Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

  Tucker-Smith House
Historical Marker
Taylor, Texas


516 West Seventh Street
  Marker Text:
Built in 1892 by prominent local lumber man J. E. Tucker, this residence originally reflected the Queen Anne style. Decker Franklin Smith purchased the house in 1905. In 1916 Smith extensively remodeled the house in the Mission style, which was then gaining popularity in Texas. Its prominent features include a wraparound porch, paired Doric columns, and quatrefoil windows. Smith continued to live here until 1920.


 







 
  The Tucker- Smith House (ca. 1892-1916)
516 West Seventh Street Taylor, Texas
Historical narrative by Julie W. Strong

In 1916 when Decker Franklin Smith updated his Late Victorian house, Taylor (Williamson County) had become a flourishing community in the heart of the rich Central Texas Blackland agricultural region. Although ranching had been the economic pursuit of pioneering 'Taylorites', cotton had become the town's significant export and a major source of its economic well being by the time Smith remodeled his house.

In 1915 Taylor's boosters described the town as 'the largest inland cotton market in the world,' citing its 1912, 1913, and 1914 crops of 36,868, 32,865, and 37,273 bales, respectively, as evidence. That year Taylor had three cotton oil mills, of which one was reportedly the state's largest, and seven cotton gains in and near town. The significance of cotton to Taylor's economy was linked to the town's transportation facilities. The International and Great Northern and the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railways intersected at Taylor and established the transportation network that made Taylor the shipping point for the surrounding agricultural communities.

Enhancing the railway-cotton economic equation was the presence of I&GN Rwy. round houses and repair yards, and the necessary core of railroad employees who made their homes in Taylor servicing the trains and drawing monthly paychecks. Manufacturing and industry provided further nourishment to the economy; a large mattress factory, for example, two ice factories, a flour mill, and four lumberyards contributed to the economic stability of the community. Early in 1915, oil was discovered at nearby Thrall; later that year 37 companies reportedly were doing business at the Taylor-Thrall Oil Field. Only six miles from Thrall, Taylor was the closest town of size and benefitted, at least for a while, from a spillover effect. Finally, merchants in Taylor capitalized vigorously on the trade potential that the cotton/railroad symbiosis brought to town, and service-oriented businesses such as banks could boast high deposits (First State Bank & Trust <1915> 5ff).

D. F. Smith, who according to his grandson preferred to introduce himself as "Damn Fool' rather than Decker Franklin Smith (conversation with grandson Decker Womack 1/31/91), had purchased his large two- or three-story Aim. from J. E. Tucker (Deed V.117/157) in 1905. Tucker, one of Taylor's early, prominent lumber men, had built the house ca. 1892 (Williamson County Ad valorem tax roll #652 for 1891 and 1892; Taylor Weekly Texan, November 29, 1893:2:col. 3-4). Upon completion, the 4,0001 square foot house was among Taylor's largest. It also was well situated in the prestigious new Doaks' Addition, the latter named for Taylor pioneer/developer/physician Dr. A. V. Doak who was Tucker's neighbor. Tucker was partner in the successful Thompson and Tucker Lumberyard Company and by 1893 held an interest in the Taylor Hardware Company (1884. 1889 City of Taylor Censuses; mechanics liens Book I, liens for 1888, 1889, 1890, 1891, 1892, Williamson County Court House; Taylor Weekly Texan, July 8, 1898; The Taylor Texan March 21, 1886:1; The Taylor Weekly Texan, November 29, 1893, advertisement. P. 3). He also was a local builder.
The frame house was built as a spacious and whimsical confection of Late Victorian Queen Anne motifs. A complex roof line exhibited turret, multiple gables, and corbelled chimneys. One story porches wrapped the east and south (main)
elevations, two story bays projected on the east elevation, and the turret rose at the southwest corner. The 1912 Sanborn Map of Taylor and a drawing rendered perhaps by the locally prominent architect Henry Struve and published in the November 29, 1893 Taylor Texan (p. 3, see attached together provide a fairly detailed picture of the exterior appearance of the house prior to Deck Smith's remodeling of 1916.

Who built the house is not known with certainty. but Tucker is a plausible choice. As partner in the Thompson and Tucker Lumberyard (which included construction as one of its services). he was well placed to have played a central role in its construction. In addition, Tucker is independently known to have built a number of residential and commercial buildings in Taylor during the 1890s (Taylor Texan 11/29/1893:3). No other builder or architect has yet been associated with the original house.

A native of Taylor, Decker Smith (ca. 1863 - 1948) was a wealthy and respected member of his community. He is still remembered as a gentleman and a fine dresser (conversation with Langdon Richter, 3/1/91). In addition to owning a cotton farm or farms near Taylor, Smith also was a banker, a rancher, and an investor (conversations with Decker Womack, 3/31/1991; Mildred Steele, 1/30/1991) By 1914, about the time planning for the remodeling would have been underway, Smith was vice president and cashier of Taylor National Bank, one of the city's largest, oldest and most prestigious banking houses.

Even in 1916 the Tucker - Smith House still would have been considered quite large by Taylor standards. It had been solidly built and was prominently located, with the streetcar passing before it down West Seventh Street to its termination at Doak's Pavilion. By 1916, however, the Late Victorian styling of the house was fading from popularity as newer fashions from California, especially the Mission and Spanish Colonial Revival Styles, were becoming popular in Texas. Perhaps fashion explains the Smiths' decision to update their substantial home rather than build a new one. Certainly the stylishness of Mission detailing with which the 1892 residence was remodeled demonstrated Decker Smith's progressivism and prominence in his community.

The remodeling was a substantial project (see the 1893 drawing and enclosed photos). Significant to its new character was plaster applied over the original cypress siding. The roof of the house may have been reworked, clay tiles probably replaced the original roofing material, and some new windows were opened into the wall surfaces. Of marked significance to the updated appearance of the house was removal of the gabled front (south) and side (east) porches and their replacement with an arcaded porch, and demolition of the turret on the southwestern corner. The eaves of the house may have been extended. They are now supported with shaped heavy brackets. The gables and their shaped bargeboards may also date to the 1916 remodeling.

Today the house is an unusual combination of proportions and detailing reflecting two owners and two eras. The more visually subtle of the two periods is the earlier, Victorian Era (Tucker habitation, ca. 1893-1906) expressed via vertical proportions, the size and scale of the dwelling, the footprint and floor plan, and perhaps through the notable interior detailing. In contrast the Mission influence (Deck Smith habitation, 1906-1920), the more conspicuous stylistic influence on the house, is expressed through the plastered wall treatment, projecting arcaded porch with balcony, paired columns marking the main entrance on the south elevation, projecting eaves with shaped brackets, and tile roof.

One of only a few houses in Taylor today exhibiting the influence of the Mission Style, the Tucker - Smith House is a prominent architectural landmark referencing an extended period of vigorous community development and two men who contributed materially to that development.


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