The Story of Our Motel in Rockdale, TX
RAINBOW COURTS MOTEL AND BED & BREAKFAST by Jo Bird
Business profile article published in the Rockdale Chamber of Commerce newsletter and the Rockdale Reporter, the local newspaper, June 1996 about Rainbow Courts, one of the finest motels in Rockdale, TX.
When Henry Ford put America on wheels, the whole country’s population became potential tourists – and a tourist needed a place to ‘camp’ at night. Thus was born the ‘tourist camp’. Rockdale’s Rainbow Tourist Camp was a 1918 addition to the Milam County landscape. Highway 79 wasn’t yet paved, but that didn’t stop Monroe Bullock from building an ‘oasis’ for tourists and migrant workers alike. His brother, Ira Benjamin Bullock, joined him at the Rainbow in the early 1930’s and they became a Central Texas bed and breakfast business before ‘Bed and Breakfast’ was all the rage. Inexpensive meals (25 cents or less) included huge country breakfasts that consisted of Ham, Sausage, Grits, Biscuits, Bacon, Eggs, Chicken Fried Steak, Gravy, Fried Chicken and Potatoes – an enormous banquet. Hot cereal, cream and butter were staples. Fruits and vegetables grown on-site were canned, jellied and preserved from the 20’s through the 70’s and intermittently, even today. A Register from the 30’s and 40’s reflects room prices from $1.00 to $4.50 alongside signatures of guests from all over the nation including playwright Tennessee Williams in about 1934 and ’36. The Rainbow was popular and comfortable and has many a story to tell.
Just recently a couple in their 80’s came back to the Rainbow to celebrate their anniversary. They spent their wedding night there, and even a few anniversaries since then. The couple told present day owners; Joan and Dan Ratliff that they wanted to come back and add a spark to their 1996 anniversary. Joan has wonderful photos of the early years and would like to have more guests’ stories and photos from anyone who has memories of the Rainbow. It would help to complete her research into the history of Rockdale’s oldest ‘Tourist Camp’.
In the beginning, the Bullocks saw to it that wide ‘porch type’ swings were in most of the oak trees on-site. Families came to the ‘camp’, so the swings and the petrified rock tables, 4 of which remain, testify to the comfort available to guests ‘way back when’. One oak tree at the Rainbow is 200 years old. There was once a grape arbor and a plant room. The Franklin’s greenhouse next door was famous for their day lilies. They were shipped all over the world. When the previous owner took over, all the bulbs on the property had been stolen before they could be salvaged.
Joan and Dan Ratliff bought this Central Texas bed and breakfast from Joan’s mother, Marjorie Crockett, in 1992. Joan’s grandfather was Ira Benjamin Bullock so it followed that the Rainbow would stay ‘in the family. Joan and Dan promptly began renovation in several of the cottages. Since they have traveled a lot on business, it was natural that they would incorporate the most feasible and inviting features of the hotels in which they’ve stayed. The personal touch they’ve contributed to the Rainbow is beyond any I’ve seen over the years. If you can be intoxicated by comfort – lulled by loving attention, charm and generosity, then, the Rainbow Courts Motel Bed & Breakfast is for you – a truly ‘comforting’ experience!
The cottages – some original ones – have been refurbished and in some instances completely redone with the most beautiful furniture – Ethan Allen and Thomasville, along with some of the original and ‘second wave’ furniture from the 1920’s. There are magnificent prints on the walls and beautiful fabrics for windows, bedspreads, chairs and sofas. There is every convenience. One cottage with its own private porch has a wet bar which was built into an antique, marble topped dresser.
There are 37 accommodations including guest rooms, suites and corporate apartments. Most of the suites are equipped with a full kitchen, including cookware, flatware, and dishes, right down to the wine glasses. There are refrigerators, coffee makers, microwaves, voice mail, cable TV, high speed encrypted wireless network both inside and outside the rooms, wired computer connections and everything for a completely at home stay. Travelers away from home every week all year stop there where they receive very personal attention. There are hugs when they leave, chats with their families and sometimes home-baked cookies by the bed at night. At the Rainbow P.R. actually reads P.A. for ‘Personal Attention’. Special occasions merit champagne and home-baked desserts, breakfast served in the rooms, or in the shaded court in back. The Rainbow, Joan felt, could not successfully compete with large hotels, so it was necessary to create its own niche. This has been and is being accomplished with beautiful efficiently, all with the guest’s comfort in mind.
Joan and Dan have made it a habit to research the historical background of every place they’ve lived. Their efforts at the Rainbow are paying off with that ‘unique niche’ they wanted for their business. So – how about the fact that the State of Texas Historical Commission has asked the Rainbow to complete its application to become a State of Texas Historical site?
Adding importance to that future possibility is Texas House of Representatives bill HR489, adopted on March 28, 1995, in which St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was designated one of 10 sites representing Texas’ most endangered historical properties. This Central Texas bed and breakfast is considered a magnificent example of Mission Revival style with its open belfry and arch molding architecture. It is an incredible building with pressed tin on the walls and ceiling and was built for $2000. The wooden alembic structures’ existing – built in 1912. Joan and Dan are the owners of the old Church. It’s down the block and across the street from the Rainbow. Although there have been offers to buy, Joan expects to just say ‘No’ and preserve it for Rockdale, perhaps ultimately moving it on-site at Rainbow to become a Special Event/Conference Room/meeting place.
Joan’s medical/management background and Dan’s banking background, combined with charming taste, awesome energy and talented friends like architect Vicki Braswell and landscape husband, Sandy, are transforming what was a lagging business into a healthy, most beautiful ‘comforting’ enterprise full of history and charm. Even the flower beds have antique roses that were planted by Joan’s grandmother. Joan’s idea is to bring the Rainbow into the present day but keep intact the historic value and the ambiance. Any additions will be based on that premise. There are tentative plans to restore the grape arbor, with possible addition of a swimming pool. With the historic value of the Rainbow having been established and its designation as an historical site virtually a certainty, it promises to be one of Rockdale’s most important and pleasing assets. Milam County’s unflagging interest in things historical only adds to the luster. Ultimately, the Rainbow will become a State of Texas Historical Site, with an already named State of Texas Historical Commission “Endangered Property” church on site. That building can sport catered Special Events of the caliber to “knock your hat in the creek.”
Right now, in Rockdale, we have one of the most charming hotel bed and breakfasts I’ve seen, operated by two very gracious, charming people with ideas, energy and enough pure love of history and the good life to translate the future plans of the Rainbow into Milam County’s Premier hotel bed and breakfast. Rockdale couldn’t be more pleased!