The Galveston Historical Foundation has closed an old home that, for years, was a major stop on the Galveston tour of historic homes. The second oldest surviving home in Galveston won’t be a “house museum” anymore, as Houston Public Radio’s Jim Bell reports.
The first thing you notice about the 1839 Samuel Williams house is that it doesn’t face the street. The front porch is on the side, facing the house next door. Beth Shriner of the Galveston Historical Foundation says that’s because when this old house was built, it was on a farm outside of town, and it was the only house for several miles around.
“Well of course there were no streets when this house was built in 1839, by Mr. Williams, and he built his house facing the downtown, the developed area of town, and didn’t have to worry about which directions the streets ran, because they weren’t here.”
In 1839, Galveston wasn’t much more than some docks, saloons, bordellos and a few streets. As Galveston grew and absorbed the Williams’ farm, and streets were laid out, what was once a farm house ended up in the middle of a residential area, several miles from the area known as the historical district. Shriner says that’s now it’s biggest drawback, because public tours have been down to a trickle for several years, and the historical foundation can’t afford to operate it as a house museum anymore.
“It’s not on the track that tourists come to. Galvestonians love this house, they’ve been in it, they come by it, they know it’s here, they treasure it, but they don’t come back and spend their dollars, necessarily, to visit it, and it’s very expensive to maintain properties like this.”
Historical Foundation Director Dwayne Jones says the foundation will always own and maintain the Williams House, but they have to find less expensive uses for it. Jones says they’re taking notes from what other historical groups around the country are doing with their house museums. One idea is to bring it up to code and let people live in it.
“Put people in there, let them help take care of the property, or, things like leasing for special uses, other types of uses if it’s appropriate for the building. And we’re looking at some ideas of maybe even some clubs or other groups that might use it in different ways.”
The foundation is now doing a full inventory of everything in the Williams House, including some valuable antiques, and soon they’ll start studying possible new uses for the place. Beth Shriner says right now no one can say what that will be, but it’s even possible that five or ten years down the road, they may decide to reopen it as a house museum. Who knows? Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.