The River Oaks Courts were first developed and operated by the Stokes family in the 1930's. Their history is deeply connected with the history of Medina.
Stokes Motor Courts (Stokes Tourist Courts, Stokes Tourist Camp), 1936-1943
Brown H. Stokes (1897-1940), a successful local entrepreneur, opened the Stokes Motor Courts (later River Oaks Courts), the first tourist courts in Medina, in 1936. He was born on April 17, 1897 in Coleman County, Texas to Kenchen King Stokes and Emma Seale Stokes. In 1900, Kenchen moved his family to the West Prong community, four miles from Medina, where he rented (and later purchased) ranch land. The Stokes children, including Brown, helped their father grow corn, cotton, and raise livestock. In 1917, Brown Stokes married Medina-raised Ora “Maud” Kelley (1897-1987), and the couple briefly moved to Port Arthur where he worked at an oil refinery. Two years later, Brown and Maud returned to Medina with their first son, King. By 1927, they had three more children: Terry, Brown Jr., and Ople.
Between 1920 and 1930, Stokes transitioned from laborer to businessman. Upon his return to Medina from Port Arthur, the Stokes Family lived with Maud’s mother, and Stokes worked on a nearby ranch. In 1923, he and a partner saved enough money to start a grocery store that served Medina for five decades. The B.H. Stokes Store was located on Broadway (TX 16), Medina’s primary commercial thoroughfare. It advertised: “B.H. Stokes has dry goods, and groceries fine. He will sell them for cash or on time. He will also buy your wool and mohair. The price he pays is always fair.” The wool and mohair trade were particularly lucrative to Stokes’ business and the larger Medina community. He employed his brother, Bill, to freight the raw materials from Medina to markets in Kerrville and Comfort, by way of present-day TX-16, where they sold the fiber to some of the state’s leading wool and mohair buyers.
In 1930, Stokes purchased an 11-acre riverfront parcel with profits from the B.H. Stokes store, and he constructed a three-bedroom bungalow-style home there. The Medina Light inaugural edition announced its completion on November 7, 1930, saying, “Mr. Stokes now has one of the most modern homes in this country. He also has had an artesian well drilled which gives such a strong flow, that it requires no reservoir, as the flow is strong enough to force the water over the entire place.” The small homestead was conveniently located one mile west of his general store in Medina and along the Kerrville Road (later TX-16), his primary trade commute. Early improvements to the property included a garage, and he likely cultivated the land to support the family’s personal needs. The Stokes children enjoyed growing up next to the Medina River that provided them an cypress-shaded retreat for swimming, fishing, and camping.
Stokes’ business ventures in the 1930s also improved the quality of life for people in Medina. In 1931, he purchased and revived a defunct, turn-of-the-20th-century ice-making machine, a the first for the small community. Installed behind the Stokes Store, Stokes initially powered it with a wood-fueled steam roller, and in short-time produced “first class, Medina-made” ice blocks. Several months later, he bought a Dynamo generator and installed a light plant next to the ice plant. Stokes’ investment provided the first dependable electric lighting to Medina schools and churches.
The Medina Light described Stokes as one who kept apace with progress, and whose gifted business ability put him “several jumps ahead of development.” Indeed, Brown advocated for, and personally-invested in, infrastructure projects, tourism, and education. As a Chamber of Commerce member, he served on the highway committee that encouraged state officials to expand and improve the road between Medina and Kerrville. Stokes had a personal stake in highway work because Kerrville Road ran adjacent his property, and an improved road would make his trade commute easier.
Many believed an improved highway would encourage tourism through Medina. At the time, local boosters marketed the town, self-dubbed the “Mecca of the Hills” or “Queen of the Hills,” as an all-year resort for hiking, hunting, and fishing or bathing “among the sighing cypress trees.” In 1932, an article in the Medina Light noted, however, the absence of local tourist camp grounds or cottages to support this desired economy. It touted the tourist camp business as a “golden opportunity,” that awaited young entrepreneur smart enough to invest in cabins for the scores of motoring tourists driving through Texas and Medina. Whether the article influenced Stokes, an entrepreneurial-minded person, to start his tourist lodging business venture is not known. The article was circulated several years before Stokes constructed cottages, but a Medina highway map indicated that, by 1936, Stokes had a “tourist camp” on his property.
Stokes was also leading voice for improving education for Medina children. He and others urged the community to raise funds to construct a new school building, where the Stokes children were educated. Built in 1933 by Hough LeStourgeon, the completed fieldstone edifice provided Medina students modern science curriculum and primary education. As a member of the school board in 1934-35, Stokes promoted agricultural vocational studies to educate the next-generation of farmers about conservation-minded cultivation. That year, the district hired University of A&M agricultural teacher Robert R. Tippit to start such a program in Medina.
Tippit’s employment was the impetus that started Stokes’ next business, Stokes Motor Courts, which shaped the development of the current nominated property. Although Medina’s economy improved in the years immediately following the Great Depression, home building was slow to revive. In 1935, when Tippit was unable to find a suitable rental home, Stokes hired local contractor Hough LeStourgeon to construct one fieldstone cottage on his 11-acre property for the new teacher. Soon after, Stokes contracted for four more cottages that were completed in early 1936, and he finished the sixth cabin by August. The six cottages became the first rental cabins, and Stokes advertised short and long-term leases. At various times, the business name alternated between Stokes Tourist Camp, Stokes Tourist Courts, and Stokes Motor Courts. Although those names reflected larger trends in the motor courts industry, the three names were used interchangeably between 1935 and 1943. By 1940, Stokes Motor Courts boasted ten fieldstone cottages.
Like other family-owned motels of the day, the Stokes were responsible for all maintenance and daily work to operate the business. During this period, Brown renovated an entry on the south elevation of the Stokes’ home for public access. He converted an interior bedroom to an office with a Dutch-door that separated the room from the rest of the home. In addition to managing the business of rentals, Maud and the children washed dishes and laundry for each cabin. Visitors to Stokes Motor Courts were attracted to its picturesque riverside setting. They enjoyed fishing and swimming in the Medina River where Stokes installed a diving board and a rope swing. Each cottage was comfortable and fully-furnished with a kitchenette, bathroom, and fireplace.
On March 22, 1940, Medina citizens and his family were shocked when Stokes died in a car accident. The grief- stricken community conducted his funeral at the Medina High School auditorium to accommodate the nearly 600 people in attendance. The city mourned the passing of the gifted businessman who “had faith and confidence in our town’s future and desired to help Medina grow.[Stokes] had broad vision,...courageous spirit, and the ability to bring these visions to reality.” Maud took over full ownership and management of all Stokes’ businesses after his death. In 1943, she sold Stokes Motor Courts but operated the Stokes (IGA) store with her children for several more decades.
River Oaks Courts (1943-Present)
From 1943 through 1978, River Oaks Courts remained a tourist motel as it underwent several changes in ownership and a few improvements. William C. and Bertha Horger, with partner J.P. Slater, purchased Stokes Motor Courts from Maud in 1943. To reflect a change in ownership, they changed the business name to River Oaks Courts after the cypress-lined Medina River. The Horgers moved into the 1930 bungalow, and Slater lived in one of the fieldstone cottages until he sold his share of the business the next year. In 1945, the Horgers built a two-story cabin with four individual units and erected a roadside “River Oaks Courts” metal sign on TX 16. The new construction communicated the owners’ hopes for a new era in the business’s success. The next year, however, the Horgers sold River Oaks Courts to Theola Arnott who, in turn, sold it to Guy and Alta Stroup in 1948.
When the Stroups purchased River Oaks Courts, the transaction included all interior furnishings and linens. The inventory revealed the comfortable accommodations afforded to visitors to the motel. Each cottage resembled a small, neatly furnished home complete with quilted and chenille bedcovers, mirrored dressers, armchairs and rocking chairs, chrome dining tables, iceboxes, cooking pans and utensils, bed and bath linens, and more. The Stroups marketed the lodgings in new postcards that advertised “kitchenettes, refrigerators, Simmons mattresses, swimming and picnicking” From 1954 to 1969, Lela and Alfred Henry owned River Oaks Courts and operated it for long and short-term rentals, like Stokes had done in the 1930s. The Henrys sold the property to Frances Harllee in 1970, and Harllee sold it to Joyce and Theo James in 1974.
In the 1970s, River Oaks Courts gradually shifted from tourist lodging to majority long-term leasing. Although the nature and timeline of the shift is not definite, the decline of its tourist business was likely the result of several factors. The state and federal government began construction on Interstate 10, a major east-west highway, in 1959. The I-10 stretch from San Antonio to Kerrville completely bypassed Bandera County, and tourists were encouraged to travel the four-lane highway rather than the meandering state roads, like TX-16 through Medina. It is also a reflection of the changing hotel/motel business in the latter half of the 20th century when large hotel chains opened motels along the new federal highways, pulling clientele from independently-owned tourist courts like River Oaks Courts. In 1970 the Texas Historic Commission conducted a survey of historic buildings in Medina, noting the River Oaks Courts and photographing the original house and Cabin #1. In 1978, a flood of the Medina River devastated the local community, and River Oaks Courts was among the many properties damaged. A photograph of Maud Stokes demonstrated where the water level peaked in one of the cottages. Following that event, long-term renters and the owners sporadically inhabited River Oaks Courts, and the pattern of limited occupation continued through the first decades of the next century until purchased by the current owners for renovation in 2017.
Historic Photos courtesy of Ople Boyle