Smith County, Texas

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The Whitaker-McClendon House

The Whitaker-McClendon House is a two story, wood frame, suburban villa which exhibits an Italianate and early Eastlake influence. The residence was erected about 1880, but was slightly modified in 1910 with rear additions and a Classical Revival front porch. Nevertheless, the house still maintains its historic character and integrity. The McClendon House is located in an older mixed residential- commercial neighborhood near downtown Tyler. The legacy that Tyler residents inherited included a wealth of grand, stately mansions from the 1800s - the southwest area of the city contained many blocks of Italianate, Queen Anne, Eastlake and Greek Revival houses virtually uninterrupted by modern changes. Up until 1960, many of Tyler's streets were lined with elegant homes. Precious little of that legacy remains. Even in its current state of decay, the WhitakerMcClendon House fronting one of the city's brick streets, still manages to suggest its former splendor. More than anything else, the house exhibits elements of the Eastlake and Italianate style. Constructed of virgin cypress and Southern heart pine and sealed with beveled siding, it rests three and a half feet above the ground atop a brick foundation on a two-acre lot that was once cultivated and included an expansive orchard and vegetable garden. Constructed in 1880, it appears to have been built in a slightly irregular A-B-A plan; that is, the roofline of the house is divided roughly in half by a projecting two story element. The west side of the house's front (north) facade is actually recessed in Victorian fashion to allow for a heavily latticed, balustraded porch on the second story that features carved, Eastlake style perforated frieze boards. Heavy sawtoothed brackets enriched with floral motifs and center-hanging pendants stretch across the first floor porch; roughly cut chamfered columns support both porches. On both stories of the house two widely spaced openings stilted, segmental windows on the east side, a transomed door and three stilted segmental windows on the west side (one sits perpendicular to the three openings that stretch across the western expansion) -- recall elongated Italianate detail. Pedimented hooded windows with stylized scrollwork frame each sill, and paired brackets repeat the perforated elements of the window heads to the east side of the two story projection. Single brackets appear on the west extension. A steeply pitched gable with an oversized, sharply detailed bargeboard tops the central projection. A single paned sash hooded with an intriguing complex of machine cut scrollwork takes up most of the second story block. Paired brackets attached to exaggerated returns are lined up with thin, single Ionic columns added in 1910 that support the unornamented portico on the first floor. Thinner, lath- turned pilasters uphold finely carved ancones and stand aside the transomed double door that is accessed by a small wooden porch and a balustraded stairway. A three sided bay window turns the northeast corner of the house. Stretching above the bay, a triangular brace with four pendants terminates at the cornice edge. A porch fills out the remainder of the facade. On the eastern facade, the roofline is broken thrice, its westward facing gable is filled with both delicate and heavy bracing members. A molded chimney rises out of the central block. Paired, slender windows and the Ionic columns set against a breezy porchway on the first floor of the east facade, give this facade a classical appearance.

A view of the south facade reveals many of the 1910 additions. A bedroom, bathroom and screened porch were constructed on top of the one-story, rear, bedroom wing.

The floor plan can only be explained as random: most of the rooms enjoy a Southern exposure; there are no interior hallways on the first floor; a foyer, parlor, library, bedroom, bathroom, dining room, and kitchen comprise the first floor; the central hall, four bedrooms, and two bathrooms are on the second floor. The house was wired for electricity in 1890, and it was during this development phase that custom made wallpapers were hung in the parlor. Much of the original Italianate detailing and floral printed wallpaper remains intact. The newel post at the base of the main stairway is fashioned after a similar pillar (Plate 41) in A.J. Bicknell and W.T. Comstock's Victorian Architecture (1873) pattern book.

A carbide gas plant was believed to have been located near the house during the Whitaker occupancy. The McClendons built a barn and chicken coop on the western portion of this property, but all outbuildings have since been demolished. An early cast-iron fountain, however, remains near the northeast corner of the house.

The Whitaker-McClendon house is one of the few extant High Victorian residences in Tyler, and it has two distinctive claims to prominence: one architectural, one civil. The stately, two story, wood frame, suburban villa embellished with an elaborate complex of superficial Eastlake and Italianate detail, was built on a two acre tract in 1880 for the accomplished attorney and devoted churchman Harrison Moores Whitaker (1852-1922) and his wife, Martha Bonner (1854-1892), the daughter of Texas Supreme Court Judge Micajah H. Bonner. Set in a pristine clearing in the southwest side of the city; the house displays a simple a-b- a composition with a narrow, columned, two story central projection that accentuates its verticality, a characteristic of the Italian villa style.

A Jefferson, Texas, native and University of Virginia graduate, Harrison Whitaker formed a legal partnership with former Texas governor R.B. Hubbard and C.T. Bonner (Martha Bonner's brother), and together they represented the Texas and St. Louis Railroad Company (later called the "Cotton Belt" St. Louis Southwestern -is a nickname), the firm that determined the extent and nature of physical development in Tyler and much of East Texas. Like the lines of the Cotton Belt, Whitaker's, network of friends and acquaintances defined and directed Tyler's progress.

Whitaker was integrally involved with Christ Episcopal Church and served the diocese as a vestryman, a Lay Reader and as an elected delegate to the church's council. Whitaker remarried in 1897, five years after his first wife Martha died, and moved his family to Beaumont in 1903.

The exact date of construction of the Whitaker residence is not known, but according to a letter from Mrs. Whitaker to her father, the house was occupied by 1880. Many family descendants believe the rear, downstairs bedroom wing to be of a much earlier period, and they note that the Greek Revival style mantel and overall plan could very well date back to the 1850s. However, a structural analysis by an Austin architectural firm (a copy is filed at the Texas Historical Commission) questions this claim. The mantel, the report asserts, has been mistakenly linked to the Greek Revival period and was probably added during the early twentieth century, Classical Revival remodeling.

Renters occupied the house from 1903 until 1907 when the Louisiana-born entrepreneur Sidney Smith McClendon (1865 1959) and his wife, Anna Rebecca Bonner (1867-1932) (Martha Bonner's sister), purchased the house. McClendon opened Tyler's first stationery firm then expanded his business to include musical instruments and established himself as a prominent piano and organ merchant in East Texas. Anna Bonner McClendon, educated in true aristocratic fashion, studied literature and music at Virginia's Hollins College and later served as a board member to Tyler's first organized musical group, the Mendelssohn Club.

The Whitakers and the McClendons shared many interests local and national politics were always a topic of discussion in their households. Sidney McClendon was continuously involved in local politics. He served for a number of years as Smith County's Democratic Chairman. As a consequence of his participation in the successful effort to elect Woodrow Wilson to the presidency, S.S. McClendon was named postmaster of Tyler. He went on to serve the State Postmasters Association as Secretary and later as President. For many years he was an active member of the Douglas Rifles Military Company, a defense corps similar in structure and purpose to the National Guard. Like the Whitakers, the McClendons were members of Christ Episcopal Church, involved in both the religious and administrative aspects of the ministry. The house remained in the hands of the McClendon family until 1979. There is evident a tradition of strong, educated Bonner women whose influence coursed through the city of Tyler. Beginning with Elizabeth Bonner, wife to Judge Micajah Bonner, a matrilineal heritage of concerned, civic and church-minded women dedicated to the study of fine arts, can be traced. Sarah McClendon (b. 1910), the only child born to Sidney and Anna in the Bonner-Whitaker McClendon House, has continued in the footsteps of the politically involved women in her family. A resident of Washington, D.C., Ms. McClendon owns and operates her own news bureau and is a White House correspondent.

Furnishings from the 1860s to the present associated with the Bonner, Whitaker and McClendon families have been donated to a group dedicated to the house's preservation. Four distinct cultural periods will be represented in the ground level rooms, and the upper floor will be adaptively re-used as office and classroom space. The house will not be a museum; instead, it will be available for a variety of social and community-related activities. The exterior will be restored to its 1910 appearance.

BIBLIOGRAPHY ON FILE IN THE NATIONAL REGISTER

 

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