Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A colorful tradition.


Jefferson, TX's House of the Seasons is a legendary lady on a bright corner. This lady has seen rain, ruin, and revitalization in a span of 135 years, and continues to draw visitors today.

She was born in 1872, a bridge between Greek Revival and Victorian Italianate, with broad arched doorways and intricate column heads. She has seen many good days and some dark ones, too.

The magnolia tree that graces her yard is 87 and a half feet tall. It predates the house by several years. Students who attended Four States University would take their Latin classes under its broad branches. That University was housed in the House of the Seasons for many years.

The house and the tree are impressive from their perch above the street. But for those who have ventured through the doorways, one feature stands out more than any other.

As you enter, a grand hallway greets you -- a grand hallway with a round hole in the top. Sit down on the seat below that hole, and look up -- into a marvelous history. You can look straight up through the second story into the dome and the cupola above it.

This home was created by Ben Epperson, a Texas politician with a long past. Epperson was lamed by a riding accident when he was young, and he walked with a cane. He served in the State Legislature and was a prominent lawyer, having represented the Chickasaw Indians in land claims with the Commissioner for Indian Affairs. He was elected to the Confederate Congress and lost a race to the Senate after the Civil War. And he actually won an overwhelming majority to become a U.S. Congressman -- but he never took his seat in Washington, since he and his colleagues were prevented from doing so by radical Republicans who wanted to punish the South for succession.

Epperson served as president of the Memphis, El Paso and Pacific Railroad Company from 1867 to 1870, but he was replaced by John C. Fremont that year. Two years later, the railroad was taken over by the Texas Pacific Railroad. Epperson's daughter later recalled that her father met Fremont on the street in New York City years later, and beat the tar out of him with his walking cane.

This house was built after Epperson's time with the railroad. It was probably designed by Arthur Gilman of New York City and built by J.M. Daniels of Paris, Texas. After moving in, Epperson's first wife Amanda died... and he remarried. The former Nancy Reed bore him two children but apparently didn't get along well with his sons from the first marriage. They would go out at night and party, coming in late up the back staircase. She warned them to stop, and when they didn't she had the staircase removed.

Epperson died in 1878, in the middle of the Diamond Betsy trial. He'd been asked to assist with the prosecution on the matter. But his health was failing, and he was obviously in great pain. He died the night of September 6th, after his doctor gave him a sedative.

The home was restored between 1973 and 1976 by Richard Collins. He found Epperson's daughter living in a retirement home in Ada, OK, and asked for assistance with the home's repairs. Jeannie Epperson shared valuable memories of what the home was like in its heyday. She had never married. And she had kept many of the original furnishings when she moved. Most of those items have been returned to the House of the Seasons.

A few years ago, art conservationist Stashka Star was hired to restore the paint and accents in the house to their original color. She worked to restore the intricate murals and medallions around the dome of the home. The work required careful analysis of the paints used, repairing broken plaster from years of house shifts, and delicate paintwork on the existant pieces. After completing the restoration, the entire area was given a special varnish to keep deterioration at bay.

The ceilings on the first floor are 14 feet... while the ceilings on the second floor are 13 feet. Add in the single pane windows, and you can see that heating and cooling the home is expensive!

All of the chandeliers are original to the home. The home was built with the (then brand-new) gas lighting.

The carpets in the front room have all been recreated to replicate the original carpeting. Back then, wall-to-wall carpeting was only available to those who had plenty of money, and they were only 30 inches wide. The carpets were remade in that same 30 inch wide width.

The ceiling was originally decorated with wallpaper that had been glued on. During the restoration the wallpaper was taken down and shipped to university students, who handstakingly recreated the panels. These were then glued back up.

Most of the single pane windows are original to the home, but a few have been replaced due to breakage.

The piano is an 1876 Chicory grand piano, made for the centennial celebration. It's a little out of tune, but is still in perfect working order. It may not seem like a grand piano, but at that time we used about two octaves less than what we do today.

Epperson's bedroom was on the first floor, in the front. As his health failed, he was unable to make it up the stairs. It's in this room that he's believed to have died. Today it's a sitting room, complete with period furnishings.
It's rumored that after he died, his former brother-in-law absconded with the family fortune, leaving Epperson's second wife and children in poverty.
Breakfast is still taken every day by guests in the dining room. Until the turn of the century, the dining room was open to a breezeway, across which the kitchen was located. That breezeway was eventually enclosed and the kitchen moved closer to the house.

Epperson's library and its cabinetry are original to the house. When restorers started to take off the finish in the 70s, they discovered that the gigantic bookcase was actually made of five different types of wood. Artists had used a special technique with pigment and paint to achieve a united look among the many different woods.

Four other rooms grace the second level of the house, including a gorgeous ruby gold and cream master bedroom with a 3/4 canopy bed and a gigantic wardrobe that had apparently been given as a gift to a freed slave. This room is often used for brides as they prepare for their weddings in the house.

There's also a bedroom up front decorated in the same lovely shade of blue that adorned the room way back in the 19th century. It houses a couple of baby items from the turn of the century, including a stroller that doubled as a high chair and an original baby cradle basket.

And then there's the room Jeannie Epperson loved most, the children's room -- with its child sized chairs for putting on boots and its big Murphy bed against the wall. The other bed in the room is adorned with a chennile coverlet that is priceless, but that the cat loves nonetheless.

A fourth room was eventually turned into the bathroom for the home. The original house came with its own outhouse, but that structure has been lost to time.

But it's the cupola that makes this home famous. If you're fortunate enough to be allowed to ascend the narrow stair to the third level, you'll emerge into a bath of colored lights. Each of the four sides of this glass-walled escape is adorned in a single color -- amber, red, green, and blue. It's from these brightly hued windows that the house received its name.

There are many stories about this grand pinnacle. Some say a bathtub used to be housed up here,
and when the sun struck the red side of the cupola, the light warmed the water. When children were sick with contagious illnesses, they were housed here, with a pulley and rope to use to bring up food and medicine. And when Four States University was housed here, students sometimes set out their bedrolls and slept here.

Today, most of the original panes still remain. It's hard to tell what color something really is inside of this room, because of all of the different colors. In fact, one of the amber panes has been replaced with a red pane, because there's no finding that particular shade again.

At night, lights illuminate the cupola from the inside, shining bright color out into the neighborhood below. The cupola isn't open to the general public, but if you stay in the Carriage House you can receive a private tour.

Our kind host shared with us that the house today actually belongs to Sadie, a Turkish van cat... though someone else's name may be on the property. I found that she placed herself in several of my photographs through the day.

The home is considered one of the ten most influential homes in the state of Texas. Its influence on architecture in the region is considerable.

The House of the Seasons is a popular tour, open Monday through Friday by appointment. Tours are $7.50 per person, or $6.50 for groups of 12 or more. But guests can also enjoy the Carriage House, an addition built to the back of the property.
An old carriage house actually stood on the spot when the renovation was underway in the 70s, but it was too far gone and had to be torn down. Today, the new structure includes four beautiful bed and bath suites with Jacuzzi tubs and all the amenities you'd ever need in a secret hideaway.

You can find The House of the Seasons in Jefferson, TX at 409 South Alley Street. To make reservations or find out more, call (903) 665-8000 or email seasons@houseoftheseasons.com. And for more on the home, check out the website.

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