later Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Hunter died in 1938. (Source: Handbook of Texas Online, Charles E. Neu)

But let’s get back to the small town of Hunter. When another railroad, the MKT, built a line through the area in 1901, the populations was still about 200. When the cotton industry declined, businesses began closing. By 1947 both railroad depots closed. The little one-room school was consolidated with the NBISD and the final blow was the closing of the post office in 1953.

Riley’s Tavern was alternately a house and tavern. It was at one time Galloway Saloon, and then the home of the Bernardino Sanchez family. Along the way, the house and tavern was rented to the Riley family and then finally sold to James Curtis Riley in 1942.

A tavern or saloon is a “beer joint” and Prohibition dealt it a mighty blow. In 1933 when prohibition ended, 17 year old J.C. Riley drove to Austin with his uncle in a Model T to get a permit for a liquor license. They arrived early and waited on the steps of the capitol for the doors to open. They were the very first in Texas to get a permit to get a liquor license.

Some of you may remember that Hays County was a “dry” county and all up and down the county line between Hays and “wet” Comal County were saloons. Riley’s Tavern was active. Once Hays voted “wet” in 1977, business was not as active.

When Riley died in 1991, his wife sold the saloon to Rick and Donna Wilson. Eleven years ago Riley’s Tavern was purchased by long-time Hays County resident, Joel Hofmann. His clientele are sometimes third generation customers. The tavern is open seven days a week and boasts a band every night.

Hofmann is working towards an application for a Texas Historical Commission marker for Hunter and Riley’s Tavern. Cotton is gone, the cotton gin is no more, the school is gone, the depots are gone, but Riley’s Tavern lives on. York Creek trickles along through Hunter.

Seventeen year old J.C. Riley and his uncle waited on the capitol steps for the doors to open. 1933. Artist: Patricia S. Arnold.

Seventeen year old J.C. Riley and his uncle waited on the capitol steps for the doors to open. 1933. Artist: Patricia S. Arnold.