AUSTIN, Texas — Since 1856, it’s been home to the Governor of Texas. It’s a national historic landmark and the oldest governor’s mansion west of the Mississippi.
An arsonist tried to destroy this Georgian beauty in 2008, but Texans from all walks of life stepped in to save this treasure.
Erica Herndon is executive director of Friends of the Governor’s Mansion. She says when the arsonist struck, the home was under renovation, so the furnishings had been removed as well as the historic windows which were being refurbished.
“So, it was really, you know, that was a blessing in the midst of a horrible tragedy," said Herndon. "Once they figured out that it could be repaired, really, it was, you know, the state legislature came on board. People in the public came on board. It really was a statewide effort to restore this beautiful home and to get it back to what it had been before the fire. And even better.”
The Governor’s mansion was built in the mid-1800s by master builder Abner Cook.
“He designed it and built it," said Herndon. "So, the state appropriated $17,000 in 1854, so 14,500 for this structure and then 2500 for furnishings."
Friends of the Texas governor’s mansion is a non-profit that curates and cares for the collection.
“When we were founded in 1979, Governor and Mrs. Clements wanted to have really an interior plan prior to our organization," said Herndon. "First, families needed to bring their own furnishings to the mansion and mixed it in with the few state pieces. But this was really the first time that a comprehensive plan had been put in place, and so friends of the governor's mansion raised funds to purchase the antique quality or museum quality antiques that you see here today and decorative arts.”
Mansion administrator Katie Taylor said the impressive painting in the front entryway is a Texas masterpiece.
“This is the fall of the Alamo, painted by Robert Jenkins Andre Donk in 1903," Taylor said. "And it is an epic piece, I think, with a great story. The artist actually had his neighbors pose as the soldiers from the fall of the Alamo.”
And there are other charming stories ... like the nail holes still visible in the stair’s handrail. An early governor hammered nail tacks there to keep his kids from sliding down it.
It is a tradition for outgoing governors to leave something for the collection.
“So, we've got Ann Richard’s turquoise necklace here," said Herndon. "And then we have governor bush's candlesticks, which were passed down through his family. So, it's really fun. They're all very different and interesting, and just a reminder of each governor who's been here.”
And one living reminder a family lives here: “Peaches”, one of the Abbotts' golden retrievers—a friendly four-legged ambassador.
“So, for the public tours you'll come in, you'll get a brief explanation or history of the grounds and then you'll come in do the front entry," said Herndon. "You'll be able to see both the large and the small parlor, the dining room and the library, which are all very stately rooms. Ann: well, and you have to recognize the fact that a family actually lives here. We're working home, as we like to say.”
Tours of the Texas governor's mansion are Wednesday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Reservations can be made on the state preservation board website.