History took a left turn (or right turn if you were heading to Austin instead of Houston) when the original Cottonwood Inn Restaurant closed. Up until 1991, Texas Highway 71 passed directly through the scenic town of La Grange. Needless to say, many local businesses suffered due to the diversion of traffic. The Cottonwood Inn Restaurant and Motel was one of them.
Since this writer cannot find certain information about the Cottonwood Inn history, I will draw this story from personal recollection. My best guess is that Cottonwood opened somewhere between 1930 and 1950. It is my understanding that it began as a restaurant, then added a motel. I made occasional trips between Houston and Austin in the 1960s and 1970s, and whenever the schedule allowed, I always stopped for a meal at Cottonwood Inn in La Grange. They served steaks on a sizzling skillet – also catfish. Their bread was homemade as were their delicious pies.
One of the best vistas in Texas is just south of La Grange. State Highways 71 and 77 intersect in town. If you take 77 south, you almost immediately begin to climb a winding course that passes Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites. Its nearly 50 acres overlook the Texas version of a Colorado River. This river is slow, wide, and meandering as opposed to the one in Arizona that carves out The Grand Canyon. Monument Hill has a spectacular view of the river as it makes a turn beneath.
No doubt the site was chosen for its natural beauty back in 1848, when the remains of the Texian dead from the Dawson Massacre and Black Bean executions were relocated here, along with an appropriate-sized monument. Later, German immigrant Heinrich Kreische established a brewery near the monument. Eventually, the State of Texas acquired the 50 acres to form a lovely historic and scenic park.
So, Monument Hill along with the natural beauty of the river were added reasons to stop over at The Cottonwood Inn, which was also nearly at the mid-point between Houston and Austin. After the main highway left town, the motel has managed to stay afloat. The restaurant is currently La Marina Mexican Restaurant.
Cottonwood is near the old Colorado River Bridge on Highway 71. Back in 1981 between Christmas and New Year’s, my pregnant wife (pregnancy as yet unknown), our dog, and I put in a canoe there, intending to paddle the 15 or 20 miles to the next town downstream – Columbus. It was an Indian Summer atmosphere despite it actually being December. We camped on the river that night.
By morning, a wet norther had hit. Temperatures were in the forties, and we weren’t dressed for it. We chattered our way down river with our dog, Joe, at the bow. I managed to make a fire on a sandbar and cook some pork chops for lunch, but we were pretty soaked and chilled by then. We decided to ditch the canoe and scale the high bank. After much effort, we made it to the highway, which roughly parallels the river all the way to Columbus.
Imagine this picture: a muddy couple and their dog trying to hitchhike in the cold rain. Amazingly, a guy picked us up! We eventually made it back to The Cottonwood Inn, and for the first and only time, I was there for something in addition to a hot meal. Much shuffling of cars, hot showers, and sneaking dogs into the room. Quite an experience, although I don’t recommend it!
As luck would have it in today’s world, I had yet another trip down the aisle in my future. I still lived in Houston, and my bride-to-be was from the Austin area. We would sometimes meet for dinner in La Grange. Alas, by the current year of 2002, there was no Cottonwood Restaurant anymore. We still had a great time at Monument Hill. Third time was the charm for me, and I still am with the love of my life 21 years later.
- Year Started: 1940
- Year Ended: 1998
- Origin Of Name: Native Trees
- Location Sales: La Grange, Texas
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: N/A
- Owner While In Use: N/A
- Owner Successor: N/A
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Down Home Restaurants
- Naics Code: 722511
- Location Headquarters: La Grange, Texas USA