The humble Huntsville home Sam Houston once called "my little cabin in the woods" has undergone numerous renovations since the winter of 1847-48 when the Texas hero and then U.S. Senator built it on the site where it stands today.

This winter, with the help of a Texas Preservation Trust Fund grant, the historic Woodland Home will undergo yet another repair--it's getting a new roof.

Though not a major renovation, the $10,000 refurbishment and the $2,500 funding initiative are being taken seriously by the staff of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum, caretakers of the hallowed structure.

"Though the $2,500 grant is not a gigantic sum, it is symbolically very important," said Patrick Nolan, director of the museum. "It is an endorsement of the project from the state's leading guardians of historic preservation."

The affirmative nod from the trust committee caps the museum's comprehensive effort to assure the renovation meets federal guidelines designed to protect national historic landmarks.

In addition to following federal criteria, Nolan said the museum has sought input from the Texas and Walker County historical commissions, from an architect specializing in historic buildings, and from a contractor experienced in historic renovations.

"We are very sensitive to the symbolic importance of this structure--in Texas in general and in Huntsville in particular," he said. "It is an icon."

Nolan also hopes the museum's preliminary precautions will prevent concerned citizens from becoming alarmed when they see the scaffolding go up and the roof come off.

The proposed re-roofing project is not nearly as extensive as a restoration undertaken in 1980, the last time the roof was replaced, Nolan said. Nevertheless, the museum is taking every precaution to maintain the building's historic integrity.

The museum will be working closely with Linda Roark, a Texas Historical Commission architect who will approve the plan, technique and materials utilized in the project.

According to Mac Woodward, curator of collections for the museum, in Houston's time the Woodland Home was roofed with hand-split shingles.

For the upcoming project, the museum officials are eyeing shingles cut from western cedar that are commercially available and meet with the approval of the Texas Historic Commission and the National Park Service.

All of the shingles used on the roofing project will be treated to ensure their longevity, Nolan said.

"The idea," Woodward explained, "is that on the kitchen and the outer buildings the roofs would have had just a rough shingle, but on the home it would have been more of a finished type shingle."

Though the contractor chosen to complete the re-roofing project is required to have experience working on historic structures, Nolan said the actual laying of the shingles will be a relatively straightforward process.

"There is not a real difference in the way shingles were laid down then and the way they are laid down today."

Nolan hopes to have the bid proposal ready to advertise sometime in early January so that the project can be completed before the museum's busy spring tourist season.

"We don't want to have the home surrounded by scaffolding and closed to the public during this period," Nolan said. "We need to do it between the first of January and the end of February or we will have to wait until June."

Houston lived in the Woodland Home approximately 10 years, from 1848 to 1858. At that time the revolutionary hero and former president of the Republic of Texas was a U.S. Senator.

The home was sold in the fall of 1858 and the Houstons moved to a home at Cedar Point on Galveston Bay. Shortly thereafter, Houston was elected governor of Texas and moved into the Governor's Mansion in Austin.

Deposed as governor when he refused to pledge allegiance to the Confederate States of America, Houston soon moved back to Huntsville and lived in the Steamboat House, where he died of pneumonia in 1863.

The somewhat eccentric Steamboat House, once located in what is now Adickes Addition of the Oakwood Cemetery, was later moved to the museum grounds which encompass the property Houston once owned in his Woodland Home days.

In the 138 years since Houston sold his Woodland Home, the structure has undergone a myriad of transformations. After a series of owners, in the 1880s the dwelling was renovated for use as a boarding house for girls attending the Sam Houston Normal Institute--nowadays known as Sam Houston State University.

In the earliest known photo of the home, taken in the 1890s when it was still a boarding house, the original structure is obscured by a massive wing that was added at an earlier date.

In 1904, the property was sold and the house was moved about 300 yards where it stood for a time in what today would be the front yard of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum.

By this time, Nolan said, the home had become somewhat dilapidated.

In 1905, under the leadership of Bertha Kirkley, a history professor at the college, an effort was launched to purchase the original Woodland Home site. In the ensuing years, the student-lead campaign succeeded with the purchase of three tracts of land which make up the museum grounds today.

It wasn't until 1910, when a fire broke out in the building, that efforts were accelerated to relocate, revitalize and preserve the historic landmark.

The home underwent a comprehensive and somewhat controversial restoration in 1929. At that time several chimneys, constructed out of large stones, were added to the building much to the outrage of historic purists who campaigned successfully to have them removed.

A new photo exhibit, currently on display at the museum, shows the many transformations the Woodland Home has undergone since that first image was captured in the 1890s.

"At one point it had no chimney, at one point it had chimneys that looked like they'd be on a Boy Scout lodge," Nolan said. "It's had brick chimneys, it's had a stove pipe sticking out of the roof, and later the stove pipe disappears. The porch goes on, the porch comes off, the porch goes back on."

Yet in spite of these varied historic interpretations, Nolan said, Houston's Woodland Home has remained a steadfast symbol of the state's humble, yet rich heritage.

Today, he said, Sam Houston's "little cabin in the woods" is revered by many as the "Mount Vernon of Texas."


Media Contact: Phillip Rollfing

Dec. 13, 1996
Sam Houston Memorial Museum is located at the corner of 19th Street and Avenue N in Huntsville, Texas. The museum is open from 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Tours are given Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. and by arrangement to large groups. For more information contact the museum at 409-294-1832 or by e-mailing Derrick Birdsall. You can obtain additional information by accessing the Sam Houston Memorial Museum Web site.