Unusual in Texas today, the Holland Hotel in Alpine not only grew up along the railroad tracks but to this day sits within a stone’s throw of an active passenger depot . On the hotel’s ground floor, the bay windows of the Century Bar look upon Holland Avenue and the railroad tracks that bisect the town. Every once in a while, you’ll see passengers from the nearby Amtrak depot scurry by, seizing a moment to stretch their legs before jumping back on the train to chug across West Texas.
The Southern Pacific Railroad was Alpine’s lifeline to the world when rancher John Holland built the Holland Hotel in 1908 to serve the cattle business and booming mercury mining industry. In 1928, his son, Clay Holland, hired influential El Paso architects Trost & Trost to design a renovation and expansion that created the hotel as we know it today.
It’s not hard to imagine big-wheel cattlemen smoking stogies and sloshing scotch in the Holland’s expansive lobby, which was restored in the 1980s to its Spanish stylings of stucco walls, wooden crossbeams, and glass chandeliers. During the railroad days, the Holland catered to ranching businessmen, while on the other side of the tracks near the cattle shipping pens, the Hotel Ritchey served blue-collar cowboys, historian and archeologist David Keller says. The restored Ritchey now houses a bar and café.
“Alpine wouldn’t have existed if it hadn’t been for Southern Pacific Railway,” says Keller, who wrote Images of America: Alpine (2011). “Any hotel from that early on, before cars supplanted railroads, was essentially a railroad hotel. Those structures are an integral part of the town’s history; they give a sense of the town’s character.”
Alpine character runs deep at the Holland, where cowboys and businesspeople rub shoulders with tourists and Sul Ross State University students at the bar. In the guestrooms, artwork depicts Western scenes such as the desert mountains of Big Bend and cavalry outposts. And if you wait a few minutes, you’re sure to hear the timeless rumble and blasting horn of an approaching train. Don’t worry, the hotel provides earplugs on the bedside table.