Periodically over the past forty-six plus years the General (aka – my wife) and I have fantasized living in a turn of the century home. We’ve always had a love for antiques and could easily see ourselves making our home in a dwelling place rich with an illustrative history. If you’re dreaming, why not go all the way. How about a vintage home located near the Capitol in Austin? When we first moved to Austin in the mid-1970s, we drove through neighborhoods filled with the kind of charm we hoped one day to call our own.
Some folks would call it a pipe dream. In reality, we’ve always had the good fortune to live in comfortable surroundings, but the old house with Victorian charm or a turn of the century craftsman style home has never come to fruition. All of those neighborhoods are reserved for folks who have financial resources well beyond our ability. Consequently, we’re content and pleased to be living on the edge of heaven with a view of the hill country.
This past weekend when we stayed at the Strauss Haus in Cat Spring, we momentarily envisioned what it would be like to live in a turn of the century home filled with history. The house is absolutely magnificent. Truthfully, I could move in and not change a thing. Everywhere you look the house is filled with treasures from long ago.
Maybe it’s because we’ve never purchased a home that had more than one previous owner, but I’ve never considered the thoughts one would have related to the origin of their home or curiosity about the lifestyle and activities of the previous owners.
Some time ago a friend told me about a visit she and her husband had with Charles and Mary Wright. Mr. Wright was the Director of Texas Baptist Children’s Home when I started to work for the agency in 1989. He subsequently retired and moved to Alpine, Texas in 1990. While he was living in Alpine, my friend and her husband went to see them. My friend had spent a number of her childhood years living with her grandparents in Marfa. While they were visiting the Wrights, Mr. Wright suggested they drive over to Marfa. In fact, they were able to locate the home where my friend’s grandparents had lived. She said just seeing the neighborhood and the house filled her with memories and joy.
My friend was shocked when Mr. Wright insisted on stopping the car at the home where she had lived. He went to the door and knocked. He introduced himself and explained to the current owner that he had a friend with him who had spent her childhood years in that home. He asked if they’d consider letting her walk through their home and see it once again. They were delighted to do so.
My friend who shared the story with me said that the opportunity of walking through the house and meeting the current owners was something she valued. She had the opportunity to share her story and that of her grandparents. In addition, the current owners talked about their lives and how much they enjoyed living in the home. She said she didn’t have the words to express how much that experience had meant, but through the process it transported her back in time and the memories she gleaned were wonderful.
While we were in the Strauss Haus, I couldn’t help but wonder about the family who originally lived in the home. In 2015, the house is posh. I can’t imagine how much more so it was a hundred years ago.
Obviously the owners were leading citizens of the community. They operated the H.A. Strauss General Merchandise mercantile store located next door to their home. Actually, the mercantile store was located at the site prior to the home being located next door. According to the historical record, the home’s original site was located across the railroad tracks.
Bernice Strauss Volkening (daughter of the original owner) wrote in her book: “By now things had changed a lot in Cat Spring. The bank failure (following the Great Depression) had hurt the community and slowly businesses either closed up or moved to Sealy. The saddle-shop next to my father’s store had moved to Sealy, along with the owner’s home, which had been right behind the shop. This left an empty space next to the store, and Dad was still keeping the store open until all hours to accommodate the late farmers. Dad decided to buy the land next door because it would be a lot handier to have our house next to the store instead of across the tracks. So, he bought the lots and moved our house. This was no small job because our house was a two-storied building. They had to move the house along the entire length of the lumberyard and then lift it over the railroad tracks with the two ditches on either side of the tracks. Going over the tracks had to be timed just right between trains. I had come home for the weekend while the house sat alongside of the lumberyard. The next time I came home, the house was in place.”
The Strauss Haus is a home with an illustrative history. The owners were obviously mainstay residents, business owners and leaders in their community. Their contributions continue to live on in Cat Spring where family, faith, a respect for one’s land and the importance of being a good neighbor continue as driving forces in the lifestyle and values the community holds dear.
If walls could talk, what stories would they tell? I gleaned from Mrs. Volkening’s book that at one point, the home’s parlor was used to hold a wake. “One of her father’s cousin’s had died in Houston and he was to be buried in Cat Spring. His body was being shipped up on the 1:00 a.m. train and, since our house was so handy, the coffin was to be carried to our house. The funeral services would be held then next day.” Consequently, their home became a gathering place for kinfolk and pallbearers.
I remember from my early childhood years, going to my great paternal grandfather’s funeral. His body, too, was on display in the front room of his home. From the perspective of a small child, I found that a little frightening. Who’s to say what the response was at the Strauss Haus from the children who accompanied their parents to the wake?
Interestingly, my granddaughter shared some information related to a piece of furniture located in one of the upstairs bedrooms that I found interesting. Reportedly, the oak armoire or wardrobe came into possession of the Strauss family about the time the house was moved to its current location. Because of its size, it was placed in a second floor bedroom before the upstairs windows were installed. Once in the house, its location was fixed. There is no way to move it down the staircase.
Jenna, my granddaughter, said she should would have spent Friday night with us at the Strauss Haus, but that she was too frightened to sleep in one of the upstairs bedrooms. The General and I toured the upstairs on Friday night and found it a very comfortable two bedroom, two-bathroom suite. I told her I couldn’t imagine anything frightening about the second floor of the house.
She replied, “Then you didn’t see the bullet hole in the wardrobe in the blue bedroom. A man was killed inside there”. “What? Are you kidding me?” Before Jenna could answer, her maternal grandmother offered a correction to the story. The man who was shot didn’t die. The bullet hit him in the leg.
According to story, the wooden wardrobe that the Strauss family acquired previously belonged to another family. When they got it, it came with a bullet hole in one of the doors. Along with the story, there is a hint related to a lack of discretionary judgment. Apparently the husband, thinking a man was hiding in the wardrobe, choose to shoot and ask questions later. In the process, the man hiding in the wardrobe was shot in the leg.
Perhaps it is a good thing that walls can’t talk. At any rate, I’d gladly opt to have a piece of furniture with that kind of history. If nothing else, it would be a great conversation starter.
All My Best!