After some dark days, historic house is filled with light and happiness
When Rebecca Joe Ramsey was a third-grader at Ursuline Academy of Dallas, she wrote a story about a little girl who lived in an old house. To illustrate the tale, she drew a picture of a two-story Victorian home with wide front porches, a hipped roof and triple windows across the front. A yellow sun shone in the bright blue sky.
Decades later in 2013, Rebecca and her husband, Ken Walker, bought a house that closely resembles that early drawing: the 1882 Rufus Jameson house on Church Street in Galveston’s East End. It was meant to be.
“I like the way the house feels; it is elegant, open and livable,” Rebecca Walker said. “It has a lot of light and a happy spirit.”
Although the Walkers were raised in different Texas towns, they grew up vacationing in Galveston with their parents, and they both loved the island. After they met and married, the tradition continued.
“We came to Galveston every summer for years,” she said. “Then, in 2009, we purchased a beach house in Sea Isle.”
They were contemplating a more permanent move when their Realtor invited them to a Christmas party at her house. When they decided to settle on the island, they contacted her. By a stroke of serendipity, she was ready to sell her house, so the Walkers bought it.
Built in the Greek vernacular style, fashionable in the 1880s and beyond, the house has a pleasant symmetry and an elegant cornice.
When you enter through the double-front door, a walnut staircase rises on the right. The ceilings are an airy 12 feet throughout the downstairs and the walls are painted a soft butter yellow called Harvest Moon. The etched glass transom above the entry and all the fretwork above other doors is original to the house.
Twin parlors anchor the downstairs, each equipped with original coal-burning fireplaces. There is a formal dining room with a pass-through to a sunny kitchen, and a butler’s pantry equipped with a utility sink and washer/dryer. Three bedrooms with two baths and a study are upstairs.
Many of the paintings throughout the house are by artist Marian Ramsey Burris, Rebecca Walker’s mother. The piano in the front parlor is an upright grand from 1895.
In the large parlor, there’s a portrait of Capt. Rufus Jameson, who built the house with his wife, Sarah. Jameson was one of Galveston’s first harbor pilots. He moved to Galveston as a young sailor in the 1840s and returned a decade later to make it his lifelong home.
“I love the history of the house,” Rebecca Walker said. “Rufus and Sarah Jameson created a beautiful space. I’d like to think they’d be pleased to know that families, ours included, have continued to gather here. It’s very special to add our own history to the long and storied life of such a lovely place.”
Although the Jamesons purchased three lots on Church Street in 1853, it would be 29 years before they built the house. The family lived next door while the house was being built. The story goes that their adopted daughter, Emma, was an orphan from a storm who was found wandering along the coast.
The Civil War interrupted the family’s life and livelihood. Union soldiers patrolling Galveston Harbor stopped Jameson in his pilot boat, which was confiscated. He was arrested a second time for blockade running and sent to Boston, Massachusetts, where he was imprisoned for the remainder of the war. The letters he wrote to his family are kept in the Rosenberg Library archives.
In 1883, a year after the family moved into their new home, Jameson died at age 62. Sarah Jameson continued to live in the house until her death two decades later. The house was left to her granddaughter, Sarah, who sold it in 1921.
As handsome as the house is now, it has seen its share of dark times. After the original family sold the house, it became a boarding house; then, carved up into rental apartments, and later, it sat vacant and vandalized for years. It was rescued and restored by the Galveston Historical Foundation in 1994 as part of the Church Street Project, supported in part by the Meadows Foundation.
“Our house has survived a lot since the 1880s: hurricanes, fires and destructive humans while she was empty,” Rebecca Walker said. “She’s strong, sturdy, safe and comfortable. Our neighbor, David Fortenberry, told me that we are merely the custodians of these wonderful old houses. They were here long before us and, with loving care, they will be around long after we are gone.”