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Historic Homes Offer Context for Today’s Tyler, TX

Residents find inspiration in the city’s colorful past.

By Laura Hill on May 5, 2015

Goodman-LeGrand House
Tyler / Frank Ordoñez

If you want a deeper understanding of what makes Tyler the city it is today, take a look backward. 

Fortunately, that is easy to do thanks to many historic homes that are treasure troves of information, artifacts, artwork and more that tell the story of Tyler. Not just collections of dusty old memorabilia or fusty furniture, they open windows to the joys and challenges, triumphs and tragedies of real people who shaped the city.

“People in Tyler are so giving of their time, so generous, and this is a perfect example of what a Tyler family could do for their city,†says Mary E. Foster, curator of the 1859 Goodman-LeGrand House, the first Smith County property listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a local landmark bequeathed to the city by its owner in 1939.

“This family permanently instilled itself into the infrastructure of Tyler. This was a family, one of many, that devoted their time and their love to building Tyler and making it into the great city it is today. And I think it inspires people to keep the city great,†Foster says.

Making Beautiful Memories

More than a museum, the striking older home sits on nearly 9 beautiful acres of shade trees, azaleas, roses and other flowers, and has become a popular setting for special events. It hosted 15 weddings and 60 photo sessions in addition to 10,000 visitors in 2014. 

“People are still making beautiful memories here,†Foster says.

Weddings are also a specialty at Dewberry Plantation in nearby Bullard. The property, listed on the National Register, brings to life the legacy of Colonel John Dewberry, an early settler of east Texas who fought in the War of 1812. The historic South is also celebrated at Roseland Plantation in Eastern Van Zandt County, where a period-inspired afternoon tea includes a tour of the plantation’s 1854 Hambrick House.

In Tyler, yet another National Register of Historic Places property illuminates the life of a prominent local family, and one of its internationally famous daughters. The McClendon House, an impressive Eastlake Victorian mansion built in 1878, was the home of Sarah McClendon, a legendary journalist who covered Washington politics for 50 years. Visitors can experience the home’s fascinating history on tours year round.

“The McClendon House offers a window into the past,†says Ed Barry, president, “and lets us see how people lived, and how they adapted to their circumstances.”

Living in History

Many of the city’s fine older homes, of course, are not open to the public but can be viewed in Tyler’s residential historic districts, three of which – the Azalea, Brickstreet and Charnwood districts – are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Offering hundreds of homes dating from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century and reflecting a variety of architectural styles, they are also sought after by many homebuyers.

“These homes usually have pretty yards and most are a good size. In the Azalea District, which is the most popular, they love the brick streets and Bergfeld Park,†says Realtor Cathy Shipp. “A lot of people like the feel of an older home, the warm, cozy feeling.”

Half Mile of History

Downtown, you can literally walk through Tyler’s fascinating past, thanks to the Half Mile of History.

Throughout a half-mile sidewalk loop around Tyler’s central square, dozens of inlaid stone plaques tell the stories of people, places and events that have shaped the city as it is today.

Part of the city’s historic preservation program, the path and markers grew out of a Tyler 21 planning process, which mandated that the city “promote and display diverse aspects of Tyler’s history to enhance resident and visitor awareness of its importance.”

Areas of interest chosen for markers by the Historical Preservation Board include agriculture, architecture, arts and culture, aviation, business, community service, education, entertainment and media, industry, invention and innovation, law, medicine, oil and gas, philanthropy, religion, science, sports and transportation. 

“People are still making beautiful memories here.”

Mary E, Foster
Curator, Goodman-LeGrand house
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