Rock house of ages
MILANO–In rural areas, sometimes landmarks become icons and so is the case with the “old rock house” off Texas 36 about two miles south of Milano. Dr. Donny Hamilton, head of the Anthropology department at Texas A&M University, has taken on a “labor of love” to restore the 120-year-old home site, starting with the locally famous two-story house.
Hamilton has visitors stop and tell him of folklore stories of haunting ghosts, floors invested with rattlesnakes and bodies in the well, none of which are true. It was also thought that the home was once used as a stagecoach relay station, also not true according to the Pecos, Texas native, who has done extensive research on the homestead and Beard family.
He said it is rare that a work weekend goes by that he does not have someone stop by to talk about the Milam County relic. Oh, and the tales of a body in the well, the ghost of a 13-year-old girl in the house and picture showing the silhouette of man in top hat are all false as well, Hamilton said.
“It is interesting owning an icon,” he joked. “My family thinks I’m crazy.”
Like a lot of people, Hamilton was driving by and thought how awful that no one is doing anything to the old house.
“I hated for it to just be torn down,” he said.
Once he decided to buy the house and the surrounding five-acre track, it took Hamilton about two weeks to track down the owners and ask to purchase the local relic. He purchased it 18 months later and the restoration of the home began in July 2010.
The home was originally built in 1891 by George W. Beard for his widowed mother, Louisa America Stratton Beard. His wife Amanda and son George H., also lived in the home. At the time of its completion, the home had four rooms, two fire places and a kitchen separated from the main house by a large back porch or galley. One of the two chimneys still stands. The other was struck by lightning at some point in the last 30 years.
The Beard family originally moved to the Cedar Creek area just south of Milano in 1864. Louisa and her four sons built and ran the family farm while her husband was off fighting the war as a member of the Confederate Army.
The red sandstones used to construct the house came from a quarry on the property, somewhat visible from the back door of the house today. The 18-inch thick walls would keep the house cool in the summer and pumps from the spring, which still flows today, would bring water to the large gallery and kitchen. The family also had pear and pecan orchards, large vegetable gardens, milking pens and chicken houses, Hamilton learned from research about the and and family.
Through collected information, Hamilton thinks the balcony was added around 1924. The original homestead spanned 200 acres.
Louisa died in 1911, with George W. passing away in 1927. That left a widowed Amanda and 20-year-old son to take care of the place. The family left the area sometime in the 1940s and the property was then sold to non-family members in 1974.
Time made ruin of much of the home, as did treasure hunters over the years, who had ripped up f looring and busted some chimney bricks looking for loot. Through the years, history buffs and “ trespassers” both young and old have carved their names into the homes sandstone walls over the years.
Quilting hooks still hang from the beams in all four of the home’s rooms. Stories Hamilton has been told and researched say big quilting parties were held in the Beard home, along with wedding receptions on the site.
The home still contains the original staircase as well.
The do-it-yourself professor has repaired just about everyt hing in the home himself, including t he electr ic work. He did hire out for the new roof. Tales of rattlesnakes under floorboards had been spread for many years, but the only thing Hamilton found was 10 wheelbarrows full of rat droppings.
The home now has electricity and water lines to it, although the land’s spring fed well still runs. A new roof has been added and cement has been poured on the bottom f loors, which will later be covered in hardwood. Hamilton hopes to retain the fireplaces that remain, but use either gas or electric heaters during the colder months.
He also plans to upgrade the doors and windows to match earlier styles, using some of the original window frames. Yes, he is hoping to make the home livable again.
“I may just make it my man cave,” he joked. Hamilton also hopes to eventually redo the bath and smoke houses.
“I’d like to have it looking like the old homestead.”
Hamilton is the head of A&M’s Anthropology department and specializes in underwater archaeology, artifact conservation and restoration. He is currently in charge of conserving the large collection of artifacts recovered from the excavation of LaSalle’s ship the Belle, discovered in Texas’ Matagorda Bay in 1995. The ship sank in 1686.
He also plans to use his tools to figure out what some of the “treasures” are he has found on the Beard place.
“I like trying to get into the mind set of the people who built it and why they did what they did in constructing it,” Hamilton said. Hopes are to have the inside of the home in working order, including a bathroom and small kitchen, by this August.
“Someone once told me if you own a rock house you are never done,” he said.
Once the restoration is completed, Hamilton hopes to begin the nominating process for it to be listed as a Texas Historical Landmark.
Hamilton said that he would like a copy of any stories or photos that anyone has about the Beard House. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.