The George Ranch Historical Park had its beginning more than 180 years ago when the first Anglo pioneers came to the bend in the Brazos River and settled here as part of Stephen Austin's Colony. This was Mexico then and Nancy Jones, the wife of the Jones Farm's founder planted an oak tree on the plain that was their new home. That tree still grows today. The farm became a ranch and was passed down through four generations from mother to daughter, most unusual for the time. Each generation built a new home befitting the era and and added to the family wealth. When the final generation built their home in the 1930's it was huge, but their only heir died in a traffic accident. The couple decided to turn their homestead into a historical foundation, funded by the wealth of the family and tourist admissions.
We've visited a lot of historical homes and mansions over the years, but were still very impressed by what we saw here. Each home was staffed by guides dressed appropriately for the time and the homes were so full of the minutiae of daily life that it looked like the residents had just stepped out for a minute.
The 1830's cabin was the second one built by the Jones family to tend their livestock. It was fairly elaborate for a log cabin and had two bedrooms upstairs as well as a kitchen and living area downstairs. On the grounds a chicken coop and smoke house showed some of the ways the family fed itself. At this time the family also farmed corn and cotton. Because this area was part of Mexico which did not allow slavery, indentured servants did most of the heavy lifting.
The 1860's home was in the worst state of repair. The kitchen was separate from the main house which is quite common due to fire danger, but a huge dining room was attached to it which could seat at least 14 people. It seemed strange to ask your guests to step outside for dinner during inclement weather. If the family could get its cattle to New Orleans through the swamps and bayous, they got four times the profit as if they sold them locally. It's hard to imagine herding 2,400 steers through the swamps, but they got the job done.
The 1890's mansion was extremely lavish. All the original furniture and fine china, priceless today, was still there. Both the walls and ceilings were wallpapered according to the fashion of the time. The ceilings were high and the tall windows extended floor to ceiling, but the banisters and tables were surprisingly low. Folks must have been much shorter in those days. The huge house only had two closets. Houses were taxed by the number of rooms you had and a closet counted as a room.
The 1930's home was lived in by the final generation who were lucky to discover oil on this property, which enabled them to continuously modernize and update their home. Many details we saw there like the transoms, reminded me of my grandmother's home. There were fancy ash trays everywhere. It's easy to forget how common they were in many homes before the message about the effect of cigarettes on your health became common knowledge. The tree planted 180 years ago was in their back yard with a huge porch-like platform suspended in its arms.
The George Ranch is an impressive testimonial to a hard working family and to the ranching life that Texas is famous for. If you're in the Houston area, stop by.