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Each Year, Dallas Observer selects the very best people, places and establishments in the Dallas area and honors them by including them in their annual "Best of Dallas" issue. In 2003, the Dallas Observer named The Baroness Inn The Best Place to Go for A Day Trip.

Whether you're looking for a romantic escape or just a respite from the big-city traffic and street repairs, the Baroness Inn is only a 45-minute drive away. Host Evelyn Williams offers visitors a taste of yesteryear's peace and quiet with all the modern conveniences. For prices ranging from $100 to $160 per night, you can sleep in the comfort of billowy linens, soak in your in-room whirlpool, then lounge in the plush robe you'll be provided. Williams serves a gourmet breakfast, complete with fresh baked bread and buttermilk scones, at the civilized hour of 9:30 a.m. --and you're invited to raid the fridge for ice cream or dip into the always-filled cookie jar at any time. If you want to get out and about, bicycles are available. The pace is nice and slow, so plan to veg out.



Historic inn offers glimpse of bygone era

When Milford was born in the early 1850s, cotton was king. Then a little town growing bigger, Milford soon became the home of the Texas Presbyterian School for Girls. The dormitory housed 31 people and was built from bricks made on the property and cypress wood hauled from Louisiana by oxen.

After the school moved to Sherman, the building became a hotel. Among its guests was a baroness who arrived in 1893 for an extended stay and swept everyone away with her charm and special parties. Her unfortunate baron found destiny awaiting him at the end of a rope, and she faded into the mists of time, as did the hotel.

The building, which became a boarding-house before being abandoned, waited in silence through decades for someone with vision and determination to come along and see its potential.

That person arrived in the 1990s. By then the structure, with its broken windows and fallen timbers, bordered on being condemned.

Today Milford, located off Interstate 35 about 30 miles north of Waco, is a self-proclaimed town of "600 friendly people and three or four grouches." The owner of The Baroness Inn Bed and Breakfast is among those "friendly people," greeting each visitor with a warm smile and often a welcoming hug.

Evelyn Williams knew from the moment she spotted the boarded-up structure on the main street what it could become. She had to wait years for the dream she saw that day to become a reality. So wait she did, surviving months that stretched into years of trying to buy the property and, once acquired, five years of renovation.

"My mother mad the mistake of telling me you can do anything you want to, so I believe you can have anything in the world you want if you give up the belief you can't have it," Williams said during a visit to the Baroness Inn. "The thing that keeps us from doing things is that we think we can't do them."

Those who walk into the building, which is more than 150 years old, find lavish Victorian elegance and a hostess (Evelyn) and host (Harry) who carry the meaning of Southern hospitality to a new level of gracious charm. The parties the original baroness threw at the hotel surely must pale in comparison to the events Williams plans and carries out, including murder mystery weekends throughout the year and Victorian Christmases complete with a Dickens' Roast Goose and Spirits Nine-Course Christmas Dinner Theatre in December. "I consider myself a director," Williams said. "Staying here is an event. We do everything we can to make our guests welcome and to give them a memorable stay."

What the Victorians did not have that can be found in several of the guest rooms are private baths. Several have a Jacuzzi.

All of the guest rooms are upstairs. A long hallway runs the length of the structure from front to back on both levels. Upstairs, the hallway houses a comfortable sitting area and a selection of videos, board games, snacks and cold drinks.

Downstairs, the inn includes two parlors for guests and a formal dining room where breakfast and dinner are served. The building has a front and back porch as well as a front and back balcony. All are perfect for sitting and relaxing. Upon request, romantic dinners for two are served in the room or on the balcony.

A second building in back provides space for workshops and communal boardinghouse lodging upstairs. Since opening its doors Nov. 4, 2001, The Baroness Inn, 206 S. Main Street (877-993-4924) has been the site of weddings, receptions, conferences and workshops. This spring, Mrs. Williams is expanding events to include dinner theatre.

There's also a ghost or two haunting the place, writes Michael Whitington in "Ghosts of North Texas."

"Not only does the bed and breakfast have a few friendly ghosts, but it is one of the most delightful places I visited," Whitington said in his book, which includes several ghostly incidents at the Inn.

"Evelyn told me about one couple who was attending the murder mystery weekend at the Baroness Inn," said Whitington. "While everyone was telling ghost stories, the husband laughed at the very idea of ghosts. As everyone retired for the evening, he decided to sit out on the second-story back porch for a little while longer, and his wife retired to Lady Roxanne's Room."

"This particular upstairs room is decorated in warm colors, with a huge canopied pine bed and a private bath that features a corner marble Jacuzzi tub for two and a pedestal sink from 1900, making it a wonderful selection for a stay at the Baroness."

"As the gentleman sat outside, relaxing and staring out at the evening stars, he felt a gentle hand touch his shoulder. The man was sure it was his wife who'd come outside from their room. He smiled and turned his head, only to find that he was alone out there on the porch."

Another ghost story Whitington recounts in his book is told in the words of the guest who experienced the encounter: "My husband and I had spent some times laughing in the Jacuzzi tub, which for no apparent reason started jetting water up into the air..."

"We had arrived late and I was tired. ... I woke up about 2 o'clock in the morning because I was freezing cold. I thought my husband had stolen my covers, but they were tucked up to my chin. I must have been gripping them in the night."

"Settling back to sleep, I heard a woman's voice whispering. It was barely audible, but she seemed to be instructing me on how to lace up my boots. She mentioned 'pulling up my stockings' then tying by 'drawing the laces tight'."

"At that moment it dawned on me that someone was talking to me. I poked my husband, but he just rolled over. I sat up for many minutes, but nothing more happened. The room temperature seemed to go back to normal."

Whitington notes "the ghosts who occasionally show up at the Baroness Inn are gentle and benevolent; they seem to be young ladies who are reaching out to the living."

While the visiting spirits don't appear to include the baroness who made such an impression on the town in 1893, "her taste for elegance and hospitality are well represented," Whitington said. "It is a wonderful place and would be perfect for a romantic weekend."

A walk down Main Street reveals a few businesses, some empty storefronts and a small grocery with a café in the back where folks are friendly even to strangers. As Whitington said in his book, "The city's growth has slowly started to climb, ... as people are starting to rediscover its small-town charm."

Located where the old Chisholm Trail split towards Dallas and Fort Worth, the Baroness Inn Bed and Breakfast delivers, in addition to an occasional ghostly visit from those who may have been the original residents, what the Inn's brochure claims: "Enchanting overnight lodging, elegant yet relaxed fine dining and the unhurried genteel times of the turn-of-the century."

Ghosts of North Texas

an excerpt from the book
Ghosts of North Texas
by Mitchel Whitington

I only found one haunted location in the city of Milford, but, man, was it a doozy! Not only does the bed and breakfast have a few friendly ghosts, but it is one of the most delightful places I have visited while putting this book together. I think one of the most attractive things about the place was the second story front porch, which overlooks downtown Milford, a sleepy little community with lots of character. When I return there, I'm going to sit out there on the porch just as soon as dusk sets in and watch the slow, small-town life closing down for the day.

The city itself started in the early 1850s, when several families came to the Mill Creek valley and purchased land there. In 1854 the town was laid out just south of the creek, and the name Milford was chosen by one of the founders, after a small town near Boston, Massachusetts. I also heard the name came from a place to cross in Mill Creek - a ford - hence the name Milford, but how towns actually get their names is often the cause of arguments. However it got its name, things started cropping right up; a general store, a schoolhouse that doubled as a church, and a gristmill. The town officially incorporated in 1888.

Cotton was king in Milford back in those days. The railroad reached the town in 1890, making it the central shipping point for the area's many cotton farmers. There was a sudden explosion of commerce. In just a few years, there were three churches, two cotton gins, necessary businesses such as bank and hotel, and various other stores to serve the ever-increasing population. The Texas Presbyterian College for Women located there in 1902, something that will factor into the haunted location when we start talking about it shortly.

The Great Depression hit Milford hard, though, and the town never quite recovered. The college closed down, many businesses folded, and by 1968 the town had reached its low point of population.

Strategically located between Hillsboro and Waxahachie, the city's growth has slowly climbed, however, as people are starting to rediscover its small-town charm. Whether you're looking for a place to live or simply a chance to get away for a weekend, give Milford a try; I fell in love with it. And the best introduction to Milford you'll find is at the Baroness Inn.

The Young Ladies of the Baroness Inn

Walk through the front door of the Baroness Inn, and you're going to get a hug. Evelyn's just that kind of hostess. You'll quickly find that you're at home in the Baroness Inn, lavishly decorated in Victorian elegance. It didn't always look like that, though.

While driving through the small Texas town of Milford, an old, abandoned building caught the eye of Evelyn Williams. Love at first site tends to supercede trespassing laws, so she parked her car and waded right into the ruins of the long-forgotton building. While everyone else saw broken glass, fallen timbers, and a building that bordered on being condemned, Evelyn was already decorating her inn and planning breakfasts for her guests.

She told me that her mother always said, "Honey, you can do anything you set your mind to." That lady must have been right, because after I saw the photos of the building in its state when Evelyn purchased it, I realized it would take someone with an incredible vision and dedication to turn the place into something that was even habitable, much less a beautiful inn that would attract visitors to the charming little town of Milford, Texas.

But Evelyn worked her magic, even though the renovation and restoration would be a five-year process. During that time, little things started to happen here and there that made her think something unusual was occurring at her inn.

In Evelyn's own words, "Apparently things were going on during the five years of remodeling, and we just did not realize what was causing it. In the beginning these were just annoying circumstances that kept repeating. I was in the midst of getting everything done, and we found that we just had no explanation for the incidents. I had so much going on at the time I didn't give them very much thought, except that they just kept happening! It wasn't until these things started occurring with my guests that I began to realize we were dealing with something more than just circumstances." She cited some specific examples of the strange phenomenon to me: "My home had to have five years of extensive remodeling. I know you've been around construction sites enough to know how contractors will turn the radio up loud so they can hear it wherever they are in the building. It was during this process that the radio would all of a sudden switch stations. At first they thought one of their group might have changed it and kind of let it ride and started fussing at one another to quit changing the station. They would then find out that no one was touching the radio. They became spooked at one particular time when everyone was working all together and the radio in the hall switched stations. The workers looked at one another, put it back to country western music, and went back to work; then the radio changed the station again. At that point they knew no one else was around. It scared them bad enough that they left the job site immediately. They had a talk with me to advise me that they did not intend to work late evenings anymore."

The workers didn't have to be frightened, as it turns out. The spirits of the Baroness Inn, whoever they may be, are very friendly. Perhaps the events with the radio were just a little prank played on the men who were causing all the noise and commotion at the house.

Ms. Williams got a call during the course of the restoration from her neighbor. He said, "Evelyn, you might want to check the windows better; there were two open this morning as I was leaving for work," She told him that she appreciated the fact that he was keeping an eye on the place, and he even went in to close them since he had a key for just such reasons. She received similar reports from other friends in the area, to the point where she called the person overseeing the work on the inn to make him aware of the problem. He told her, "It's the strangest thing. I've made a point of driving by every evening to make sure everything is locked up tight. Bedogged if I haven't driven by the very next morning and these two windows were up. I can't figure it out!"

As restoration continued, along with the mysterious happenings in the building, Evelyn started doing research on its history. She soon found out it had been the girl's dorm for the Presbyterian Girls College. In 1850 Texas Presbyterian College put out a request for bids for a home for its school for girls. The city of Milford made an offer that was accepted by the college: ten acres of land and $25,000 cash. To build the dormitory, the bricks for the walls were made on the property itself, and the cypress wood for the heavy structural beams was hauled in from Louisiana by oxen. The Texas Presbyterian School for Girls opened in Milford, and the dormitory housed thirty-one people: twenty-two students and nine faculty members.

Some years later the college moved to Sherman, and the building became a hotel for the city of Milford. From there it had a stint as a boardinghouse before it was abandoned and starting falling into ruins - and started its wait for Evelyn.

Once her restoration was complete and the bed & breakfast was open, the spirits became a little bolder, actually appearing to a few couples that were chosen - for whatever reason - for a visit from the other side. Keep in mind that the ghosts who occasionally show up at the Baroness Inn are gentle and benevolent; they seem to be young ladies who are reaching out to the living.

Evelyn told me about one couple who was attending the Murder Mystery weekend at the Baroness Inn. While everyone was telling ghost stories, the husband laughed at the very idea of ghosts. As everyone retired for the evening, he decided to sit out on the second-story back porch for a little while longer, and his wife retired to Lady Roxanne's Room. This particular upstairs room is decorated in warm colors, with a huge canopied pine bed and a private bath that features a corner marble Jacuzzi tub for two and a pedestal sink from 1900, making it a wonderful selection for a stay at the Baroness.

As the gentleman sat outside, relaxing and staring out at the evening stars, he felt a gentle hand touch his shoulder. The man was sure it was his wife who'd come outside from their room. He smiled and turned his head, only to find that he was alone out there on the porch. That incident made a believer out of him!

Another encounter with one of the spirits happened to a female guest who was staying with her husband in the Baroness' Room, which not only has a luxurious four poster bed with a canopy of white lace and flowers, but, also a marble Jacuzzi tub surrounded by beveled mirrors and Corinthian marble columns. Believe me, this is one of the most romantic rooms in the entire inn.

Anyway, Evelyn provided me with an account of the experience there in the guest's own words. "My husband and I had spent some time laughing in the Jacuzzi tub, which for no apparent reason started jetting water up into the air, soaking the ceiling, mirrors, and walls of the room. We had turned the jets on and off twice before it finally worked correctly. We had arrived very late, and I was tired. We barely said goodnight to Evelyn and tried the tub before bed. That night I didn't sleep well - tossing and turning for some time before falling asleep. I woke up about 2:00 in the morning, because I was freezing cold. I thought my husband had stolen my covers, but, they were tucked up to my chin. I must have been gripping them in the night. Settling back to sleep, I heard a woman's voice whispering. It was barely audible, but she seemed to be instructing me on 'how to lace up my boots'. She mentioned 'pulling up my stockings' then tying by 'drawing the laces tight'. At that moment it dawned on me that someone was talking to me. I poked my husband, but he just rolled over. I sat up for many minutes, but nothing more happened. The room temperature seemed to go back to normal. In the morning my husband remembered me trying to wake him, but he never heard anything."

That wasn't the only occurrence in the Baroness' Room, however. Another couple was spending the night there and were in the Jacuzzi tub together. They happened to glance back at the bed, and sitting on the edge was a young lady in her early twenties, just staring at them. As they watched, she slowly disappeared before their eyes. The couple threw on clothes, quickly packed, and ran down the stairs and knocked on Evelyn's door. They told her they were leaving immediately, but she finally calmed the pair down and convinced them to accompany her back up to the room. When she opened the door, she saw that the imprint of someone's bottom was clearly visible on the side of the bed. The couple swore it was exactly where the girl had been sitting, and that neither of them had gone near the bed since her appearance. The couple finally agreed to stay the rest of the night, but Evelyn told me, "I don't think they were ever really comfortable".

I was very comfortable when I visited the Inn, though. When you stay there, be sure to get directions to the old cemetery, where you can literally spend hours examining the ancient headstones. Evelyn can also point you to the hanging tree, where justice was dispensed with a rope many years ago in Milford. The Baron was hanged there, which brings up a town legend of a lady who was the namesake for the Inn: The Baroness.

Evelyn explained the legend of the Baroness quite well: "She looked every inch the Baroness that day in 1893 when her carriage drove into Milford. Her gown, deep cranberry velvet with satin trim, perfectly complimented her platinum hair. Her hat added another foot to her already tall and shapely form. It was made with yards and yards of organza and had deep pink ostrich feathers flowing in all directions. The sun shining through the pink feathers of her had made her look as though she was descending from the clouds into their little town. All the people in this tiny cotton mill town stopped and stared! Even the wealthy cotton merchants who did business in town were impressed. They knew they were seeing someone very special!

She and the Baron stayed at the only hotel in town - the building that today is the Baroness Inn - and soon she was hosting elaborate parties for the cotton farmers and making the ladies in town feel special at her teas! It seemed as if she made the entire town feel special and alive. Even after the Baron left she continued to be the grand hostess. She explained that the Baron told her to wait right there while he attended to some pressing business. She knew he would come back, but in the meantime she had the philosophy of blooming where she was planted!"

The Baron did return, but the tables had turned somewhat. He had cheated several people in town and was quickly tried and executed down at the hanging tree.

While it doesn't seem to be the spirit of the Baroness that remains in the hotel, her taste for elegance and hospitality are well represented. It is a wonderful place and would be perfect for a romantic weekend. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to share this story, but Evelyn told me about one guest from the Metroplex who'd forgotten his wedding anniversary. He took off an hour or so early from work and drove down to the Inn to leave the luggage that he'd packed for himself and his wife. When he returned later that evening with his lovely lady, she was blindfolded, having been told that he was taking her to a secret getaway he'd been planning for their anniversary. (Married men, are you taking notes here?) They apparently enjoyed their stay there, never coming down from the second floor the entire weekend. Evelyn told me they were leaving food outside the door to the couple's room, and later they'd find the dirty dishes, so at least they knew they were still alive!

As I was leaving the Baroness Inn, I asked Evelyn if she'd ever seen one of the ghosts. "No, but I've heard someone walking the upstairs hall. She paces from one end to the other, and I've found all the doors up there closed, even though I'd left them open on my last trip up. Another time, I was in bed and heard someone walking down the back stairs. The Inn was empty, so I knew what it had to be. I jumped up, and sure enough, there was no one there - at least, no one that I could see."

When I left the Inn, Evelyn had to give me a hug, because Evelyn's just that kind of hostess. You'll quickly find you're at home in the Baroness Inn.



Texas Highways October 2002

an excerpt from the magazine
Texas Highways
October 2002 Issue
by Don Patterson

Autumn can bring a chill to the air that has little to do with the weather. While resident Texas ghosts, ghouls, and goblins make appearances year round, October often inspires the spirits to doubly celebrate the season. So, as we visit some of the mysterious beings that haunt the Lone Star State, gather your spirit-chasing gear and a sweater, not to mention your wits about you....

THE BENEVOLENT BARONESS

The sleepy town of Milford is home to a bed-and-breakfast inn that places a capital H on the word Haunting. Originally built as a dormitory, the building later became a hotel, boardinghouse, antique shop, halfway house for recuperating mental patients, and finally, in 2000, after several years of restoration, the Baroness Inn. Tales tell of long-gone, unnamed lodgers who persist in maintaning residency.

Owner and host Evelyn Williams graciously shares her property with the tenant spirits, who, she says, appear friendly and frolicsome. Some are downright whimsical and delight in "spooking" visitors just for the fun of it. One ghost has demonstrated an aversion to modern country music and an appetite for fresh air and classical composers. Sharron Looney, Evelyn's sister and manager of the restored property, tells of the specter's peculiar habits. "At the end of each day while restoring the building" says Sharron, "workers would lock all the doors and windows to guard against vandalism. To give the appearance that the building was occupied, they'd leave the radios on, tuned to a local station playing country music. In the morning, we would invariably find one window open, with the radios tuned to a classical station."

Visitors to the inn report other sightings and sounds, including visions of the rooms' previous occupants, not to mention footsteps in the hallways and on the veranda and stairways. Milford resident Marcia Cheatham remembers being awakened during an overnight stay by the sound of children playing and laughing in the main hallway. "Children never stay at the inn," Marcia recalls, "yet I heard them right outside my door."

"My guests often tell me that they've seen the Baroness, a well-dressed woman we think was the wife of a wealthy English cotton baron, who lived here in the 1870s," says Evelyn Williams. "The story goes that he went away on a business trip, having told his wife he'd return soon. He never did, though, and it was discovered he had been killed not far from here."

Evelyn honers the Baron, Baroness, and other occupant spirits by hosting frequent murder-mystery weekends, complete with costumes, a scavenger hunt, and scripts that will make your spine tingle. "With its history of hauntings," she says, "what better setting than this old inn?"

Overnight guests at Milford's Baroness Inn, built in 1850 as a girls' dormitory, often tell owner Evelyn Williams that they've seen or felt the presence of ghosts. Spirits or none, you'll enjoy sumptuously appointed rooms, delicious meals, and gracious hospitality.

Texas Highways photographer J. Griffis Smith stayed at the Baroness Inn while shooting this story. Late at night, he says he had the eerie sensation that someone - or some thing - was rocking him back and forth.




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