San Angelo Texas has an authentic bordello complete with costumed Madam

San Angelo Texas: Bordellos to waterlilies and everything in between

Only in San Angelo can visitors tour a hand-made custom boot shop, learn the stories of the ladies of Miss Hattie’s Bordello (via the Madam), walk through a fully restored fort, and gasp at the beauty of waterlilies.

You may want to take a couple of days to do all this.

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San Angelo is also home to a very rare type of pearl. The prized earls are lustrous in tones of pink and lavender. At one time they were so numerous they gave their name to the river that flows through town. Spanish explorers named the river “El Rio Concho” (Shell River). The Tampico pearly mussel is found only in the Concho River, its branches, and its reservoirs. But don’t think you can just jump in the water to harvest them. The number of these mussels has been decreasing and pearl-seeker must have a permit – and those are no longer being issued.

San Angelo History: Banks, Bars, and a Bordello

San Angelo started as a fort town. Fort Concho was one of a string of forts built right after the end of the Civil War to protect the settlers. Catering to the needs of soldiers and ranchers resulted in a mix of establishments beyond banks and mercantile stores. At one time 13 dance halls, brothels and saloons lined the streets of the fledgling town. Some of these businesses were joined together by secret tunnels and doors with no signs. Lots of folks liked to bank in San Angelo.

The building at 35 East Concho Avenue is now Eggemeyers General Store but it started out the Bank Exchange Saloon, named for its handy proximity to the Concho National Bank. Handy because it was locally known for the door that connected the saloon and the bank. Take your wagon into town to “bank” and wander next door to drink, and perhaps enjoy other more carnal activities. The door was described as being in “heavy use” – at least until it was ordered nailed shut by the bank.

Even more intriguing is the system of tunnels that was said to criss-cross the town. Today Jessie Rose Mercantile at 29 E. Concho sits on one set of tunnels, but others are rumored to exist, including one linking the bordello and the bank.

Miss Hattie's Bordello Museum

The building at 18 (18 1/2) East Concho Avenue is an upscale jewelry store, Legend Jewelers, but true to the town’s past, there was once upon a time a saloon downstairs and a bordello upstairs.

Miss Hattie operated the bordello from 1896 to 1946 (when it was closed down by Texas Rangers) and it was known as one of the top bawdy houses in Texas. Mr. Hatton (Miss Hattie’s ex-husband) operated the bar on the first floor of the building.

Tours of Miss Hattie's Bordello Museum are lead by the costumed Miss Sunshine – the madam of the brothel – who takes visitors through the restored rooms, telling the stories of the girls who lived there and tidbits a bout what life was like. The charge was a day’s pay – regardless of how much or little was earned. There wasn’t much of a kitchen. Food was brought in already prepared -- the girls didn’t do much cooking. Miss Hattie was apparently well-liked, although she did have a tendency to take the girls on outings on Sunday, driving past the local churches.

Stop by Legend Jewelers to purchase tickets for the tours that operate Thursday through Saturday.

Fort Concho is a major attraction of San Angelo

M L Leddy boots

For over 85 years (and four generations) Leddy’s has been hand-crafting custom boots in Texas. The business started in Brady, but the family soon moved to larger quarters in San Angelo. The public is welcome to call first and set up an appointment to learn about the enormous effort and care that goes into crafting their boots.

The process is completely done by hand and so production is limited to about 10 or 12 pairs a day with about 25 people involved in producing each pair of boots. Order today, get your boots in about a year so plan ahead. If you don’t want to wait, they have some gorgeous boots available off-the-shelf, generally under $1000.

Fort Concho National Historic Monument

In 1867 the Civil War had ended but Texas was still the wild frontier and the responsibility for protecting settlements fell to the Federal government who responded by building a trail of forts across Texas including Fort Concho.

The soldiers had money to spend and the town sprung up to provide places and ways to spend that money-- brothels, dance halls and saloons.

Barely 20 years later, in 1889, the railroad had come through and the region was judged sufficiently pacified for the fort to close.

Today the town of San Angelo owns the historic fort and has opened 10 buildings to visitors with the furnishings authentically reproduced. Because these aren’t museum pieces, visitors are invited explore the furnishings in the soldiers quarter – even lay down on the narrow iron beds. There’s also a mess hall, hospital and chapel (which also doubled as the school room) and an officer’s lodging. One other building has been made into a B&B.

Visit International Waterlily Collection for gorgeous unusual flowers

International Waterlily Collection

It’s a stunningly beautiful collection of these water-based plants in colors nature never envisioned. The International Waterlily Collection is the pride and joy of former NASA engineer Ken Landon who both collects and breeds breathtaking lilies. Some of the varieties visitors will see are extinct in the rest of the world. He has created so many new varieties, many are unnamed and in colors nature never thought to produce. Even his lily pads are extraordinary.

Cruise Lake Nasworthy on an American Side Wheeler Steambot

Beautiful Lake Nasworthy offers visitors the opportunity to take a ride on an American side wheeler. Mack Fox’s Tule Princess is said to be the last of its kind. It is a fully operational, full size Walking Beam Steam Engine, powering a Side Wheel Paddle Steamboat. But more than that, she’s a small gem which goes at gentle four miles per hour on a 55-minute tour of Lake Nasworthy.

Dining in San Angelo

Peasant Village Restaurant in San Angelo

Open for lunch and dinner, but come to Peasant Village for dinner and Jason Chef Helfer “comfort classic” dishes. That will indeed make you happy. The menu changes regularly so the dishes being served are listed on a chalk board. But generally there is the perfectly cooked and seasoned Beef Filet with meat so tender you can truly cut it with the edge of your fork. The rack of lamb also have diners swooning.

Appetizers will vary but the baked brie was excellent as was the pork stuffed mushrooms. If you are a lover of things Italian, Chef Jason’s baguettes with pomodoro sauce and melted cheese is a winner. The sauce is cooked down until there’s almost no liquid and it is richly flavored. The amiable chef even shared a tip for using leftover rice. Cook it up with cream and loads of Parmesan cheese to create a rich and luscious side dish. Don’t miss the desserts – definitely worth saving a bit of room

Miss Hatties Restaurant and Saloon

Decorated with stained glass windows Miss Hatties, in a former bank building, has several whimsically decorated rooms, the result of owner Brenda Gunter’s eclectic

One standout is the bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapeno peppers. The chicken and dumplings garners great reviews and for dessert their cheese cakes are truly delicious – particularly the caramel pecan.

Learn more about visiting San Angelo

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: September 12, 2016

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