Like most Texans, you may be familiar with the untamed beauty of the Hill Country. With rugged limestone terrain and cedar-speckled hills plunging into valleys fed by creeks that make fly fishermen giddy, this legendary region is truly the heart of Texas. You may have visited historic Johnson City or the Aspen-esque Fredericksburg. But how acquainted are you with Comfort? Nestled between Kerrville and Boerne, it is easy to overlook this diamond in the rough. At first glance, Comfort may resemble other Central Texas hot spots: it has a Dairy Queen, an annual antiques show, and a few traffic lights. But take a closer look; notice the hint of sophistication, which dates back to the avant-garde German “Freethinkers” who settled there in the 1850’s.
In Comfort, time slows to a crawl. Strolling down High Street, the main thoroughfare, there is a warmth in the air. It could be the sun on a clear spring day. Or it could be the way the historic buildings seem to hug the passersby who meander through the peppering of shops offering knickknacks, antiques, and country charm. But it’s probably the glowing smiles that welcome you to pull up a chair and stay a while.
This lack of pretension is what enticed big-city folk like Ed Story to Comfort almost thirty years ago. President and CEO of SOCO International, an oil company based in London, Ed is a modern-day world traveler. He and Joey, his wife of seventeen years, divide their time between London, Bangkok, and Comfort. Who would have thought this little town could compete with elegant England and the exotic East? “After being in places where people are packed in, there’s just something about seeing the wide-open spaces of the Hill Country,” says Joey.
For Ed and Joey, who purchased their Comfort ranch in 1974, it’s more than the beauty of the region they miss when living oceans away. It’s the community of people they’ve come to love. “There’s such a unique blend of newcomers and old-timers. It’s what this town was founded on,” says Ed.
Visitors are welcome to join in the weekly dominoes game outside Ingenhuett’s General Store at four-thirty in the afternoon every Friday. For the past seven years, everyone from lawyers and architects to a hippie and a fighter pilot have gathered around card tables set up on High Street to drink beer, tell tales, and play dominoes.
For the Common Good
The Comfort Common is a collection of bed-and-breakfasts with a labyrinth of antique shops, private cabins, and even a couple of donkeys—this is the country.
Noted British architect Alfred Giles, who had a hand in creating the majority of the buildings in the town in the late 1800’s, built the Common in 1880 as the Ingenhuett-Faust Hotel. Jim Lord and Bobby Dent bought the structure in 1991. Plush linens, rich colors, and aromatic scents are all part of the experience now.
Originally from Atlanta, Lord and Dent had grown tired of running a computer-supply company and sought to pursue their avocations of antiques sales and hospitality. But as they frequently traveled from Manhattan to Los Angeles, big-city life took its toll. “I was tired of the rat race, tired of three million people in Atlanta,” says Lord. ” I wanted to do a project, I wanted to go on a journey.” That journey led to Comfort, where they befriended the locals and welcomed newcomers as if they were family. Their most notable contribution: igniting the Comfort economy.
Lord says it was the only small town he could live in because of its big-city mentality: “It feels like a small town, but it doesn’t think like a small town. From here, you can tour all of the popular Hill Country towns and still find a place to relax when you’re finished.”
Walking into the Common, it’s not unusual to catch a glimpse of Hollywood transplants, such as actress Madeline Stowe, in flannel and a pair of jeans, sharing stories with Lord in the hallway. Stowe, who starred in The General’s Daughter, Twelve Monkeys, and The Last of the Mohicans, and her husband, actor Brian Benben, moved to the Comfort area in the early nineties.
How It All Began
Central Texas saw a myriad of German settlers in the 1800’s, but the Freethinkers, who fled political and religious oppression, settled Comfort in the 1850’s. They lived a far less conservative life than traditional Germans, building a foundation of liberal values that has attracted many other urban refugees to Comfort today.
“They wanted to try a new experiment to live a full and productive lifestyle outside of the church and organized religious structure,” says Greg Krauter, a fifth-generation Comfort native who owns Ingenhuett’s General Store, one of the oldest continuously run emporiums in the state. “They achieved it for about a decade and then the Civil War came.”
Once the Civil War broke out, many Texans pledged an oath to the Confederacy, but not the Freethinkers, who had already sworn loyalty to the Union army. Thirty-six of these Union loyalists were slaughtered in the Battle of Nueces on August 10, 1862, for defying their stand. Now Comfort is home to one of six flags across the country that flies at half-mast year-round in remembrance of the Union patriots.
Krauter is proud of his heritage. He often sits on the porch of his store, taking in the changes his hometown has seen, but relishing the number of original buildings that still stand. With a pace that mimics the town, Krauter’s voice is slow with a slight drawl. His hands are evidence of a lifetime of working ranches, living on the land, and keeping his history alive. Yet despite his passion for the past, he welcomes the vibrant evolution of Comfort. “People are real open and friendly in Comfort, and I enjoy a lot of the people who have moved into the area.”
What It’s Really Like
Barring a great land rush, Comfort stands a firm chance of remaining one of the Hill Country’s best-kept secrets. A thought that brings relief to Ignacio Salas-Humara and his wife, Dinah Zike. Originally from Havana, Cuba, Ignacio is the nephew of Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban dictator before Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Unable to return to Cuba, Ignacio spent time in Madrid and New York building his career as an architect.
When he met Dinah, a writer and publisher in Manhattan, one weekend more than a decade ago, he had no idea he would end up in a small Texas town eight years later. In 1993, the couple walked down the aisle of a Lutheran chapel in Comfort and took their first steps to becoming permanent residents. “I saw Comfort, Texas, for the very first time on my wedding day,” says Dinah. The newlyweds had their reception at Mimi’s Cafe and stayed at the Gorman Cottage of the Comfort Common. Two years later, the couple bought a home on H Street. “I was a little worried that it would be boring and there would be nothing to do,” says Ignacio. “Ironically, we actually have a bigger life here than in New York. There’s such an eccentric mix of people. Across the street lives a fighter pilot. And there are artists, actors, and international people all over the place.”
Such is the tale of this Hill Country town. Though shops close on Mondays and for lunch every day, those who have found Comfort keep coming back for good buys, great stories, and new friends.