James Madison “Jim” Drace was the sixth of nine children in the family of Franklin and Louisa Drace, born on April 20, 1889. His father died in 1900, the year his little sister, Pansey Ellen, was born; his mother married Tony Haile, and another sister was born in 1903. The Hailes purchased 51 acres of prime farmland on the west bank of the Colorado River in Kingsland in 1914; their property included everything north of the railroad and east of the Antlers Hotel property. Soon after their arrival, a plank-floored iron “wagon bridge” was built just north of the railroad bridge, and a dirt road was built through their property.
Jim’s little sister, known around Kingsland as Ellen, married a popular local ranch boy named Shirley Williams in 1917; their first son was named Shirley Drace Williams, and he, too, was usually called by his middle name.
Jim Drace married Lizzie Mae Abel in 1919, and the couple lived near the Texas/Oklahoma border for a few years (during which time their son, James Richard “Dick” was born), before moving to the farm in Kingsland. Their daughter, Lucille Marie (“Marie”), was born in 1923. In 1927, after his mother and step-father had passed away, Jim bought the shares of his siblings, and made the farm his life work. He and “Mae” raised pigs and grew watermelons, corn and other produce; they had a fruit orchard and a “pecan bottom” on the riverbank. Their children grew up in Kingsland; Dick was an explorer and inventor, who collected arrowheads and worked on machines, while Marie was known as an excellent swimmer.
Dick and Marie both left Kingsland at the start of World War II. Dick joined the Army Air Corps and went to England, and Marie became a “Rosie the Riveter” factory worker in Fort Worth. Kingsland was a dying town during the 1940s; churches and the town’s school closed down, and most young people headed for the cities. The classy old Antlers Hotel had become a summer home for the Barrow family from Austin, and only one or two small businesses remained in the once-thriving town. Jim Drace was one of the leading citizens, and was elected as a county commissioner in the late 1940s.
Then the LCRA began to build a dam just a few miles downstream on the Colorado River. Jim sold the stretch of land between the dirt road and the railroad to newcomers Bill and Dolphia Bransford, who began to build tourist cabins and a boat ramp even before there was a lake. Jim had always enjoyed fishing, and when the lake filled up in 1951, he saw an opportunity to supplement the farm income and to share his love of fishing. He established “Jim’s Fishing Camp” with a fishing pier, several small shelters for camping, and ten “Lone Star” fishing boats to rent to his guests.
He didn’t have long to enjoy his new vocation. Sadly, Jim Drace died in 1952, and Mae was left to run the new business. She was a good manager, and the business grew as more and more people “discovered” Kingsland, with the miles of sparkling lake surrounding it. She also split up the farm, and enlisted the help of her relative, Drace Williams, to develop the east side of the property.
Kingsland boomed , and the little dirt road became a four-lane highway. Many of the visitors weren’t satisfied with rustic camping shelters, and Jim’s original fishing camp became Drace Vacation Camp, with spaces for RVs and mobile homes. When Mae passed away in 1982, her grandchildren took over the management of the popular camp.
Drace Vacation Camp became a multi-generational tradition for many families through the years, but Kingsland is changing and Jim’s grandchildren are reaching the age when they’d really like to retire and travel. They sold the property last year, and the new owners have big plans for an upscale lakefront residential community on the now-very-valuable property. A new chapter is beginning at the old Drace farm!
Written by John Hallowell
Photos Provided by Shirley Faske