Houston's history lesson
Texas belonged to Spain during the administration of the first president of the United States, so what is now the Lone Star State has no quaint inns or taverns with markers noting that “George Washington slept here.”
On the other hand, the first president of the Republic of Texas laid his head down in numerous places across the portion of Texas that was populated during his lifetime. One of the communities that can claim that “Sam Houston slept here” is Seguin, where the hero of San Jacinto passed a night in 1857. He stayed in one of that town’s oldest structures.
Not only is the house significant because of that, it is an example of the rarest form of Texas architecture ─ a wooden house or building constructed prior to the 1840s. Of course, 200-plus-year-old structures are no big deal in the Northeast or other earlier-settled areas of the nation, but in the Lone Star State wooden construction did not begin until the start of Anglo settlement in the second and third decades of the 19th century. Before then, what little construction that occurred usually was stone or adobe.
Seguin’s “Sam Houston slept here” home stands not far from downtown. It went up in 1838, only two years after the Alamo. Known variously as the Holloman House, Elm Grove and the Elder House, it’s located at 135 Glen Cove near a spring-fed creek flowing into the Guadalupe River.
By all rights, the place should be known as the French House, or at least the French-Holloman House. That’s because the man who built it was Ezekiel “French” Smith, president of the company formed in 1838 to sell lots and develop a town on the banks of Walnut Branch. The settlement of that community marked the beginning of Seguin. While French ranks as an important historical figure for Seguin, his brother Erastus is far better known today by this nickname, Deaf. He was one of Houston’s most effective scouts during the run-up to the Battle of San Jacinto during the Texas Revolution.
The house’s present owners, retired Austin heart doctor George Lowe and wife Nancy know their now-sizable home started out as a four-room oak log cabin with a dogtrot (breezeway) between each of the two-room halves. The timber used was a foot thick. Part of a stone wall that once surrounded the then village of Seguin to protect it from Indians still stands on their property, the only remaining remnant of the Republic of Texas-era enclosure.
French Smith occupied the house only a couple of years before selling it to George B. Holloman, whose heirs would retain the property off-and-on for more than a century. Holloman came to Seguin from Virginia with his brother in 1845 and acquired the house not long afterward.
In today’s vernacular, Hollomon redid the place, transforming it from a frontier-style log cabin to a fine ante-bellum house. He hired Seguin’s John Esten Park, a chemist who had developed a type of concrete (then called limecrete) eventually used in the construction of 90 early houses in the town, to add three additional rooms and a kitchen. Holloman also refurbished the interior with cypress, oak and walnut. Finally, he built a front porch extending along the length of the house.
That’s how the house looked in 1857 when Houston spent the night as Holloman’s guest. The former president of the late Republic of Texas, after 13 years as a U.S. senator, had come home to Texas to run for governor and visited Seguin during his campaign.
Houston traveled more than 1,000 miles by buggy, delivering stump speeches when public speaking and newspaper reports were the only way a political candidate had of getting his message to the people. Standing beneath a large oak tree that still shades the Holloman house property, Houston addressed the residents of Seguin in July 1857. That night, he stayed with the Hollomans, sleeping in a four-poster bed built by a Seguin craftsman.
“Houston was so impressed by the bed that after he got elected, he had the same cabinet maker build him a larger version that he moved into the Governor’s Mansion,” Nancy Lowe said.
Though whether the original bed is still around is unclear, it remained in the Holloman family until as late as 1964, when Sue Flanagan mentioned it in her book, “Sam Houston’s Texas.” At that time, it belonged to T.H. Holloman, George Holloman’s grandson. The bed Houston had made for the Governor’s Mansion is still there.
In the 1880s and again in the 1920s, the Holloman house saw additional remodeling, she said. Around 1883, she continued, it got indoor plumbing.
The Holloman house may have been standing for a long time, but it’s had a couple of close calls. For a time in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it stood empty and in ill repair, ripe for vandalism or fire. Then, after changing hands and undergoing extensive refurbishing, in the early 2000s a strong storm sent one of the ancient oak trees crashing down on the house.
That damage having been repaired by the Elder family, when Dr. Lowe and his wife bought the house and surrounding acreage, they also had some restoration work done. The only thing missing in this beautiful property by the Guadalupe River is a sign out front declaring “Sam Houston slept here in 1857.”