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Answers to Go with Susan Smith

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Editor’s note: This is the second part to an Answers to Go with Susan Smith column about Riley’s Tavern

Q. Can you help me with some background on Riley’s Tavern in Hunter? How old is it?

A. Last week’s column on this topic featured Shaun Stalzer and Laurie E. Jasinski’s entry on the tavern in the Texas State Historical Association’s “The New Handbook of Texas.”

This week’s column will feature quotes and information from Susan Hansen’s June 21, 1987 San Marcos Daily Record interview of J.C. Riley.

Hansen began, “The blacksmith shop and post office are gone now, and the two general merchandise stores are closed. But one thing in Hunter, Texas has remained the same for nearly 54 years. The doors at Riley’s Place are still open seven days a week.

“When Texas voted to legalize the sale of beer in August of 1933, J.C. Riley was not only the first person in the state to get his license. At 17, he was also quite likely the youngest.”

Hansen quotes Riley: “I moved to Hunter when I was nine days old. My grandparents lived out here. It was more of a town then. It was cotton farming back in those days.

“There were two general merchandise stores, two gins, two depots, and the last post office was in the blacksmith shop. The church was turned into a little school.”

Riley continued, “I started San Marcos school in fifth grade and I walked. I used to walk that back and forth in the mud. I’d meet two cars maybe a week, or pickups, whatever they’d be. This (Hunter Road) was the main highway through here. They finally got a Model T school bus. That was in 1927, ’28, ’30.”

As Riley told Hansen, Hunter was originally part of a thousand-acre cotton plantation owned by Major A.J. Hunter. After the coming of the railroad in 1880, the town grew into a major cotton processing center.

When cotton farming declined, the residents had to find a new means of support. Following the lead of Pablo De La Rosa, who had moved to Hunter in the 1920s, the local residents began making and selling plaster of Paris figurines. Nearly everyone in town contributed to the cottage industry in some way. The figurines were sold in Hunter and at roadside stands across Texas.

In about 1933, a new highway went in east of Hunter, taking with it most of the town’s business. The figurine vendors moved their roadside stands, but motorists on the new, straighter highway stopped less frequently. After seven years the figurine boom was over.

Prior to Prohibition (1920-1933), Hunter had six to 10 saloons.

After getting his license in 1933, Riley got his start selling mainly Texas beers in the back room of a business owned by John C. Waldo.

In 1936, Riley moved into the current location. Riley said, “Everyone came to Hunter. There were people down here from Wimberley, San Marcos, Kyle and Lockhart. It was packed.”

I’ve stopped about midway through Hansen’s article. If you’d like to read her fine prose and the rest of the article, our reference librarians would be happy to help you print a copy.

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Each week hundreds of people call or visit the San Marcos Public Library to find information. “Answers To Go” highlights recently received questions. Please visit the library at 625 E. Hopkins St., call 512-393-8200 for information over the phone or e-mail us through our webpage at www.sanmarcostx. gov/586/Library.