MARATHON, Texas — Is it pronounced Marathon or Marathon? No matter how you say it, this is a town rich in beauty and history and home to the famous Gage Hotel.
“Locals pronounce it Marathon. I like to keep calling it Marathon, but it is pronounced Marathon," said Michelle West.
Michelle West is the event director at the historic Gage Hotel—built in 1927 by businessman and rancher Alfred Gage and designed by famous architect Henry Trost.
The simple, yet elegant construction was a favorite of West Texas ranchers and cattlemen. But Gage died the year it opened, and the hotel fell on hard times until the late 1970s when Houston oilman JP Bryan came along.
“I mean if you ask me what is the craziest thing that you could possibly do now, to have a hotel in Marathon, Texas that would be the top list,” said Bryan.
I had the opportunity to interview Bryan about his historic restoration of the Gage initially purchased with his wife Mary John as their private residence. But that plan changed.
“So, we opened the Gage Hotel in 1981 and you know, they say you build it and they'll come right, but they didn't come," said Bryan. "It wasn't until years before we began to attract people...you know, we didn't just save a building, we saved the soul of that community.”
All the artifacts, art, and decor are part of Bryan's vast collection. Amenities include a newly opened spa and exercise area as well as lovely courtyards for relaxing. Guests and locals enjoy delicious food and drinks at the restaurant and iconic White Buffalo Cantina.
“And it made us realize how transformative historical conservation can be. And the importance is just not something you do, for it's personally enjoyable of course, but you're doing much more than just changing or saving a building from destruction," Bryan said.
The elegant “Captain Shepherd Home” was bought and restored in recent years by Bryan. Retired sea Captain Albion Shepherd named the town Marathon because of the similarities he saw between the valley and encircling hills to Marathon, Greece with its mountains and sea.
“He was a surveyor. And as a railroad came through, he bought a very, very large piece of land. He started ranching, and he built Captain Shepherd's House and I believe 1882,” said West.
But perhaps one of the biggest surprises in this desert landscape is the Gage garden that is a short walk from the hotel.
“It is an oasis in the desert. And Mr. Bryan felt that was very, very important for the community," said West. "So, it's open to the public and everybody can enjoy the gardens. We have an amazing walking trail. We have species of trees and shrubs and plants from all over the area. We have great grass for people to enjoy that you don't get in West Texas very often. And it's also home to all of our amazing events that we have here at the Gage.”
For Bryan, historic preservation is his passion.
“I mean it's that history that truly defines our character in our state. And it's why we are such an unusual place," said Bryan.
So, from the beautiful Gage Hotel to these lovely Gage gardens, this is a part of West Texas you won’t want to miss.