Halfway between Houston and Austin on Highway 290 is Brenham, Texas, the seat of Washington County. One of the many historical attractions offers group tours of up to three grand homes of a past era (mid-1800s) to experience the lifestyles of our forefathers. These homes, owned and operated by the Heritage Society of Washington County, have been designated Texas Historic Landmarks.
Heritage Home Tours
Tours available by appointment only with a three to four day notice and can include one or all the houses. Catered food service is an option at the Giddings Stone Mansion, and several dining venues in the downtown area can accommodate groups with advance notice. The homes are located at the Heritage Society of Washington County, 2203 Century Circle, Brenham. For information or to schedule a tour, phone (979) 836-1690 or visit online at giddingsstonemansion.com.
Giddings Wilkin House
The oldest standing home in Brenham, the Giddings Wilkin House is important historically and architecturally. It offers a glimpse into the early lifestyle of Brenham’s most important citizen of the 19th century and the innovations he brought to the region. Jabez Deming “J.D.” Giddings completed this house for his bride Ann Tarver in 1844.
Originally a two-room dogtrot with an upper sleeping loft, the house was enlarged and remodeled several times. It now has two floors and eight rooms and has been restored to depict life in the mid 1860s.
The house is fully furnished with period and original Giddings and Wilkin family pieces, including a 3-piece Eastlake bedroom suite. Also on display are many photos, paintings, garments and other artifacts from the two families.
Of significant note is the rain-harvesting roof that was also a reservoir for storing water. Pipes delivered water from the roof to the cistern outside the kitchen. This early form of plumbing was unheard of in Texas at the time. The cistern, probably the first in Brenham, is still visible next to the home.
Giddings Stone Mansion
This magnificent example of 19th century Greek Revival architecture has 11 rooms and two broad galleries that run the full length of the house, both upstairs and down. Completed in 1870, a separate building houses the kitchen, laundry and servants’ wing.
The home’s exterior is defined by massive Doric columns and wide verandas. The interior centerpiece of the house is the elegant carved cantilevered staircase ascending from the lower hallway to the upstairs gallery.
The spacious rooms feature Victorian bay windows, intricate wainscoting and paneled woodwork, 13-foot ceilings, triple-hung windows and original fireplaces. Transoms over the interior doors bring cooling breezes in the spring and fall.
It is believed that this was the first home west of the Mississippi to have electricity and central heat. Although it was built before public water systems and indoor plumbing, the house has four original bathrooms that first used water from the home’s two cisterns.
Ross Carroll Bennett House
This picturesque 1898 home has long been a Brenham landmark and favorite of historians and tourists. The 3-story Victorian structure was built of cypress wood, scored to simulate stone. It has 10 rooms fully furnished with original family and period antiques, and a third-floor attic once the site of festive parties and dances.
The home’s interior has abundant Victorian details, including leaded stained glass windows with jeweled inset, original fretwork, circular alcoves and original wood floors.
Of special note are the petticoat mirror in the entry hall, the carved rosewood square grand piano, and the five-piece turn-of-the-century dining room suite.
Five generations ago, Gottlieb Hermann, a German immigrant, moved to Washington County, Texas, where he earned his citizenship and became a Texan. Using skills learned in the old country, he perfected his trade in his new community. In 1876 Gottlieb began to live the American dream and opened G. Hermann Furniture.
Life was simpler but not easier. In the early days of the store, furniture was delivered and sold in wagons. If the customers didn’t come to the furniture store, the furniture went to them. It was not uncommon for Gottlieb or one of his employees to load a wagon, take off around the countryside and not return until all the items were sold.
The Hermann store was located in a building of fine German architecture and craftsmanship where it has remained to this day, a treasure of our historical heritage. Gottlieb remained a fixture in the store before passing it to his sons Ernest and Will, who steered it through the difficult times of the depression and World War II.
Ernest, with no children of his own to follow in the family business, turned to his nephew Alfred to continue the business. Alfred became the third generation of Hermann’s to run the store. However, in 1974 Alfred died unexpectedly, leaving his son John to become the fourth generation of Hermann’s to run the family business.
John acquired the adjacent building and expanded the store to its current size. He kept the family business growing but it was the addition of his daughter, Jennifer, the fifth generation Hermann, whose creative talents have made the store the unique and well-shopped destination we see today.
The store at 213 West Alamo Street has been a part of Jennifer’s life from the time she was a youngster, enjoying rides on the cargo elevator or being pushed on the furniture dolly throughout the store. It seemed only natural for her to join forces with her father.
From the moment tour passengers walk through the door, they know that Hermann’s is unique. The ambience of the old building is the perfect setting for the experience that awaits the bus tour groups. For information, visit online at hermannfurniture.com.
Best Western Inn of Brenham
Location is everything when you’re traveling, which is why this Brenham hotel, 1503 Hwy. 290 East, is just one mile from the intersection of highways 290 and 36, within 10 minutes of everything group tours need to enjoy their stay.
Whether bus passengers prefer the great outdoors or the charm of a small town, they can have it all when they stay in . Enjoy a large, seasonal outdoor swimming pool, and grilling and picnic area. Free high-speed Wi-Fi and a business center are available so bus passengers can stay connected; ample parking is also available.
The quaint historic downtown district is just a short drive away, so tour groups can enjoy a day of boutique and antique shopping, have an enjoyable dining experience, browse through original art, check out the Brenham Heritage Museum and then enjoy a relaxing evening in the comfort of their rooms. For rates and reservations, phone (979) 251-7791 or visit online at bwbrenham.com.
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