When Robert Lee Warren built his Colonial Revival-Prairie School style mansion in 1897, Terrell, Texas, was about 24 years old, having taken root like so many towns in Texas did — along a railroad line.
Although settlers first arrived in the area in the 1840s, it was the Texas and Pacific Railway’s march across North Texas that attracted interest in the town. C. C. Nash and John G. Moore bought the tracts and planned the town that would flourish during the heyday of rail travel, and Warren would come a couple dozen years later to build his mansion, complete with a special room in the master suite that allowed him to watch his farm wake up every morning, right after he woke up.
Warren, who would serve as a state senator from 1911 to 1915, worked with architect James E. Flanders to design the home, which he purchased with oil money from Beaumont — Spindletop money, to be exact.
Although Warren and his family eventually moved to Dallas, the home remained in good hands when the McCord family — who owned the mercantile — purchased it. In 1959, Murphy and Emily Crowell purchased it and began the first restoration of the property.
But somewhere, somehow, the home fell vacant. Current owners Johnny and Patricia Skipworth purchased the home after it sat open and empty for more than a decade, likely saved, they said, only by the proximity to neighbors who cared enough to make sure nothing extremely horrible happened.
The two bought the home in 2008, and spent seven days a week restoring it for three years. The home is nothing short of a miracle, and that fact is most evident in the stained glass and other details that survived not only the march of time but the rigors of neglect. Every single piece of the Tiffany-like stained glass survived those bumpy years, despite the water damage that claimed other parts of the home.
In a front parlor, you’d never be able to tell that Patricia Skipworth spent hours salvaging flooring from the kitchen (they replaced it with a more durable laminate) to replace the rotting hardwoods, stripping the floorboards individually and hand-staining them and varnishing them, then working with her husband to feather them in to the surviving wood.
The Skipworths did most of the work themselves, only hiring out what was beyond their expertise, like the electrical and plumbing work.
In the dining room, ornate plasterwork didn’t entirely survive the ravages of water damage from a leaking roof. After determining that having the surviving pieces replicated by a professional was out of her price range, Patricia’s ingenuity saved the day.
“I got some plaster of Paris, and made my own molds and did it myself, for about $25 each,” she explained, with a grin, during a tour of the home.
The home itself was a treasure-trove of period touches that had been stored away in the basement (yes, the home has a basement) and attic. Combined with the antiques the couple amassed while living in their former home on Swiss Avenue in Dallas, the home is furnished with so many period details that you’d half expect Robert Lee Warren himself to come walking in, maybe hosting Sam Rayburn for dinner before retiring to the office or one of the home’s large porches for conversation.
The couple also made a few changes to the layout in the kitchen, adding a wall where there was once none, and taking another down. The spacious chef’s kitchen features a second large dining area.
But by and large, the period details remain, including incredible touches that tell stories of how such a large house functioned back in the day. In one hallway near the kitchen, a panel shows which doorbell (the home has several entrances) was rung, and in an upstairs bathroom an original bathtub also has a thermometer that showed, Patricia said, the household staff whether or not the water they were drawing for baths was the correct temperature.
While none of the 10 fireplaces in the home are functional (the home was built to run on coal originally, and radiators later), the Skipworths took pains to restore them just the same.
The couple has also extended electrical and HVAC access up to the attic, where the enterprising future owners could easily create another living space or even another grand bedroom suite.
But after all that hard work, the Skipworths are ready to hand off the historical home to someone who will appreciate the care and history its walls contain. “We’re moving to Pottsboro to be closer to our daughter,” Patricia explained, adding that the couple will downsize a bit, so even the furnishings will be up for grabs.
While the home cannot be used as a bed and breakfast, it could be ideal for Airbnb tenants, or even to rent out for small weddings and events (the grounds are substantial), said listing agent Pam Nelms.
The home is listed for $849,900.