Texas Governor's Mansion has storied history Extent of damage shocks many. By Mike Ward AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF Monday, June 09, 2008 As houses go, the grand Governor's Mansion is perhaps the most storied in Texas. From the 29-foot-tall white columns on its front porch to the hand-hewn pine timbers inside its walls to the upstairs bedroom where Sam Houston once slept, the two-story Greek Revival house across from the Capitol has been an Austin icon for generations, a place where history was made and legends lived. "When I first heard about (the fire), I got a terrible feeling — just like that day in February 1983 when I got word that the Capitol was on fire," said former Gov. Mark White of Houston. "This is not just Texas history. It is priceless Texas history." Once home to 40 of Texas' 47 governors, the mansion — with its 16-foot ceilings, deep-veranda porch, tall windows and wide hallways that were typical of grand homes in the period in which it was built — was Texas' second executive house, the first after Texas became a state in 1845. The original was the "President's House" built in 1842 while Texas was still a republic, but it fell into ruin and was torn down. After that, Texas' chief executives lived in hotels and boarding houses. Built from 1854-56 by noted Austin master builder Abner Cook, the mansion cost $14,000 — a princely sum appropriated by the Legislature for a "suitable residence" for the governor of the then 11-year-old state. Completed on June 14, 1856, the mansion's first occupants were Gov. Elisha Pease and his wife and daughters. Initially, thanks to an appropriation of $2,500, the house was sparsely furnished. While the Peases brought in some of their own furniture, several bedrooms remained empty. Throughout the day Sunday, state preservation officials and sightseers expressed shock at the extent of damage. Initial assessment by officials Sunday indicated heavy damage to the upper parts of a sweeping stairway railing that James Stephen Hogg — who became Texas' first native governor in 1891 — had put nails in to keep his children from sliding down it. In the downstairs parlors, where Texas' first presidential visitor, William McKinley, was received in 1901, plaster could be seen cracked and broken. Smoke damage was heavy, and windows were broken and charred. The dining room — where famed humorist Will Rogers once ate so much chili with Gov. Miriam Ferguson that he had no room for dessert — was blackened and still smoldering. The garden-landscaped grounds where some early governors once grazed milk cows and raised chickens were covered with fire hoses and charred debris that firefighters had ripped off the house to fight the flames. From the top of a nearby state office building, two of the mansion's five fireplaces were seen tilting precipitously, as smoke drifted from hot spots that remained in a wing added in 1914 by Gov. Oscar Colquitt, in the first significant renovation of the old house. Structurally restored in 1980, with additional upgrades made in 1999, the mansion was in the process of an 18-month renovation. Jane Karotkin, administrator for Friends of the Governor's Mansion, a nonprofit group that is steward for the mansion's artifacts and tours, was among a covey of officials who gathered early Sunday morning outside the still-smoldering manse. Like many others, she said she teared up at the extent of damage. "We're just devastated," she said. "It's pretty catastrophic. We're blessed that the collection is in storage. "We just hope it can be restored." firstname.lastname@example.org; 632-9561 __________________________ What kind of sick person does something like this?