Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

 

Olson House
Historical Marker
Round Rock, Texas

 

808 East Main Street

 

 
 
Marker Text
Swedish immigrant Johanna Olson (1835-1914) purchased this property in 1907 after she returned to the Round Rock area upon the death of her husband, Johannes, in 1894. Local contractor A.S. Robertson built this house for her in 1908, and it remained in the Olson family until 1944. Johanna and her daughters took in boarders from nearby Trinity College during its existence from 1906 until 1929. A good local example of Queen Anne architecture, the Olson House features classic elements of that style, including its asymmetry, wrap-around porch and fishscale shingles. Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 2001



 
 

Olson House History

Historical Narrative By Bob Brinkman - 2000

 

On Main Street in Round Rock there stands a stately home that over ninety years has witnessed many changes in its town. It is an elegant example of the prosperity that came to Round Rock at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1900 John A. Nelson built the largest business house in town, a two-story limestone building with a cast-iron facade (1). Nelson's store housed a lumber and hardware business and private bank. Nelson was the son of Swedish immigrants, and in 1905 he was instrumental in securing the Trinity College which was being established by the Augustana Lutheran Synod. Nelson donated nine acres for the school, and provided free shipping for the building materials. Trinity College occupied part of eight blocks platted by Nelson in 1905 at the eastern end of the railroad town of Round Rock platted in 1876.

 

In June of 1907 Johanna Olson bought lots 1 and 2 of block 4 of the Nelson Addition to Round Rock. Mrs. Olson bought the parcel from John A. Nelson for $450 (2). The Queen Anne style house was built in 1908. During renovations ninety years later, Rob and Kellie Wendt discovered a board in a newel post of the center staircase. The following is hand-written on the board:

 

"Built by A. S. Robertson from August 166 to November 1, 1908, assisted by C. D. Weaver, F. D. Caswell, C. T. Cochran and Rev. W. H. Ross".

 

Andrew Smith Robertson (1860-1944) and four of his sons were all in the building trades (3). Two of the men were Worshipful Masters of the Round Rock Masonic Lodge No. 227: Cochran in 1904 and 1920 and Caswell in 1912 (4). In 1902

 

Caswell advertised a blacksmithing, woodwork and horseshoeing business (5). Charles Travis Cochran (1869-1948) was a freighter, storekeeper, carpenter and farmer, and was also on the Board of Trustees of the Round Rock Institute in 1906 (6). Reverend William H. Ross (1865-1943) came to Texas as a rock mason on the State Capitol in Austin in 1888. He was a Baptist circuit rider, with churches in Leander, Block House, Dripping Springs and Pflugerville (7).

 

The home is frame construction, made from southern pine lumber. Its major Queen Anne features include the asymmetrical façade, encircling porches, horizontal siding, multi-planed root and fish scale shingles on the gables (8). To take advantage of prevailing southerly breezes in summer, the home has shaded porches, high ceilings and double-hung windows. The ceilings are 10'4", and there are two sets of stairs, one in the foyer and one leading down to the kitchen area. The Wendt's have preserved the exterior of the home, while partly adapting the interior spaces for modern living. On the grounds, existing landscaping including antique roses, fig, pecan and pear trees has been combined with an herb and flower garden on the east side of the home, with xeriscaped beds in the front (9).

 

The Olson's were cousins to the Swedes that emigrated directly to Central Texas. Johanna Grahn and her husband Johannes Olson were both born in Finja parish, Skane, Sweden in 1835. In 1874 the family came to America, first to Swedeburg, Saunders County, Nebraska. In 1880 the Olson farm included Johannes (John), Johanna (Jennie) and their ten children, plus Johanna's brother Elias (born Sweden 1841) and their mother Christina (born Sweden 1809) (10). The Olson's moved to New Sweden, Travis County, Texas in 1888. They moved to El Campo in 1894 and Johannes died and was buried there that same year. Johanna moved back to New Sweden and then to Round Rock, living here until her death in 1914. She is buried at New Sweden cemetery with her mother, Christina Grahn. The Olson children were Alfred (born 1858 Sweden), Martin (born 1863 Sweden), Oscar (born 1862 Sweden), Hilma (born 1864 Sweden), Amanda (born 1865 Sweden), Sofia (born 1868 Sweden), Ernst (born 1870 Sweden), Fritz (born 1872 Sweden), Emma (born 1874 Sweden), Matilda (born 1877 Sweden) and Esther (born 1881 Nebraska). In 1918 they all lived in Texas except Ernst, who lived in Rock Island, Illinois (11).

 

In 1910 the household on Main Street included Johanna, now age 75; Amanda, 44; and Esther, 29; plus boarders Stella Lindheimer, 17; Herman Olson, 22; and Leon Stromquist, age 18 (12). These last three attended Trinity College, Stella studying piano and Herman voice, both in the School of Music (13). Trinity College opened in 1906 two blocks east along Main Street, with the President's House built in the block between in 1909. This was home for the President of Trinity College until 1929. Trinity Presidents were J. A. Stamline, (1906-10, 14-15 and 21-23); Alfred Anderson (1910-14), Theodore Seashore (1915-1921) and Harry Alden (1923-29) (14).

 

There is evidence of an exterior stairway running along the east side of the house. Mr. Einer Johnson is a lifelong resident of Round Rock and lives near the Olson House (15). He remembers that the upper floor was used by Dr. J. A. Stroburg as a doctor's office. Dr. Stroburg was born in Sweden and studied medicine in Rock Island and Chicago, Illinois before moving to Manor, Texas in 1901 (16). No documentary evidence has yet surfaced of Dr. Stroburg's association with the Olson's house, but it seems reasonable that he would visit Round Rock one or two days a week from his Manor office, operating a kind of clinic upstairs in the spacious Olson house. At this point Round Rock had no town doctor, and was served by visiting physicians.

 

In 1918, Alfred, Fritz, Oscar and Tilda lived in Ericsdale, Jones County, Texas. Tilda was married to Carl Youngquist. Martin lived in Austin. Three sisters lived in New Sweden: Sofia (Mrs. John Youngquist), Hilma (Mrs. John Nelson) and Emma (Mrs. Carl Sellstrom). Two sisters lived in Fort Worth: Amanda and Esther (Mrs. Carl Ulriskson). Ernst lived in Rock Island, Illinois, was editor of "Ungdomsvannen" (Childhood Friend) and was called Swedish-America's most illustrious literary critic (17).

 

In 1919 Johanna's children sold their interest in the house to their sister Amanda for $3250 (18). In that year the house and lot were valued at $2500; the same valuation, in fact, from 1909 to 1930. Amanda had owned the parcel next door (lots 3 and 4 of block 4 Nelson Addition) since 1909 (19). The house that still stands on that lot was built in 1925.

 

In 1944 Amanda sold the 1908 house to Colonel Thomas Gore and his wife Wylma for $3,800.00 (20). Amanda died in 1957 and is buried at New Sweden Cemetery in the Nelson-Olson plot, along with sister Hilma (1864-1946) and their mother Johanna (1835-1914).

 

In 1945 Amanda Olson and Sophie Olson Youngquist filed a Proof of Heirship the day before Col. Gore sold the house to W. W. and Opal Rucker (21). The Gores sold the house to the Ruckers on May 10, 1945 for $4000 (22).

William Wallace Rucker was mayor of Round Rock for four terms (March 13, 1943 — July 1, 1952) (23). In 1939 he opened the air-conditioned Rock Theater, the first permanent movie house in town (24). The first weekend featured Stagecoach, and later that year Gone With the Wind (25). The Rock Theatre operated until 1970, and when it closed Round Rock went another seventeen years without a movie house.

 

In 1954 the Ruckers entered a vendor's lien with J. R. Pennington for $9,200 (26).

 

In 1960 Pennington passed a vendor's lien to W. J. and Lorine Hood for $10,000

(27).

 

In 1961 Hood entered a warranty deed with Robert Burleson for $10,000 (28).

 

In 1972 the Burleson's sold the house to Sam and Ruth Jennings for $17,500 (29). Mrs. Jennings had long admired the house, and one day Mr. Jennings told Mr. Burleson of his wife's interest. Mr. Burleson sold him the house that day, and Sam presented Ruth with their new house the next day — which was their anniversary (30). The Jennings lived in the house for 25 years. Mrs. Jennings sold the house to Rob and Kellie Wendt in 1997. The Wendt's began an extensive renovation that took twice as long (six months) as the original house construction (three months). The house has now been restored to its earlier very fine condition.

 

The 1900s were a golden age for Round Rock. Downtown businesses bustled, and new industries thrived. Both the Round Rock Broom Factory and the Round Rock Lime Company received gold medals for their products at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. A small college, three cotton gins and a creamery contributed to a diversified economy. The town of 1100 even boasted a skating rink. Many opulent homes were built in town during this period. The Olson House is the finest example of a Queen Anne style home, and certainly the least altered example, extant in Round Rock. It is a significant part of the architectural patrimony of the town.

 

 

Prepared by Bob Brinkman, Round Rock Texas, April 2000

 

Endnotes PDF

 



 
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