After Texas became a state in 1845, the legislature allocated $14,500 to build the home. Abner Cook, a renowned Austin builder, designed the home in the Greek Revival style. Cook had vision and creativity. He had a clay pit near the construction site where he made the mansion’s bricks.
First of its sort west of the Mississippi, the Texas Governor’s Mansion has seen death and drama, political happiness and sadness, marriages, festivities, wakes, and numerous visits from Sam Houston’s ghost.
Texas Governor’s Mansion’s Dark Time
On June 8, 2008, an unnamed arsonist threw a Molotov cocktail on the front porch, virtually putting an end to all of that history. The incident occurred on the same day. Officials have stated that if the historic site had been allowed to burn for an additional ten minutes, it most likely would have been removed from the landscape of Texas.
After more than three years, the arduous rehabilitation of the Greek Revival structure finally approached completion in 2011. Even though the roof and front windows were destroyed, the majority of the building survived the fire, including the ornate ceiling cornices and pine wood subflooring.
Before the fire, the building was used to store antique furniture, lighting fixtures, and art. All of those things will now be moved into the building. And visitors will be able to go back to the historic house at some point in the near future.
“We really lost very little,” said Dealey Herndon, who is in charge of the restoration at the Texas State Preservation Board. The genuine historic fabric was preserved and, in some ways, strengthened. We were able to repair a 150- (almost 160-) year-old house that had been severely damaged.
Water from the firefighting efforts flooded the basement, leaving 8 inches of standing water inside the mansion. However, once the char had cured and the mold had been removed, the skilled millwork and craftsmanship had generally survived intact beneath the char.
It’s astonishing that they were able to manufacture something so perfectly straight. Moreover, Chief Plasterer Albert Clemon Fountain stated, “Even with contemporary technology, staff still have problems matching the old skill.”
The exterior of the mansion has recently been extensively renovated. Interior renovations and a back addition are scheduled to be completed in June 2012. According to Herndon, visitors will not notice many changes on the inside, but the private living rooms upstairs will be significantly improved, and the outside will be completely redone.
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To make the gated entrance pedestrian-friendly, security bollards will obstruct Colorado Street. The perimeter’s original white brick fence will be destroyed and replaced with a wrought-iron ornamental fence. It was erected after John Connally was shot in Dallas during the Kennedy assassination in 1963.
The building will have greenery. 53 300-foot wells were drilled for a geothermal heat pump that uses the earth’s constant temperature for cooling and heating. Solar collectors on the roof will provide most of the home’s hot water.
Herndon said, “It saves a ton of electricity.” It’s simply the right thing to do.
More than 1,500 square feet will be added to renovate the upstairs private rooms, conform with the ADA, and create a new kitchen scullery. The basement will be larger to accommodate new fire suppression, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. New guard station and security checkpoint will be outside.
Since 1856, Abner Cook’s Greek Revival-style palace has been the Texas Governor’s Mansion. Sam Houston’s spirit reportedly paces the palace while considering whether Texas should secede in 1861.
There are also rumors that Pendleton Murrah’s nephew, who used to be governor, still haunts the mansion and can be heard crying at strange times. During the Civil War, the nephew killed himself by shooting himself in an upstairs room on the north side of the building. He did this because he asked a beautiful young woman who was staying at the mansion to marry him and she said no.
The Texas Governor’s Mansion has hosted numerous weddings, and numerous dignitaries, including the Queen of England, have paid the historic structure a visit. Former governor George W. Bush sat there in vain, waiting to learn the outcome of the 2000 presidential election, which wasn’t decided until his victory in Florida.
Further Renovation of Texas Governor’s Mansion
Rick Perry, who became governor on December 21, 2000, vacated the residence in 2007 so that the state could restore it and make improvements, including the installation of a fire safety system. The four-poster bed used by Sam Houston was removed by project management along with the rest of the furnishings. At the time, it cost the state $30 and was custom-made to fit Houston’s massive frame.
Priceless works of art such as Robert Onderdonk’s “The Fall of the Alamo” and a portrait of Davy Crockett were also returned to the house after renovations, as were items like Stephen F. Austin’s writing desk and numerous antique chandeliers.
The legislature has set aside $21.5 million for mansion repairs, with an additional $3.5 million coming from private donations.
Some claimed that the mansion couldn’t be rebuilt because it nearly burned down due to arson, an unsolved crime. Some have proposed turning it into a museum. Despite her strong desire to preserve history, Herndon would rather see the mansion demolished than used for anything other than the Texas governor’s mansion.
The incumbent governor hopes to accept his party’s presidential nomination by the time he’s approved to return to office this summer. In either case, public tours should resume soon.
Herndon asserts that the architecture of the home and the fact that every governor has lived there are what give it its true significance. The Perry family is “ferociously committed to bringing the public back in.”
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