The first record of Europeans in the area that would later become Utopia is in 1790 when Juan de Ugalde successfully united the tribes of Comanches, Taovayas, and Tawakonis against the Apache and led them to a decisive victory. In the 1850s, after Texas became a state, settlers began arriving in the Sabinal (Ugalde) Canyon and made friendly contact with the natives. However, when many able-bodied men left their farms to fight in the United States Civil War, the land, along with the women and children, were left unprotected from the Indians who took advantage of the weak defense and raided the farms in the area.
While R.H. Kincheloe, one of the original settlers in the valley, assisted a neighboring farmer, three Indians viciously attacked his family. His wife, Sarah Ware Kincheloe, was left fighting for her life from an estimated 12 arrow and lance wounds, and her friend, Mrs. Bowlin, dead. Fortunately, their children were able to hide and did not sustain any injuries, but the attack led Kincheloe to move his recovering wife and family north. He purchased property from the European and American Colonization Society in 1870, platted the land, and settled the town of Montana, Texas, later renamed Utopia. Legend has it, the stone structure on the Utopia River Retreat site, now known as the Fortress, was originally constructed as a fort with gunports for defense against the Indian incursions into the valley. Joseph Hastler, a stonemason, is thought to have been responsible for the construction, as he built several other stone structures in Utopia.
Sources place L.D. Bownds in the valley as early as 1882, when he spent the first night in a rock house at Kincheloe Flat. He later acquired the tract of land including the fort from Kincheloe, and in 1885, Bownds moved from Arkansas with his wife Sue, two children, his mother, uncle, and three orphan children.
In 1993, descendants of L.D. Bownds restored and renovated the Fortress into living quarters. Over the next decade, the first few cabins were added to the property and made available to guests. In the 2010s, more cabins were built, and the old hay barn was restored and turned into an event center, creating the retreat facilities that exist today. After 137 years in the Bownds family, the property was purchased by the current owners in 2019.
The site has a long history of serving as a location for weddings. The first took place in 1861 when John C. Ware, the son of Captain Ware, the valley's first settler, married Elizabeth Ann Finley, daughter of Waresvilles' first postmaster. Many couples continue to choose the serene setting under the towering cypress trees lining the Sabinal River or the lawns shaded by the majestic oaks for their nuptials.
For more information on the city of Utopia, visit https://www.utopiatexas.info/about.html.