A Bandito, a Gentleman and an Architect
Posted on January 28, 2016
On a moonlit night in the rugged Hill Country of Texas the lone shadow of a man was cast upon a dusty road. As the stagecoach approached at startling speed with “flying hooves and churning wheels” the dark figure raised his imaginary pistols high into the air. A shotgun blast from the stage scout rang through the night as two other figures in broad sombreros stepped from the shadows firing their pistols. A rope stretched tightly across the road brought the coach to a sudden stop.
Recognized by one of the passengers, Alfred now stood accused before a judge in San Antonio facing the accuser, “that dadgum architect ya’ll hired up in Fredericksburg is robbing stage coaches!” The dashing young architect cut a fine figure as he defended himself in a proper English accent, for he had narrowly escaped with his life after being forced by gunpoint to assist the bandits after they had robbed the very stagecoach he had been traveling on to oversee the construction on the courthouse he had designed in Gillespie County.
So eloquent was Alfred Giles’s defense that the daughter of one of the city’s most prosperous citizens, Annie Laura James, asked her father if she might attend the opening of the new Bexar County Jail the young man had just designed and built. Alfred was as well smitten, and soon the couple would forever tell friends and acquaintances that “they had met in jail.”
The young architect, Alfred Giles, was not from Texas, but was born to a family of high standing in England. Growing up on the family’s agrarian estate, The Laurels, just outside of London, where he had lived a cultivated Victorian life. After studying “Arts of Construction” at Kings College in London the young man had come to the famous health spas of San Antonio after a battle with rheumatic fever in 1875 at the young age of 22.
Frontier Texas must have seemed a dangerous, wild and exotic place for the Englishman, but in 1882 it was also fast growing, and soon Alfred would build one of the most successful architectural practices in Texas, even opening a branch office in Mexico.
After returning to England for a short period to settle the family estate, Alfred & Annie returned to Texas to establish one of Kerr Counties first large ranch deeds in the wilderness near where he had once had his harrowing encounter with banditos. From there, he would travel to his architectural office in San Antonio, leaving at 3 am by horse to catch a train at the nearest station, where upon arriving at his office he would release a passenger pigeon to inform his dear Annie of his safe arrival.
Giles quickly built the “city’s foremost practice” and would be credited with “a profound influence on the architecture of San Antonio.” He would soon become one of the regions most sought after architects, designing many fine homes, the Officer’s Quarters at Ft. Sam Houston and many public buildings and courthouses throughout Texas, as well as notable buildings throughout Mexico.
In 1902, Alfred died on his beloved ranch, Hillington, named after the hamlet in which he grew up outside of London. He had left behind both a legacy in architecture and ranching, establishing a land trust based upon the agrarian practices of his family estate in Middlesex England, even importing black Angus cattle from Scotland, which he so dearly loved. The ranch is known even today for its sustainable conservation practices. Run by Alfred & Annie’s great-grandson, Robin Giles, Hillington remains in the family today as a “Texas Century Ranch”, where six generations of the family still gather on the ranch for reunions and to tell stories of it’s founder, the gentleman bandito architect from England.