“That Miserable Old Hut”

December 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

As restoration and renovation work nears completion on the historic Texas Governor’s Mansion, newspaper, magazine, radio and TV stories and reports wax prosaic about its stateliness and quality of construction and craftsmanship.

What a difference nearly 130 years can make. Back in February of 1883, the Galveston Print editorialized: “The San Antonio Express wants a new executive mansion built at Austin. We quite agree with it. The miserable old hut now answering that purpose is a disgrace to any state, and especially to the great state of Texas.”

 The Austin Statesman agreed with the Print and the Express on every point, save tearing it down and building a new mansion, and minced no words about the disgraceful state of affairs within and without.

The legislature is contemplating an appropriation for the improvement of the executive mansion, and unless the proper caution be taken in expending money for such purpose any sum so appropriated will absolutely be thrown away. The mansion was built twenty-seven years ago, and it has already done the service usually expected of houses. The state could well afford to rebuild it, but this not being a necessity, it should provide for such renovation as will make the house suitable for the purpose contemplated, for probably twenty-seven years longer. The proposition is to appropriate forty-five hundred dollars for renovating and refitting the mansion, when in reality it will take that sum to provide it with proper furniture when renovated. To patch up is not the point. There should be a complete overhauling of the building, involving the removal of the old and the addition of a new roof, fresh plastering over air chambers in the walls to protect the house from dampness in the future, new windows, and new blinds and floors relaid; in fact, a renewal of almost everything about the house, excepting the walls, is needed. The house was built at a time when good work was not done in Austin, and since it so happens that the walls are substantial and solid, the money now expended in the mansion should be of a permanent character. To go to patching up a decayed old roof and putting glaziers at work on rickety old windows, and workmen to mending old blinds, is absurd. The state is able to have the work done in a decent manner, and the legislature should not hesitate to authorize a competent architect to make plans and estimates for modernizing the building, for making it a fit residence of the governor of Texas. On the suggestion of such an architect an appropriation should be made covering his estimates, and then in a few months the house might be made habitable. As it is, it is not fit for a residence. The dampness of the walls, the exhalations from vapory and noxious cellars, the leaking roof, and other notable faults, make it unfit for any human being to dwell in. It is a noted fact that the residents of the mansion have through many years been plagued with disease. As far back as the day of Governor Houston it had this reputation. Disease has taken hold of every family occupying it. Governor Hubbard’s children became infected with miasmatic poison in the mansion, and they died after they left it from its effects. Diphtheria and chills and fever prevailed among the members of Gov. Roberts’ family as long as they occupied the building; and upon this to invite Gov. Ireland to make it his residence without curing its defects is most unreasonable. The STATESMAN’S advice to him, in fact, with the lights before it, would be not to take his family into the mansion unless it be thoroughly renovated as we suggest. It was an oversight probably of the retiring governor that he did not ask the legislature to so renovate the building. He was the proper person to urge it; not the governor who has just been inaugurated. It will take but a short time, however, to remedy what has been overlooked. The governor not being the proper person to suggest that the building be prepared for his reception, the legislature should take the matter under careful deliberation and have done that which is absolutely necessary in the premises.

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