Dickinson couple carefully restores historic homestead
After living in a patio home in League City for 18 years, Jackie Chalmers decided it was time to move to the country. She’d spent most of her childhood on her family’s 91-acre farm in Moscow, Texas, and she yearned to get back to wide open spaces.
But her husband, Bill Chalmers, was perfectly content living close to a marina and city amenities.
“Jackie had been looking at homes with land for a long time,” Bill Chalmers said. “But I’d always find something wrong with the places she took me to, thinking she’d give up on the idea. I was not into horses and cows.”
But she kept searching, determined to find the perfect place, hoping that Bill would come around.
“When I spotted the ‘For Sale’ sign in front of a house on Humble Camp Road in Dickinson, I knew that was the one,” she said. “I didn’t even go inside.”
Reluctantly, Bill Chalmers went back with her to take a look.
The 1,600-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath house on 2.4 acres hadn’t been lived in for three years and was in rough condition. The house on pier and beam had major foundation issues, rotting wood and electrical and plumbing problems.
Yet, Bill Chalmers could see the light in his wife’s eyes as she walked from room to room. He had softened a bit about buying rural property after a tragic death in Jackie’s family, and felt like a renovation project might be therapeutic for her, he said. Still, in his mind, this would just be a weekend place, and not their permanent home.
Before buying the place in 2010, Bill and Jackie Chalmers knew they would be facing a laborious task because of the condition of the house. What they didn’t know was the rich history that went with it.
Built in 1895, the Edwin Watts Deats Homestead is a revered structure to the longtime residents of Humble Camp Road. Deats and wife, Myrtle, had four sons. One of those sons — Malcolm — took over the homestead with wife Therese and raised two children, Ernie and Jane. After the children were grown and Malcolm died, Therese — known as “Deatsie” — continued to live in the house until she moved to assisted living in 2007. She died in 2009.
In 2012, the Deats Homestead was given a Historic Landmark medallion from the Dickinson Historical Society for being the second oldest home in Dickinson. It’s also the second oldest home in Dickinson to be occupied by descendants of the same family.
“We found out pretty quickly that this house was very special to so many people who live out here,” Jackie Chalmers said. “From the first day we started renovations, neighbors were pulling in the driveway asking questions, like, ‘You’re not going to demolish it are you?’ and making comments like, ‘We used to sit on this back porch for hours.’”
With multi-generational families living nearby, everyone was familiar with the Deats family and absolutely adored Deatsie.
“We couldn’t get much work done because so many people wandered up to chat,” Bill Chalmers said. “They were curious about our intentions.”
Chalmers assured everyone that he and Jackie were going to keep the house as original as possible.
The couple had to deal with two separate parts of the home: the original structure, a mere 800 square feet, and an additional 800 square feet added on in 1951. The floors and knotty pine walls in the original structure were salvaged as well, as were the rough-hewn beams that Malcolm Deats built from large pieces of tree trunks.
They replaced flooring in the newer addition, which included a kitchen, three bedrooms and two side-by-side bathrooms. They remodeled one bathroom and transformed another into a utility room and added a new bathroom off the master bedroom. They converted the other two bedrooms into Bill’s office and Jackie’s sewing room, respectively. They stripped all the doors of paint and stained them.
They replaced shag carpet in the kitchen with linoleum squares, and they removed a portion of the wall between the kitchen and living room. They used the leftover wood to build a pantry.
“We saved as much as we could that was original to both parts of the house, like the kitchen sink, kitchen cabinets that we painted yellow, hardware, mirrors; anything salvageable,” Jackie Chalmers said. “All windows had to be replaced due to gaps and decaying wood.”
From braided rugs to Western décor, the couple made it a point to honor the personality of the homestead’s past.
The screened-in back porch, held together with cedar posts made by Malcolm Deats, still bears a few gaping cracks in the foundation. The couple, however, is in no hurry to make those repairs after many neighbors reminded them: “Those cracks have always been there.”
They repainted the house’s exterior blue, and they replaced much of the crossbuck fencing surrounding the property and painted it white. Small footprints embedded in concrete next to a tree in the backyard are those of a young Ernie Deats.
A metal barn, built in 1951 and restored by Bill Chalmers, contains a tack room and stalls for Jackie’s horses.
Names written in chalk by Deatsie’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren and neighborhood kids are still visible in the loft.
A new wooden barn, painted red, was constructed while the house was being renovated.
The couple used the home as their country getaway for a while, but in 2014, they sold their patio home in League City and made the Deats Homestead their permanent residence.
Bill Chalmers, who was initially against rural living, has only one regret:
“That we didn’t move here sooner,” he said.