House made journey from Houston to Bacliff by barge
Joyce Maxwell’s Bacliff home made quite a journey by barge a few decades ago.
The circa 1890 house, which was built somewhere along Buffalo Bayou, is believed to have been constructed and owned by the first African-American contractor in Houston. The second owner, a ship captain simply known as “Jack,” and a proponent of the political movement to build the Houston Ship Channel, bought the place after the turn of the century.
Little is known about other occupants until the late 1970s, when architect James Falick bought the house, which had been condemned under eminent domain because it interfered with a road project.
Falick decided to dismantle the roomy house — which included a second-story open-air living area — into three separate pieces, and move it by barge to an acre of waterfront property in Bacliff. He positioned the house on a foundation of concrete-filled channels with cinder block piers, raising it to 17 feet above sea level. Crews then strapped the house down with turnbuckles and cables to reinforcing rods buried in the concrete. The house has survived 100 knot winds with very little damage.
Falick did extensive work on the house, removing some of the interior walls, enclosing the second story, adding a breezeway and garages and installing central air and heat. A bulkhead was constructed and the waterfront land was terraced. Falick resided there for a few years before making it a vacation rental.
The house was vacant for a number of years until David Markham and Jane Stallings bought it in 1986 and leased it out periodically. It was for rent when Maxwell looked at it in 1996. She and husband, Darold, had just sold their home in Seabrook and were looking for a place to rent. But Maxwell wasn’t too impressed. The house was showing its age and she wasn’t sure the structural design would appeal to Darold.
“When he walked in, he fell in love with it,” said Maxwell, who was quite surprised, knowing they had their work cut out for them.
Darold asked for an option to buy, and within a few months of leasing, the couple bought the historic home.
Maxwell knew this was not a typical bay house, with its gingerbread trim and cornice pediments. Rather, it’s a waterfront home in a tropical setting.
“I call it ‘Victorian Key West’ style,” she said.
The heart pine floors and bead board walls downstairs have held up well in the house, which has three bedrooms and three full baths. The interior transom windows and the stained-glass front door are original, as are the exterior windows.
“We did extensive restoration on the windows; replaced the wood and cleaned the sashes and weights, but they are the same ones from 1890,” Maxwell said.
The compass rose design on the living room floor was custom made by a woodworker friend.
“It’s made from six different types of wood and faces north, just like the direction of the house, which is OK if you like ferocious winds,” Maxwell said.
A screened-in porch was converted into a kitchen, a back deck was added and the garage area expanded into a woodworking shop with overhead apartment.
“The kitchen was designed by Seabrook builder Alan Thayer,” Maxwell said. “I drew the brown pelican designs for the stained-glass cabinet inserts and Alan took the drawings to Mexico where he had them specially made.”
The galvanized cabinets and salvaged marble countertops add a bit of an industrial touch, but seem to blend right in with the vintage, hand-cranked wall telephone.
“It still works,” Maxwell said.
The stairs leading to the second floor are tricky — narrow, straight up and down, with not much of a slant.
“Movers hate these types of stairs,” Maxwell said. “The handrail hugs the wall as you approach the second floor, so there’s very little space. That’s why the giant armoire is sitting in the entry hall and not in the upstairs master bedroom.”
The living room and dining area are filled with treasured pieces of furniture and accessories from Maxwell’s young life growing up in Illinois.
A hand-cranked butter churn, displayed on a dining room sideboard, is from her grandparents’ farm. The living room coffee table is actually a bellows — used by blacksmiths — that also came from the farm. An assortment of antique coffee urns are on display, some more than 100 years old.
“I collect them,” Maxwell said. “Several of them I’ve stripped down to their original finish of copper, or brass and pewter.”
A special one is a samovar — a metal urn used to boil water for tea — her father brought back from Russia. Another samovar has been repurposed into a table lamp.
“I have a lot of American oak antiques that I’ve inherited or purchased over the years,” she said. “Many of my pieces are handmade, like the cradle made by my brother. My son slept in it as an infant.”
The only contrast in décor is the collection of Mexican art in the corner of the dining room, consisting of a banana tree surrounded by tropical birds.
“This is part of my Key West element,” Maxwell said.
With her house in perfect order, Maxwell is content, except for one thing.
“I’m seriously thinking about moving the master bedroom downstairs,” she said. “Those stairs are killer.”