The Pinery was one of 200 stations along the 2,800-mile Butterfield Overland Mail Coach Route. The stations provided fresh mules every 20 miles and a new coach every 300 miles, allowing drivers to maintain the grueling speed of 5 mph for 24 hours a day. John Butterfield had seen the need for overland mail delivery between the eastern states and the West Coast, so he designed a route and the coaches, then secured a federal contract to deliver the St. Louis mail to San Francisco in 25 days. In March 1857, this was a real feat. The Pinery commemorates his achievement.
Named for nearby stands of pine, the Pinery had abundant water and good grazing. It was a high-walled rock enclosure with a wagon repair shop, a blacksmith shop, and three mud-roofed rooms where passengers could get a warm meal, if they had time. The first mail coach came through on September 28, 1858. It continued until August 1859, when the route was abandoned for a new road that better served the West's military forts.
Located in McKittrick Canyon, Pratt Lodge was built by Wallace E. Pratt in 1931-32 from stone quarried at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains, using heart of pine from east Texas for rafters, collar beams, and roof supports. Pratt, a geologist for the Humble Oil Co. (now ExxonMobil), and his family came for summer vacations when the heat in Houston became unbearable. He retired here in 1945. Soon after, he and his family built a second house, Ship on the Desert, outside the canyon. In 1957, the Pratts donated 5,632 acres of their 16,000-acre ranch to the federal government to begin the national park. In addition to the grand stone lodge, there are several outbuildings, stone picnic tables, and a wonderful stone wall.
Williams Ranch house rests at the base of a 3,000-foot rock cliff on the west face of the Guadalupe Mountains. The just over 7 1/4-mile access road, navigable only by high-clearance 4WDs, follows part of the old Butterfield Overland Mail Route for about 2 miles. The road crosses private land and has two locked metal gates for which you must sign out keys at the visitor center.
It's not clear exactly who built the house and when, but it's believed to have been constructed around 1908. The first inhabitants for any significant period of time were almost certainly Henry and Rena Belcher. For almost 10 years, they maintained a substantial ranch here, running up to 3,000 head of longhorn cattle. Water was piped from Bone Spring down the canyon to holding tanks in the lowlands. James Adolphus Williams acquired the property around 1917 and, with the help of an American Indian friend, ranched and farmed the land until he moved to New Mexico in 1941. After Williams's death in 1942, Judge J. C. Hunter bought the property, adding it to his already large holdings in the Guadalupes.
Another historic site is Frijole Ranch, which was a working ranch from the 1870s until 1972. Inside the ranch house is a museum with exhibits on the cultural history of the Guadalupe Mountains, including information on the prehistoric American Indians, the Mescalero Apaches who came later, the Spanish conquistadors, and ranchers of the 19th and 20th centuries. On the grounds are several historic buildings, including a schoolhouse.
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