The History of Big Pines Lodge
Big Pines Lodge has a long
and colorful history dating back to the 1930's when the site
was known as Hartzo's Camp. In those days, it was only a fishing
camp and they did not serve food.
Sometime in the 1950's,
the camp was sold to the Sullivans which, as the story goes,
was the beginning of the famous restaurant, Big Pines Lodge.
Big Pines Lodge changed
ownership several times after that. The Sullivans sold the lodge
to the Wommacks and after a period of time, the Wommacks sold
out to the Wadlingtons.
In the Spring of 1958, Big
Pines Lodge was one of many businesses and homes that fell victim
to a major flood of the Big Cypress Bayou.
The Caddo Queen Paddlewheel
Steamboat came into the picture with the ownership of the Wadlingtons.
After the restaurant closed up for the night (somewhere around
10:00 pm), the steamboat, piloted by Larry Speight, would be
boarded by many of the local residents. They would cruise up
and down the Big Cypress Bayou while drinking and dancing to
the music of a juke box. In those days, it was legal to set
Gill Nets in the river. The locals would set the gill nets in
the bayou, which in turn would get caught up in the paddlewheel
of the steamboat. It was not uncommon when returning to shore
to call the owner of the gill nets and report that their gill
nets were waiting for them at Big Pines Lodge. Several years
later, the Caddo Queen met it's demise when it sunk in the bayou
and was later recovered from the water by an oilfield winch
During this time, Big Pines
Lodge had 5 brick cabins and 3 wood frame cabins, along with
a marina that sold gas and bait.
Big Pines Lodge - 1965
A Big Pines Cottage - 1966
Sometime around 1973, George
and Betty Williamson bought the restaurant from the Wadlington's.
Later on, the restaurant was robbed at gun point and this became
the reason for George acquiring a license to buy and sell guns.
George was very good friends with law enforcement, as he himself
had once been a detective for the Austin, Texas police department.
As the restaurant grew with devoted customers, George began
to run out of room to store his guns and ammunition, so he would
store his ammunition on tables in the customer area of the restaurant.
As you made your way to a table to be served, you could also
check out the many boxes of ammunition available. Some people
say the reason George displayed all of the ammo was to deter
anyone else from trying to rob the restaurant. To quote Johnny
Winn, "This was the only place in the state of Texas
that you could have a catfish dinner, a mug of beer, buy guns
and ammo and still pay out at the same cash register".
In the forty-five plus years
that George and Betty owned the restaurant, they were hosts
to many dignitaries and famous people. George Williamson died
on January 15, 2001, but Betty, along with her god-daughter
and husband, Tracy and Donavan Moffitt, continued to run the
restaurant until Betty's death in March of 2007. Tracy and Donavan
operated the restaurant until 2009 before selling the establishment
to the current owners, Kevin Allen and Shell Sanford.
Approximately 2 weeks after
buying the restaurant, a devestating fire destroyed the building,
taking with it, photos and memories of the past.
Kevin Allen and Shell Sanford
immediately began making plans to rebuild the famous restaurant,
but restrictions and red tape by Harrison County and FEMA hampered
their efforts. Finally, in the spring of 2011, construction
began on the new building.