The historic Nutt House Hotel on the northeast corner of the Granbury Square, which has been under renovation for several years, sustained severe damage Thursday after a fire broke out on the second floor in the early morning hours.
According to a statement released by the city, the fire was discovered around 1 a.m. Multiple volunteer fire departments responded to the scene.
Although the blaze was contained to the second floor, the entire building suffered smoke and water damage, sources reported. Hood County Fire Marshal Jeff Young said that painters had been in the building on Wednesday until about 5 p.m. and that the hotel was about two months away from reopening.
According to Visit Granbury Director Tammy Dooley, the owner is Cindy Nobles.
Young said that the city’s fire investigator, Kevin Jones, is investigating the fire and that his county office will have no role unless the city requests assistance.
According to a statement released by the city early Thursday, firefighters and investigators would be at the scene all day and nearby streets would be closed.
The city reported that firefighters were still “putting out hot spots” at 6:15 a.m. Thursday.
Paula McDonald, who owns two businesses on the square — Beam & Branch Realty on East Bridge Street and N on the Square, which is cattycorner to the Nutt House Hotel at Bridge and Crockett Streets — spoke to the Hood County News by phone as she was arriving on the scene shortly after 8 a.m. to see whether her businesses had sustained damage. She said that she and other business owners on the square found out about the fire through social media.
“This is so much more far-reaching,” she said, referring to surrounding businesses that may have sustained smoke or other damage. “There is debris everywhere.”
A post on the North Hood County Volunteer Fire Department’s Facebook page stated that in addition to its crew, other responders included the Granbury, Cresson, DCBE-Acton, Lipan, Hood County Station 70, Pecan Plantation, and Tolar Volunteer Fire Departments.
The Cresson VFD reported that its “Truck 30” pumped more than 100,000 gallons of water onto the fire.
Drone footage posted online by the Granbury VFD showed a roaring fire on the hotel’s second floor.
No firefighters were injured battling the blaze, according to Granbury Communications Manager Jeff Newpher.
News of the beloved hotel’s tragic fate began spreading on social media before the sun rose Thursday.
Former owner Melinda Ray, who sold the property to Nobles several years ago, posted, “My heart is broken. Even though she wasn’t mine anymore, I still loved this grand old dame on the northeast corner of the Square. So many memories, so many good times, so much of Granbury’s story witnessed by those proud limestone walls.”
Just across from the hotel, by the courthouse, stands a bronze statue of the hotel’s most notable former owner, the late Mary Lou Watkins, a descendent of the Nutt family who is credited with sparking the Granbury community’s commitment to preserving its history. Watkins is depicted in a prairie dress and apron ringing her signature dinner bell to announce dinnertime at the hotel’s popular restaurant, which was famous for its hot-water cornbread, chicken and dumplings, and buttermilk pie.
Watkins sold the hotel in 1983 “under the proviso that all operations remain basically the same,” according to Ray’s book, “Limestone Legacies.”
Sam Winters said she was the manager of the hotel and adjoining candy store about 25 years ago and still has the original cookbook that was used at the restaurant. She said the establishment was “a very popular place” that “served over 100 every day for lunch.” The restaurant would close after lunch but reopen for dinner, she said.
“People came from everywhere to eat our hot-water cornbread,” Winters stated. “We had a buffet of southern food. My friend and I made the prairie dresses and small bonnets the waitresses wore. So many memories.”
Winters said that the second-floor hotel had eight rooms and one restroom at the end of the hall and that Billie Sol Estes once stayed there. Estes, a businessman best known for his involvement in a scandal that complicated his ties to friend and future U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, was the father of Pam Padget, who ran a business on the southwest corner of the square until her death in June 2014.
The Nutt House Hotel has been known for spirits that allegedly made their presence known to guests and employees. Those spirits are believed to include a county judge who once called the hotel home, a young girl who might have been the daughter of a Nutt family member, and possibly Watkins herself, who Ray believed might have been responsible for closing blinds as well as doors to vacated guest rooms where beds had not yet been remade.
As the HCN prepared to go to press Thursday, Newpher told the newspaper that further information would be released later that day related to road closings and parking restrictions.
This message was posted on the Granbury VFD’s Facebook page about the Nutt House Hotel: “She’s a tough old lady! The 2nd floor has extensive fire damage and the first floor suffered water/smoke damage. She will require extensive remodeling again.”
The historic hotel, though crippled, still stands.