by K.P. Gresham
The Texas Governor’s Mansion is the perfect setting for my next book in the Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series. I’ve said it before, I LOVE doing research for my stories, and studying up on the Governor’s Mansion is a blast. Such rich history. So many anecdotes. I just had to share some of them with you.
First off, I am not a native Texan (though I’ve lived here for thirty-six years) so most of what I’ve learned is all new territory for me. To that end, I must credit The FRIENDS of the GOVERNOR’S MANSION who wrote The Governor’s Mansion of Texas, A Historic Tour, published in 1985, as well as the website https://gov.texas.gov/first-lady/history for most of this information.
The Mansion’s history began with a $14,500 appropriation from the legislature roughly a decade after Texas became a state in 1845. Austin master builder Abner Cook was awarded the construction contract. This beautiful home has served as the official residence of Texas governors and their families since 1856. (Governor Elisha M. Pease and his family were the mansion’s first occupants.) It is the fourth oldest continuously occupied governor’s residence in the country and the oldest governor’s mansion west of the Mississippi River.
The mansion stayed pretty much in its original condition until after the Civil War when Governor Edmund J. Davis started a line of renovations in 1879 with an indoor lavatory installation. By 1915, there was running water, a telephone, electricity and wallpaper and more living space. I could go on, with more renovations, security installations, historic donations, BUT!
What makes this Mansion beloved are the stories of the people who lived there.
One of my favorites was the tale of Governor James Hogg (the first native Texan to become governor) and his rambunctious four children. To this day, the stair railings are still scarred where Governor Hogg hammered nails to deter his children from sliding down the banister.
Another fave. Governor Joseph D. Sayers—the one who had electricity and wallpaper installed–owned a dog. Well, his dog must have appreciated all the modern improvements because when it was time for the Sayers family to move out of the house, the dog refused to leave. He stayed with the carriage driver the rest of his days—at the Mansion.
Then there was Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, the first female governor of Texas. She vowed to return to the Mansion after her husband was impeached, (yes, James Ferguson had served as governor and gotten the boot). She was elected and arrived in the same Packard the family used to leave in 1917. An interesting aside: Mrs. Ferguson fought to end the Ku Klux Klan, passing an anti-mask law making it illegal to wear masks in public. Now isn’t that topical in this day and age?
So many stories, so little time. I haven’t even mentioned Queen Elizabeth’s visit, or the unsolved 2008 arsonist attack on the Mansion in 2008 or its more recent occupants. I mean to think about it. How could I describe Ann Richards in one blog?
To that end, I highly recommend the above mentioned book or a quick visit to the link I’ve shared above. Thank you to all who kept records of the history of the Mansion so folks like me can wonder and laugh and learn to appreciate just this one small piece of our Texas heritage. Think how much, much more there is to learn!
Like I said, I like doing research when I’m writing a book. And, I’ll even give you a hint about this, the fourth installment in the Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series.
I don’t kill the Governor–but everyone else is game!
K.P. Gresham is author of the Pastor Matt Hayden mystery series. Her latest is MURDER ON THE THIRD TRY.