The first Saturday in December has been reserved in recent years for the Llano Woman’s Culture Club Home Tour to raise money for scholarship recipients. The tour features the interior of newly constructed homes along with the renovation of some of the county’s oldest homes. Some tours highlighted homes outside the town of Llano, such as in the Valley Spring Community, and last year, around Castell. The project has overall been a great success, and many L.H.S. graduates have benefitted from monies taken in from home tour sales.
There are remnants of several of the county’s earliest homes still standing at this time, which at one time were considered to have showcase status. Unfortunately, through the years these homes have come under the ownership of persons who have either not been willing or were unable to prevent the structures from slowly falling into a state of what is now, near impossible repair. It is only a matter of time until one of two things happens: Either a natural disaster will destroy what is left, most likely, fire, or the “eye-sore” will be torn down by current landowners. In some cases, any salvageable timber or building component with historical significance has already been stripped from the structure and sold to embellish or repair old historical buildings in other Texas locales. Several years ago, when an old home on Sandstone Street in Llano was torn down, the wood was purchased to use on the boyhood home of L.B.J. We are fortunate that some of these older homes now have new owners whose intent is to salvage their historic significance and to restore them as much as possible to their original glory.
Gone forever are the original homes of O.C.J. Phillips of early Valley Spring and the homes of Jonas Dancer and Charles C. Roberts at Honey Creek. The Phillips home was sold to someone from San Antonio who stripped the structure of everything, leaving nothing to even suspect the original location of the house. The same thing happened to the Dancer home, which also served as home to the Breazeale family after Dancer was killed by the Indians in 1859. The Roberts’ home, located west of CR308, slightly south of the Honey Creek Cemetery, was also torn down.
Barely hanging on in a state of unsightly disrepair are the historic homes of Robert F. (Bob) Rowntree home near Prairie Mountain and John B. Duncan at Honey Creek. Ross Bauman considered renovating that family’s original home near Smoothingiron Mountain several years ago, but the amount of money needed for such repairs made the project too expensive. Luckily, the old John Henry Leonard Behrns home near Tow was purchased by parties interested in preventing it from further dilapidation. The same is true for the old Lehmberg/Hasse home east of Castell purchased by Bill Wallace. A few showcase homes in the county have been kept up enough to still be inhabitable today. These include the Robert (Bob) Moseley “Granite Cliff” home on the Slator Ranch off RR152 and the P.F.P. Franklin home off CR310, about a mile south of Hwy. 71. The same is true for the original German homes in the Castell area belonging to the Oestreich, Schneider, Lehmberg, Leifeste, and other families. Homes built by the Moss and Cone family are also still viewable near Oxford. The two-story Cone home facing Hwy. 16 South has been at least partially renovated in recent years, but it is currently vacant.
Reference has been made to two homes that were considered showcase homes at the time they were built, but which today are so dilapidated, they are barely intact. Since there is little foliage on the trees and brush around these old homes this time of year, it is appropriate to discuss them in more detail while the structural remains are currently visible from the highways. Both are located on private property, so close viewing is not possible without trespassing violations. The two homes in question, however, can partially be seen from specific spots on the highway, IF the driver pays close attention and is willing to make a few turn-a-rounds, if necessary.
Early Honey Creek settler, John Bruce Duncan, was the builder of the first home under consideration. This showcase home was close to completion in August, 1873. Following the Packsaddle Indian Battle that month, the white men who were injured were taken to the Duncan home nearby, where one of the uninjured participants, E. D. Harrington, was sent to Llano to bring back Dr. C.S. Smith to tend their wounds. Eye witnesses noted unused building materials that had been hauled from Austin were stacked in the yard of the log cabin where the family lived while the house was being built. Much of the lumber consisted of white pine boards. When the most seriously wounded man, William B. (Bill) Moss, was brought in, he was laid on one of the lumber stacks. Mrs. Duncan did what she could to prevent the blood from his wounds from running down the full length of the planks and dripping onto the ground.
The walls of the Duncan home were made of native stone, which were plastered inside in an off-white color. Interior woodwork for the mantels and baseboards were cut from the timber of native walnut trees found on nearby Honey Creek, located about 100 yards below the house. The house became headquarters for the Duncan Ranch, which employed many drovers and “waddies” during the days of the long cattle drives. The two-story home was extremely large for that day and time, with nine rooms and several long halls. The home was intact until about 1940, when it burned, leaving only the walls and two chimneys still standing today. The remnants of the house are best viewed off Hwy. 71 going TOWARD the town of Llano. Be on the alert as soon as the road crosses Honey Creek and comes toward a curve in the road. The old house will only be visible on the south side of the road for a few seconds if the car is moving. Once the vehicle passes the entrance to a currently occupied house, none of the Duncan home can be seen. The home near the highway is the residence for ranch employees of the current land owners, the Moursund family. It is crucial to drive along this spot in the highway very slowly, focusing as much as possible on the south side of the highway at those spots that are not covered by trees and bushes. What will emerge BEHIND and slightly east of the existing ranch house will be two large rock chimneys rising over the weeds. If more could be seen, it would be clearly noted that the remnants of the old house sit on the north bank of Honey Creek. One might suspect the old Duncan home could be seen driving down CR308 where Honey Creek crosses the road by looking UP the creek toward that location, but this is not true. The old house isn’t far from this crossing, but it is not quite visible from the road at that spot.
The second home was owned by Robert F. (Bob) Rowntree. Mr. Rowntree first lived in Burnet County, where his father and many of his siblings remained, but he came to Llano County prior to 1860 as a young, unmarried “teacher” in the Colorado River Bluffton Community. He soon gave up the teaching profession and moved to the town of Llano where he became a successful surveyor. This vocation led to ownership of a lot of real estate. Mr. Rowntree was definitely an active participant in the Llano mob during the Hoo Doo War of the 1870’s. He was considered one of the group’s top leaders, along with other leading men in town. Unfortunately, his involvement with this vigilante bunch would eventually prove detrimental to him.
During the decade of the 1870’s, Mr. Rowntree established himself as a successful cattleman. The property he purchased on the old Fredericksburg Road, which today is RR2323, became the headquarters for a large cattle ranch, which in his eyes was deserving of a special home at its core. He commissioned J. K. Findlay, who had built the first stone building in downtown Llano and whose family sculpted the Confederate Statue on the town square, to design and to build the Rowntree home. He selected a beautiful hill side view to construct an elegant home. The large two-story house was made of red-brown sandstone obtained nearby. The window sills and lintels with key stones, however, were made of white limestone brought from Burnet County. Overall, the house had eight rooms, each 16-feet square, and each with four windows and a fireplace. Both floors had a ten feet hallway running the length of the house. Wide porches were located both upstairs and downstairs on the north and south sides of the house. Walls were twenty inches thick. Although the home was begun in 1875, it was not completed and ready for occupancy until 1888. A large stone barn that included a room with a fireplace for living purposes was also constructed out of the same sandstone.
One night in 1898, Mr. Rowntree was returning home from Llano in a wagon loaded with supplies he had purchased. He stopped at the home of James Byfield, a neighbor on the west side of Six Mile Creek, to spend the night. The next morning as he proceeded toward his home he was ambushed and killed a short distance from his pasture gate. His body was discovered lying across the wagon seat by a neighbor boy. Murder charges were filed on a man in the area, but nothing was ever proved, and the man was exonerated. Most believe his death was the culmination of unresolved hard feelings from the Hoo Doo War years. Mr. Rowntree was buried in the Llano City Cemetery, but his wife and children did not remain in Llano County. Over the years, nothing has ever been done to prevent deterioration of the property. What remains of the house today can be seen from RR2323 on the south side of the highway about 17.5 miles from the Hwy. 16 South intersection. Large oak trees block a view of the house driving west, but it is easily seen driving east from the Prairie Mountain Historical Marker. The house is between the turn-off for CR109 and 110 and the Prairie Mountain School/Community Center.
There’s no way to know how much longer the remnants of these showcase homes will continue to stand in any form. Take advantage of the winter season to view what remains, because once spring arrives, the old homes will be more difficult to see in the foliage.
SOURCES:GEM OF THE HILL COUNTRY (Oatman, pp. 30, 31, 48, 55,109, 111); LLANO CO. FAMILY ALBUM (pp. 110, 118-119, 183; 223-225, 261); FAMILIES OF EARLY KINGSLAND, TEXAS (Muriel Barnett Jackson, p. 82); HISTORY OF BURNET CO. VOL. II (Darrell Debo, pp. 268-9); EARLY DAYS IN LLANO (Miles Barler, Ch. 6); Phillips, Bauman, Roberts family