Updated: Aug 22, 2019
Most people that live in Brenham, Tx drive by this mansion on the hill everyday as it is still very visible from one of the city's main intersections, Stone and Market streets, that lead you into downtown and around. I personally have lived here for 40 years and did not know the history and connection one home has to rooting our place in Texas, so I started looking into it as I was painting . . I am typing from my home in downtown Brenham that was built in the early 1900s in the Bungalow style and is as sturdy today as it was when they laid the red pine beams. Hundred year old trees fill my yard spaced perfectly throughout for the best shade the original owners never enjoyed the way we get to today, but certainly the vision was in their forethought as they placed them in the ground. Thank you, I still pick the pecans and my dog loves to lie under the trees cracking and eating them all day when they fruit. Our squirrels are the happiest....squirrels?
Okay back to the mansion, I am grateful about where I am, who I am, and what ties me to this town. I hope to shine a positive light on the accomplishments that got us to where we are today in small town Brenham starting with the very beginning.
Although I have worked in the mansion for catering events through the years, and did have an understanding that it was celebrated I was always too busy to stop and smell the roses, although I have enjoyed feeling its time period when I was in the home because the furniture, wallpaper and tapestries still reflect so and that part leaves me in awe.
I have even had the luxury of hosting a wedding at the mansion once and found that as I was decorating the downstairs rooms for dinner service there was really no need to do much other than the simplest tables centerpieces with fresh flowers strewn about and food and drink to celebrate the affair, because the house speaks for itself and it did for that beautiful wedding.
The interior and exterior are still exquisite and If you did not rent this historical mansion to get married in a historical place and try to cover the ultimate beauty of it with too much decoration you have made a mistake and should reconsider your location as this place is meant to embrace. Please keep reading as I've tried to condense a great story about Brenham based on several sites linked below.
If you haven’t been to the mansion and experienced the grandiose home, you should take the tour and walk the outer porches that lead around the outback kitchen that dates itself and onto the verandas and into the yard. It feels like "country in the city".
Let's talk history. The Giddings brother did it all, these two college educated and seemingly well connected brothers, D.C. "Clint" Giddings and J.D. Giddings pioneered their way through this area beginning with J.D. Giddings arriving second in the year 1838 when he was a 24 year old man to claim the land his slain older brother Giles received for fighting in Sam Houston's army.
Once in Texas he began as a teacher in Independence ultimately moving around the county setting in place the areas we are still familiar with today. Tales of him fighting Native Americans and surviving the Battle of San Jacinto and The Civil War that had changed so much about the place they sat by 1870. I am sure he had to reflect upon it with wife Ann Tarver Giddings and their 5 children filling the dinner table with chatter of the history we know today.
J.D. opened the very first bank in Brenham and law office as well. Seeing the need for many things and implementing them was his nature and he did it well overseeing multiple projects throughout the years and leading the charge it seems with honesty and integrity. I read about how during The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1867 as was written by author and Brenham resident R.E. Pennington (May Amanda Williams) where she says "No nobler example of heroism may be found among the annals of man than that given by this good citizen., when he faced danger and death, and gently, and unselfishly ministered to the sufferers. By day and night for three months he nursed the ill and dying, allowing himself scant rest, and so sad the conditions and so great the death rate, that Col. Giddings often superintended the internments in the graves at the Old Masonic Cemetery, which he had helped the colored laborers excavate; and sometimes he was the soul mourner, for yellow fever was in every home, and few people we able to attend funerals."
He continued to teach and cross into territories unknown with his horse and buggy and it wasn't until 1852 that D.C. "Clint" Giddings made his way from upstate to help his brother with the vision he had for this part of Texas. Clint was a railroad engineer among other notable titles, and sparked an intensity to make sure the town of Brenham, Texas had a railroad running through it to bring opportunity to the farmers in the area with its rich soil and productive farms, and wood mills. We needed get the produce all the way down to Galveston, Tx. and back. It worked and Brenham thrived having at one time boasted a population of more than the population of Houston and Austin together. That is impressive. This family from Pennsylvania moved here, served and died in wars, fought Native American Indians for land and life, completed law school, ran for government office, forged the railroad, wrote laws, helped the community get settled with consistent banking practices as well as from what I have been able to read online kind men.
J.D. Giddings serving in the first Texas House of Representatives he was an absolute trailblazer as noted from his past and his story still holds water. They did everything first in this town J.D. getting married to Ann Tarver then having 5 children and raising several more in their home, he still had time to incorporate the town and name it (not even after himself) changing it from Hickory Grove to Brenham after Dr. Richard Fox Brenham in 1843.
The brothers opened the first bank, Giddings & Giddings, that also served as a law office, he built this magnificent building the same year the burning of Brenham happened and it is still standing today tall and proud having survived. The town of Giddings, Tx. was named for his brother Giles who died in the Battle of San Jacinto and was granted land, As the railroad was being built on its way to Austin this land was used as a much needed stopping point , this was the halfway point from Galveston to Austin and there was a need for a stop and so it was named in 1871 Giddings, Texas. These brothers were lawmakers, builders, teachers, speakers, bankers, on and on they just did whatever needed to be done at the time. Period.
The burning of Brenham, Tx happened in 1866 and J.D. Giddings was appointed to investigate and report the incident and was able to have his report read in a joint session which is said to have influenced national politics. Along with everything I have listed above he was also responsible for the purchasing of land, building and planning for the Soule University in Chappell Hill, Tx which is now Southwestern University. Also forming a state committee in 1876 that bought a plantation near Hempstead, Tx and established Prairie View A&M University,
In 1868 the home the Giddings family lived in, was positioned in the lower lying side of Brenham ,Tx where yellow fever had claimed the lives of many people living in Washington County. J.D. Giddings at that time bought acreage on the highest point in Washington County away from mosquitos and built this home in 1869 that was completed in 1870 for his family. He then sold his original family home to John Wilkins Booth who married D.C. "Clint" Giddings daughter Lillian and this family continued to own it until the mid 1900s. That home remains today and was named the “Giddings Wilkins House” and you can tour the home by appointment.
The house was exquisite for its time in the new frontier boasting an elaborate staircase that is a hand carved cantilevered design which is stunningly surreal. Also outstanding are the sprawling porches that wrap around the home upstairs and down with adjoining verandas.
Apparently, the new home in 1870 “The Giddings Stone Mansion” was also the first house west of the Mississippi River to have central heat and electricity. Thinking ahead seemed to come easy for this man because he also installed 4 bathrooms, although at the time there was no such thing as indoor plumbing; he saw that coming too and prepared for the future, still allowing access to fresh water from the home's two cisterns.
You know everybody wanted to be like Ann Giddings after they saw her in this house with her sitting high on the windy hill, not one mosquito on her, all lit up and warm in the winter. I bet she had nice dresses too.
J.D. Giddings was the original entrepreneur of Texas. This man and his brother pushed to make things happen over and over obviously although they did not do it alone as people believed in their vision for this area they so loved and rallied behind him to ensure the vision he had was seen.
After all of the history and the wild war stories of him fighting with Native Americans, traveling abroad while pursuing his dreams, building massive buildings and gorgeous mansions, as well as steer-heading the railroads success in Brenham and Texas for that matter. Obviously facing many dangerous scenarios all his life by choice in an effort for progress and as the old saying goes "You just never know when it's your time" J.D. Giddings died in a freak accident when falling from a horse and carriage at the gates of the mansion in 1878 dying at his home, and just like that he was gone. He left a blazing trail in his wake that would leave any Brenhamite proud to be a Texan.
He lived his life like it was his legacy, and ultimately it was. He had something to give back and was not afraid to push on what he knew would work.
His wife Ann lived another 30 years with only 3 of the 8 children making it into adulthood. Life was tough back then...I can only imagine. Their one remaining daughter Mary Louise would marry the year after her fathers death to a Heber Stone and would remain in that home until their deaths and for the next three generations. The home remained in the family's name until the 1970s and sits today as a reminder to why we sit here and how this area functions the way it should, as a hub.
Brenham Texas is the place I have called home for a long time. I see a familiar face almost everywhere I go. I don't mind that at all, in fact I think it is kind of cool that I have known a lot of people in this town since I was 10 years old. I feel proud to paint the buildings of my hometown and look forward to digging in for more history to share about my next up. Thank you and please subscribe for updates on any new blog post. I promise I won't spam you.