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A Mineral Wells ranch on the Brazos hands a couple, known for their love of the old, another run at restoring a historic property

By Rebecca ChristophersonFebruary 19, 2024No Comments

Crazy Waters: A Mineral Wells ranch on the Brazos hands a couple, known for their love of the old, another run at restoring a historic property

By Scott Nishimura
Photography by Mike Lewis

Just after New Year’s in Mineral Wells, miles from the 14-acre historic ranch that they’ve converted into a wedding and meeting venue and hotel, Jaye and David Arsement are showing off something else on a cold and rainy day: the home of Rest Yourself Family Ministries, a nonprofit they’ve founded on another property they saved.

It’s a discreet, residential ministry for women and children in crisis — a place where they can stay, develop skills and find the resources to get back on their feet. “This is why we do what we do,” Jaye Arsement said.

The Arsements, particularly Jaye, a longtime Tarrant County Realtor specializing in investment sales, have long had an affinity for vulnerable buildings and places — and a willingness to invest in turning them around. They bought the former Seybold Guest Ranch, on a bluff above the Brazos River less than 15 minutes west of downtown Mineral Wells, months before COVID-19 broke out. Then the couple persisted through months of renovations to get their newly named Rest Yourself River Ranch venue open — believing the pandemic and its effects would last a short time.

But Rest Yourself Family Ministries, which accepted its first resident in February last year, is about a different sort of vulnerability.

“We have helped families for years,” Jaye, an ordained nondenominational pastor, said. “For years, this has been our dream and our family’s dream.”

The ranch and ministry have been supported by one of the Arsement’s six children, Preston, a video game player with millions of YouTube followers, who’s a partner in the ranch and also gave the $250,000 grant to stake the ministry with his wife, the Arsements said.

The guest ranch — a remnant of the original 1,500-acre Seybold Ranch, plus another 35 contiguous acres the Arsements subsequently purchased that also was part of the original Seybold spread — is its own passion play. Elmer Seybold opened the guest ranch in the late 1940s, and, in its heyday during the popularity of Mineral Wells that was driven by the believed healing powers of the city’s spring waters, Seybold reportedly hosted celebrities such as Ronald Reagan, Bette Davis and John Wayne.

The property gradually fell into disrepair and cycled through various uses, including a yoga business. Jaye’s parents rented it for use by their own nonprofit during the 1990s, but were unable to buy it. Finally, in 2019, the Arsements learned the main 14 acres were for sale and came to take a look.

“For most people” the couple consulted on the project and other historical restorations they’ve done, “it’s a teardown,” David says. “Jaye is the only one who says no.”

Wires hung. Daylight showed through ceilings and walls. Windows were broken. Of course, there was no modern central air and heat. “The water cooling system was the way they did it,” David said. The property did offer cooling of the undesirable sort. “This roof wasn’t here,” he said as the couple sat in January in the restored Erma Fern Suite, named after Jaye’s grandmother. “This wall, it was dilapidated.”

Another overlay: the property is said to have been designed by the acclaimed architect Charles Dilbeck, who began his career in Tulsa, moved to Dallas during the Great Depression, and generated an estimated 500 works, mostly residential.

Seybold is believed to have hired Dilbeck to design the buildings. Willis Winters, a Dallas architect and Dilbeck expert who last year helped found the nonprofit Charles Stevens Dilbeck Architecture Conservancy based in Irving, said he’s been unable to verify definitively that Dilbeck designed the guest ranch.

“There’s no documentation, no drawings, no legal records, no property records, no family records that connect Dorothy and Elmer Seybold to Dilbeck,” Winters said. “All I’ve got is an article in the Mineral Wells Index in 2006. That’s as close as I’m going to get to documentation. But I feel pretty certain that it was designed by Dilbeck.”

At the time the guest ranch opened, Dilbeck was designing tourist courts and motor lodges and is credited with designing the “early prototype of the motel where you would pull your car into a garage and park next to your rental,” Winters said. “He really established and defined that prototype. This falls within that genre of building.”

Like Dilbeck’s lodging designs, the Seybold guest ranch is designed as donut-shaped, with all rooms facing an interior courtyard, Winters noted. Seybold claimed to have invented ranch-style architecture in Texas, but his work is more closely connected to what Winters said is a West Texas-style ranch, compared to urban ranch-style home design led by the architect David R. Williams and Williams’ protege, O’Neill Ford.

Features on the Seybold property, such as the tile rooves and rough cedar support poles on the interior, also are consistent with Dilbeck’s designs, Winters said.

Winters has studied the property for 15 years, having learned of it and driven to Mineral Wells to visit what he estimated has now been more than a dozen times. He and his wife subsequently moved to Mineral Wells. “That building is why I live here,” Winters said.

The architecture bears departures from Dilbeck designs, but those could have resulted from Seybold making changes during construction, with Dilbeck at a distance in Dallas, Winters said.

For one, the rough exterior stucco is unusual, which “you don’t find on many Dilbeck buildings,” Winters said. Dilbeck may have designed the buildings with stucco for ease of construction and lower cost compared to brick, he said. And “Seybold probably interpreted and changed a lot of what Dilbeck drew. He was on his own.”

Winters, who is assembling a catalog of Dilbeck work, estimates Dilbeck did 250-300 projects in Dallas and Texas, concentrating on Dallas’ Park Cities, Oak Cliff, and Preston Hollow. Dilbeck did what Winters estimates were 150-200 projects in Tulsa.

The Seybold property carries no historic protections. The Arsements did not seek the potentially substantial state and federal historic tax credits for their restoration work — “we had no idea what we were getting into,” Jaye says — but she said the couple has taken care to restore and retain everything it can, ranging from fixtures to ceiling beams, doors, Saltillo tile flooring and thousands of feet of decorative rope around windows.

“If I could save it, I saved it,” she said, politely declining to estimate what the family has invested in the property. “Please don’t make me cry.”

The Arsements are also trying to piece together the ranch’s cultural history. While pictures of celebrities visiting nearby properties such as the historic Baker Hotel, now under restoration in Downtown Mineral Wells, are common, no such photographic evidence exists for the Seybold Guest Ranch. Who visited remains the subject of folklore and a growing museum at Rest Yourself. The Arsements, however, have named a suite after Reagan.

“Mr. Seybold created a place for influential people to come,” Jaye said. “He allowed no pictures. We went through every single piece of trash on this property.”

Rest Yourself River Ranch opened in July 2020, less than a year after the Arsements began work on it. The work was done during the heart of COVID. “The plumbers lived on site,” David said.

The property opened with a main lodge; 25 guestrooms and suites and three cabins that can accommodate 83 overnight guests; new amphitheater overlooking a 150-foot cliff atop the Brazos; new outdoor courtyard for weddings and other gatherings; new driveway to the river and a fishing dock; and total event accommodation for 250. If all rooms and cabins are booked for an event, the ranch refers guests to other lodging in Mineral Wells.

Other repairs and improvements included:

Updated electrical system; updated or new septic and plumbing; new air conditioning including extensive use of split units; and major foundation work.

All-new bathrooms in the property’s west side rooms; all-new toilets and plumbing fixtures throughout; ADA access with ramps, widened doorways, and accessible bathrooms; and water fountains in the courtyard and water tank system for storage and filtration.

Rebuilt historic windows; rewired and repaired original indoor and outdoor chandeliers and wall sconces; and repaired doors, knobs and hardware.

Gutted and rebuilt recreation cabin; stabilized buildings and structures; updated fireplaces; and new kitchen in the main lodge.

Entry gate; fencing; and improved roads and parking.

COVID blew up the family’s original plan to use the ranch to focus on VRBO rentals. Instead, the Arsements and staff members targeted events ranging from weddings to corporate retreats, and the property slowly built that business. Today, it hosts about 1,000 people per month, with weddings booked most weekends, the Arsements said.

“It really starts to realize its potential,” Jaye said.

The ranch offers overnight hotel bookings at rates of $159-$179, and the family wants to expand that. Staff has grown to 12, including members who have brought social media, marketing and lodging expertise and built the systems necessary to expand the business. The property doesn’t have a restaurant yet, and instead uses caterers to fill orders put in by overnight guests.

Next up: the Arsements this spring expect to open the ranch’s renovated 2,200-square-foot former wranglers’ house as a cabin for rental, sleeping 12.

The couple wants to renovate an adjacent 15,000-square-foot barn with 10 more rooms and event space. And it’s eyeing a site for a swimming pool.

“We think 2024 is going to be the year” the ranch takes off, Jaye said.

It will all continue to come back to the family ministry, the Arsements said. The ministry operating budget, including compensation for four staff members, is now about $20,000 per month, funded “primarily from family,” Jaye said. The Arsements take no compensation, according to their first two annual filings through December 2022 as a nonprofit with the Internal Revenue Service. Jaye said that remains the case.

The first resident arrived in February last year, and as of early January, the ministry has served about 15, all on referral from a pastor or friend, and almost entirely from outside Palo Pinto County, the ministry staff said.

The program is designed to help residents rediscover how to take care of themselves. “It has to be someone who’s ready,” Jaye said. The facility has a capacity for 60 residents simultaneously, but the couple says growth will be intentionally slow.

“When you come to a small town and you’re new, they want to make sure you’re the real deal,” Jaye said.