Gonzales, Texas, may not immediately spring to mind as a vacation destination; however, Gonzales holds a special place in the history of Texas as the beginning of the Texas War for Independence from Mexico, and so if you are taking a trip to, or in the vicinity of Gonzales, if you love history, you will love visiting the historic houses in the area. In addition to the annual celebration and re-enactment of "Come and Take it Day," there are many tourist attractions related to Texas history in the area, but as for me, I love to look at historic houses, furnishings, furniture, dishes, and the rest, and imagine how people lived a hundred and fifty years ago (like all the different reality shows on television, where they have people live in recreations of different time eras).
Near Gonzales, Texas, the site of the "Texas Shot Heard 'Round the World," there are a number of historic houses; some are open all year, and others only at specific times. In each case you should call or write ahead to verify that the house will be open -- natural disasters happen, houses undergo restoration, or sometimes the owners just want to use their house for a while for themselves!
The James Bailey Wells House -- This structure has fifteen rooms, built of long-leaf Florida pine, by T. N. Matthews in 1885 (about fifty years after the start of the War for Texas Independence from Mexico). Managed by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in Gonzales, the historic building is open to the public on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., for an admission charge of $5. Features to note include the original wallpaper, curtains, light fixtures, and furniture, and the whole building is mostly in its original condition.
The J. W. Bailey House -- A Queen Anne style structure, built in 1897 by J. W. Bailey and Nannie C. Bailey. This house features locally manufactured brick piers, a wrap-around porch, and a light tower covered in fish scale shingles. Access to the house from the porch is provided by nine-foot French windows, and the building has three fireplaces. If you visit at Christmas, the owners, who completed the restoration of the house in 2002, decorate the living room of the house with a Christmas tree with lighted candles.
The Coke E. Dilworth House -- Built by Coke Emory Dilworth and his wife, Leonora, this house is now a bed and breakfast called the Belle Oaks Inn. A Greek Revival building designed in 1912 by J. Riley Gordon, this two-story house has an L shaped porch and a full second floor balcony. The terrazzo floors, inlaid parquet floors, grand staircase and fireplaces are original to the house, and the gardens, terraces, carriage house, and koi pond have been completely restored; the owners, Clint Hille and Richard Tiller, are carefully completing the restoration of the property.
The Jacob Stahl House -- another Queen Anne style structure, this home was built in 1907 by Jacob Stahl, and his wife, Selma, and they lived in the house until their deaths. The new owners began restoration of this house in 2008, and it is open to the public, subject to the ongoing restoration process. The building has a striking front porch, and is crowned with a cupola. Especially interesting are the long leaf pine wall construction and the exceptional crown moulding. The house is open by appointment only, so make sure to make arrangements to see the house before you travel.
The J. S. Douglass House -- Built in 1915 by the Gonzales banker J. S. Douglass, the floors of this structure are exceptional: the sunroom has floors of long leaf pine; the living room has oak beams and oak floors with elaborate walnut inlays; and the dining room features oak wainscoting. The three fireplaces, most of the light fixtures, and and the upstairs bathroom fixtures are original, as are the large stained glass windows in the dining room. This building has a self guided tour available, so check with the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce to see the house.
The Eggleston House -- The oldest surviving dog run style house in Texas, and probably the oldest surviving building in Gonzales, this structure built in 1848 is currently maintained by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas of Gonzales, and is made entirely of logs hewn by hand. This building has been completely restored and filled with period furnishings, so that it is authentic to the period. A self guided tour with a recording is available from the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce.
The Braches House -- Replacing a structure built by Sarah Ann McClure and Bartlett D. McClure in 1831 (destroyed in the Runaway Scrape), this 1843 house in Greek Revival style is somewhat east of Gonzales, but is also home to the Runaway Scrape Oak, a famous tree of Texas. The house is open for tours on the last Saturdays of April, May and July; during the "Come and Take It" Day festival; and on the first Saturday and Sunday in December, or by appointment. You can make arrangements to visit the building at other times by contacting the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce, and admission is $3 for adults, and $1 for children under 12 years of age.
Visiting these historic houses is a remarkable experience -- almost literally stepping back in time to see how our ancestors lived, and the sense of history and significance surrounding these houses is truly breathtaking. So if you are planning a trip to historic Gonzales, Texas, be sure to stop by and see these beautiful, carefully restored and maintained houses, and plan a really different vacation. You'll be amazed at the care and attention to detail with which these houses were built, and you will have had a trip that is sure to be different from anyone else's. If you homeschool, or you are interested in Texas history, this vacation is sure to be a winner. Come on, isn't that a lot more refreshing than yet another trip to Disney?
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