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Stabilized and Looking Spiffy, Houston’s Oldest Home Reopening After Extensive Restoration

Houston’s oldest house, Kellum-Noble House – circa 1847 – sits on its original site in downtown Houston. Mud from nearby Buffalo Bayou was used to make its bricks. Photo credit: Cynthia Lescalleet.

HOUSTON – (By Cynthia Lescalleet for Realty News Report) – After a $1.8 million stabilization and preservation project, Houston’s oldest home is reopening following five years out of the public eye.

Located in Sam Houston Park on downtown’s west side, the Kellum-Noble House – circa 1847 – sits on its original site.

The historic home is sitting a lot more soundly after extensive work to stabilize its foundation, roof and other structural elements.

Two phases of an eventual three-phase restoration effort also brought better drainage, better insulation, better air conditioning, better energy efficiency and better conditions for the property, located steps away from modern skyscrapers and freeway ramps.

The project’s structural modifications not only stabilized the original foundation but secured the rafters as an extra measure against the high winds of severe storms and hurricanes, projects materials indicate at The Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park. THS stewards a collection of 10 historic homes (dating from 1823 to 1915) it has relocated into the 19-acre city park since the non-profit organization’s founding in 1954 – to rescue a then-deteriorating Kellum-Noble from demolition.

No More Cracks or Noisy Window Units

Recently completed, the exterior work repaired the load-bearing masonry, which had exhibited deepening stress cracks; repaired the windows, wooden porch framing and ceilings; and improved accessibility. The interior scope included plaster repairs, electrical rerouting and paint, the latter based on wisps of color found on bricks beneath sections of wall.

Future restoration, estimated at $650,000 and slated for 2020, will address the porch columns. They were an early redo by THS, which, in the absence of available intel on the home’s original specifications, borrowed from historic American Building Survey drawings. The upcoming replacements are based on a 1890s photo of the residence.

A sampling of artifacts uncovered in the soil excavated as part of the foundation work are on display within the home, which will be back on the tour docket (first floor only) as of Thanksgiving week.

THS sources said project funding has been through private donations, and public grants. Among the home’s historic chops are its listings on the National Register of Historic Places, as a City of Houston Protected Landmark and as a Recorded Texas historic landmark.

Minnette Boesel, THS interim president, said the project was a major challenge for the organization both in its scope and in the complications of Hurricane Harvey and cost increases. “We are grateful to our donors who have been generous and are proud to have completed Phase 2 of three phases,” she said.

The house is now open for tours and the first floor is available for special events.

The project team included Stern and Bucek Architects, Thomsen Co. general construction, Sparks Engineering Inc., Texas Turf Management landscape design and Texas Mulch Masters.

Peek at the Past

This is the Houston house that hasn’t ever been moved; the city grew up around it, said Ginger Berni, THS collections curator. Thus, the property’s narrative weaves several threads of history. It has weathered the city’s early industry, downtown’s commercial growth, park development, the effects of Twentieth Century roadways and ramps, and even that of local preservation efforts, she said.

The eight-acre tract initially belonged to city founders and brothers John Kirby and Augustus Allen then passed through various owners to an industrious Nathaniel Kellum, who ran a brickyard using the mud from the banks of nearby Buffalo Bayou. Not surprisingly, his two-story home used his company’s bricks. A lot of them. The project revealed how deeply the original walls extend into the ground, Berni noted.

Over time, the property housed a school, a park and a zoo (with bear cub). Subsequent use included offices for the city’s parks and recreation department and THS’ initial operations, now housed in a museum elsewhere in the park.

“The opening the Kellum Noble House is an exciting moment not only in the history of the house but also of the city,” Boesel said. “As Houston’s oldest residential structure we can learn from the people that owned the house, its, uses and physical changes all reflective of our city’s growth and changes over time.”

Nov. 18, 2019 Realty News Report Copyright 2019

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